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Nearly 50 years after meeting in ASU dorms, group of 20 friends remain a brotherhood


The 4NW purchased a paver for member Col. James "Jim" Ward, who passed in May 2021. From left to right: Jeff Evans, Alan Marvin, Dan Hostetter, Gil Ernst, Ray Leppien and Rick Swanson.

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March 14, 2022

In the fall of 1972, a group of incoming freshmen boys were assigned to move into the fourth-floor, northwest wing of the Palo Verde West dormitory. Nearly 50 years later, the "4NW" group, as they call themselves, remain a brotherhood of 20 friends. 

The name 4NW was inspired by their floor level and a large "NW" painted on the wall at the end of the hallway. The history of the 4NW is evolutionary, with many members joining in subsequent years from other wings of Palo Verde (PV) West.  

“Jim Surabian ('77 BS), Frank Castaneda ('77 BS) and I became part of the group in 1973,” said Jeffery Evans (‘76 BS). “Even though our group name is 4NW, we proudly represented the southwest wing of the fourth floor at PV West. In 1974, our group expanded with the additions of Gil Ernst (‘76 BS), Jeff Neal ('78 BS), Mike Fitzmaurice ('76 BS) and Ray Leppien ('78 BS).”   

Ted Hansen (‘77 BS, ‘80 JD) noted many 4NW outings in his journal throughout college. From these entries, he was reminded of experiences such as Feb. 9, 1974, when a small bunch of 4NWs golfed at Thunderbird Country Club and were later joined at the Chuckbox on University Drive by the rest of the group.  

A little over a month later, they formed an intramural basketball team using the 4NW name. And on March 26, 1974, they played their first game and defeated the Sigma Nu team with a score of 34 to 32. The 4NW team eventually became intramural champions for the ’74–’75 school year in the independent division, meaning they were unaffiliated with a Greek organization.

4 North West logo

The 4NW logo, designed in 1974 to put on sports jerseys worn while competing in intramural sports.

“I can't explain why we all clicked,” Hansen said. “Perhaps it was our sense of humor, or maybe the ability to take insults and throw them right back. Our mutual enjoyment of sports. Just lots of things. All I know is that I made friends for life.”

As the 4NW members graduated from ASU, many of them went on to obtain graduate degrees and pursue meaningful careers.

“ASU served us well,” Evans said. “Our professions included law, medicine, education, science, banking, business, city government, engineering and the military.”

Though the entire group didn’t keep in contact, smaller groups within the 4NW did, even sending each other annual Christmas cards. At the 60th birthday party of Dan West (‘76 BS), and later at his daughter’s wedding, a few of the members came up with the idea to host a 4NW reunion.

“Over time, through my Christmas card list, old email addresses, Facebook and just asking if anyone knew where the other members were, I was able to get everyone's current email address and sent out the invitation to our first reunion,” said Hansen. “The rest is history.”

Since their first reunion in the fall of 2017, the group, including their wives, has hosted a reunion each year, with the exception of 2020. The 4NW gathers at the same hotel in Scottsdale for four days of fellowship.  

The first few days, they reflect on their college years, catch up on new grandchildren and life events, bowl, play golf, sightsee around the Valley and visit the Tempe campus. The reunion leads up to Saturday, when they tailgate near Sun Devil Stadium and attend an ASU football game. 

“What I remember most during our time at ASU are the laughs,” Hansen said. “Be it during dinner at the cafeteria, playing sports, playing cards or just having one of our many group discussions. None of that changed once we started our reunions — except for the playing sports part, to which our bodies said, ‘No!’”

In November 2018, 4NW member Col. James “Jim” Ward (‘76 BS), was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Though his initial prognosis was just a few weeks, Ward fought the cancer for two and a half years until his passing in May 2021.  Throughout his battle with cancer, many members of the 4NW would text or call him to wish him well and talk about ASU sports.  

“I think most of us were thinking, 'Why him?’” Evans said. “He was the absolute finest person one could ever have the privilege of knowing and being able to call a friend.” 

Ward grew up in a military family, and at the time of his graduation from Buena High School in Sierra Vista, Arizona, his father was an Army officer stationed at Fort Huachuca in southeast Arizona. While at ASU, he participated in Army ROTC on a four-year scholarship and, during his senior year, was selected as commander of the corps of cadets due to his high academic achievements and leadership abilities. He studied mathematics, graduating with an "A" average. 

After earning his degree from ASU, Ward was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Military Intelligence Corps. He served for 28 years on active duty and retired as a colonel. Ward continued working as a civilian employee with the federal Senior Executive Service after his retirement from active duty, including a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Ward met his wife, Diane Mason Ward (’78 BA), during his time as a Sun Devil. They have three children — James, Daniel and Marie — who grew up on military bases around the world, just like their father.

“Jim was very well-liked and respected by everyone in 4NW,” Evans said. “He was a natural leader who always brought out the best in everyone around him. He was always very courteous, very funny and extremely talented in sports.” 

When Ward passed away, the 4NW started sharing ideas about how they could best memorialize their friend. Alan Marvin (‘76 BS) recalled seeing an article in ASU’s Thrive magazine about personalized, engraved pavers at Old Main on the Tempe campus. Ward’s wife loved the idea, particularly because it would be located adjacent to Old Main, where the Army ROTC program had been located during the 1970s, and the language and literature building, where the two had first met during a Spanish course.

“We had collectively worked very hard exchanging many emails to have just the right wording, in just the right format, and the end result exceeded our expectations,” shared Evans. The paver was installed just in time for the 4NW’s November 2021 reunion for everyone to view in person.

The 4NW, withstanding 50 years, is undoubtedly a brotherhood.

“While 4NW did not have any of the formal trappings of a fraternity, we nevertheless thought of ourselves as a band of brothers,” Evans said.

The group’s legacy will live on at Old Main with the addition of the personalized brick in honor of their dear friend. ASU will forever hold a special place in their hearts as it was the beginning of their lifelong friendships.

To learn more about personalizing a brick or plaque at Old Main on the Tempe campus, visit alumni.asu.edu/give-back

Members of 4NW:

  • Frank Castaneda, '77 BS (deceased).
  • Gil Ernst, ‘76 BS.
  • Jeff Evans, ‘76 BS.
  • Mike Fitzmaurice, ‘76 BS.
  • Ted Hansen, '77 BS, '80 JD.
  • Randy Harden, '78 BS.
  • Dan Hostetter, '76 BS.
  • Jim Johnson, '76 BS.
  • Tom Joynt, ‘76 BS.
  • Ray Leppien, '78 BS.
  • Alan Marvin, '76 BS.
  • Mark Mayfield, '76 BS (deceased).
  • Norman Moore, '77 BS.
  • Jeff Neal, ‘78 BS.
  • Dave Pearson, '75 BA.
  • Bob Root, ‘77 BS.
  • Jim Surabian, '77 BS.
  • Rick Swanson, ‘75 BS, ‘77 MS.
  • Jim Ward, '76 BS (deceased).
  • Dan West, '76 BS.

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