Kings of the Hill

A group of six alumni smile and pose for a picture together during alumni weekend

Reconnecting at Quinnipiac

Friends from the Class of 1989 returned for this fall's Alumni Weekend. In the back row, from left to right, are Rich Barry, Greg Valerio and Paula Coelho. In front, from left, are Kim Steir, Debbie Pacca and Lisa Barry, Rich's wife.

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In the mid-1980s, when Quinnipiac College still occupied one campus, the Hill residence hall was often the center of the social universe. But it was one particular set of suites, the first one on the right as you walked up Dorm Road, that seemed to generate the most fun.

And, just maybe, the most stories.

The students who lived in suites 42A and 42B shared more than a balcony. They shared laughs, pranks, all-nighters, food runs and friendships that have endured from graduations and weddings to the births of children and 50th birthday parties.

Thirty years later, these members of the Class of 1989 came to Alumni Weekend in October to reconnect and raise a glass. There were no introductions necessary. Smiles replaced name tags, and hugs did the rest.

“We all came here to learn obviously, but we also wanted to make friends — and we did,” said Rich Barry, a communications major who lives in Cranford, New Jersey. “The shared experiences, the bonds that we created, that’s what we loved about Quinnipiac.”

But make no mistake, the guys in 42A and 42B were no strangers to mischief. In fact, they were pretty well acquainted with it.

“We weren’t always choir boys,” Barry said with a boyish grin. “We used to take a giant mirror and put it on the balcony. We’d wait until the sun hit at just the right angle, and then we would blind people coming up the hill.”

After a laugh that liberated more memories, Barry continued with his story about arguably the most famous perch on campus. “Mostly, we spent a lot of time on that balcony saying hello to people. We knew a lot of people. Where we lived back then, it was close enough to the Ratt, but far enough away from the Ratt.”

Although Barry arrived at Quinnipiac as a marketing major from Long Island, he shifted to communications after finding WQAQ, the student-run radio station marking its 50th anniversary this year. Several other pals got involved with campus radio, too.

“I remember the station being very welcoming, even a little edgy if you will. It was an exciting time for me because you were allowed to be on the air.”

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A group of Quinnipiac students in the late 1980s smile and hold up their drinks on campus

Those were the days

Rich Barry and the Class of 1989 raise a glass together in the late '80s.

Barry’s signature show as a sophomore, “Rich’s Friday Afternoon Happy Hour,” quickly became a popular listen around campus. In between spinning records, Barry played sounds from a bar in the background — people opening beers, friends laughing, others sharing conversations swallowed by the din of happy hour. The best part of the show, said his friend, Greg Valerio, was the “Spin-to-Win” segment. Valerio would come into the studio and Barry would blindfold him on air, spin him around three times and guide him to the record wall to pick out some vinyl to play.

“Whatever you picked, that’s what got played,” said Valerio, a towel slung over his shoulder as he heated up a tray of sausage and peppers during the tailgating party at the People’s United Center parking lot.

What kind of records did Valerio pull? The Rolling Stones, The Who, maybe Led Zeppelin? Not exactly. “I go back to the mix tapes we used to make for parties,” Barry said. “Trust me, it’s painfully ’80s. It’s a lot of bands that didn’t make it out of the ’80s.”

The guys in 42A and 42B were a different story. They made out just fine, leaving Quinnipiac as college graduates and lifelong friends. Barry and Valerio, along with Joe Belanger, Matt Caraluzzi, Chris Gennarelli, Rocco Labbadia, Sal Penta, Matt Titus and Desi Walker, shared more than a social balcony.

On this particular Alumni Weekend, they also shared a flag. OK, so maybe it was a sweatshirt, but it absolutely hung high over Barry’s truck on a mast and rigging skillfully crafted from PVC pipe and those black paper-clip clamps that hold term papers together.

