Our Beginning, Growth, and Development

Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity

On the cold night of January 10, 1899, students of Illinois Wesleyan University, in the small Midwestern town of Bloomington, had just returned from the Christmas holidays when Joseph L. Settles went to the room occupied by James C. McNutt and Clarence A. Mayer at 504 East Locust Street to discuss the organization of a new society on campus. Joined immediately by Owen I. Truitt and C. Roy Atkinson, these five students created the first set of regulations for the Knights of Classic Lore, a society whose avowed purpose was "to aid college men in mental, moral, and social development."

Because of his late arrival for this meeting, James J. Love was made the first new member. Love, along with Edwin A. Palmer and George H. Thorpe became the first initiates of this new organization. Although Settles was the leader in organizing the society, Atkinson was elected President and McNutt was chosen as Secretary.

There were two fraternities already in existence at Illinois Wesleyan in 1899, both with more than 50 chapters nationally. Phi Gamma Delta had been established in 1866, while Sigma Chi had begun there in 1883. In addition, two other national fraternities, Phi Delta Theta and Delta Tau Delta, had inactive chapters at Illinois Wesleyan. The Phi Delts existed from 1878-1897 and the Delts from 1877-1880.

A Different Organization

The Founders of the Knights of Classic Lore desired an organization different from those represented by the existing fraternities. Their desire was to establish a fraternity in which the primary requisites for membership would be the personal worth and character of the individual rather than the wealth he possessed, the honors or titles he could display, or the rank he maintained on the social ladder. The Founders of the KCL had little regard for many of the common characteristics of fraternities at that time, including their usual snobbery and disdain for persons outside of a fraternity.

It was not long after their recognition on campus that the Knights of Classic Lore were approached by some alumni of the Illinois Epsilon chapter of Phi Delta Theta, whose charter had been surrendered in 1897. The Phi Delt alumni saw in this new group an opportunity for the restoration of its charter, and interested themselves in converting it into a strong local fraternity. Through the persuasion and effort of Richard Henry Little, for columnist on the Chicago Tribune and one of the most prominent Phi Delt alumni, the Knights presented a petition to the Phi Delta Theta national organization at its convention in New York in 1902. The petition was rejected.

In hopes that their organization might be more attractive to Phi Delta Theta, it was decided that a Greek-letter name should be adopted. The name "Knights of Classic Lore" was therefore abandoned and the Greek letters Tau Kappa Epsilon selected. As a further step, a fraternity house was rented. This was the first fraternity house at Illinois Wesleyan, although Phi Gamma Delta and Sigma Chi had both been in existence on campus for many years. The Wilder Mansion, former home of President Wilder of the University, became the first TKE house.

In the ensuing years, the Phi Delt alumni and some of the undergraduate members continued to press for affiliation with Phi Delta Theta by promoting petitions at the 1904 and 1906 Phi Delt national conventions. In each instance the petition was either withdrawn or postponed. It is reported that one of the petitions came within one vote of being accepted.

The First World War

Up to this time, the history of the fraternity had been a somewhat routine record of slow, steady growth in numbers, chapter rolls, and fraternity consciousness. This period, marked only by its annual Conclaves and the chartering of new chapters, also brought about the formation of a body of laws and traditions, the development of a ritual, and a general welding together of its membership into a homogenous fellowship.

With the entry of the United States into World War I and its accompanying transformation of the colleges into the Student's Army Training Corps, fraternity activities on every campus were essentially suspended for more than a year. The enactment of emergency war legislation, most of which became permanent, began a trend toward a strong centralized national organization.

The Upward Climb

The period 1921-26 saw 10 new chapters installed, completing the first alphabet from Alpha to Omega. TKE was spreading from coast to coast, as evidenced by the chapters installed - Omicron at Ohio State, Pi at Penn State, Rho at West Virginia, Sigma at Cornell, Tau at Oregon State, Upsilon at Michigan, Phi at Nebraska, Chi at the University of Washington, Psi at Gettysburg, and Omega at Albion.

