Gamma Pi Chapter History
The Gamma Pi Chapter of Sigma Chi had its origin in a group of the eleven members of the class of 1920 who formed a class society under the name ETES. The group included:
Frederick G. Bell
Frederick O. Brooks
Herbert R. Childs
Charles R. Dalton
Atwood G. DeCoster
M. Stuart Hyland
Mark F. Kirchmaier
Paul S. McFarland
E. Baird Robinson
The first meeting was held at the home of Charles Dalton on November 20, 1917, who was elected to the only permanent office, that of Secretary-Treasurer. Bi-weekly meetings followed at the homes of members living in the city and the host for the evening acted as chairman.
Because the society was conscious of the strong fraternity loyalties of that era and their influence which often overshadowed allegiance to the University, ETES adopted as one of its cardinal principles that loyalty and service to the University should be the primary objective of the group and its individual members.
During the academic year 1917-18 the society added two other members of the class to its roster, Dewey L. Gilt and Fox D. Holden, making a total of thirteen. It also participated in class and college affairs to a remarkable extent including representation on the athletic teams, presidency of the class and editors of the Campus, the student publication. Devotion to the college was finding expression in action.
Toward the end of the college year it was decided to extend membership to men of other classes and in pursuance of that policy one member of the class of 1921 was admitted. From this precedent the number of members gradually expanded to include men of 1921 and 1922 and the class society gradually took on the characteristics of a fraternity.
RETURN AFTER WORLD WAR I
To the young group less than a year old the call to arms in World War I might well have proved disastrous. The close friendship created during that year, however, and the carefully laid foundations endured. When men returned from service after the armistice, activities were resumed with renewed vigor. Weekly meeting were held on Wednesday evenings and rooms were secured in what was then known as the Sibley Tower Building on Main Street, now remodeled and called First Federal Savings Building. Again ETES was represented in student life all out of proportion to its size.
In recognition of its accomplishments on the Campus the group was approached by a number of other fraternity men, encouraging it to seek formal recognition as a local fraternity. After some consideration it was finally decided to petition the student body for that recognition.
RECOGNITION GRANTED MARCH 4, 1920
With the hearty approval of the faculty ETES formally petitioned the Students Association for recognition as a local fraternity under the name of Sigma Delta Epsilon.
The petition was presented May 19, 1919 before the student body but was deemed in a close vote on the grounds that the group had no members in the then senior class.
At the beginning of the ensuing year the outlook for recognition was considered unfavorable but the group continued to be active and contributed significantly to the student life of the college. Very soon a number of other fraternities on campus expressed themselves as favorable to recognition and encouraged a second petition. That petition was submitted again on March 4, 1920 and was adopted by an unanimous vote.
Sigma Delta Epsilon thereupon became the first fraternity to be successfully established at Rochester since 1911 when Kappa Nu was founded, and became the second since 1884, the year of establishment of Phothepian (which became Phi Epsilon and later Theta Chi) and the Rochester Chapter of Chi Psi.
SIGMA DELTA EPSILON
During the first decade of its existence as a recognized local fraternity on the Rochester Campus, Sigma Delta Epsilon made an enviable record.
From the year 1919-20 through 1927-28 when the first data were assembled, Sigma Delta Epsilon won the scholarship cup three times (1919-20, 1922-23, and 1925-26). More of its members also were awarded Phi Beta Kappa Keys than were awarded to members on any of the other groups.
In student activities the record was no less impressive. Three of the Founders won their letter in football, Kirchmaier, Robinson, and Bell. They were followed by Scott, captain at the end of his sophomore year, Gordon, Suttle, and Dunn (co-captians) McGuire and Straub. In track there was a series of captains including Dalton in 1920 and White, Pendleton and Suttle in 1924, 1925, and 1926 respectively.
Childs, Klee, and Lee served successively as editors-in-chief of the Campus beginning in 1920.
Five members were presidents of their college classes, Dalton, Kirchmaier, Marchall, Ward, and Gordon and the highest office in the student body, President of the Students Association was held by Justin Smith in 1926-27.
Sigma Delta Epsilon was also well represented in baseball, basketball, glee clubs, year books, and indeed in every phase of student life.
Shortly after Sigma Delta Epsilon was formally recognized, the fraternity received its first encouragement to become a chapter of a National fraternity. William E. Lockner, an attorney in Lockport, New York, and an alumnus of the University made a strong appeal to Sigma Delta Epsilon to petition the reinstatement of the Chapter of Chi Psi which had been established at Rochester in 1884 and withdrawn in 1889. Mr. Lockner had been a member of that chapter and was very eager to have it reinstated.
Because Chi Psi was an old, established nation fraternity and because it had had a chapter at Rochester this seemed to be a desirable and logical move. The fact that an alumnus of the college and of that chapter was so vitally interested was also most encouraging.
Both Mr. Lockner and the Sigma Delta Epsilon enthusiastically worked for the reinstatement of the chapter of Chi Psi. Unfortunately however the Chi Psis in the Rochester area were divided on the issue. Because the University at that time was largely local in character, because Sigma Delta Epsilon did not own its own fraternity home, and because the national fraternity was extremely conservative in adding chapters, this movement gained only modest support from local alumni of other chapters and was actually opposed by some. Finally after some effort with little progress the petition was abandoned, much to the disappointment of Mr. Lockner.