The sweatshirt has become the stuff of legend here. For the better part of his college career, Tim Theriault, another member of this group, wore the sweatshirt several times each week — Valerio, Belanger and Barry swear to it. The sweatshirt shows a shirtless man sitting on a sofa on top of a wave with the words, “Couch Surfing.”

Theriault, who lives in Dallas now, couldn’t make it back to Hamden in October. Instead, he mailed the next best thing — the fabled “Couch Surfing” sweatshirt, a treasure that has survived more than 30 years. In a makeshift ceremony, Valerio sliced open the manila envelope with the Texas postmark and pulled out a sleeveless piece of history.

“It’s a perfect flag,” Valerio said with a good laugh, holding up the sweatshirt like one of those oversized lottery checks.

A few feet away, Belanger nodded and laughed, too. Like so many of his friends at Quinnipiac, he studied physical therapy. Belanger grew up in North Providence, Rhode Island, and earned a varsity letter on the men’s tennis team at Quinnipiac.

“When I was looking at colleges, I knew I didn’t want to go to a bigger school,” said Belanger, who now lives in Middletown, Connecticut. “I couldn’t have been any happier with my decision.”

The guys in 42A and 42B recall the house parties that shook the floor and raised the roof. “I was a Catholic kid who never missed a holy day of obligation, and then I met these guys. It was a whole new world, trust me,” Belanger said with raised eyebrows. “Let me tell you, it was an eye-opening experience for this sheltered kid from Rhode Island.”

Before Belanger could say more, Gennarelli chimed in: “He spent more time in confession….”

Gennarelli never got to finish his joke because they both started laughing. It was that kind of day filled with those kinds of stories.

Alumni Desi Walker wears a blue Quinnipiac hoodie and smiles while holding a plate of food on the York Hill Campus

Celebration time

Desi Walker ’89 enjoys a plate of food while connecting with his former roommates at Alumni Weekend.

“It’s really about relationships and people with big hearts and big smiles,” Belanger said. “I went for a walk down memory lane before I came up to Rocky Top to see these guys. Even though the campus has expanded and it’s even more beautiful, the memories are still there.”

Valerio, who now lives in Wolcott, Connecticut, agreed. “Without a doubt, laughter was one of the things that really bonded us as a group of friends. It was the same thing with the parties. Our senior year during Spring Weekend, we had a registered party that was larger than the parties at the Student Union. I mean, everybody came up to see us.”

Gennarelli grew up in Rye, New York, not far from the Connecticut border. After two years at Boston University, he transferred to Quinnipiac and was assigned to share a balcony — and the rights and privileges that came with it — with the guys in 42A and 42B.

Gennarelli, who now lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, recalls that they personalized their balcony with a convenient shelf. “Rocco still has that shelf. We all etched our names in it.”

For Barry, the momentum from those days helped him become the program director at WQAQ as a junior and general manager as a senior. From there, he leveraged his radio experiences to land an internship with The Howard Stern Show in New York City.

“Just having the radio station on my college resume was enough to get me in the door,” Barry said. “I worked for Howard for about three months. Honestly, he was the one who got me into Nickelodeon.”

Barry spent 27 years at the Nickelodeon network. He started as a production assistant and finished as the vice president and creative director, global, for Nickelodeon until June 2018.

“I basically was on a plane about every three weeks — Australia, Argentina, China, everywhere,” Barry said. “The only two places we weren’t in were North Korea and Iraq. Everywhere else was OK with SpongeBob.”

In the fall of 2018, Barry launched his own company, Speed Social Marketing. He’s the CEO, executive creative director and the driving force for global campaigns. His wife, Lisa, and son, Luke, accompanied him to the reunion.

“Let’s be honest, it’s not as easy to walk in the door when you don’t have Nickelodeon on your shoulders,” Barry said. “But I really enjoy being my own boss, and I love what I’m working on right now with motorsports. I race cars myself, so I’m a little envious watching the guys go by.”

But as much as Barry enjoys checkered flags these days, he will always have a soft spot for that “Couch Surfing” flag when the guys from 42A and 42B get together.