Into the new Millennium

The turn of the 20th Century found Sigma Phi Epsilon poised for continued excellence and a renewed emphasis on the Fraternity's mission, "Building Balanced Leaders for the World's Communities."

In 2000, Brother Craig Templeton, University of Kansas (Kansas Gamma), '81, stepped forward to serve the Fraternity as Executive Director and steer SigEp toward further greatness.

To answer the demand for leaders, SigEp pioneered the Leadership Continuum, the first such development program of its kind in the fraternity world. In 1999, with support from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation, the Carlson Leadership Academies were expanded to reach more undergraduate participants and heighten the undergraduate experience. Also in 1999, a new leadership experience, designed to develop leadership skills in SigEp's most promising members, found its debut. Named after Frank J. Ruck, University of Michigan (Michigan Alpha),'46, Past Grand President and President of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, the Ruck Leadership Institute teaches the few to lead the many.

To facilitate the needs of the newest brothers, 2001 saw the addition of the New Member Camp, now called EDGE, to the Leadership Continuum. This program, which focuses on acclimation to college and substance abuse prevention, has fast become a favorite event for all new SigEps. At the pinnacle of the Leadership Continuum, SigEp expanded its leadership experience out into the world. In May of 2001, the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation began the Balanced Man Quest to Greece. A handful of Balanced Man Scholars are selected to travel to Greece each summer, sharing common readings and learning of the origin of the Balanced Man Ideal.

When combined, these four programs, the EDGE, Carlson Leadership Academy, Ruck Leadership Institute, and Balance Man Quest to Greece, create a formidable arena for undergraduates to hone their leadership skills. Truly, with 258 chapters, over 14,000 current undergraduates, and over 250,000 lifetime members, Sigma Phi Epsilon is Building Balanced Leaders for the World's Communities.

National's Founding

National History: 

The place of our national chapter's origin occurred on the campus of Richmond College, where Sigma Phi Epsilon was founded in the early 20th century, at the time attended by a mere 200 students, and perhaps between a third and a half of this number belonged to five fraternities. Kappa Alpha Order began a chapter there in 1870, Phi Kappa Sigma in 1873, Phi Gamma Delta in 1890, Pi Kappa Alpha in 1891, and Kappa Sigma in 1898. Phi Delta Theta, Sigma Chi, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon also had established chapters there, which had expired. The little Baptist college was founded in 1830, and many of its graduates became Baptist ministers.

Most of the national fraternities, as their histories show, have been established simply because they were needed. The desire for brotherhood was in young men's souls. Sigma Phi Epsilon was founded because twelve young collegians hungered for a campus fellowship based on Judeo/Christian ideals that neither the college community nor the fraternity system at the time could offer. Sigma Phi Epsilon was needed.

Sigma Phi Epsilon Founded
Carter Ashton Jenkens, the 18-year-old son of a minister, had been a student at Rutgers University, New Jersey, where he had joined Chi Phi Fraternity. When he transferred to Richmond College in the fall of 1900, he sought companions to take the place of the Chi Phi brothers he had left behind at Rutgers. During the course of the term, he found five men who had already been drawn into a bond of informal fellowship, and he urged them to join him in applying for a charter of Chi Phi at Richmond College. They agreed, and the request for a charter was forwarded to Chi Phi only to meet with refusal because Chi Phi felt that Richmond College, as any college with less than 300 students was too small for the establishment of a Chi Phi chapter.

Wanting to maintain their fellowship, the six men, Jenkens, Benjamin Gaw, William Carter, William Wallace, Thomas Wright, and William Phillips, decided to form their own local fraternity.

The First Meeting
While in the formative stages, the six original members found six others who were also searching for a campus fellowship that neither the college campus nor the existing fraternity system could offer. The six new members were Lucian Cox, Richard Owens, Edgar Allen, Robert McFarland, Franklin Kerfoot, and Thomas McCaul.

