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The Beginnings of Tau Kappa Epsilon

Our Beginning, Growth, and Development
On the cold night of January 10, 1899, students of Illinois Wesleyan University, in the small Midwestern town of Bloomington, had just returned from the Christmas holidays when Joseph L. Settles went to the room occupied by James C. McNutt and Clarence A. Mayer at 504 East Locust Street to discuss the organization of a new society on campus. Joined immediately by Owen I. Truitt and C. Roy Atkinson, these five students created the first set of regulations for the Knights of Classic Lore, a society whose avowed purpose was "to aid college men in mental, moral, and social development."
Because of his late arrival for this meeting, James J. Love was made the first new member. Love, along with Edwin A. Palmer and George H. Thorpe became the first initiates of this new organization. Although Settles was the leader in organizing the society, Atkinson was elected President and McNutt was chosen as Secretary.

There were two fraternities already in existence at Illinois Wesleyan in 1899, both with more than 50 chapters nationally. Phi Gamma Delta had been established in 1866, while Sigma Chi had begun there in 1883. In addition, two other national fraternities, Phi Delta Theta and Delta Tau Delta, had inactive chapters at Illinois Wesleyan. The Phi Delts existed from 1878-1897 and the Delts from 1877-1880.

A "Different" Organization

The Founders of the Knights of Classic Lore desired an organization different from those represented by the existing fraternities. Their desire was to establish a fraternity in which the primary requisites for membership would be the personal worth and character of the individual rather than the wealth he possessed, the honors or titles he could display, or the rank he maintained on the social ladder. The Founders of the KCL had little regard for many of the common characteristics of fraternities at that time, including their usual snobbery and disdain for persons outside of a fraternity.

It was not long after their recognition on campus that the Knights of Classic Lore were approached by some alumni of the Illinois Epsilon chapter of Phi Delta Theta, whose charter had been surrendered in 1897. The Phi Delt alumni saw in this new group an opportunity for the restoration of its charter, and interested themselves in converting it into a strong local fraternity. Through the persuasion and effort of Richard Henry Little, for columnist on the Chicago Tribune and one of the most prominent Phi Delt alumni, the Knights presented a petition to the Phi Delta Theta national organization at its convention in New York in 1902. The petition was rejected.
In hopes that their organization might be more attractive to Phi Delta Theta, it was decided that a Greek letter name should be adopted. The name "Knights of Classic Lore" was therefore abandoned and the Greek letters Tau Kappa Epsilon selected. As a further step, a fraternity house was rented. This was the first fraternity house at Illinois Wesleyan, although Phi Gamma Delta and Sigma Chi had both been in existence on campus for many years. The Wilder Mansion, former home of President Wilder of the University, became the first TKE house.

In the ensuing years, the Phi Delt alumni and some of the undergraduate members continued to press for affiliation with Phi Delta Theta by promoting petitions at the 1904 and 1906 Phi Delt national conventions. In each instance the petition was either withdrawn or postponed. It is reported that one of the petitions came within one vote of being accepted.

Growth Begins

As has been typical of Tau Kappa Epsilon throughout its history, the leaders of the Fraternity did not waver, but rather pressed forward with their goal of building TKE into a strong national fraternity. Approximately two months after the national constitution was ratified, the second chapter, Beta, was installed.

On April 6, 1909, Lester H. Martin, Arthur Heinlein, L.W. Tuesburg, and a delegation of actives from Alpha chapter paid a visit to Chi Rho Sigma, a local fraternity at Millikin University, in Decatur, Illinois. The Grand Prytanis appointed a committee to further investigate the local. When the committee reported favorably, the first petition was written with pen and ink on a piece of Decatur YMCA stationery, and was unanimously approved by the Grand Council.

Beta Chapter was installed on Saturday, April 17, 1909, at Decatur, Illinois. A banquet was held that evening at the Decatur Hotel attended by members of Alpha chapter and TKE alumni. It is interesting to note that from the beginning, petitioning groups were thoroughly investigated and that an installation banquet was held. These policies have been followed without exception through today.