The years from 1926-30 were ones of steady growth, expanding both east and west, under the leadership of Grand Prytanis Miles Gray in 1926-28 and Milton Olander in 1928-30. Eight new chapters had been installed by the 19th Conclave in San Francisco, September 3-5, 1930, bringing the total chapter roll up to 32. This Conclave saw the election of Eugene C. Beach as the eleventh Grand Prytanis.

These years were also years of grief, as the entire Fraternity mourned the passing of Founders Owen I. Truitt and C. Roy Atkinson. Both Founders died in auto accidents - Truitt on July 13, 1929, and Atkinson on September 14, 1930.

To 160 Chapters

Tau Kappa Epsilon began its rise to power by experiencing dynamic growth unlike any other fraternity in the history of the Greek community during the 1950s. Specifically, at the close of 1949, fifty years after the founding of the Fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon had granted a total of 79 charters, 75 of which were active, and had initiated a total of 15,954 men. But ten years later, in 1959, TKE's charter grants totaled 168, of which 160 were active and functioning, and the total initiates numbered 39,065. In just ten years, Tau Kappa Epsilon had more than doubled its size and had risen from a very insignificant position in the fraternity world to that of a leader in all aspects.

From 1949-1951, during Frater Leland's term of office, 20 new chapters were installed and Tau chapter at Oregon State, one of the four chapters to become dormant during the depression and war years, was reactivated. The Fraternity also conducted an extensive review of the national constitution and bylaws, and Frater Leland appointed Howard L. Hibbs, then a regional officer, to head the first national leadership conference.

The Second World War

Tau Kappa Epsilon spent most of the war years under the leadership of Grand Prytanis Charles E. Nieman. During the early years of the United States' involvement in the military conflict, TKE did not suffer greatly. In October 1942, for example, TKE pledged 568 men as opposed to 475 men the preceding October. Also during the year, a record 628 men were initiated into TKE and the Fraternity's income was $26,505.47, an all-time high.

The severe manpower drain hit the colleges and the fraternity system in 1943, causing many chapters to go inactive and nearly all to abandon their houses. In September 1943, only 19 of TKE's chapters were still active and only two - Alpha-Zeta at Purdue and Alpha-Phi at Kansas - still had houses. All the other chapter houses had been relinquished for the duration of the war.

In conformity with governmental orders and to conserve Fraternity funds, no Conclaves were held during the war period. While the Fraternity continued to function and provide essential services to both chapters and Fraters, all expenses were cut to the bone.

The Teke magazine was suspended during the war in favor of a less expensive newspaper called Teke Life. This paper was sent out to every Teke on record, regardless of subscription status, in order to help maintain the interest of Tekes everywhere during this period when many of their undergraduate chapters were dormant.

For the first time, the office of Grand Grammateus was separated from the duties of Executive Secretary and a part-time Executive Secretary was hired. Dr. E.L. Theiss, Professor of Accounting at the University of Illinois assumed this position, hired a full-time secretary, and set up the National Office in Champaign, Illinois. In 1945 Frater Theiss tendered his resignation, and V.J. Hampton, Assistant Dean of Men at the University of Illinois, was hired as Executive Secretary.

Tekes too numerous to mention were actively involved in the war effort. It was estimated that 54% of the total membership of Tau Kappa Epsilon wore the uniform of one of the services. 

The Big Decision

At the beginning of the hostilities, the Grand Council of the Fraternity faced a major policy decision - whether our limited financial resources should be exhausted in an attempt to keep all chapters active throughout the War, or whether the Fraternity should recognize the impossibility of that objective and concentrate on preparing an aggressive and effective rehabilitation and expansion program after the War. Luckily, the latter course of action was chosen. Subsequent events demonstrated the wisdom of that choice, although it was not so apparent when the choice was made.

