Phi Kappa Tau Through the Decades

1906-1915: Decade of Development

On Saturday, March 17, 1906, twenty-one men met in the Miami Union Hall in Miami’s Old Main Building. Following Dwight I. Douglass’ call to order, Taylor A. Borradaile and Clinton D. Boyd spoke to the group in an attempt to persuade them to create a permanent non-fraternity organization built around the principles of democracy, square dealing and equality.

It was proposed that “Non-Fraternity Association” be the name of the organization and the others agreed. William H. Shideler kept the minutes of the meeting and along with Douglass the two agreed to draft a constitution. The men who attended that meeting have come to be known as Foundation Members of Phi Kappa Tau.

Dr. Edward Ewing Brandon, a forty-year-old professor, took an active interest in the work of the founders and became the organization’s faculty advisor. Known as the “Architect of Phi Kappa Tau”, he would be involved with the Fraternity for the next 51 years.

The Non-Fraternity Association gathered for dinner on May 7, 1907 to celebrate its successes and contemplate the future. The dinner became an annual event and was soon to be called the Founders Day Banquet, considered now to be the oldest tradition in Phi Kappa Tau.

On March 6, 1909, Phrenocon was chosen as the official name of the organization. Legend has it that the word was formed by combining the words “friends”, “non-fraternity”, and “comrades”.

1916-1925: Decade of Maturing

The Fraternity’s second decade of existence was an era of establishing the foundation for which the organization would base its goals, values and objectives. It was also during this time that Phrenocon would emerge as Phi Kappa Tau at the Sixth Convention in Alliance, Ohio.

One year later, University of Illinois-Champaign, hosted the Seventh National Convention, one that would be regarded as the most important to date. It was at this Convention that our ritual was written and dramatized; our official badge was created, along with the associate badge and the grand seal, both of which remained unchanged to this day. Our official colors of Harvard Red and Old Gold were established, along with our official flower, the red carnation. The office of grand field secretary was established to promote growth of the organization, and the predecessor to our National Council, the Grand Executive Council, were estbalished as well.  It was also announced that Phi Kappa Tau had been admitted to the National Interfraternity Conference (NIC), recognizing the Fraternity as an official national organization.

By 1918, all colleges, universities and the Greek system as a whole were affected by the First World War.  Enrollment dropped and recruiting subsided as members and national councilors alike volunteered their service to the country. By the end of the war, 269 members had served including founder Douglass, Dr. Brandon and Grand President Ewing Boles. Following the war, the Fraternity would experience substantial growth, adding fifteen chapters within four years. The first Central Office also began operations in rented space in the Peoples Bank Building in Indianapolis.

1926-1935: A Decade of Expansion

Beginning with a period of considerable growth, the Fraternity felt the same effects as the rest of the nation when the Great Depression took hold.

Roland Maxwell, Southern California ’22, was elected to the Grand Council at the Eighteenth Convention, commencing a thirty-two year career as a national officer with the Fraternity.

In 1931, following “Black Tuesday,” every chapter was active, yet five years later several closed as initiation counts fell due to declining college enrollment.

It was during this time that the Grand Council voted to move the Fraternity’s headquarters from Indianapolis to Oxford, Ohio and embark on a construction project which resulted in a new memorial headquarters building. The dedication took place in August, 1931 at the Silver Jubilee.  Thus, Phi Kappa Tau became the second fraternal organization to construct a building to house the executive and administrative work of the fraternity.

At the 20th national convention, delegates voted to abolish “Hell Week” as a pre-initiation practice. Although the Founders were strongly opposed to hazing, bad habits began creeping into the activities and rituals of chapters.

The fraternity chartered 13 new chapters from 1926 through 1930.

1936-1945: The Roller Coaster Decade

The War Decade, as it is known, emerged as a time that Phi Kappa Tau was to be tested to determine whether it could continue to operate and grow despite the entrance of the United States into World War II. Although war was on the minds of the delegates as they left the 1936 Convention, optimism for the Fraternity was evident. Between 1937 and 1943, six new chapters were installed despite the dwindling enrollments as students joined the military.

As the United States was faced with the choice of entering the war, James S. Dunlop, Bethany ’39, was the first Phi Tau killed in World War II as he flew over the English Channel with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Three months later, the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, drawing the country into the war. Six Phi Taus were known to have been stationed at the naval base.