The twelve met one day in October 1901, in Gaw and Wallace's room on the third floor of Ryland Hall to discuss organization of the fraternity they would call "Sigma Phi." The exact date of this meeting is not known, and if any minutes were kept, they have been lost. However, the meeting was probably held before the middle of the month, because the twelve founders are named as members on November 1, 1901, in the first printed roster of the Fraternity. Jenkens is listed as the first member.

Fraternity Recognized
A committee of Jenkens, Gaw, and Phillips was appointed to discuss plans for recognition with the administration of the college. These men met with a faculty committee, where they were requested to present their case. The faculty committee requested that the new group explain:

1.) The need for a new fraternity since chapters of five national fraternities were on the campus and the enrollment at Richmond College was less than 300. 2.) The wisdom of this attempt to organize a new fraternity, with twelve members, of whom seven were seniors. 3.) The right to name the new fraternity Sigma Phi, the name of an already established national fraternity.

Jenkens, Gaw, and Phillips answered along this line:

"This fraternity will be different, it will be based on the love of God and the principle of peace through brotherhood. The number of members will be increased from the undergraduate classes. We will change the name to Sigma Phi Epsilon."

Though the discussion lasted some time, the faculty committee was friendly, and permission was granted for the organization of the new fraternity to proceed, provided full responsibility for the consequences would rest on the group of twelve students.

Immediately at the close of the meeting with the faculty committee, the fraternity committee rushed to Jenkens' room to borrow Hugh Carter's Greek-English Lexicon, convinced themselves that Epsilon had a desirable meaning, and then telegraphed jeweler Eaton in Goldsboro, North Carolina, to add an E at the point of each of the twelve badges which were manufactured and ready for shipment. Before the job of adding an E on the badges was complete, eight other students were invited to join SigEp. The purchase order was then increased to twenty badges at $8 each, with the initials of each man engraved on the back of his badge.

These twenty original heart-shaped badges were of yellow gold, with alternating rubies and garnets around the edge of the heart, with the Greek characters S f and the skull and crossbones in gold and black enamel in the center and a black E in gold at the point. (William Hugh Carter's and Thomas V. "Uncle Tom" McCaul's original badges are on display at Zollinger House.)

Founder Lucian Cox reflected on the "Brotherhood that had inspired him and his brothers" when he wrote in the Sigma Phi Epsilon Journal, Vol. 1 No. 1, March 1904:

"As a member of an ideal fraternity, the resources of every member of that body are my resources, the product of their lives is my daily life. The fraternity is a common storehouse for experience, moral rectitude, and spirituality; the larger and purer the contribution of the individual, the greater the resources of each member."

Five men were invited to join before Christmas and became members in January, 1902. Three more of the first group of 21 joined February 1, 1902.

Meeting in the Tower Room
In November or December, 1901, an unheated, unfurnished single room, about ten by twelve feet, in the tower of Ryland Hall, was assigned to the new fraternity by the college. Before January 1, 1902, SigEps had lined all open wall space with wide board benches. The wall was papered -- purple and red. A rostrum, shaped like a horseshoe, was built in a corner. The small oil stove would not heat the room, so secret meetings continued to be held in SigEp dormitory rooms until March, 1902.

1902 and onward...

Virginia Alpha's Second Year
By March 4, 1902, the number of SigEps stood at 21 out of the total of 209 students enrolled. Seven of these 21 SigEps were graduated in June, 1902, and six others did not return to college the following September. Of the remaining eight who did return to Richmond College the next session, only two were founders -- Gaw and Wright. College records show that of the eight who returned, four were sophomores, three juniors, and one senior.

After recruiting many students, only one new man joined in the fall, and one more in the spring. The small college enrollment of 223 students in the session of 1902-1903, no hope for a large increase of enrollment in the next few years, and increasing competition for new members from the chapters of five national fraternities on the campus made the members of Sigma Phi Epsilon realize the crucial position of their local fraternity.

