It all started late on Friday night in the Fischer family kitchen. Alpha-Alpha Zeta began with the induction of a few Butler College men by two Lambda Chi Alpha alumni who decided to forget the formalities and initiate the group anyway.
The snap decision made by founder Warren Cole and Ernst Fischer in Indianapolis on Friday night, December 10, 1915, would create a unique twist to the founding of two Indiana Zetas. Within a week, both Butler College and Purdue University would have new chapters of Lambda Chi Alpha. 1990 is a milestone for six early chapters (DePauw University, University of Illinois, Auburn University, University of Georgia), including three Zetas in Indiana, that are celebrating their 75th Anniversary.
This is the story of one chapter, the 25th Zeta of Lambda Chi Alpha, which began as an 11-man organization, and has now grown to become the largest fraternity chapter at Butler University. For most of the past 75 years, Alpha-Alpha Zeta has also been closer than any other chapter to the front door of International Headquarters, a distinction that has both helped and hindered the chapter’s development.
In the six years after Warren Cole founded the first chapter of our fraternity in Boston, Lambda Chi Alpha had grown remarkably fast. Cole was scouring the country for good prospects. His search turned up a small local society that had grabbed headlines in the school newspaper: Delta Alpha Phi.
Just over 300 students had signed up for classes at Butler College in the idyllic Indianapolis suburb of Irvington in the fall of 1914. The three existing fraternities on the Butler campus were little more than social clubs, and a small group of men decided to form an alternative to the established organizations.
The Collegian, the campus newspaper, took several months to discover this new upstart group, but from the beginning the society was poised to succeed. The membership was diverse. “They are represented in athletics, debating and orchestra,” wrote the newspaper, “and are making a strong bid for scholastic honors.” By semester’s end, this new organization had won top campus honors in academics.
Indeed, the society’s founders would become ministers and lawyers. Especially strong at debating, five members of the “Alpha Phis” made much of the prohibition question, which was then a national topic, during the course of several competitive discussions.
“Debating was popular,” said Floyd McMurray, Alpha-Alpha’s oldest living alumnus in 1990 and a chapter charter member (McMurray died in 1997 at the age of 106.) “There was less basketball and more debating and things of that kind. We debated all over the middle west.” McMurray would later serve as the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction and President of Indiana University Southeast.
The group had a competitive eye on the other fraternities, which had been established at the school for some 40 years. One man’s father was a Beta Theta Pi, and a petition was prepared for consideration.
“The way we heard of Lambda Chi Alpha was (Ernst) Fischer was visiting here in town,” charter member Wallace Wadsworth explained years later. Fischer’s parents lived in Indianapolis, and he would frequently stop in the railroad capital as his business took him to Chicago and fraternity affairs took him west.
“We had organized the local to petition Beta (Theta Pi) to get back the old Beta charter which was once here…but we found out we would have to wait so long, and Fisch…sent several newspaper clippings of installations to us and then came out to see us one Sunday and showed us a lot of poker tricks and told us some dirty stories and finally switched us over to the idea of Lambda Chi Alpha,” Wadsworth recalls.
“The credit for the poker tricks is appreciated, as I know but one and it is more a trick with a card deck, and an impossibility to be used in any poker game under playing conditions,” Fischer replied 15 years later. Fischer also gave credit for Delta Alpha Phi’s discovery to Warren Cole, who had sent Fischer in to investigate the local society.
After describing the local to members of the other Lambda Chi Alpha chapter to assess the potential for expansion (as was then the practice), Cole and Fischer moved ahead to make Delta Alpha Phi the 25th chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha — after Purdue University’s Aeolian club, which had already won approval to become chapter number 24.
Cole and Fischer had come to Indianapolis on the way to Lafayette, Indiana, intending to install the Purdue chapter. On the evening before their departure, Cole, Fischer, and several members of the Butler local were visiting with Fischer’s parents in their small southside Indianapolis home.
But that Friday night, as Fischer sat reading the paper, Warren Cole wondered aloud if there would be any harm in putting the assembled members of the local society through the oath before leaving for Purdue. Fischer agreed, and the late-night initiation began.
“Among the boys was one chap who was quite a talented piano player (probably Fred Wolff, composer of the Butler Alma Mater In the Gallery of Memories) and while he was entertaining my parents in the fore part of the house, Cole and I took groups of three into the kitchen and administered the oath,” Fischer said.
The Butler men were asked not to publicize the early installation and were told that the Purdue chapter would still have its claim to the Psi Zeta name.
Such was the method of installation in the early days of Lambda Chi Alpha.
“There were times when locals were sent the ritual, had to do their own installation, and then send in a sworn statement that the deed was done,” Fischer explained. Jack Mason and Bert Cross received the ritual in the mail and installed the University of Pennsylvania chapter in this manner.
The train for Purdue left early the next morning, and Fischer and Cole walked to the downtown Union Station, heavily laden with the necessary installation forms and papers. Formal installation of Alpha-Alpha Zeta would take place a week later, at the Butler campus chapter house.
