About Delta Chapter
A Brief History, 1891-present
West Virginia University in 1890 was but 23 years old. It was a modest, rather undistinguished state university, with a small student body and with very little as yet in the way of traditions. As a Land-Grant institution, it suffered the familiar “cow college” epithet use by those who attended larger, older and more prestigious institutions; and it was situated on the northern border of a State which itself was only a few years older.
But its students were typical of their counterparts of any age: young, bright, ambitious and quick to pick up the habits, fads and traditions of students at other schools. WVU’s curriculum, like that of most other late-19th century institutions, leaned heavily toward classical education patterns: lots of Greek, Latin, mathematics and literature. College athletics still were in their infancy, and the spare time activities of students normally were associated with clubs or groups that were simply extensions of the classroom.
Such was the case here, as at many other colleges and universities, where the two major groups were the Parthenon and Columbian Literary Societies. They were rivals, of course, but quite parallel to each other in their programs and structures. They met every Friday night, and fought fiercely in competing with each other for new members and for prizes offered by the Board of Regents. Each weekly meeting featured a recitation, an oration, an essay on some topic of current interest, and a four-man-team debate. Open meetings took place once or twice a year, with special programs designed to please and entertain “lady guests” and members of the faculty.
They were run strictly by parliamentary procedures, and elected their officers under very rigid rules. It was because of this rigidity that their members rebelled. The Columbians, always presided over by an upperclassman, by late 1889 found themselves faced with an uprising among some of their younger or “prep” members who use every parliamentary trick to get a non-upperclassman elected president, and who succeeded, despite the fact that the traditionalists had even persuaded the President of the University to preside in order to ensure fairness. As a result, the leaders among the upperclassmen resigned, and after several months became University’s chapter of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. Their charter date was May 23, 1890. Their founders were mostly from the Columbian upperclassmen, with a few former Parthenon members.
Over in the Parthenon Society, the picture was much the same, though the issues were different. There was, indeed, a rising among the prep members; but along with high office, they were seeking sweeping changes in program and emphasis. They results were pretty much the same, with the leadership of the Parthenon group, plus a few close friends within the Columbian Society and a smaller group of “independents”, forming a nucleus of 12, who, on February 24, 1891, were installed as the Delta Chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa.
The achievement of fraternity status by both the Phi Psis and the Phi Sigs was not so easy as it might appear. An earlier fraternity had been established here, but had shortly been kicked off campus for public drunkenness and other conduct deemed detrimental to the University community. But these two groups were, in the words of the University President, composed of such sterling young men that “[you] could not get a better group.”
Delta’s founders were guided by William S. Mayers of Gamma Chapter at Cornell, and by John Ashburn Cutter, member of both Alpha at Massachusetts and later of Beta at Union College. These two men worked with the Delta founders, saw to the installation of the group’s first officers and were honored guests at the banquet, which the 12 decided to give “that would beat anything ever known in West Virginia in college life.” And did it succeed!
A Pittsburgh caterer was hired; one of that city’s specially-equipped steamers, The Delta Queen, (of all things!) was chartered; faculty and faculty wives were invited, girl friends, of course, and even the Governor of West Virginia. The result, to quote the December 1894 issue of The Signet, “was a banquet which was a complete success, costing between three and four hundred dollars, and at which the feast of reason and flow of soul were undiminished.” The Signet continued: “Apparently the older chapters have something to learn from their younger brother, Delta, for this affair, while a heavy financial load on the members, did place the chapter on a level above anything else in the University.” (One of the charter members told this writer in 1941, “I believe we finally paid that off about 1906.”)
Who were these 12 who chose their fraternity so wisely, and who were the predecessors of so many great Delta men?
- George M. Alexander ’92 was a Fairmonter, an attorney, later president of the Monongahela Power Company and on of the founders of the 4-H Camp at Jackson’s Mill.
- Wilson Lee Camden ’92 was from Mountain Lake Park, Md. After earning his LLD at WVU, he went to Yale for another one, and while there played the same role that Dr. Cutter had played here, and served as the guiding hand behind the establishment of Epsilon Chapter in New Haven.
- Robert H. Ramsay ’94 of Clarksburg became a physician and surgeon, and was among the first of WVU’s students and alumni to volunteer for action in the Spanish-American War as a member of the Second Hand West Virginians.
