July 21, 2004
While most Wabash students were busily finishing up projects and papers and preparing for final exams in late April, the men of Delta Tau Delta were dealing with more weighty matters. Their brother, Anthony "Tony" Lobdell, was missing in the mountains of Argentina.
It was spring break at the Mendoza university where Tony had spent the previous three months learning about Argentine politics, culture, and history, and Tony took off with friends to explore the Andes Mountains of Patagonia. On his last day at a hostel in Bariloche—after his friends had returned to Mendoza—Lobdell’s adventurous spirit took him to the Refugio Frey, one of the most spectacular hikes in the region. He did not return, igniting a two-week search by Argentine forest rangers, local and federal police, and an American FBI agent.
Television cameras and newspaper reporters descended on the Wabash campus. Delt president Tom Reifenberg and his fraternity brothers bravely conducted every interview. Through the two-week ordeal, the students talked about Tony Lobdell’s courage, his spirit, his enthusiasm for life. Only when Tony’s parents, Lawrence and Nancy Lobdell, and Argentine authorities ended their search at Lago Gutierrez, did the full weight settle on the Delt House.
Reifenberg and senior Ken Shelton took on the role of spokespersons for the fraternity. They graciously spoke with every reporter who had a question. Said Reifenberg, "I just want the world to know who he was and what he meant to us." And so he and Shelton talked and told stories and tried to put a life with a name so that it wouldn’t be forgotten.
The Wabash network spread far and wide during the painful two-week search for Lobdell. Crawfordsville Journal-Review reporter Maria Flora’s story about the disappearance was picked up by the Associated Press and seen by an Argentine national radio correspondent in Miami, who quickly got the word out across the country’s airwaves. Meanwhile, Wabash’s national media connections in this country—Time magazine’s Tim Padgett ’84 and ABC News’ Dean Reynolds—gave thoughtful advice and counsel, urging us to "get Tony’s name in the Argentine news and keep it there."
While Flora was bringing home news from an anonymous source at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aries, Padgett’s stringer in-country was pounding the streets for current information. Officials from Butler University’s Institute for Study Abroad quickly got Tony’s parents and an uncle to Bariloche so that they could assist local authorities in the search.
And Brad Rickel ’87, a theater teacher in Arlington, Virginia, used his own connections to aid in the search. Rickel had taught the children of the Argentine Ambassador to the U.S., Lino Gutierrez. Doing a favor for his daughter’s teacher, the Ambassador made sure the search for Lobdell was a national priority. And it was.
The painful search came to an end without closure for Tony’s family and friends. Officials spent four days searching the area around Lago Gutierrez and eventually assumed Lobdell drowned in the 300-foot deep, freezing cold mountain lake. They speculated that Tony had made a wrong turn on his way down a mountain, arrived at the lake after dark, and attempted to swim across when he saw the lights of Bariloche in the distance.
His life cut short, Tony Lobdell’s adventurous spirit will live on in the men of Wabash who lived and prayed together during a tumultuous final two weeks of the school year. Thanks to Reifenberg, Shelton, and others, many now know who Tony Lobdell was and what he meant to his friends and family.
Dean Mauri Ditzler, during a memorial service attended by more than 300 in Indianapolis, recalled the Bible story in which Jacob wrestles with God in the form of a mysterious stranger. Although he obtains the blessing he’s fighting for, he limps away from the fight with a dislocated hip.
Like Jacob, Ditzler said, this difficult time leaves us with pain that won’t go away.
—Jim Amidon ’87