I studied health sciences (looking toward Physical Therapy), German and dabbled in communications during my college career. It is safe to say that the thought of working for my fraternity’s headquarters was not my initial intention.
One thing I had certainly learned at Stetson University, a small college cradled by a historic town we lovingly call “Deland of the Free,” was that life is but a string of interactions. One Facebook message connected me with my Fraternity. One conversation lead to my working for the national headquarters. One interaction lead me on a journey to discover what “fraternity” really means.
The men and women who founded our organizations likely did not intend for them to turn out as they are today. I say that in regard to the positive and negative attributes of modern day fraternities. How do I know that? How can I be sure?
My First Month On The Job
I joined Delta Sigma Phi’s staff on June 20th, 2011. A few weeks later, we flew to Orlando, FL for Convention, my first! I don’t even want to begin to describe what it was like to wear a suit (and for a limited time a Geico Gecko costume) in that heat. I; however, would like to share another, more personal journey that came out of that particular event.
Delta Sig’s history is full of unknowns. Though two men are recognized as our founding fathers, only one was present when our organizations was created in 1899. As the first fraternity to admit men of Jewish and Christian faiths, our men suffered through many conflicts, ultimately ending in the destruction of many of the founding documents of the Fraternity.
A man named Loren Mall, our national historian and a past national president, leads a special program at each of our conventions detailing our history and the development of our ritual. He has traveled thousands of miles and spent countless hours piecing together the history of Delta Sigma Phi to assemble the most complete understanding of who we are among our living members.
In addition to the national organization, Loren has studied and written of his own chapter at Kansas State University as well as many of our other chapters. It was at Convention 2011 that he and I first met, and also at this convention that he suggested that my chapter has one of the most entertaining stories.
The Stetson chapter of Delta Sigma Phi was re-built in 2002 after a 1998 closure. Though it officially became the Alpha Chi Chapter in 1925, its history extends to 1898 and the creation of Phi Kappa Delta. It represented home to a former governor of Florida, the only president of the university to have graduated from it, and many of the Carltons, a family that has contributed admirably to the institution.
I’m a closet history nerd, and so the task of connecting with my chapter’s past was too good to pass up. It was like looking through family albums minus the embarrassment of seeing myself in my sister’s clothes.
Have you ever seen those Ancestry.com commercials? Where men and women share fun stories of family detectives and founders of factories? I went to the ancestry.com of Stetson University: the institution’s archives. What I found put smile after thought-provoking smile on my face.
Pictures, yearbooks, newspaper articles and more pictures. The men who created my chapter in 1898, one year before the creation of our national organization, were all there: names and faces. I could see the progression of the chapter’s membership thanks to the yearbooks. I could see the programs they held, the legacies that joined after their brothers or fathers. It was all there.
A particularly interesting moment was reading the chapter’s letter to the campus community in 1925, the year in which Phi Kappa Delta became Delta Sigma Phi. They assured the students that this did not signal the end of the men of the Crescent and Fleur de lis.
Sparks began to fly. My chapter’s alumni newsletter was called “The Crescent.” This always baffled me as it has nothing to do with Egypt and Delta Sig has everything to do with Egypt. After four undergraduate years of confusion, I finally understood that our occasionally entertaining alumni newsletter was a beautiful tribute to the men of PKD. Neat!
Phi Kappa Delta, and Delta Sig thereafter, was a prominent literary society, with some of the most promising Stetson students. They performed plays, held a banquet to award their beloved professors, and met weekly to discuss literature.
They were everything a Fraternity should be: excellent men bound by philosophical alignment.
Rows Of File Cabinets
One afternoon, about a year after my first convention, I was given the task of filing some historic documents into the Fraternity’s archives.
In my year on staff I had never ventured into the most mysterious room of Taggart Mansion (our headquarters from 1985-2014), so it was an exciting moment for me. I wiggled the key ever so gently into the lock and flicked on the light switch. After a few sputters, golden rays fell upon rows of filing cabinets with piles of memorabilia stacked on top.
This. Was. My. Heaven.
As I placed the documents into the respective chapter’s file I noticed that our archives were no slouch. There were so many things in this chapter’s folder. Surely my chapter had to have an equal quantity of goodness, right? I made my way over to the drawer marked “AX” in permanent marker, opened it, and pulled the manila folder packed with loose pages out for the afternoon.
I regularly stayed at the headquarters well after 5:00pm as I was drafting our new proposal booklet, so this would simply replace my overtime with “me time.” In the folder were newspaper clippings, annual reports, visit reports and pay stubs.
The most interesting items? A series of letters dating back to the 1920’s and 30’s detailing the chapter’s correspondences with the national headquarters. Shortly after transforming into Delta Sigma Phi, the Stetson chapter struggled to pay their bills to the Fraternity and on their house. By the 1940’s they transitioned from a pain in the Fraternity’s side to one of it’s brighter, more capable groups.
The letters even detailed the spread of the Sailor’s Ball, an informal dance that began at the home of the Hatters and quickly spread to chapters across the nation. It was the chapter’s first contribution to the National Fraternity, and one that many of us still experience today.
Seeing these words made me feel like I was there with them, reading what they read as they read it. It was surreal, but confirmed once again that Fraternity is at its best when it demonstrates men caring for the benefit of other men.
Why This Matters
Much of what I believe regarding fraternity and sorority came from this exploration experience.
I still take time once a month to thumb through Stetson’s archives to get a better sense of where our organizations came from, how they interacted with others, and how we can better pay tribute to our founding principles. I have come to realize through this experience, among other personal experiences, that by losing sight of the simplicity of who we were, we have lost sight of the great things we could become.
I’d like to encourage more people, Delta Sigs or not, to embark on similar journeys. The things you may find will make you laugh, think and understand more about your organization than at any other time in your life. Perhaps if enough men and women took more time to look at who we were, we can do better to “Unleash Fraternity” in our aim for significance.
Have you taken a look at your organization’s past? What have you found? Share in the comments or write a story for Fraternityman.com.
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