- Harry Smith ’93 of Middlebourne chose newspapering as his profession, and was a respected editor in the Ohio Valley well into the 1920s.
- Isaiah C. Herndon ’92 of Welch, was a distinguished courtroom lawyer, and later served as Circuit Judge in the 8th W. Va. District.
- John Carl Vance ’94 was a native of Fairmont, a cousin of the group’s mentor from Gamma, William S. Mayers. He became an attorney, and a highly-honored professor of law in Chicago until his death in the 1930s.
- Cyrus Earl Vance ’94, also from Clarksburg, a cousin of John, was a dedicated horticulturalist, moved south shortly after graduation, and established several commercial peach orchards near Atlanta.
- John A. Greer ’92 was from Sistersville, and returned to that town where he practiced medicine.
- Captain Kemble White ’94 , probably best-known of all the founders to generations of Delta men, was a Clarksburger, liked to say that he was the smallest officer in the army during the Spanish-American War, founded the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in that city, was for many years chief counsel for the Hope Gas Co., and earned the University’s prestigious Order of Vandalia before his death in the late 1960s.
- Florian G. Rice ’91, a civil engineer from Pittsburg, earned one of the earliest civil engineering degrees awarded by WVU, and was a close personal and professional friend of many of Delta’s members of the next half-century.
Brothers Alexander, White and Ross were all present for Delta’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1941, and a delegation of undergraduates went to Mountain Lake Park to visit with Brother Camden, though he was too ill to attend. Brother White was here for the 60th anniversary in 1951, and sent his regrets in 1961, being confined to his room on doctor’s orders: but “Captain Kemble” held a sort of perpetual open-house in his quarters in the Stonewall Jackson penthouse for any and all Phi Sigs until his death.
THE EARLY YEARS
Delta’s new brothers, and those inducted in the next few years, had no permanent home. For some time, they ate together in a boarding house owned by a “Mrs. Hitchens,” on High Street, just below today’s Delta Tau Delta house. Just before New Year’s Day 1895, The Signet reported, the members “hired a Hall, 19 x 43, with two anterooms 9x14, and furnished same; this is the nearest they can get to a home; but their House is not many years away.” Surviving founders told the chapter in 1941 that this “Hall” was on the second floor, over a jewelry store on the corner of Walnut and Chestnut Streets. The jewelry store later became the Boston Fish Market; and then occupied by a paint store, now torn down. It occupied the lot next to the historic Old Stone House. These quarters were used for meetings for several years.
Founder Wilson L. Camden, a senior when the chapter was formed, had gone to Yale in 1892 to continue work toward his law degree, and late in that year became the first Delta man to become a national officer. He was named Auditor, and, as mentioned earlier, played a major role in the establishment of Epsilon Chapter there. Tom Swann Tompkins ’96, of St. Albans, went to the University of Maryland to study medicine, and there helped with the establishment of Eta Chapter in 1897.
Delta Chapter, meanwhile, had grown slowly and not dramatically, but steadily, though with little contact with her sister units in the Northeast; West Virginia, we must remember, was a long way from New England. So desperately had the members stripped their financial resources to pay for the big induction party, that they could not afford to send a delegate to national conventions; a publication of the national office, in fact, once referred to the chapter as “away off in the mountains.” It was not that the chapter was considered “southern”; it was “western” to the early fraternity, in fact, the westernmost chapter in the Order until the induction of Omega in Berkeley, California, in 1909.
As early as 1902, Delta was experiencing serious internal trouble. A “split” within the membership, surely nothing new in fraternity life, had caught the attention of national officers as well as of Delta alumni. The alumni, in fact, set up their own court system, conducted a hearing, and recommended the expulsion of four members who apparently had caused much of the trouble. At this point, the national order had never carried out an expulsion, and was not particularly eager to do so. Instead, with the concurrence of the alumni, the chapter was formally “suspended,” and then the suspension was lifted, except in the case of the four individuals. From the standpoint of Delta, the experience had been a sobering one. But more importantly, members of the “court” which the chapter had established proved to be leaders in every sense of the word, the core, in fact of the chapter’s alumni body for many years.