The new Zeta became part of a growing contingent of Hoosier chapters. Within a few months, an Inter-Zeta meeting of all Indiana chapters had been organized in Indianapolis. A letter of welcome was read aloud from Brother Fischer.
“I want to say in a few words that I wish you success, an end that can best be obtained by cooperation and I think this banquet will have the best effect in establishing a mutual understanding among you,” wrote Ernst Fischer from his Pennsylvania home. “To be a Lambda Chi Alpha man you are marked with a known quality…let us hope that the kind of quality will be established by your further good conduct, and dealings as fraternity men.
World War I
By the spring of 1917, membership had grown to about 20. But the tragedy of World War I struck in April of 1917, and by September of that year a large percentage of the Butler male student population was in uniform.
“Alpha-Alpha Zeta hardly had time to get started when the United States entered the conflict,” wrote George Crispin Lloyd in a 20-year retrospective on the national fraternity in 1929. World War 1 had begun, and all but three members (who were rejected for age or physical condition) volunteered for military service. The spirit and ideals of Lambda Chi Alpha did not die out, and when only three Lambda Chis returned to campus in 1919, the chapter purchased a new house as evidence of their ambitious plans to forge ahead.
One of the returning men was Virgil Hoagland.
Big Plans for Fairview Park
Alpha-Alpha Zeta marked its 10th Anniversary with a celebration at the downtown Columbia Club. The chapter boasted a membership of 45 and registration at the school had tripled since the chapter began. The Central Office of Lambda Chi Alpha had also moved to Indianapolis in December 1920.
Butler was beginning to feel the need to expand. It had outgrown its beautiful, but small, campus on the eastside of the bustling Indiana capital. A new plan for a huge university campus was put forward. Alumni and city leaders agreed – Butler would have a bright future at a campus built from the ground up to serve the growing needs of a bigger student population.
An ambitious building program began, following the purchase of a large park six miles from the city’s center. Using the technology developed to build steel bridges, a huge fieldhouse was constructed (to this day one of the largest gymnasiums in the country – and featured in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers”), and an old gravel pit was dredged out to become the Butler Bowl, the playing field for the might Bulldog football team. Lambda Chi Alpha moved right along with the changes.
The chapter purchased a lot adjacent to the mammoth fieldhouse, and the cornerstone was laid on Sunday, November 11, 1928 (Armistice Day) at two o’clock in the afternoon. The architect was Virgil Hoagland, one of three returning alumni from World War I. Hoagland had already designed several structures, including the chapter house for Xi Zeta at DePauw University. His stately brick Tudor mansion, with a castle-like turret front and limestone details, would soon rise on the edge of campus.
Alpha-Alpha Zeta became the first fraternity to purchase a lot on the new campus, and the first organization to finish its chapter house. The $60,000 home was completed just as the nation’s stock market tumbled the country into the Depression.
The Depression years devastated everyone, and college fraternities suffered greatly. Alpha-Alpha had heavy monthly mortgage payments and a rapidly diminishing income. The alumni took over, and the Alpha-Alpha Zeta House Corporation was created in 1936. The precarious financial position of the Butler chapter had forced it into a “friendly receivership.”
But the good spirit of fraternity living continued.
The Lambda Chis were noted for having the liveliest dances on campus. “While a good portion of the coeds refused to speak to us during most of the school year, they did start treating us nice when word got around that we had scheduled a dance,” wrote Art Madison, in a history of the organization that was published when the mortgage was finally paid off in 1954. “The dances were unusual in that we never invited a faculty chaperone until we were sure that he or she could not attend. In fact, the Dean’s Office, thanks to us, finally instituted the procedure of inviting all chaperones for campus affairs. After that, our dances become as dull as the events at others houses.”
Membership certificates were sold to help retire some of the mortgage debut from the mortgage. From 1936 to 1940, alumnus Herman Champer, at his own expense and time, traveled the length and breadth of Indiana and part of adjoining states in his one-man fundraising campaign. These were desperate economic times for the chapter, and difficult times for the world, itself.
World War II
On initiation day in December of 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Don Jenkins remembers it well. He was one of the aspirants who was going through the initiation ritual. “All at once, someone broke into the room with the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor,” Jenkins recalls. “It really stunned us, because there were some brothers who were already in the service. Those guys were in the Pacific, and in the Navy, and you didn’t know what was going to happen next.”
It would be several months before Jenkins himself signed up to fight in World War II, just before the chapter house itself was enlisted into war duty.
The Lambda Chi house, like other fraternity houses on the Butler campus, was rented to the University for use by the 52nd College Training Detachment, an air crew that helped fill the empty Butler classrooms. Without a house, the small membership of the chapter continued to meet on campus. And after the war, the brothers returned to find their prize chapter home ransacked by the servicemen who had moved in.
The chapter refinanced the mortgage, re-tiled the bathroom, installed a new roof, replaced the furnace, and refinished the third-floor dormitory. Alumnus Ralph Iula, Senior, an Indianapolis interior decorator, helped to refurbish the house. He even had painted the colorfully-stenciled elements of the Fraternity Coat-Of-Arms that graced the living room ceiling for many years.
