Members and pledges of one of Phi Delta Theta’s oldest continuous chapters will move into a new $4 million chapter house when the fall term at Wabash College begins in August. Click on the link at the bottom of this story to see a photo album.
The new house, which sits on the same footprint as the original chapter house acquired in 1903, is in the final stages of construction. Only finishes and touch-ups remain on the project that began over a year ago and is the fourth completed facility since Wabash's Fraternity Partnerships began during the Campaign for Leadership.
"Wabash continues to support fraternity membership as it fulfills its mission to educate men to lead effectively and live humanely," declares Wabash Dean of Students Tom Bambrey. "The new house is made possible by the generosity of Phi Delt alumni and funding from Wabash College as we work together to enhance the relationship between the College and the fraternity."
The timing of this current campaign was perfect, as the "White Elephant," as Phis used to call the old house, began to exhibit signs of wear and tear from everyday use by some 50 brothers and from structural fatigue, most notably basement-level flooding.
Through the process of fundraising, planning, and strategizing, the steering committee met with architects, college staff and administrators, contractors, and even an interior designer.
"Throughout this project, we had to reconsider everything about the old house and its 100-year tradition that we took for granted," comments Facilities Co-Chairman Bill Leppert ’94 "Whether to build new, whether to change location, whether to move the location of rooms: we took a hard look at every aspect of that house. Five years later we like what we see!"
This fall, actives and Phikeias will take up residence in a brand new three-story, 20,300 square foot chapter house anchored on the exact same corner as the previous building. Supported by a newly formed Alumni Advisory Council, the active chapter will face new challenges as it adjusts to living in a new facility.
"Our chapter gets the unique opportunity to ‘break in’ an amazing new house," comments Chapter President Joe Seger ’06. "After relinquishing our cherished residence at 114 West College for a year, we know that we will succeed in establishing this house in the steeped tradition of Indiana Beta."
During the course of this project, the brothers discovered that maybe the cramped quarters of the old house might have fostered such a tight brotherhood. "In designing the new house, we hope we’ve retained that communal atmosphere while giving our guys more room to live and study," says Brother Leppert. "At the same time, we seized the opportunity to correct some design issues in the old chapter. Before, attention of brothers studying in our library competed with the traffic through the adjacent front door."
At each step, the committee engaged their active brothers to solicit valuable input and opinions. Just like the old house, each sleep-study room in the new facility is unique. The active brothers rejected early layouts that sketched out grouped suites or cookie-cutter rooms. The brothers also bucked the current wisdom of providing incoming freshmen more privacy.
"We take great pride in the unity and loyalty present within our chapter," said Dustin DeNeal ’04. "A big part of this close Bond can be attributed to the daily interaction that results from sharing bathrooms, living areas, meals, and much more. Both the design of the new house and the refusal to adopt the national trend of building more self-contained, hotel-like rooms mirror our chapter’s commitment to maintaining our unique sense of unity."
The theme of "Renew the Bond" slowly emerged as a means of galvanizing brothers to the project. Its logo has adorned all mailings as the committee began quarterly update letters to all alumni.
The Fundraising Committee went to work setting up a means to renew that Bond from the pool of potential donors among the alumni. "We thought the best model for soliciting alumni for gifts was to use the guys that went to Wabash when they did: their pledge brothers," says Fundraising Co-Chairman Mark Dill ’75. "So we went about identifying a guy from each class, from ’37 all the way to the current senior class."
The College’s Advancement Office helped train the volunteers in conference call sessions. Each volunteer then received a packet containing names and contact information for every member of his pledge class along with a sample letter geared toward the decade in which that class graduated.
The results have been impressive. Currently, more than 350 alumni, parents, and friends have made gifts and pledges in excess of $1.8 million toward the construction of a new chapter house. That’s roughly half of Indiana Beta’s alumni.
"From my perspective, the biggest reason the Phi Delt campaign has been so successful is the dedication of its broad network of volunteers," observes Dean for Advancement Joe Emmick. "It is a clear illustration of how the bonds of Phi Delta Theta’s brotherhood last a lifetime, and it is clear the priority Phi Delt alumni place on supporting their undergraduate brothers. The way in which they have executed this campaign is an example we hold up for other fraternities to follow."
"It’s certainly rare to see this kind of working relationship on a project," remarks Hugh Vandivier ’91, who serves as Communications Chairman. "We really didn’t worry about egos or org charts; we just set out to raise the money and build the thing! I thought we all complemented each other’s talents and availability extremely well."
The brothers also were lucky to receive the guidance of some fellow brothers in high places, namely eight Wabash Trustees who received regular updates and provided much appreciated leadership gifts, support, and counsel.
"It’s certainly a harrowing thought to realize that you’re at the helm of a multimillion building project that relies so much on the demeanor and behavior of 18- to 22-year-olds!" admits Brother Vandivier. "But in the end, you have to trust these guys, just like someone trusted us once.
"People look at the completed house or learn about our fundraising success, and inevitably ask, ‘How did you pull that off?’" he observes. "Initially, I am inclined to answer that the College and its alumni still believe that this chapter is still an essential part of our students’ education. In the end, I just end up telling them, ‘We have a strong brotherhood fostered by determination, loyalty, and pride.’"