Pi Rho Phi (1910 - '30)

This storyline is from a collection of the Journal of Sigma Phi Epsilon and The Omegan published by Theta Upsilon Omega which merged with Sigma Phi Epsilon in 1938.

[As you read about the merger of Pi Rho Phi into TUO, this chapter will benefit significantly through the service of another alumnus of Pi Rho Phi from Westminster who is later called to serve a pivotal leadership role at Monmouth College. This distinguished professor, the Rev. J.H. Grier, D.D., served as chapter advisor (between 1931 and 1938) and become the 5th President of Monmouth College, serving this college faithfully from 1936 to 1952.]

Sub Rosa Existence Enlivened History of Pi Rho Phi Fraternity

Twenty-three years (1907 - 1930) of eventful history, more vivid and romantic than any heretofore "chronicled in these pages" that is the background of Zeta Beta chapter, the most recent addition to our national fraternity. Founded in 1907 as Tau Lambda Phi, it endured the vicissitudes of a sub rosa existence for the first fifteen years of its life. In 1910 it affiliated with Pi Rho Phi, that rather enigmatic national fraternity which was founded in the dim past by the group at Westminster College which is now our Lambda Alpha chapter. Since all of the three or four chapters of this fraternity were sub rosa, no national organization was possible. When the respective college authorities finally recognized these groups, they began operating as independent local fraternities.

A member of the new chapter relates the entire fascinating account in the following words:

"There is, perhaps, no more graphic or concise statement which sets forth the purpose for the founding of Tau Lambda Phi in March of 1907, than that in the preamble to the constitution of the Pi Rho Phi Fraternity: "It has become a necessary custom in all institutions of learning to establish and maintain societies to strengthen the bonds of friendship and good-will; to protect these close friends from imposition; and to render assistance in form needed."

Though such ideals may be regarded as being somewhat prosaic, nevertheless, they formed the bond of union for the eleven charter members of this fraternity. In addition to the lofty sentiments, the lure of maintaining and of becoming a part of a sub rosa group was undoubtedly a determining factor in the banding together, for most of the activities of these men were shrouded in secrecy for more than fifteen years. Holding the first meeting in March of 1907, an organization was immediately elected. Counted among the charter members there are many who have maintained close contact with the fraternity down through the history of the organization. It is also to be noted that during the student days of these men. they were very active in the life of the school.

Jack McAllister, H. Wylie Stewart, Gladstone H. Barrett, David W. Collins, James E. Collins, John Hanna, James Herron McCulloch, George S. Nash, George H. Puntenny, and Harold L. Wyatt formed the charter group of Tau Lambda Phi. Its members participating in football, baseball, basketball, debate and other forensics as well as in music and in editorial capacities, this organization through these men immediately made itself a potent factor on the campus.

Following the founding of the organization in 1907, routine matters claimed the attention of the members for the most part. In view of the stringent regulations existing on the campus against fraternities, it is not surprising that these men were somewhat reticent about hazarding an extensive program of activities. From the records, however, it is to be gathered that pins were purchased, social functions, or "fussers" as they were known, were held periodically, and new men were voted into the fraternity from time to time.

As Tau Lambda Phi maintained no residence quarters at this early date, it is interesting to note that meetings were held in offices, rooms of members, in secluded spots in the country, and in buildings of the college, When the records bear a motion to the effect that no more meetings are to be held in college buildings, one would seem to be justified in inferring that the members of Tau Lambda Phi had been involved in some unfortunate experience in which the college administration was also a party. Such were the vagaries of Greek society life twenty years ago. The veiled secrecy surrounding the meetings of the fraternity in all probability played a large role in the lure which the organization held.

During the years 1909 and 1910, negotiations culminating in the affiliation of Tau Lambda Phi with Pi Rho Phi, a national fraternity maintaining chapters in Ohio and Pennsylvania colleges, were taken up. From existing records concerning this national, it seems to have been little more than a common interest group, no national officers being supported nor conventions being held at stated intervals. The affiliation was more or less the result of a desire, despite the narrow limitations that confronted this group at that time, to extend the bonds of brotherhood beyond the confines of the local campus, doubtless the same type of thing that has been the impelling motive for the organization of all national fraternities.

Following their graduation from Westminster College, in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, John Cole, John Campbell, and Reid McCrory, who were members of Pi Rho Phi, now Lambda Alpha chapter of T. U. O. at that institution, settled in the vicinity of Monmouth about 1910. A brother of Reid McCrory, Willard McCrory, was a student at Monmouth College at this time. The records suggest that the matter of affiliating with Pi Rho Phi was discussed at some length before any action was taken.

Finally, in 1910 Tau Lambda decided to seek a charter from Pi Rho Phi. Since the latter organization was founded at Westminster in 1854, this chapter seemed to have been given the right to grant new charters. Although the influence exerted by the men from Westminster in the association was indirect, it was none the less a factor of considerable importance. (Willard McCrory and yet not disclosed Dr. Grier brotherly influence perhaps? See information on Dr. J.H. Grier!)