Fun in the Fifties
The 1950’s were very good times for Alpha-Alpha Zeta, and for college fraternities throughout the country. The chapter consistently scored high in academics, intramural sports, the annual Geneva Stunts and Spring Sing competitions, and in the traditional Homecoming events.
“Those were the years of excellence,” remembers Fritz Leucht, a former High Alpha who also served as Chapter Adviser. “This was the era of waterfights – not with water balloons, but with buckets of water. I remember seeing the second floor hallway just soaked! Electric blankets came in during the 1950’s, too. In the cold dorm, if you were sleeping near a window, you could easily wake up in the morning to find snow all over your bed.”
Leuct also remembers the intense hazing practices that have since been outlawed by the Fraternity, and abandoned by the chapter.
“The chapter room also served as the ‘line-up’ room. As pledges, we kept the house clean. We did the dishes, and maintained the yard. We woke up the actives for class, and we did a thorough housecleaning every weekend,” he said.
The chapter burned its mortgage in 1954, and built a new apartment for the housemother in 1955. Chapter membership had mushroomed, and talk of expansion was heard in the halls.
Blueprints and Building
The optimism and good times of the 1950’s spawned the discussion about a house expansion in the 1960’s. Although Alpha-Alpha Zeta had difficulty meeting expenses in the early years because most members lived at home (a university dorm was not built at the Fairview site until the 1940’s), the expanded membership was feeling the space squeeze. A neighbor’s home was purchased for two reasons: to provide more bed space and to open up more property for expansion.
In 1965, a 50th Anniversary banquet at the downtown Columbia Club was held to celebrate that landmark. Alumni interest in the new building project was intense.
Several false starts prevented timely construction of the house addition, however, despite the fact that blueprints had been drawn up for the 20-room plan. The problem, as always, was financing. Finally, a core group of alumni and the International Fraternity provided enough collateral to secure the necessary financing.
“Finances were very tight,” remembers Tom Bredeweg, who lived in the chapter house during the renovations. “The construction plans called for about half of the house to be closed for several months. We really couldn’t afford to do that, so we voted to keep everyone living in the house and a group of us moved into the basement,” Bredeweg said. “We literally lived out of suitcases. The payoff came once the addition was complete, because those of us who had ‘roughed it’ were offered first choice on the new rooms.” Butler’s chapter house now had a capacity of more than 60, with all new furniture, 20 new double-man rooms, and a new kitchen and dining area. Construction was completed as the chapter entered the 1970’s.
The 100,000th initiate of Lambda Chi Alpha, Dan Dullaghan, was initiated at the Butler chapter. Both Executive Director Duke Flad and Service Secretary George Spasyk attended the initiation, and Dullaghan’s photo was featured on the cover of the Cross & Crescent magazine.
At about the same time, undergraduates were beginning to feel the effects of the changing system of fraternity education. Soon, pledges would be gone forever. But it would be a rocky transition.
Change and Renewal
The early 1970’s signaled a significant change in philosophy for Lambda Chi Alpha. The Associate Member program was not accepted, at first, and Alpha-Alpha had its share of members who doubted the new ideas would work.
Alumni interest dropped off (now that a major capital project had been completed), and mortgage payments were missed. The older part of the house began to fall apart, and the chapter’s financial situation worsened. All of this happened at time when the very existence of college fraternities was being called into question by the students and by society.
Indianapolis sports medicine Dr. Andy Dick remembers a chapter that was adept at athletics, and strong in numbers, during the mid 1970’s.
“I think it was basically a period when the people were as good as any other time, but there was very little financial support. The physical plant of the chapter house was beginning to wear out,” Dick said. “We had nearly 70 members, but the house was falling down around us. Showers and plumbing had to be redone. There was a boiler problem that required an overhaul, and a new heating system installed on the first floor. The living room floor fell in, and so did the roof over one of the rooms in the older part of the house. But despite the problems, we still managed to live through it.”
The financial problems dragged the chapter down in the late 1970’s. Water pipes froze and did tremendous damage to the older, steam-heated part of the house. Membership dropped off, and so did academic performance.
As the 1980’s began, the chapter’s undergraduate membership had fallen to under 30 men. Parts of the chapter house had been sealed off during the winter months to save money, because there were more rooms than members. But as fraternities began to gain in popularity, Alpha-Alpha Zeta began to change. Membership grew. Mortgage payments were made. Grades improved and a new House Corporation was formed. The process of rebuilding began.
In 1984, at the 75th Anniversary of Lambda Chi Alpha, the Butler chapter won recognition for steady progress. As winner of a Phoenix award, Alpha-Alpha Zeta was singled out for reversing a declining membership trend and for restoring a strong Associate Member program to one of our oldest chapters.
The chapter was closed in 2017, but plans are now underway to re-colonize and build a stately new chapter house on the Butler campus.
– Dave Arland, AA 1053