For among the young alumni who had helped to achieve the solution were several who were destined to be among the State’s most prominent citizens in the years to come: “ Terrence D. Steward ’01, later mayor of Morgantown; Edward B. Carskadon ’99, later secretary of the West Virginia Public Service Commission; Mansfield M. Neely ’01, later Governor of West Virginia and longtime US Senator; Walter H. South ’98, later president of the Public Service System; Dennis M. Willis ’99, for many years financial head of the University; and Clement R. Jones, later dean of the College of Engineering.
They were among many who were carefully selected as undergraduates in those early years, whose achievements in later life demonstrated the selectiveness of the founders and their immediate successors. In fact, when the National Fraternity’s 50-year history was written by Frank Prentice Rand in 1923, the author pointed out that Delta Chapter, while geographically isolated from most of the other early chapters for its first 20 years, had not only “survived but indeed flourished through its own strength of selectivity and character.” By 1911, men had been initiated who in their professional lives would include James A. Meredith ’00, a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, and Haymond Maxwell ’00, a chief justice of that body; three outstanding engineers, a world-famous author, Melville Davisson Post ’92; eight state legislators and department heads; eight professors and deans; three military types who achieved the rank of colonel; two governors of West Virginia: Neely anad Howard M. Gore ’00 (who also served as US Secretary of Agriculture under President Calvin Coolidge); three Secretaries of Agriculture of West Virginia: Howard E. Williams ’02, James H. Steward ’02, and Gore (who served a one-year appointive stint in 1931); a Congressman and Senator (Neely); a half-dozen outstanding physicians and surgenons; and Lloyd Backman ’07, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.
On March 21, 1906, the Phi Sigma Kappa Chapter House Association was incorporated in Morgantown with capital stock of $10,000. The incorporation would allow Delta Chapter to acquire a chapter house for the active members. From the time of Delta’s chartering in 1891 until 1907, numerous meeting halls, boarding houses and anterooms served as the chapter’s official residence. However, in 1907 the Phi Sigs negotiated a lease with Thomas B. Grant who owned a house at 672 N. High St. The residence was referred to, in the university’s yearbooks of the period, as the Old President’s Home. The fraternity leased the house until September 18, 1919, when the Chapter House Association purchased it for $10,000. The existing two and a half story stone and frame structure continued to serve as the Phi Sig home until 1929.
TWO WORLD WARS AND THE YEARS BETWEEN
Delta’s actives and alums sent 65 men to the armed services during World War I, two of whom died during the “flu” epidemic of 1918. The house, meanwhile, had been turned over to army training units on campus. The chapter reported to the national office at the war’s conclusion that “the military officers treated it [the house] as though it were enemy property,” though some compensation was paid to alumni owners.
On April 9, 1929, the Common Council of the City of Morgantown issued a building permit to the McAlester Co. in the amount of $55,000. The permit was to tear down an old building and construct a fraternity house at 672 N. High St. Older brothers recall that the present brick and stone tudor chapter house was completed and occupied during the school year of 1929-1930. The first picture of the new Phi Sig house appeared in the 1931 Monticola.
Meanwhile, the chapter experienced, along with the rest of American society, the ups and downs of two turbulent decades between two World Wars. Fraternity life at West Virginia University was little different from that at most other institutions, perhaps not so flamboyant as depicted in the more sensational magazines of the day, but certainly a far cry from the literary societies of the 1890s. The chapter became known as a home of some of the Mountaineers’ star athletes during and after the years of World War I, especially in baseball, and in football, where Russ Bailey ’19, later one of the state’s outstanding surgeons, was named to Walter Camp’s All-American team in 1917. Two Phi Sigs, Eddie Vacheresse ’29 and Bill Neely ’34, were boxing coaches at WVU, Neely becoming the former’s pride and joy when we went undefeated for three years at 135 pounds.
Slowly the chapter grew to a position of eminence on the campus, producing many student leaders, and taking an increasingly active role in national and regional Phi Sig activities. Campus scholarship honors, intramural athletic cups, Mother’s Day Sing Trophies, and individual achievements piled up as the chapter grew; by the time of Pearl Harbor, Delta was always numbered as one of the two or three top houses on campus, and had grown in size to one of the largest. Active alumni boards kept things on an even keel, even during the Depression, and worked successfully with the National Office to keep the chapter afloat and the house open at a time when other chapters were disappearing, houses were being sold, and mortgages were being foreclosed. As the Depression waned and as World War II approached, Delta was pretty near the top of the heap in Morgantown, with a chapter strength of 75.