The Triangle is Formed

The issues of The Teke Magazine during 1910-1911 were filled with articles urging further expansion of the Fraternity and predicting the bright future of this infant National Fraternity. Wallace G. McCauley, in the January 1910 issue stated:

"TKE is bound to become the fraternity. It is written in the stars that way and all powers of established Hellenism cannot stop the onward destiny of Tau Kappa Epsilon. I don't believe in limiting its extension. Let us plant a chapter where there is a proper membership to promote its principles."

Early in 1912 three alumni of Alpha chapter, Henry A. Burd, Wilbur R. Leighty, and Ward H. Sachs, were graduate students at the University of Illinois. Mainly through their efforts, a local fraternity known as the Campus Club petitioned Tau Kappa Epsilon for a charter on January 22, 1912. The charter was granted and installation followed on February 3, 1912, not at Champaign, but at the Alpha chapter house in Bloomington.

The significance of the location of these first three chapters, closely approximating an equilateral triangle on the map, was at once realized and has been symbolized ever since by the traditional position and shape of the badge. Because of the geographical significance of these three chapters, consideration was given to cutting off any further growth.

World War I

Up to this time, the history of the fraternity had been a somewhat routine record of slow, steady growth in numbers, chapter rolls, and fraternity consciousness. This period, marked only by its annual Conclaves and the chartering of new chapters, also brought about the formation of a body of laws and traditions, the development of a ritual, and a general welding together of its membership into a homogenous fellowship.

With the entry of the United States into World War I and its accompanying transformation of the colleges into the Student's Army Training Corps, fraternity activities on every campus were essentially suspended for more than a year. The enactment of emergency war legislation, most of which became permanent, began a trend toward a strong centralized national organization.

A Headquarters is Created

The advantage of a central office had for some time been apparent, and now, with 14 chapters and the prospects of comparatively rapid growth, its need was even more obvious.

During the 13th Conclave in 1921, the desirability of a headquarters was mentioned by several of the Grand Officers in their annual reports. It was Grand Grammateus Lloyd V. Ballard who presented the matter so forcefully that the office of Grand Grammateus was expanded into a national Executive Secretary and a central office was created. Harrold P. "Tex" Flint, then retiring as Grand Prytanis, was elected to this position and became the first Executive Secretary. The central office was established in Frater Flint's home in Lombard, Illinois.

With this change the affairs of the Fraternity became better coordinated, and a new national consciousness evolved with the development of a centralized administration. Tau Kappa Epsilon began to assume an importance, and secure recognition in the fraternity world.

Frater Reeve presided over the 14th Conclave in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was during this Conclave, in 1922, that hazing in fraternity initiation and pledging activities was soundly condemned.

The 15th Conclave was held in St. Louis from October 24-25, 1923. Phillip H. McGrath was elected Grand Prytanis.

The Depression Years

The period from 1930-35 was one of challenges for the Fraternity, just as it was for people and organizations throughout the United States. It was a struggle to keep the national organization functioning smoothly, and keep the chapter rolls intact, under the financial conditions that constantly brought shrinking financial support from all sources. National fraternities were folding because of insufficient support, but under the strong leadership of Grand Prytanis Beach and other devoted men, TKE weathered the storm and even progressed during this period.

Eight new chapters were added and many chapters pledged larger numbers of men each year. Only two chapters - the University of Chicago and the University of Nebraska - were not active following the Great Depression. Tau Kappa Epsilon also absorbed the membership of a small national fraternity, Sigma Mu Sigma, in 1934, but this resulted in only one new chapter, Alpha-Pi at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The 20th Conclave was held in 1935 at the Hotel Baker in St. Charles, Illinois. This Conclave, which was originally postponed for financial reasons and eventually held in 1935, instituted for the first time a program of addresses during the Conclave sessions, lunches, and dinners. However, the most significant measure adopted at this Conclave was the recognition of Lester H. Martin, L.W. Tuesburg, William Wilson, and Wallace G. McCauley for their dedicated and untiring efforts in the building of Tau Kappa Epsilon. These four men were named National Founders for their work in making TKE truly a "national" fraternity.

