Mother-daughter scav

Questions for Scav cofounder/judge emeritus Diane Kelly, AB’90, and daughter Emily Cambias, Class of 2018.

Lindsey Simon, AB’15

In 1986 Christopher Straus, LAB’84, AB’88, MD’92, came up with the idea of starting a Scavenger Hunt. Among his team of co-organizers was Diane Kelly, AB’90.

Thirty years later, Scav has become a beloved institution. Kelly is a biologist who studies penis anatomy and evolution (really) and married to Straus’s College roommate, James Cambias, AB’88. Their daughter Emily Cambias is a history major in the Class of 2018.

Kelly returned to campus to serve as an emeritus judge for Scav this past spring, while Emily was a lieutenant for the Burton-Judson Scav team. B-J’s team, Robespierre and the Reign of Cher, came in third.

Interview has been edited and adapted.

At Ida Noyes, impatient students chant “We want the list!” (UChicago Photographic Archive, apf4-00137, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)

How did you first get involved in Scav?

Kelly: I was sitting in my dorm room, and my friend Cassie Scharff [AB’90] appeared at the doorway and said, “Hey Diane, we’re gonna plan a scavenger hunt and we really want you to help out!” We just intended to do something really fun to entertain the houses during spring quarter.

Cambias: It seemed like a natural progression to go and Scav as hard as I could. I basically didn’t sleep for three days last year.

Diane, how has Scav impacted your life over the past 30 years?

Kelly: In some ways, having Scav be so successful for so many years is like having a third invisible child. Having it survive for the fifth year after we had all graduated was amazing, because it meant that we had successfully passed on the event. And then having it survive to 10 years was equally amazing.

What are your favorite Scav memories?

Cambias: My favorite item that I made last year was a Jello stained glass window. It was supposed to be in the style of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who made pictures out of plants and fruits and vegetables—only the Jello had to taste like everything that it resembled. I boiled Jello in the kitchen for nine hours, and by the end of it I smelled like Jello for two days.

Kelly: I got to judge the guy who changed his name to sign a pair of socks. The item was a pair of socks signed by Mike Royko, who was a Chicago Tribune columnist. And one guy started the proceedings to legally change his name to Mike RoykoOfTheChicago Tribune. For lots of items, if they’re crazy enough, guts—not brains—can win.

Emily, do you feel like your mom is a local celebrity here on campus? What’s it like coming from a Scav family?

Cambias: I would say that my mother is definitely a local celebrity among a key subset of people on campus. For example, any of the judges will do this whisper when they see me—“Oh, it’s Judge Cool Mom’s daughter!”

Chris Straus came up with the idea for Scav based on the scavenger hunts his mother—former dean of students Lorna Straus, LAB’49, SM’60, PhD’62—used to organize for their family. Has Scav Hunt ever been incorporated into the Kelly-Cambias household?

Cambias: I had birthday scavenger hunts a couple of times.

Kelly: There was the treasure hunt birthday where you had to find the party.

Cambias: That’s true. I failed to find my party, by the way. I was the last team to arrive. I still think about it sometimes.

What will it be like spending Mother’s Day here on campus together for Judgment Day?

Cambias: This is really a home-run visit for Mom. You get her first “baby,” her eldest child, and Mother’s Day in one special package.

Kelly: We’ve never been a big Mother’s Day family.

Cambias: I’ve never given you flowers. I’m sorry.

Kelly: It’s OK. Scav’s more important.


Emily Cambias and Diane Kelly laugh about how Kelly met her husband. James Cambias was Scav founder Chris Straus’s roommate; it was Kelly’s job to kick him out when they wanted to plan. (Video still courtesy University of Chicago News Office)