During the next four years, almost every chapter closed its doors as college students entered the military. The Fraternity administration was placed under the direction of a committee of past presidents, and Founder Shideler served as acting national secretary when National Secretary Richard J. Young, Miami ’25, entered the U.S. Navy.

Eight-thousand members of the Fraternity served during World War II between 1941 and 1945. One-hundred-fifty-one members perished.

1946-1955: A Decade of Expansion

The decade began with the 1947 “Victory Convention” at the Hotel Spink on Lake Wawasee, Ind. While members were excited about the prospect of growth and the expansion turn-around from the Depression, the atmosphere was bittersweet. Many, including Jack Anson, Colgate ’47, were veterans and they were well aware of the price that so many had paid to achieve victory.  This was also the first Convention that  Anson attended, a streak that lasted for the next 42 years. Our Coat-of-Arms was also updated at this convention, covering up the symbols with gold.

With university enrollment booming from veterans enlisting due to the G.I. Bill, Phi Kappa Tau began a remarkable expansion of chapters. At the 1947 Convention President Roland Maxwell set a goal of chartering 25 chapters by the fraternity’s Diamond Jubilee in 1956, to bring the total number of chapters to 75. Although Phi Kappa Tau established 12 colonies alone that very same year, Maxwell’s goal of 75  by 1956 fell just short, with the installation of the 71st chapter at Cal State–Long Beach in March of that year.

In 1949, a ceremony, not since replicated, was held at Florida State when Phi Tau, along with six other national fraternities, chartered the school’s first seven fraternities in one large installation banquet.

In 1950, Roland Maxwell penned the “Creed of Phi Kappa Tau.” The Creed still bears strong importance and meaning to Phi Kappa tau to this day.

At the thirtieth National Convention in 1949, language regarding membership restrictions based on race and religion that had been passed in 1936 was removed by delegates, although Phi Kappa Tau wouldn’t initiate its first African-American member until 1954.

The same year that Maxwell wrote our Creed, the second of our honored founders passed away. Founder Boyd entered chapter eternal when his car skidded in front of a truck on his way to the Republican National Convention.

1956-1965: Calm Before the Storm

The late 50s compared to the early 60s is a tale of two decades that saw a country transition from the post-world war era to the peace, love and rock-n-roll generation. The societal culture shock was becoming inevitable.

In 1958 Phi Kappa Tau changed the name of the its Educational endowment Fund to the Phi Kappa Tau Foundation. Following the Pasadena Convention of 1958, the Fraternity saw its numbers swell as 16 new chapters came into existence. One chapter installation however, was bittersweet. The installation of Gamma Beta in 1959 at Cincinnati would be the last time Roland Maxwell and Richard Young would execute their signatures on a chapter. Maxwell had chosen to resign his fraternity presidency when he was elected to the top volunteer post with the NIC. Young served as National Secretary for 30 years.

Campus unrest had risen to the surface leading up to the Vietnam War and by mid-decade, most colleges and universities would find themselves embroiled in the great controversy produced by the U.S. presence in Vietnam. The Greek community, according to alumni, also became engaged and fraternity men-for the first time-were caught up in the unrest along with their peers.

The first known Phi Tau to die in the Vietnam War was Capt. William W. Nichols, Jr., Penn State, ’58. It was also during this decade that the fraternity lost two people that were central figures in the founding of Phi Kappa Tau; Edgar Brandon, often referred to as “The Architect of Phi Kappa Tau,” and William Shideler, passed away within one year of each other.  Shideler was the third of our honored Founders to pass away.

1966-1975: A Turbulent Decade

There were sparks of light for Phi Tau amidst the social upheaval taking place. The late 1960s were remarkably successful for the Fraternity. Expansion efforts to establish new colonies were met with great success and the organization continued to grow.

Also, during the summer of 1968, IMPACT (Imagination, Management, Programming, Attitude, Communication, and Training) began under the leadership of Mel Dettra, Ohio State ’45. He had devoted most of his National Council career to the pursuit of a program that would address leadership, motivation and communication elements in the chapters. The IMPACT program was the forerunner of Leadership Academy.