The Second World War

Tau Kappa Epsilon spent most of the war years under the leadership of Grand Prytanis Charles E. Nieman. During the early years of the United States' involvement in the military conflict, TKE did not suffer greatly. In October 1942, for example, TKE pledged 568 men as opposed to 475 men the preceding October. Also during the year, a record 628 men were initiated into TKE and the Fraternity's income was $26,505.47, an all-time high.

The severe manpower drain hit the colleges and the fraternity system in 1943, causing many chapters to go inactive and nearly all to abandon their houses. In September 1943, only 19 of TKE's chapters were still active and only two - Alpha-Zeta at Purdue and Alpha-Phi at Kansas - still had houses. All the other chapter houses had been relinquished for the duration of the war.

In conformity with governmental orders and to conserve Fraternity funds, no Conclaves were held during the war period. While the Fraternity continued to function and provide essential services to both chapters and Fraters, all expenses were cut to the bone.

The Teke magazine was suspended during the war in favor of a less expensive newspaper called Teke Life. This paper was sent out to every Teke on record, regardless of subscription status, in order to help maintain the interest of Tekes everywhere during this period when many of their undergraduate chapters were dormant.

For the first time, the office of Grand Grammateus was separated from the duties of Executive Secretary and a part-time Executive Secretary was hired. Dr. E.L. Theiss, Professor of Accounting at the University of Illinois assumed this position, hired a full-time secretary, and set up the National Office in Champaign, Illinois. In 1945 Frater Theiss tendered his resignation, and V.J. Hampton, Assistant Dean of Men at the University of Illinois, was hired as Executive Secretary.

The Fabulous Fifties

The Golden Jubilee Conclave in Chicago, September 1-3, 1949, celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Fraternity and marked the publication of The Golden Book of Tau Kappa Epsilon, a detailed history of the first fifty years of the Fraternity, compiled by Leland F. Leland.

Founders James C. McNutt and Clarence A. Mayer attended this, our 25th Conclave. They were the only two founders still alive as, sadly, Joseph L. Settles had passed away on February 15, 1943.

To 160 Chapters

Tau Kappa Epsilon began its rise to power by experiencing dynamic growth unlike any other fraternity in the history of the Greek community during the 1950s. Specifically, at the close of 1949, fifty years after the founding of the Fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon had granted a total of 79 charters, 75 of which were active, and had initiated a total of 15,954 men. But ten years later, in 1959, TKE's charter grants totaled 168, of which 160 were active and functioning, and the total initiates numbered 39,065. In just ten years, Tau Kappa Epsilon had more than doubled its size and had risen from a very insignificant position in the fraternity world to that of a leader in all aspects.

From 1949-1951, during Frater Leland's term of office, 20 new chapters were installed and Tau chapter at Oregon State, one of the four chapters to become dormant during the depression and war years, was reactivated. The Fraternity also conducted an extensive review of the national constitution and bylaws, and Frater Leland appointed Howard L. Hibbs, then a regional officer, to head the first national leadership conference.

Leadership Conferences

Starting at the 26th Conclave, a national leadership conference was held the day before the formal opening of Conclave. This "school" for undergraduate chapter officers started the precedent for leadership training conferences held in conjunction with each Conclave.

In 1951, Sophus C. Goth was selected as Grand Prytanis at the 26th Conclave held in Roanoke, Virginia. The long-needed overhaul of the basic laws of the Fraternity was officially approved and adopted by the passage of over a hundred separate amendments. One of the significant changes made at this Conclave was the establishment of the office of Grand Hegemon.

The Solid Sixties

As Tau Kappa Epsilon entered the decade of the 1960s, it had assumed a position of vital importance in the fraternity world. TKE was now the largest fraternity with more than 160 chapters and was a leader in all aspects of interfraternity competition. This decade was to bring about continued growth along with a solidification of fraternity policies, procedures, and operations.

