Indiana Beta Chapter - History
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Phi Delta Theta

The History of Phi Delta Theta at Wabash College

First Chapter House, 1903

On October 5th, 1903, thanks to the leadership of Brother Will Hays, Sr., class of 1900, the property at 114 West College in Crawfordsville, Indiana was purchased for $7,000. It was a double lot and the adjoining parcel of property was sold for $1,500 making the net purchase price $5,500. This purchase was financed by issuance of capitol stock from the chapter house association. The president of the association was named Frank Evans and secretary was Royal Gerard.  A mortgage was filed and paid off April 26, 1913.

The original house had been built in 1890 or 1891. The original cost of the house was $16,000 (The Scroll, 1904). The owner at time of construction in 1890 was a family named Wasson. In 1901, Mr. Wasson died intestate. The administrator of the estate was Charles Goltra, perhaps a family friend or relative. After some negotiation, Brother Hays was able to purchase the 114 West College house from the estate at a very reasonable price of $7,000 on October 5th, 1903.

On December 31st, 1903, the deed was signed transferring the property to Indiana Beta House Association. Interestingly, this property was initially transferred from the United States of America to a man named John Wilson on November 20, 182,; six years after Indiana had achieved statehood (Abstract of Title located in business office of Center Hall, Wabash College).

Indiana Beta, Phi Delta Theta is the second fraternity to have bought a chapter house property on the Wabash campus, as Phi Gamma Delta was the first in 1902. However, Indiana Beta is still at the same location as the original property purchase, whereas Phi Gamma Delta is now at its third location. The Fijis' original house was on South Main Street in Crawfordsville. The other note of interest taken from “The Scroll” of 1903 or 1904 is the fireplace mantle located on the second floor of the current chapter house. This mantle was purchased and installed for $350 in the east parlor (known as the library) in the old house. It still exists today on the second floor of the current, new house.

There is factual evidence Phi Delta Theta was used as an infirmary in 1917 and 1918 during the great influenza outbreak. Articles in the local paper substantiate that usage. However, persistent stories of the house being a hospital during the Civil War are still debatable, as the War Between the States obviously occurred from 1861-1865.

The Renovation of 1937-1940

On July 15, 1937 a letter from Will Hays, Sr. (President of Motion Pictures Producers & Distributors of America, Inc. letterhead) indicates concern over the matters of Indiana Beta Chapter House and the need for renovation. Over the next three years correspondence from individuals Ross Halgren (chairman of Building Fund Committee), William B. Guthrie, George Banta, L.E Devore, Ben Evans, Charles Federman, John T. Hays, William R. Higgins, and Lee Ridgeway developed a model using 57 alumni to solicit $30,000 from the alumni ranks to rebuild the Phi Delta Theta Chapter House at Crawfordsville. They raised $9,115 from 106 alums out of 333 living alumni as of October 7, 1940.

It appears that the Housing Corporation took out a mortgage for the balance. The interesting point of history which should be noted is the timeframe of this construction project. In 1939, the United States was still in the grips of the Great Depression and the Phi Delta Theta alumni still managed to step up for its fraternity. The July 29, 1940 issue of The Journal Review of Crawfordsville has a cover story outlining the reconstruction of the Indiana Beta Chapter House. This should be required reading for all Phikeias! 

1961 Renovation

From the Abstract of Title, a mortgage was taken out for $55,000 in 1961 to remodel and add rooms to the Chapter House. The dining room, kitchen, upper hall with six study rooms, upper dorm with more bed spaces,and lower hall with three study rooms were added to the north side of the house. 

1980 Renovation

In 1979, the Board of Health condemned the Phi Delta Theta Chapter House. The Housing Corporation again turned to its alumni ranks. Under the leadership of Andy Anderson '65, Bruce Polizotto '63, John Horner '59, Rex Henthorn '59, and Joe Malott '59, an aggressive plan of action was undertaken to raise $149,000.

On February 1, 1980, these leaders mailed a letter to all alumni stating that the chapter needed to raise the full amount in cash or pledges by June 1, 1980. The College would then contribute $251,000 to the estimated $400,000 cost to remodel Indiana Beta. As a condition for this contribution from the College, the Indiana Beta Housing Corporation would be required to deed the property to Wabash College. This agreement was made, and in June 1980, they achieved their goal. From another grassroots approach, similar to the one used in the 1937-40 project, individuals from each pledge class solicited their pledge brothers and from 680 living alumni with 247 contributed $220,289 towards a project which ended up costing $583,000. The most impressive aspect is this was done in an extremely short period of time (4 months!) and was done using regular mail and telephones!

The direness of the situation cannot be overstated at that time either. In the early 1980s, college age population was shrinking and Wabash College was predicting smaller enrollments. The other aspect was at that specific time Wabash College had plenty of empty beds in the dorms and the other fraternities, so the future of Indiana Beta Phi Delta Theta at Wabash College was not a high priority in the eyes of the administration. The persistence and persuasive talents of the the aforementioned leaders of this campaign should never, ever be forgotten because without their efforts Phi Delta Theta may have had  to close the doors in 1980. What a travesty that would have been!

September 25, 2005: Dedication of the new Phi Delta Theta House at Wabash College

In 1998, Bill Leppert '94 and Hugh Vandivier '91 began talking about the future of Indiana Beta Phi Delta Theta at Wabash College. Wabash College was beginning a new Capital Campaign and one component of the campaign called for renovation or rebuilding of the fraternity houses at Wabash College.