Two delegates were sent East that same year to apprise the Westminster chapter of the desire of Tau Lambda Phi to affiliate with Pi Rho Phi. On December 10, 1910, the petition was accepted. Immediately, the two delegates, Willard McCrory and James Wilson, were inducted into the organization at New Wilmington. Returning to Monmouth, these two then acted as the installation team for the local chapter as well as the individual members. Thus the Monmouth organization became the Tau Lambda Phi chapter of Pi Rho Phi with Zeta Beta Chapter House out the elaborate ceremonies that characterize an installation today. For some reason, however, it was not until April 3, 1911, that the first meeting under the Pi Rho Phi constitution was held.

Despite the fact that Pi Rho Phi was an exceedingly inferior national, judged by present standards, the affiliation gave impetus to the activities of the Tau Lambda Phi chapter. Although fraternities continued to operate secretly on the Monmouth campus, in 1912 the local chapter of Pi Rho Phi was located in its first house. Since that time at least some rooms have each year been maintained by the fraternity, in which a more or less elaborate program of fraternal activities was undertaken.  In 1922 the college administration lifted the ban on fraternities, and a house was procured soon afterward, in which study quarters, an eating club, and a dormitory became a part of the fraternity. The purchase of a permanent home by Pi Rho Phi marked a milestone in the life of the organization.

From 1911 until the United States went into the War in 1917, little more than routine activities characterized the fraternity. According to the records, there were many enjoyable social functions held, among which were the so-called "Mid-winter," a dinner party, and a picnic trip to the Mississippi River in the spring. This latter function has been a portion of the social program of the group for a number of years, and is still looked forward to each spring with a good deal of anticipation.

At the semi-monthly meetings of the fraternity, routine matters were discussed for the most part. Notations appear in the minutes repeatedly to the effect that this or that new man was "talked around" with a view to pledging. As well as enjoying a delectable fellowship together, therefore, it is evident that in these early years of the fraternity the active chapter, highly desirous of developing the organization, was constantly scanning the campus for new men.

The alumni of Tau Lambda Phi of Pi Rho Phi have always manifested unusually strong interest in the organization. Through the close contact which has been maintained with graduate members can undoubtedly he attributed much of this interest. During the early years of the fraternity, a committee was appointed to prepare a chain letter to which both the members of the active chapter and the alumni contributed their bits. The practice was continued from year to year. This chain letter feature was further utilized during the War when a letter was prepared and sent to the thirty or more Pi Rho Phi's at the front in France. Of recent years the custom has developed of sending a letter to the alumni about Homecoming time each fall. In addition to accommodating them with the news from the fraternity, the letter also contains an invitation to return for the annual Homecoming celebration. As a result, many Pi Rho Phi alumni take occasion to visit the chapter at that time. The alumni organization has grown until it now numbers more than one hundred and fifty members scattered over twenty-five states.

The history of the Monmouth chapter of Pi Rho Phi has not been characterized by unblended color, for some years have been fraught with unrelenting discouragement and well-nigh insurmountable difficulties.

With the administration of the college manifesting distinct hostility to all Greek letter societies for many years, the urge to affiliate with such organizations was often times counterbalanced by an appreciation of what a disclosure of the existence of the organization would mean. Indeed, the constitution of the fraternity provided that if at any time the existence of the group was made known, it was simultaneously dissolved without further procedure. Operating in such a sub rosa manner lent little to stabilize the fraternity's situation on the campus, as can readily be seen. Other conditions growing out of this also contributed to make the life of the organization insecure. In the record of various campus activities, nevertheless, are to be found a large number of Pi Rho Phi members counted in their personnel down through the years.

In the year following the War only seven men returned to school. The period of strife was not characterized by total stagnation, however, for in April, 1917, the tenth anniversary of the founding of the fraternity was observed with fitting ceremonies. Without a doubt the greatest impetus to Monmouth College fraternities occurred in 1922 when the college administration lifted the ban against the Greek letter societies. From that time forth Pi Rho Phi as well as the other groups on the campus have made rapid strides forward.

A very significant factor in the history of the Tau Lambda Phi chapter of Pi Rho Phi has been the institution of house mother. The present house mother, Mrs. Agnes Lambertson, has been with the fraternity for seven years and has become an almost inseparable member of the group. The criticism often made of fraternity house mothers to the effect that they do not fulfill their mission certainly does not apply to Mrs. Lambertson. She has always contributed a motherly sympathy to each of the members in time of trouble as well as having a sympathetic understanding and counsel for the organization in all of its troubles. She has also manifested a strong interest in the activities of the group, aiding whenever she has been able to do so. Among the first persons for whom returning alumni ask when visiting the house is for Mrs. Lambertson (1884-1958, she is buried in the Monmouth Cemetery).

Twenty-three years have elapsed since Tau Lambda Phi was founded. During that time the organization has attained the unique distinction of maintaining the traditions of one of the oldest fraternities in the country. In addition, Tau Lambda Phi has risen to a position of power and influence on the Monmouth College campus through its large alumni group as well as through the active chapter.

Concerning the nature of what the affiliation with Theta Upsilon Omega will bring the fraternity is open to speculation, but it is sincerely trusted that the gain will be mutual both from the standpoint of the national organization as well as from the standpoint of the local chapter.