Don Kaser, a veteran of ten years of service on the Grand Council, was elected Grand Prytanis at the 30th Conclave at the Sheraton-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, September 1-5, 1959. Frater Kaser's administration saw 41 new chapters installed, with the most significant being the 200th charter grant to Iota-Theta chapter at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, on March 24, 1963. TKE thus became the first fraternity to install 200 chapters, a goal long considered impossible.

Under the leadership of Frater Kaser, Tau Kappa Epsilon achieved a position of solid financial stability, dedicated its first permanent International Headquarters building, and formulated and instigated new programs becoming that of the largest and most progressive fraternity.

The 31st Conclave at the Roney Plaza in Miami Beach, Florida, September 1961, greatly aided the Fraternity's fiscal operations by eliminating the monthly dues procedure and adopting the single initiation fee. Increased operating efficiency, plus sound financial management, enabled the fraternity to repay all reserve funds in full by 1962 - operating on an annual budget in excess of $300,000.

The Fraternity For Life Film

The TKE public relations and rush film premiered at the Toronto Conclave. It was the first fraternity film produced by Hollywood professionals, and featured undergraduates from Kansas, Missouri, and California, with alumni Ronald Reagan and Stan Kenton, in a 15 minute color and sound film. Chairman of the Public Relations Commission, George Woolery, and Executive Director Bruce B. Melchert planned the film.

In another effort to improve the image of TKE and the fraternity system, the Fraternity planned its first Public Service Week in 1966. The week was a great success, with more participation and good publicity than its creators ever imagined. It was adopted as an annual project.

Into The Seventies

At the 1967 Conclave, Grand Prytanis Becker was elected to the first of his two terms. In his "State of the Fraternity" address at the Grand Bahamas Conclave, Frater Becker talked about continued growth for the Fraternity tied to a growth in services to support these additional chapters.

At a time when there was a good deal of talk about the impending death of national fraternities, Tau Kappa Epsilon was still growing fast. In the 1967-68 academic year fourteen new chapters were installed. This tied the previous one-year record that TKE had established. Then, in the 1968-69 school year, 22 new chapters were installed and two dormant chapters were reactivated - an accomplishment many believed impossible.

During this period, in-depth evaluations were taking place as Fraternity leaders sought new and better programs to meet the needs of students in a changing world. The "Chapter Retreat" concept was born during this period, with members encouraged to plan for the future of their chapter through pre-established goals.

Chapter Advisor Conferences came into being in 1969 to give more information to Fraternity advisors. Believing that the Chapter Advisor is a "key man for success," a number of services were directed toward preparing the Chapter Advisor for his responsibilities with the chapter.

In 1970 TKE reached another significant milestone with the installation of our 300th chapter (Nu-Mu) at the University of South Alabama.

The 80's - A Decade Full of Changes

The 41st Conclave was held at the Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, Virginia during 1981. This Conclave saw the election of John A. Courson to the office of Grand Prytanis. The theme of "Reach Out..." was emphasized as a challenge to all members of Tau Kappa Epsilon to build on the great traditions of the Fraternity.

Tau Kappa Epsilon unveiled a number of new programs and concepts in 1982. A special program of Regional Leadership Conferences was added to the already existing schedule of District Conferences. A greater focus on alumni involvement and volunteers was introduced as part of the new Regional Servicing Program. Full-color recruitment posters, buttons, brochures and special slide presentations were introduced as part of a comprehensive national marketing theme, "TKE...The Winning Tradition."

In 1983, the 42nd Conclave was held at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. The theme for this Conclave was "Tradition of Excellence." Dwayne R. Woerpel was installed as TKE's 30th Grand Prytanis. An exciting highlight of this Conclave was the conclusion of TKE Keg Roll V during a special celebration in the New Orleans Superdome. In addition, the first Ronald Reagan Leadership Award was presented to Frater Rex Davis.

