The History of the Creed

Phi Kappa Tau, by admitting me to membership, has conferred upon me a mark of distinction in which I take just pride. I believe in the spirit of brotherhood for which it stands. I shall strive to attain its ideals, and by so doing to bring to it honor and credit. I shall be loyal to my college and my chapter and shall keep strong my ties to them that I may ever retain the spirit of youth. I shall be a good and loyal citizen. I shall try always to discharge the obligation to others which arises from the fact that I am a fraternity man.

Roland W. Maxwell, Southern California ’22
National President, 1934-59
November 19, 1950

Phi Kappa Tau Creed: What It Really Means

William D. Jenkins, Bowling Green ’57

The flight that November day from Los Angeles to Chicago in 1950 was tiresome and long. Much, much longer than today’s flights (and no frequent flyer miles to soothe one’s nerves). Roland Maxwell, Southern California ‘22, had made the trip often before, but this time he was connecting to Toledo, ultimately to help install Beta Tau chapter at Bowling Green. (Before his long tenure as the Fraternity’s National President would end in 1960, Maxwell placed his signature on more than 30 chapter charters, the last being Gamma Beta at Cincinnati in 1959.)

Since then, most of us have learned that it was shortly after that 1950 installation ceremony that Maxwell put the finishing touches on what we who have been initiated since then have come to call the Creed of Phi Kappa Tau. In the vernacular of today, I don’t know that it’s cool, but it is an awesome statement.

These days, some suggest Maxwell penned the Creed in less than 30 minutes on the back of an envelope. Some might also believe there was a full moon, a willow tree and a river bank involved. I wasn’t there; so I cannot prove that it happened that way – or that it didn’t. But knowing the man as I did, my sense is the Creed actually evolved after several starts, probably beginning in Pasadena, his home, and continuing at 30,000 feet all the way to Chicago, possibly going through three or four drafts or more before touching down.

The “real” specifics surrounding the Creed’s actual development probably will never be known. And that shouldn’t command more than a minute or two of our collective time to worry about. We have the Creed. Let’s be thankful for that. What is terribly important however is that it was Maxwell’s idea, and he was truly inspired to put on paper the emotion he felt about his Fraternity, his Phi Kappa Tau.

I believe I first met Maxwell at the Fraternity’s National Convention in Pasadena in June of 1958 (Shideler and Borradaile were on hand, too. Shideler would enter Chapter Eternal six months later, leaving only Borradaile of the original group.) Maxwell was tall, statuesque, probably 6’ 5” or more, tan, sporting a snow white crew cut, and driving a vintage 2-door white Thunderbird convertible with its signature port-hole. Because of his height, I marveled at his ability to climb in and out of that car, wondering where he put his long legs when he got in and how they had to uncoil when he got out.

Maxwell was an interesting man. He had a profound ability to speak to an audience of hundreds, even thousands. (He would memorize two speeches a year and never permitted them to be printed.) His oratory could extract great emotion – even tears – from those in the back rows as well as in the front. Conversely, he was somewhat uncomfortable in a social setting. He did not drink and cocktail receptions were awkward for him.

But he authored the Creed just as you might imagine he would if you knew him: straightforward, honest as the driven snow, inspired, emotional. Interestingly, today’s members know the Creed backward and forward, inside and out. But I cannot tell you when the Creed was actually first published. Maybe in some membership manual 25 or 30 years ago, I’m just not sure. When I was initiated in 1957, I don’t recall the Creed being a part of our membership work (and that was seven years after piece was written). But somewhere along the way the Fraternity discovered this wonderful statement. And for the generations of members which have followed, I’m so glad we did.

So, what does the Creed really mean? The easy thing to do would be to say you’d have to ask the man himself. All the rest of us can do is interpret what we think it means, what we think Maxwell had in mind when he penned the statement. For the record, my take on the Creed’s meaning is simply this: The Creed is truly an amazingly developed statement which, now written more than 50 years ago, carries with it just as much substance today as it did when the ink was still wet.

Each line is a singular statement about values and character. Each line could be set aside by itself, each giving substance to the reader’s own experience. But it doesn’t stop with that, because when each line is linked with the next, the result is a virtual symphony of thought about the make-up of the experience of fraternity and how one reacts to it.

So what does it mean? If you believe in fraternity, truly believe in fraternity and what the experience can mean, first as a student and later for years to come, the Creed becomes your reason for being. personal. Very personal. Something to live by. To fall back on. Expressing what the Phi Kappa Tau experience can be, not necessarily what it is. And so much more than memorization and recitation. So much more.