Delta had its own personal share in World War II even before the county’s entrance into the actual conflict, however. An anti-Nazi “Hitler Party” in 1939, with members and guests dressed in pseudo-Nazi uniforms, complete with armbands, was such a hilarious success that Life magazine photographers attended it and placed it on the cover. It so infuriated German officials that they formally complained to the State Department, and the Daily Athenaeum found it necessary to “break off diplomatic relations” with the Nazi regime.
But probably the biggest event of the period was Delta’s 50th Anniversary Observance on March 15, 1941. Members from classes of 1891 through 1944 met, mingled and enjoyed one another’s experiences, beginning with an open house at 672 at noon, and concluding with a formal banquet followed by a dance at the Hotel Morgan that evening.
Three of Delta’s founders were present, along with alumni who included a former congressman, an ex-governor, the head of the State Supreme Court, John Marchmont, Grand President, and Herbert L. Brown, then Director for Region II. F. Roy Yoke ’03, prominent West Virginia politician and the state’s Collector of Internal Revenue, was toastmaster. He ended with the hope that his son, Frank ’44, then the president of the freshman class at WVU, might (in 1991) see the chapter in the same condition I see her now.”
A major factor in Delta’s stature in the years just prior to World War II was the presence of the chapter’s first full-time housemother, Mrs. Mabel Brenneman, who could quietly take a houseful of young hellions who had won the intramural all-year cup during the week, and who had celebrated far beyond reason on Friday and Saturday, and produce a reception on Sunday that would impress the administration and charm the sororities. For many years, Mrs. Ola Coffroth had served as a part-time housemother; but it was Mom Brenneman who established the house at 672 as a social cornerstone on the campus.
With the coming of World War II, of course, the campus scene became totally different. Virtually every able-bodied male between the ages of 18 and 40 was in some branch of the service, save for those in vital industry or those who were physically unable to serve. Fraternity chapters, for the most part, simply ceased to exist, and houses were turned over once again to units of the armed forces in training at the institutions. Those who did remain on the campus and in classes tried to continue their fraternal contacts. Meetings were held in scattered places, alumni took care of ritual books and belongings, mortgages were kept paid up, and “the system” simply awaited the end of the hostilities.
AFTER WORLD WAR II
Just weeks after Japan’s surrender in the fall of 1945, West Virginia University found itself pretty much back to its pre-war level, though with a rapidly-growing enrollment, due in large measure to the G.I. Bill, which was to bring an explosion to college campuses unlike anything they had ever experienced before. WVU was no exception. Its enrollment doubled the 1942 figure within a year. A year later, in the fall of 1946, the chapter neared 100 members and pledges, all programs were in full swing, and what was to be Delta’s finest decade since her founding was under way.
Many of those whose academic careers had been interrupted by the War now returned, veterans not only of military life but of fraternity life as well. There was the usual “split” between the “younger members” and the “veterans” of course; every chapter of every fraternity on every campus in the country experienced that. But the wisdom and experience of the “older” faction contributed as much to a mature fraternity chapter as it did outside the classroom.
Good examples at Delta were E. Roy Lester (officially of the Class of 1944) who returned to become a three-sport star and eventually to coach Maryland’s footballers; or Don Knotts (officially ’46) who went from Morgantown High to WVU to Emmy Award winner in Hollywood and became one of the country’s favorite comedians; or Charlie Printz (officially ’48) who much later served higher education on the State’s Board of Regents. And in athletics, Delta had no peer on the Morgantown campus. George (Bud) Freese ’50 went on to major-league baseball. And in basketball…well, during the University’s golden years of Rod Hundley and Jerry West, the chapter had five of the era’s brightest starts: Gary Mullins ’56, Paul Witting ’56, Clayce Kishbaugh ’57, Don Vincent ’58 and Jodey Gardner ’58 (who later was WVU’s head coach in the mid-1970s).