After discussing the situation at several meetings, a momentous decision was reached. Sigma Phi Epsilon must either convert the local fraternity into a national fraternity immediately or watch the local fraternity die. The secretary was instructed to request Founder Lucian B. Cox, an attorney in Norfolk, Virginia, to write an application for a state charter for Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and return it to him at the earliest possible moment.

This charter was signed by all eight SigEps enrolled at Richmond College on October 18, filed in the Circuit Court of Richmond City on October 20, and recorded by the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia on October 22, 1902. (The original charter is on display at Sigma Phi Epsilon Headquarters.) Under that state charter, Virginia Alpha established chapters at five other colleges that session; one of these, at West Virginia University (West Virginia Beta), is active today.

Sigma Phi Epsilon's Growth
Sigma Phi Epsilon ended its fifth year of operation with 14 chapters in nine states. Nineteen chapters had been chartered, despite the little money that the group had to work with. But the will of the fraternity's first brothers to expand and develop their fraternity prevailed, and chapters spread west to Colorado, north to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and New York, and south to North and South Carolina.

The next five years brought forth 17 new chapters and representation in a total of eighteen states. In addition to those mentioned, Sigma Phi Epsilon was chartered in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. This momentum continued with the appointment of the first Grand Secretary of Sigma Phi Epsilon.

Our First Grand Secretary "Uncle Billy"
The fifth Grand Chapter Conclave, held in 1908, is particularly significant because it was at this Conclave that the Laws were changed to provide for a central office and the employment of a full-time chief executive officer to bear the title of Grand Secretary. Founder William L. Phillips ("Uncle Billy") was employed as Grand Secretary and, according to the minutes, was to receive a salary of $900 in the first year.

An article by Frank W. Shepardson, first published in the 1927 edition of Baird's Manual of American College Fraternities, refers to the "latest development in fraternity administration" the establishment of a central office (headquarters) with a full-time secretary in charge." It is apparent from this that the Grand Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, in taking this step, was showing remarkable forethought as a pioneer in fraternity administration, as it was to be later, in being one of the first two fraternities to own a headquarters building.

In slightly less than ten years, Sigma Phi Epsilon had grown from a single chapter to a fraternity with chapters in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

War, Depression, and Recovery
World War I took its toll on college attendance, and had an adverse effect on fraternities, both in membership and expansion.

The Journal editor reported:

"Already men are leaving in large numbers, while a great many institutions, devote their athletic fields to drilling."

Congress passed a draft bill with age limits from twenty-one to thirty years. The editor advised all chapters that, "while fulfilling every duty to our country, let us also strive to maintain every chapter."

The cover of the October, 1917 Journal featured two SigEps in army uniforms. Grand President Knauss wrote of his pride in the brothers' response to the call of duty. He warned, however, that:

"The ranks of active fraternity men have been depleted all over the country-these are trying times, and for some chapters, they will be crucial ones." He also recommended that each chapter buy a Liberty Bond to help fund the war effort.

As an institution, Sigma Phi Epsilon survived World War I well. While three chapters were in danger of closing, only one - Rhode Island Alpha at Brown University - actually failed to survive the war.

It was during the fraternity's third decade that the quality of the chapters was first measured annually by the independent College Survey Bureau. In 1924, 24 of the 50 active chapters were rated by their peers in the top half of all fraternities in quality on their campuses.

Expansion during this period was slowed as the Great Depression descended upon the nation; only 15 new chapters had been installed by 1930.

In 1938, a major development took place - a merger between Sigma Phi Epsilon and the Theta Uspilon Omega national fraternity. Four chapters of TUO merged with four of SigEps existing chapters, and seven others became Sigma Phi Epsilon chapters. With the merger, scores of dedicated TUO alumni became members in the Fraternity, and many became important leaders in Sigma Phi Epsilon.

In 1940, there were 69 active chapters. The 1940s saw the Fraternity's expansion increase, with 27 new charters granted by 1949.