This abandonment of a trial to reinstate the Rochester Chapter of Chi Psi was hastened by the interest of a local alumni of another National Fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. These alumni, including LeRoy E. Snyder , assistant to the President of the Gannett Newspapers , Mark H. Way, principal of No. 20 School, Dr. C. G. Parnall, G. H. Williamson and many others. This group was most enthusiastic about the prospect of a chapter of Phi Kappa Psi at Rochester and very actively supported petitions to the national fraternity in 1926, 1928, and 1930. None of these petitions was favorably acted upon, though Sigma Delta Epsilon also had the support of all the Phi Kappa Psi chapters in this area. The pressure upon the fraternity to expand in the west and the fact the that University of Rochester was not yet well known nationally were factors to be overcome particularly since Phi Kappa Psi was expanding very slowly indeed. Also there were the usual fraternity politics and pressures involved. Correspondants received from headquarters of Phi Kappa Psi and information that came through other sources made it seem highly probable that a petition submitted in 1932 would be acted upon favorably. In fact there were chapters which had agreed not to vote favorably on any expansion unless and until Sigma Delta Epsilon was admitted.
In spite of this the member of the active chapter of Sigma Delta Epsilon and several active alumni were opposed to presenting any additional petitions to Phi Kappa Psi. This opposition was strengthened by the fact that a very strong group of alumni of Sigma Chi in the Rochester area had been eager to support a petition to that national fraternity. The leader of this group was Edward S. Farrow who later became vice president of Eastman Kodak Company. Carl L. Bausch, who was vice president of Bausch and Lomb, James O’Brien, attorney, W. Wren Gabel, and a number of others devoted a great deal of time to the project.
By this time the University was established on the River Campus, and Sigma Delta Epsilon was housed in a new home on that campus. These developments, plus the wider attention which the University was receiving nationally, and particularly the vigorous support of the Sigma Chi alumni culminated in a petition to Sigma Chi which was approved by an overwhelming vote in 1932 and Sigma Delta Epsilon became the Gamma Pi Chapter of Sigma Chi. After formal installation all of the undergraduates and most of the alumni of Sigma Delta Epsilon were initiated.
THE BUILDING PROGRAM
Perhaps no task the fraternity faced during its early years presented such a challenge as the need to raise money for a fraternity home on the River Campus.
When the class society ETES was formed in 1917 no fraternity housing was needed. Later rooms were rented in the Sibley Building far removed from the campus. When the society became a recognized fraternity these rooms became inadequate because they offered no more than a social room and because their distance from the Campus.
Fortunately the fraternity, then Sigma Delta Epsilon was able to rent a house owned by the University next to the Catharine Strong Hall. This proved to be almost ideal in terms of the facilities available and the reasonable rent to the chapter.
When the University decided to build a new home for the college for men on the River Campus, the fraternities were faced with the necessity of building also. The University had allocated a plot of ground for a fraternity quadrangle, and permitted the groups to draw lots for choice of space in the quadrangle. Delta Upsilon had first choice and selected the location it now has [This later became the “drama house” special interest campus housing]. Sigma Delta Epsilon had second choice and chose the location now held by Psi Upsilon. Because the fraternity believed that that site was a key site on the quadrangle and because it was aware that it would be unable to build a house of size appropriate for that location it voluntarily relinquished that choice to Psi Upsilon and selected the plot upon which the Sigma Chi House now stands.
In a series of meeting sponsored by the University the fraternities agreed to limit the cost of houses to $60,000 exclusive of furnishing, to avoid competition and extravagant building competition. It was also agreed to limit the living quarters in the houses to not more then eleven men. The University, on its part, offered to loan the fraternities one half the cost of construction or a limit of $30,000 for each house. Since the University owned the land the loans were granted on notes only without security.
When the men’s college moved to the River Campus in 1930 and several of the fraternities were under way with their building programs, Sigma Delta Epsilon as a fraternity was only eight years old and had existed even as a class society for only 13 years. The alumni of the fraternity numbered eighty-nine, all of whom had been out of college less than 10 years.
In spite of this the fraternity undertook to raise money on a building fund campaign because it believed that the building of a house under condition that prevailed at the time was essential to its continued existence. After a most vigorous campaign which also resulted in some loss of funds invested during the depression and the break in the market in 1929, the fraternity had collected a total of approximately $16,000 which with and equivalent amount loaned by the University permitted the construction of the Sigma Delta Epsilon House, now Sigma Chi
In terms of the value of the dollar at the time, and the corresponding salary scales, this could be considered a major achievement. Even on the basis of a total alumni membership of 100, the average pledge amounted to more then $160 per man. The largest pledge was $1,000. For a young group with limited resources the scale of giving was probably unparalleled on the Campus.
The construction of the house was begun in September, 1930 the cornerstone laid in September 27, 1930 ad the house formally opened at a reception February 8, 1931. The last bit of interior finishing was actually done by the alumni themselves to save money and preserve a little cash for the most essential furnishings.