A part of a 12-chapter Region II, Delta now became an annual contender for district and national honors in Phi Sigma Kappa affairs. Beginning with the 1948 Convention, Deltas played an ever-expanding role, and by 1956 had a regional Vice-President (Don Bond ’42), a district Governor (Dave Harmer ’50), and the first undergraduate leader of a national leadership school (Fred Post ’56) involved in National affairs. Other special field workers followed in the next few years, including Bruce Hoff ’54 and Rick Morris ’52.
Delta was without Mom Brenneman’s services during the hectic years after World War II, but was well-served briefly by Mrs. Monnie Madden (mother of Harold J. “Scrappy” Madden ’40; and then for almost two decades by Mrs. R. P. (Bess) Lipscomb, who to an entire generation of brothers fir perfectly into what alumni called “the Mabel Brenneman mold” as the chapter’s heart.
Delta men headed every honorary on campus, won the intramural all-year cup three times in seven years; moved up into, and stayed, in the top ten chapters scholastically (for the first time since the late 1930s); won one of the final Mother’s Day Sing trophies before that program disappeared; and won the Robert B. Nemeschy trophy as the outstanding chapter in Region II three times in seven years. Don Bond ’42 the chapter’s first (and to date its only) Grand Chapter President of Phi Sigma Kappa (1960-1962), and Delta won one of the fraternity’s first “Best Chapter” awards in 1960-61.
Mom Lipscomb’s strength and the chapter’s resiliency were perhaps best illustrated in the early 1960s, when the group threw a memorable “Roaring Twenties” party and ended up with two years of social probation. But with the housemother’s low-key guidance and outstanding undergraduate presidencies, Delta was back with a National President’s Award by 1966. As had been the case in the 1930s and 1940s, the chapter was again blessed with strong leadership and membership: a Student Body President (Jim Mullendore) in 1968; class presidents and other student government leaders; David Selby ’63 and future Academy Award Nominee Chris Sarandon ’64, who anchored the University’s outstanding drama department; baseball standout Dale Ramsburg ’64 (who later served as WVU's baseball coach from 1968-94 and became the winningest coach in any sport in the history of West Virginia athletics); and a succession of chapter presidents: Tom Azinger ’57, Leslie Hawker ’61, Richard Fidler ’61, Fred Nerz ’62, Ron Wilkinson ’64, Bruce Berry ’64, Jim Gocke ’66, Vaughn Kiger ’66, Don Squires ’67, Jim Lloyd ’69, Dale Stortz ’68, Dave McIntyre ’70, and Bob Campbell ’71 among them, who kept Delta at the top of the WVU fraternity heap.
THE VIETNAM YEARS AND THE RENAISSANCE
Delta suffered along with the rest of the collegiate world during the dark decade of the 1970s; perhaps, she suffered more than most, for she had so far to fall from such a pre-Vietnam pinnacle. Delta lost four brothers in combat. And coupled with this crushing personal loss, the anti-establishment, anti-institution, anti-fraternity emotions that swept through the country had by 1973 reduced Delta to a house of 12 brothers. In the dark days to come, only three elements kept the collapse from being total: a handful of local alumni who refused to surrender; a handful of undergraduate leaders: Martin Woodall ’74 (who would later become a prominent business man and philanthropist) and Jeff Bailey ’72 come to mind, who refused to allow evil to triumph; and again, a housemother attuned to the times, Verna Edgell, who rolled with the punches “along with the boys.”
By 1979 only 25 actives and two pledges remained in the house, the chapter’s reputation was at its nadir, and even the handful of actives and alumni who had refused to give up were having second thoughts. Jeff Bailey, chapter advisor, asked the Grand Chapter for help. Don Bond met with national officials at Indianapolis; and Kyle Olsen, a young field worker from Montana, was send to WVU “on a salvage mission,” given blanket authority to “straighten things out” while he worked on a graduate degree. With the cooperation of local alumni, Kyle met individually with each returning member of the chapter, said “farewell” to those who were not willing to work for a renaissance, held rush sessions for those who had forgotten how to rush, recruited Morgantown alumni to talk to the remaining nucleus about various phases of chapter operation and history, and the renaissance was underway.