A Presidential Reception

One of the most historic TKE events took place on March 23, 1984, when an impressive group of TKE leaders gathered for a special fraternal celebration at the White House in Washington, D.C. Frater Ronald Reagan, a lifelong TKE supporter, was awarded the NIC Gold Medal, the highest award among fraternities, for his lifelong efforts to support and promote college fraternities. In addition, Grand Prytanis Woerpel presented Frater Reagan with the Order of the Golden Eagle, the highest award in Tau Kappa Epsilon, for his exemplary lifelong commitment to our Fraternity and for his many efforts to assist and promote TKE.

Our 43rd Conclave was held in Orlando, Florida, where many Fraters enjoyed "TKE Day" at Walt Disney World. Joel E. Johnson was installed as Grand Prytanis and the "America's Fraternity" theme campaign was introduced. The Order of the Golden Eagle was given posthumously to Frater Harry J. Donnelly, who is generally considered a founder of the TKE Educational Foundation.

In 1985, Past Grand Prytanis Rodney Williams, Jr. was elected president of the North American Interfraternity Conference. Frater Williams was the first Teke to hold that position.

The 44th Conclave was held at the Grand Hyatt on August 19?22, 1987 in Washington, D.C. The new Fraternity theme "For Winners Only" was unveiled and Fraters enjoyed the sights and sounds in Washington, D.C. Past Executive Director Bruce B. Melchert was elected as Grand Prytanis. One significant accomplishment of Frater Melchert's term was the completion of an extensive Long Range Plan that included a study of hazing and its affects on the Fraternity.

TKE Feels Pressure from Society

By the end of the decade, TKE had experienced a 34% membership growth, but the increasing litigious environment in the United States was beginning to take its toll on all national Fraternities. TKE recognized that misbehavior, hazing and alcohol abuse were creating pressure across campuses and prepared to make a change.

The 45th Conclave was held at the Indianapolis Hyatt Regency Hotel in 1989, and James S. Margolin was elected Grand Prytanis. During the Conclave, the Grand Chapter adopted legislation to eliminate traditional pledging. The Membership Development Program included a structured candidate education program as well as continuing education that included levels of achievement, membership standards, and the Membership Quality Board. The program also included a prompt initiation requirement, requiring the initiation of new members within 14-days after bid acceptance. The fraternity also required all TKE chapters to maintain comprehensive liability insurance.

Responding to Changes in the Nineties

Despite the new Membership Development Program, fraternity membership started to decline rapidly. The loss of revenue resulting from lower initiate counts was becoming a burden for the Fraternity. The 46th Conclave was held at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1991, and Robert J. Borel was elected Grand Prytanis. With objection, TKE reaffirmed its prompt initiation requirement and mandated that all chapters convert to the Membership Development Program. To help overcome objections, TKE adopted a new theme "The Choice to Belong, the Challenge to Become" to help overcome objections to the Membership Development Program. The Grand Chapter also acted to abolish female auxiliary organizations, known as "little sister" groups.

Membership continued to decline and the Grand Council declared a State of Emergency. The Teke Magazine was temporarily suspended and the Offices of the Grand Chapter staff was reduced. Realizing the awesome task ahead, the Fraternity adopted a long-range plan to deal with these membership and financial pressures. The 47th Conclave was held at the Hyatt Burlingame in San Francisco, California. During this Conclave, TKE elected its first "legacy" Grand Prytanis, Rear Admiral John R. Fisher. His father, Donald A. Fisher, served as Grand Prytanis from 1935-1937, and Frater Fisher proudly wore his father's Past Grand Prytanis medallion during his own installation ceremony.

Centennial Celebration

The Centennial Celebration took place in seven cities across North America on January 9, 1999, counting down to midnight on January 10th. Each of the sites was linked via satellite to Bloomington, Illinois, where the Knights of Classic Lore had begun 100 years ago.

In 1999, our 50th Conclave, known as the Centennial Conclave, was held in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Indianapolis Scottish Rite Cathedral was the opening site of the Conclave that saw Lon G. Justice elected as Grand Prytanis.