In 2001, King Lumpkin '88, Scott Smalstig '88, and Mark Dill '75 joined Hugh and Bill to form a steering committee to begin plans for our new fraternity house. After numerous meetings, phone calls, and emails, a plan to raise money and construct a new house began.

The current chapter room contains the officer station desks from the old house. While we do not know when these stations were installed, before the new house was dedicated, Bruce Polizotto '63 refinished and stained these desks for the future officers to enjoy as well. 

On September 25, 2005, a celebration of those efforts took place in Knowling Fieldhouse on the campus of Wabash College. Using the same grassroots approach from the 1980 and 1940 projects, a group of 50 fundraising volunteers spanning the classes of 1938-2005 raised over $2 million from over 350 contributors from the ranks of 725 living alumni. More Phi Delta Theta alums contributed cash or pledges to this new house than any other fraternity project on campus! This once again illustrates that there are two types of fraternity men at Wabash College: Phi Delts and those who wish they had been!

The current and future members of Phi Delta Theta have a proud history to sustain, and it is our hope they show the same loyalty, determination, and pride as those who came before them have demonstrated and continue what is now the oldest continuous chapter of Phi Delta Theta.

The Origin of Phi Delta Theta

The first Greek letter organization was Phi Beta Kappa, founded Dec. 5, 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. 63 years later, Beta Theta Pi was founded at Miami University in Ohio. In protest against the president of the university, members of Beta Theta Pi and other students blocked the entrances of the main educational and administrative building in what became known as the Great Snow Rebellion.

A year later, after the president expelled most of the students involved in the uprising, Phi Delta Theta was formed. Six men staying in a dormitory the day after Christmas formed the Greek-letter society. Robert Morrison, a senior, proposed to fellow classmate John McMillan Wilson they bond together to form a secret society. They invited juniors Robert Thompson Drake and John Wolfe Lindley; sophomores Ardivan Walker Rodgers and Andrew Watts Rogers into the fold. The first meeting was held in Wilson's room at Old North Hall, now called Elliot Hall.

During the early meetings, the founders wrote The Bond of Phi Delta Theta, which is the fundamental law of the Fraternity. It has remained unchanged ever since. The Founders also designed the badge, consisting of a shield, eye and scroll with the Greek letters on it. Beta Theta Pi, Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Chi were the first three fraternities founded at Miami University, so they are known as the Miami Triad. The first branch of Phi Delta Theta was founded at Indiana University in 1849. The Indiana Chapter has the longest continuous existence of any in the Fraternity.

The War Between the States was difficult for all fraternities. Battles put fraternity brother against fraternity brother, although fraternal bonds may have led to the release of many prisoners or better treatment for others.

During the two decades from 1870 to 1890, the growth of the Fraternity was very rapid, due principally to the efforts of Walter B. Palmer, Emory-Vanderbilt 1877, and George Banta, Franklin-Indiana 1876. The two were given the title Second Founders for their work.

Phi Delta Theta is known as an international fraternity. The first Phi Delta Theta chapter in Canada was installed at McGill University April 5, 1902. Phi Delta Theta now boasts 12 Canadian chapters, more than any other fraternity.

The "Immortal Six" of Phi Delta Theta

Robert Morrison

John Wolfe Lindley

Ardivan Walker Rodgers

John McMillan Wilson

Andrew Watts Rogers

Robert Thompson Drake

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Phi Delta Theta Today

The Fraternity now has nearly 190 chapters in 42 states and five Canadian provinces. The Fraternity has initiated more than 250,000 men since 1848 and has more than 160,000 living alumni. Chartered house corporations own more than 120 houses valued at $50 million. There are more than 100 recognized alumni clubs across the United States and Canada. The Fraternity operates from the General Headquarters building on South Campus Avenue, across from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. At the corner of the campus closest to headquarters, memorial gates were erected in honor of the Fraternity's 150th anniversary.

The men of Phi Delta Theta share a commitment to the intense bond of friendship between brothers, high academic achievement, and living life with integrity. A Phi Delt has high expectations of, and for, himself and his brothers. He believes that one man is no man.

The fraternity teaches men that these areas of commitment, those outlined in The Bond of Phi Delta Theta, are not to be viewed as separate ideals, but as areas of discipline for daily life. Developments intellectually, in leadership, and human service (to name a few) are vital to the Phi Delt. The Phi Delt will support, and in turn have the support of, his brothers as these principles are lived out.

Members of Phi Delta Theta have gone on after their college careers to great endeavors. From Neil Armstrong to Burt Reynolds and Wes Welker, Phi Delts have made their impact on our society and the world around us.  Members of Indiana Beta strive for similar standards of excellence which cultivate the individual's desires and talents. Ultimately, the plethora of advantages provided by the Phi Delt Brotherhood have contributed to the development of generations of influencial gentlemen.

Membership in Phi Delta Theta goes beyond belonging to a social organization. The men of Phi Delta Theta tell of the tremendous support that exists between brothers and how, during their college years, they developed self-confidence, leadership qualities, and a belief in the strength of their abilities. They believe their lifetime commitment to the fraternity is one of the most important commitments they ever made.

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