Working closely with Verna Edgell and the alumni nucleus, Kyle coaxed, persuaded, encouraged, and stepped on toes where necessary. When he left in December 1980, the chapter had more than 50 members, it had renewed its social ties with campus sororities, it was back in the good graces of the University administration, and it filled the house for Homecoming, filling it with alumni who a few years earlier had sworn never to return. When the first pledge class of the reorganized Chapter graduated in 1983, membership had climbed to 89 brothers, and the Grand Chapter recognized the accomplishment with its first Outstanding National Chapter award.
By the middle of the 1980s, Delta had won the Joseph C. Gluck Award as best fraternity on the campus (1985), and had repeated National Chapter Awards in 1985 and 1987.
THE CENTENNIAL AND EXPANSION
As Delta entered the 1990s, she would set sustained standards of excellence that were nearly unparalleled in the national Greek arena. More than a decade of toil and progressive chapter growth had reached its fruition. On the weekend of March 22-23, 1991, Delta Chapter celebrated the Centennial of its founding, with a gala weekend at Lakeview Inn. More than 400 alumni and the active chapter, now numbering more than 100 strong, gathered for a weekend of golf, tennis, tours, and a celebratory banquet, which featured renowned television and stage actor David Selby ’63 as the keynote speaker.
In 1992, Delta Chapter created Phi Sig Phantasia, an annual event that raised more than $5,000 annually for the Monongalia Head Start program. The weeklong event became an annual social focal point on the University campus, as the chapter house would host Head Start children and events. The chapter’s philanthropy efforts were also recognized nationally for her Brothers Against Drunk Driving program.
Throughout the decade, Delta was recognized for its contribution to the University community. Repeatedly, she won the Outstanding Chapter in the Nation Award, including seven years in a row through the beginning of the decade. On campus, Delta was awarded the Joseph C. Gluck award consecutively from 1993-1996. The chapter was consistently recognized for its achievements in scholarship, intramurals, leadership and membership development.
During this period, a plethora of Phi Sig Student Body Presidents (Samuel Sutton, Patrick Esposito, Clark Parker, Christopher Ferro, David Workman and Jordan Workman) and a succession of chapter presidents: David Caracciolo ’93, Coy Flowers ’94, T.R. Rascon ’94, Jim Dobbs ’95, Frank Gallo ’96, Michael Dinneen ’97, Melvin Sperry ’97, Matt McDevitt ’97 and David Zeigler ‘98 among them, would help the Delta chapter boast an unprecedented leadership grasp on the WVU campus.
In 1996, more than 300 Delta alumni and the active chapter donated more than $400,000 to the construction of the Alumni Hall annex and the refurbishment of the existing chapter house. The magnificent 2,400 square foot brick and stone tudor addition featured a brick and stone turret, identical to that on the front of the existing Phi Sig house, establishing it as a matching architectural and symbolic landmark on the WVU campus.
The backbone of the chapter house expansion was, as it had always been, due to the efforts of a core group of local alumni: J. William Douglas ’60 (who would serve as Delta’s chief alumni fundraiser for decades); Vaughn Kiger ’66; longtime chapter advisor Bernard Stenger ’39, and longtime Chapter House Association members Mark Mangano '83 and Bruce P. Andrews ’80 come to mind.
Today, Delta can look back on more than 115 years that have sorely tested her ability to survive - a century that has seen her, like most of her sister chapters, swing from success to failure and back again. Her more than 2,200 brothers have demonstrated their leadership, intellect and poise in academia, in the halls of government, in Hollywood, in the corporate boardroom, and on the battlefield, from the Spanish-American War to the current conflicts in the Middle East. Delta salutes her members of the past century, and looks forward to another century of service and brotherhood.
During construction of Alumni Hall, stones from the foundation of the original Delta Chapter house, demolished in 1929, were unearthed. Today, one of those stones is set as a cornerstone of Alumni Hall, a testament to the circular continuity and strength of Delta Chapter. After a magnificent dedication and celebration of Alumni Hall on May 3, 1997, the two turrets of the Phi Sig house stood quietly, reaching into the night sky, waiting for a new group of undergraduate leaders to arrive and walk under her to promote brotherhood, stimulate scholarship and develop character. They would come.
Donovan H. Bond ’42, Editor
Vaughn L. Kiger ‘66
Terry D. Ross ‘ 91
J. Michael Dinneen ‘97
Copyright Chapter House Association, 1991, 2006, 2008.