May 4, 1970 was a day that saw four Kent State students shot and killed by National Guardsmen on the campus. One of the students killed was Jeff Miller who, following his older brother Russ Miller, Michigan State ’65, associated Alpha Alpha chapter as a legacy in 1968, and later transferred to Kent State.

The early 1970s saw the Fraternity exist on a severely restricted budget. Chapter recruitment and retention had fallen off and chapter advisors began walking away in droves. The economic situation of the Fraternity was so bleak that The Laurel was published on credit. It was so bad that the 1974 National Convention had to be postponed until 1975 due to lack of funds.

Despite the increasing budgetary issues facing Phi Kappa Tau, 17 charters were granted during this decade, and the first candlelight ceremony was held at the 1975 convention.

1976-1985: A Decade of Transition

Amid the red, white and blue of the 1976 bicentennial, Phi Kappa Tau kicked off a decade of transition. The 1977 Convention saw Bill Jenkins announce his resignation as executive director of the Fraternity effective the following summer. John Meyerhoff, Colgate ’61, was hired seven months after Jenkins left.

The Fraternity had to tackle a financial disaster that had emerged as a result of the tumultuous 70s (in fact the 1979 Convention was held on a college campus instead of a resort). The Phi Tau Circle was dedicated in 1981 at Miami University during the 75th anniversary of the Fraternity.

One of the more memorable moments in Phi Tau history was Ewing Boles’ announcement in 1982 at the Foundation winter meeting. Boles told members of the board that he would personally match any gift to the Foundation up to one million dollars. At the time, his was the largest single gift ever made to a men’s fraternity.

Jack Anson in 1986 was the recipient of the NIC Gold Medal. This decade salso claimed the last of our honored Founders, Taylor Borradaile. At the 1977 Convention standards were approved to hold under-performing chapters accountable the organization. This set of standards were named in honor of the only Founder many of the delegates had ever met, Taylor Borradaile.

1986-1995: A Decade of Comings and Goings

This ten-year block of our Fraternity’s history would reflect comings and goings, the likes of which Phi Kappa Tau had never seen before. Death claimed four Brothers whose individual and collective contributions to Phi Kappa Tau will not soon be replicated, if ever. Chapter eternal welcomed the likes of Jack Anson, Joe Joiner, Georgetown ’73, Ewing Boles, Centre ’14, and Walter “Sonny” Strange, Auburn ’70.  Anson died shortly after being elected to National Vice President.

1988 saw the inaugural Leadership Academy at Miami University. This was the direct result of the efforts of National President John Cosgrove, Florida ’68, to reinstate the former national leadership program—IMPACT. The following year’s convention adopted standards for scholarship, mandating chapters maintain a .10 higher GPA than the all-men’s average on campus.

One of the most significant decisions in the Fraternity’s history was action taken by delegates at the Fraternity’s 1995 Washington, D.C. convention to adopt the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps as the Fraternity’s new national philanthropy. It was also during this time period that Phi Kappa Tau adopted our first version of a risk management policy to give our chapter’s safe guidelines to follow and keep insurance rates affordable.

And the decade of comings and goings came to a close with the 1996 publishing of Charlie Ball’s, Miami ’82, “From Old Main to a New Century”, the first history written since Jack Anson’s 1956 “Golden Jubilee History of Phi Kappa Tau”.

1996-2006:Our Final Decade (Before Our Second Century)

New Year’s Day, 1996, kicked-off the final decade of our Fraternity’s first 100 years.  Four national presidents emerged and while they all have uniquely distinctive styles, all brought a wealth of enthusiasm and a profound belief in the importance of the experience of fraternity. Expansion took hold as ten chapters were chartered and seven reorganized.

In August, 1999, the Fraternity and Foundation moved to a central office to house both entities under one roof that also allowed for the organization to expand and grow. One year later Bill Jenkins was elected president of the NIC.

Several faces returned to Oxford during the decade. John Green was named Foundation executive director. Jenkins assumed the duties as Centennial coordinator and Steve Hartman, Muskingum ’89, a former leadership consultant, joined the staff as chief operating officer.

With the first 100 years drawing to a close, all focus was directed toward events celebrating our Centennial. Construction began on the Centennial Garden adjacent to the Executive Offices building and the Centennial Celebration and Convention at Miami University in July 2006 saw unprecedented numbers of alumni and guests return to “where it all began.”