The Second 50 Years

The 1950s
After 34 years as the Fraternity's first Grand Secretary, Uncle Billy retired in 1942. The National Board of Directors appointed Herb Heilig, Lawrence University '23 (Wisconsin Alpha) to take Brother Phillips' place as Grand Secretary. Serving for two difficult years during World War II, Brother Heilig laid the groundwork for the Fraternity's post-war rebuilding program and resigned in 1944.

The Board then appointed William W. Hindman, Jr., Pennsylvania '39 (Pennsylvania Delta), to the position of Grand Secretary. Brother Hindman served as Traveling Secretary and later Assistant to the Grand Secretary under Uncle Billy, and held the position of Grand Secretary for 13 years. Brother Hindman was instrumental in establishing 51 new chapters during the 1950s.

By 1959, Sigma Phi Epsilon had 148 active chapters. With the Fraternity's rapid expansion, the leadership at Headquarters once again changed with Bedford W. Black, Wake Forest University '41 (North Carolina Zeta), taking over after the retirement of Bill Hindman. Bedford Black's charge was to determine how the Headquarters should best be organized to operate Sigma Phi Epsilon as an emerging "large fraternity." Richard F. Whiteman, Syracuse University '54 (New York Alpha), a member of the Headquarters staff at the time, was selected to lead the Fraternity as its Executive Director, but his tenure was short "only a few years" when he decided to return to his career in education. Succeeding Brother Whiteman was Donald M. Johnson, an alumnus of the University of Kansas '45 (Kansas Gamma), who had been in business in Colorado at the time of his appointment. Brother Johnson brought to the Headquarters staff the business skills he had acquired. During his tenure from 1961 to 1971, he implemented many organizational changes at Headquarters, and he enlarged the professional staff as well.

The 1960s
Sigma Phi Epsilon chartered 33 new chapters between 1960 and 1969, and memberships reached their highest levels. In 1968, the College Survey Bureau reported that 59% of the 173 chapters were among the top chapters on their campuses.

The 1960s began with Sigma Phi Epsilon making a transition to a more business-like operation, necessitated by its dramatic growth during the 1950s. During this time, the professional staff located in Richmond, Virginia, grew and became more specialized in developing an array of services for undergraduate chapters. The most significant event of the 1960s and perhaps the most important event in our history was the emergence of J. Edward Zollinger, College of William & Mary '27 (Virginia Delta), as the leader of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation and the Fraternity. He served the Fraternity as Grand President from 1967 to 1971. "Zolly" came from the successful IBM Corporation, serving as assistant to the founder of IBM, and was very involved in developing IBM's corporate culture.

The successful experience of Ed Zollinger in the business world, and the stability of a long-term professional staff in Richmond, brought together ingredients necessary for Sigma Phi Epsilon's emergence as a leader among all national fraternities in the 1970s. It was the vision of excellence, and the personal dedication to that vision, which made Ed Zollinger unique, and which gave Sigma Phi Epsilon its commitment to the future.

The 1970s
In 1971, the National Board of Directors divided Headquarter's responsibilities between the areas of alumni operations, undergraduate operations and financial operations, appointing Charles N. White, Jr., of Western Michigan '62 (Michigan Beta), to the undergraduate and financial areas as Executive Vice President. Donald M. Johnson assumed responsibility for the alumni and Foundation areas, also as Executive Vice President.

This organizational structure continued until 1976 upon the retirement of Brother Johnson, at which time Brother White was named Executive Director and was responsible for the entire Headquarters operation. During Brother White's tenure, the Regional Leadership Academy program was created and instituted, the professional Headquarters staff was expanded, and its responsibilities enlarged.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were difficult times. Fraternities began losing their popularity. A generation mistrustful of established institutions was arriving on campus in greater numbers, and many of them scorned the Greek system as elitist, outdated, and immature. Unfortunately, enough chapters behaved in just that way so the charge stuck.

The "student movement," centered on the war in Vietnam, alienated fraternity chapters still further. Faced squarely with a breakdown of campus and chapter values, many chapters of Sigma Phi Epsilon and other fraternities lost direction. Men were no longer attracted to membership with ease. None of the old recruitment formulas seemed to work. Some of SigEp's oldest and strongest chapters died during this era because they refused to change and adapt.