With so few chapters functioning during 1943-45, the income that the Fraternity needed to operate was drastically limited. To provide TKE with some security to prevent financial failure, and to provide some funds upon which to operate, alumni were asked to contribute to the Teke Loyalty Fund. For the first time in its history, TKE alumni were asked to support the Fraternity by contributing the small sum of $3 annually. Loyal TKE alumni contributed nearly $30,000 into this fund, without which the Fraternity could not have surmounted the tremendous hurdles ahead

The severe manpower drain hit the colleges and the fraternity system in 1943, causing many chapters to go inactive and nearly all to abandon their houses. In September 1943, only 19 of TKE's chapters were still active and only two - Alpha-Zeta at Purdue and Alpha-Phi at Kansas - still had houses. All the other chapter houses had been relinquished for the duration of the war.

In conformity with governmental orders and to conserve Fraternity funds, no Conclaves were held during the war period. While the Fraternity continued to function and provide essential services to both chapters and Fraters, all expenses were cut to the bone.

The Teke magazine was suspended during the war in favor of a less expensive newspaper called Teke Life. This paper was sent out to every Teke on record, regardless of subscription status, in order to help maintain the interest of Tekes everywhere during this period when many of their undergraduate chapters were dormant.

For the first time, the office of Grand Grammateus was separated from the duties of Executive Secretary and a part-time Executive Secretary was hired. Dr. E.L. Theiss, Professor of Accounting at the University of Illinois assumed this position, hired a full-time secretary, and set up the National Office in Champaign, Illinois. In 1945 Frater Theiss tendered his resignation, and V.J. Hampton, Assistant Dean of Men at the University of Illinois, was hired as Executive Secretary.

Our Second Century

The Fraternity prepared for its second century with a change in professional leadership. Kevin M. Mayeux, an initiate of Gamma-Theta Chapter at the University of Florida, was selected as Executive Vice President/CEO on July 1, 2000 following an international search.

For the first time in more than a decade, the Fraternity was in a position to address the fraternal experience and focus its efforts on enhancing the experience for all members. TKE invested considerable resources upgrading its infrastructure, with a strong emphasis on communications. The TKE website was fully expanded for easy access by undergraduates and alumni, and TKE became the first fraternity in the world to offer an on-line registration system for its new members. In order to provide better chapter service, TKE was divided into regions and the professional staff was reorganized to support this servicing concept.

The 51st Conclave was held at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. Robert D. Planck was elected Grand Prytanis and TKE released material to solidify the Fraternity's identity with a "Redefining Fraternity" public awareness campaign and a focus on scholarship, character, leadership, teamwork, service, and brotherhood. Regional Leadership Conferences, a springtime weekend leadership and training program started in 1984 and suspended prior to Centennial, were reinstated in cities across North America in 2002. The regional servicing concept was further enhanced during the biennium as Province volunteers became an integral part of the chapter service team. For the first time in more than a decade, TKE began to experience growth in our average chapter size and in our total number of collegiate members.

In 2003, TKE held its 52nd Conclave at the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas and Mark C. Romig was elected Grand Prytanis. Life Loyal Teke was unveiled as the newest Fraternity program. TKE continued to see growth in philanthropy projects and public service hours at the chapter level, and also put considerable efforts to support the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute, an affiliate of the National Alzheimer's Association in Chicago, Illinois, an initiative founded by former United States President Ronald Reagan (TKE – Eureka College) and First Lady Nancy Reagan to accelerate the progress of finding a cure to Alzheimer's disease.

The 53rd Conclave returned to The Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana, just weeks before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the summer of 2005. Mark A. Fite was elected Grand Prytanis, and the TKE staff was reorganized to place further emphasis on volunteer chapter servicing, as the focus of the biennium was declared to be involvement, recruitment, and achievement. This Conclave made TKE history, as The Fairmont has now hosted more Conclaves than any other property, including the original Alpha Chapter house. 

In 2007, TKE ventured back to the west coast for the 54th Conclave, held at the historic Riviera Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas strip. This was the first time in Fraternity history that TKE held an off-site event at a casino/hotel owned by Fraters, as the owners of the Hooters Casino hosted an off-site celebration. The next morning, hundreds of Tekes traveled to the Boys and Girls Club of Las Vegas for Kids Day, a TKE service project. Another first was the induction of members into the TKE Circle of Excellence, the newest Fraternity recognition for lifetime achievement.

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