By 1972, Sigma Phi Epsilon chapters were suffering. The number of members significantly decreased, and alumni support was weakening, college students of the time were bucking traditions and the ways of "anyone over 30." The Fraternity's Headquarters went into deficit financial operation, but the Board of Directors and the Executive Director refused to cut back on the service to undergraduate chapters. The strength of SigEp over the years has been largely a function of alumni guidance and Headquarters services to the undergraduate chapters. It was that devotion to service that pulled SigEp through the early 1970s with fewer scars than most other strong fraternities.

The investment in the belief that the hard times would come to an end paid off. In the late 1970s, students began to change again, demanding a return to the ideals that had lapsed earlier in the decade. Fraternities were again in prime position to meet those desires, and because of continued efforts during tough times, SigEp was ready.

The 1980s
The growth of the late 1970s continued into the first half of the 1980s and did not show any signs of slowing. Sigma Phi Epsilon held its strongest position ever, with 250 chapters in 45 states. With 16,000 undergraduates on college campuses, 170,000 members, and more men joining SigEp than any other fraternity, it became the strongest and most popular fraternity in history.

During the 1970s and 1980s, a commitment to undergraduates and undergraduate housing emerged as a central theme with special emphasis on long-term financial stability. Also, at this time, Sigma Phi Epsilon's leadership in the Interfraternity world was acknowledged as it led all fraternities in innovative approaches to programming and undergraduate development.

At the close of the 1980s, a commitment to alumni began to emerge from the Headquarters operation through a focused plan to develop the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation as a primary resource for the Fraternity's future. In 1987, Kenneth S. Maddox, Oregon State University '75 (Oregon Alpha), was named Executive Director, and Brother White began full-time management of the Educational Foundation as the President of the Foundation. The Fraternity has benefited greatly from the increased strength of the Educational Foundation.

A number of important initiatives began at the close of the decade. In 1987 the Self-Esteem Committee met under the leadership of Past Grand President Don McCleary, an alumnus of The University of Texas '71 (Texas Alpha) to discuss the issues facing the Fraternity. From the Self-Esteem Committee developed some of the concepts for the Balanced Man Program, a membership development program aimed at preserving Sigma Phi Epsilon's values while providing for the needs of its members. Also, in 1989 the Fraternity developed the first formalized strategic plan -- a detailed blueprint designed to take the Fraternity into the next millennium as the premiere Greek-letter organization.

The 1990s
The 1990s have marked a major shift in the Greek world. The negative reputation of Greek life earned by fraternities during the 1970s and 1980s resulted in declining membership and dramatically increasing insurance costs for all organizations. Yet through this time of turmoil in the Interfraternity world, Sigma Phi Epsilon remained the largest and fastest growing fraternity in history. As the founding member of the Fraternity Insurance Purchasing Group (FIPG) in the 1980s, Sigma Phi Epsilon was instrumental in leading the Greek community to better risk management practices.

The Fraternity's Educational Foundation continued to support undergraduates and innovative programs. It took a giant step by completing the $5 million Campaign for the Heart in 1993. This was SigEp's largest fundraising effort to date, and it will enable SigEp undergraduates to enhance leadership and scholarship skills for the 1990s and beyond. Through a leadership gift from Curtis L. Carlson, University of Minnesota '37 (Minnesota Alpha), the Regional Leadership Academies were renamed in his honor. They are now named the Carlson Leadership Academies.

A membership program unique among college fraternities was established with Grand Chapter legislation in 1991, the Balanced Man Program. This program is based on individual growth through academic excellence, enhanced life skills, chapter leadership, mentoring, and service in the community.

In March of 1996, Brother Maddox announced his intentions to return to his home state of Oregon where he and his wife wanted their children to spend their formative years. The National Board of Directors selected Jacques L. Vauclain, III, Davidson College '91 (North Carolina Epsilon), to succeed Brother Maddox as Executive Director.