Tau Kappa Epsilon International Fraternity was founded in 1899 at Illinois Wesleyan College (now University) in Bloomington, Illinois. If you want to know more about the history of the greater TKE Fraternity and our five founders, visit the history page
What follows here is an overview of the history of our own Beta-Pi Chapter at Georgia Tech, an extraordinary story of repeated challenges and triumphs during the course of over 70 years.
In 1948, bread rationing ended in Great Britain but most of Western Europe still lay in ruins from the Second World War, which had ended only three years before. The US Congress passed the Marshall Plan to fund economic recovery in Europe, the modern state of Israel was founded, and the Berlin Blockade (the first Cold War standoff between the USA and the USSR) began.
In the USA, the GI Bill enabled the return to college of those whose education had been interrupted and the enrollment of hundreds of thousands of others who might never have attended college. Along with most other national fraternities, TKE sought to establish colonies in the rapidly expanding college system as well as to reactivate chapters that had suspended operations during the War for lack of college-age men.
On January 27, 1948, 12 men met with TKE field secretary Herb Brown Chapter at the Georgia Tech YMCA on North Avenue in Atlanta to establish C
hi Epsilon Colony of TKE fraternity at Georgia Tech. The colony was part of a deliberate expansion program that resulted in the founding of 13 new TKE chapters in 1947, seven in 1948, 11 in 1949, and eight in 1950.
The 12 men were veterans of the War. Several were married.
Having no place of their own in which to meet, they continued to meet at the YMCA every Tuesday night at 8:00 and concerned themselves with finding a house to rent, making it suitable for habitation, writing by-laws, recruiting more members, and with their own new member education.
Eventually, a barely suitable house was located at 681 Plum Street, several blocks north of campus. Dean Griffin made the house available to the organization until June 1949 and the first meeting of the colony in the new house was held on April 13, 1948.
On June 6, 1948, 26 men were initiated in the YMCA on North Avenue by Grand Prytanis R.C. Williams with the help of fraters from the newly founded chapter at Alabama Polytechnic in Auburn, AL (now Auburn University.) The new chapter was designated Beta-Pi and became the 25th fraternity at Georgia Tech–one of only four that had been chartered here since 1929. The initiation event included a banquet and speeches. An open house followed at the Chapter House.
The first regular meeting of Beta-Pi Chapter was held in the house on Plum Street on June 7, 1948.
The new organization faced many challenges, the most immediate of which was housing. The house on Plum Street had room for only four people and the lease was short term. Fortunately, a new albeit short term lease was secured for a 14-bed house on Williams Street which had been moved, like several others, from their former locations in order to make way for the construction of the “Downtown Connector”, which runs through the middle of Atlanta. Several TKE architecture students and alumni inspected the house and determined that it was not suited for any major repairs or improvements that would enable it to hold more men. Nevertheless, it was the best that could be had at the time.
Several significant events followed in 1949:
- TKE Beta-Pi Chapter was accepted as a full member of the Georgia Tech IFC on May 3, 1949.
- On May 11, 1949, the chapter approved a mandatory meal plan for all single members living on campus.
- On September 28, 1949, one of the members asked that all members bring old quizzes to the house in order that “a file might be started.” This “word file” soon became extremely important to the upperclassmen in the technical majors.
During fall 1949, the first group of mostly non-veterans pledged and a large class was initiated in January 1950. The chapter grew to 40 members. Unfortunately, the Chapter’s founders, who were older and were veterans of the War, had little in common with the new members, who entered mostly directly from high school. This led to much friction in the organization.
As well, at the time, housing was scarce on and near campus. The older fraternity chapters generally had sufficient space to house their members, which gave them a major competitive advantage over the newer chapters such as TKE that could house only a few. Having many members living off-campus was another source of friction in these chapters.
The generational differences among members and the housing situation made recruiting difficult for several years but the members kept at the work of maintaining and improving the organization, and the Chapter survived into the new decade.
In 1950, communist forces in China occupied Tibet. The USA recognized a Vietnamese government in Saigon and signed arms and training agreements with it. North Korea invaded South Korea and the USA went to war again. In colleges throughout the country, scholarship suddenly became a very serious matter since students had to make certain grades to stay out of the draft lottery.
In Atlanta, advancing highway construction threatened the Chapter House on Williams Street. The Chapter located a new house in late 1950. Unfortunately, it would not be available before construction would take the existing house. So, during winter quarter 1951, TKE found itself again with no place of its own for meeting and housing members. Chapter meetings were held, once again, in the Georgia Tech YMCA. For meals, there was a cafeteria, known to students as the “Ptomaine Tavern”, which was not popular. A member who worked at the YMCA and had access to a mimeograph machine published a weekly chapter newsletter to help hold the organization together by it was hard to maintain the feeling of fraternity.
In the meantime, at 185 4th Street, an area considered “just off campus” near the corner with Fowler, a sweet, elderly lady loved the little house she lived in. She had a little fish pond in the back yard and a garden, of which she was proud. She could never have imagined that a group of Tech undergrads would soon be working in her flower garden on a ‘Reck for the contraption division. What would she have said if she had known that, one summer soon after, a famous Hollywood actress, in Atlanta to make a movie, would party in her house and fall into her pond?
Beta-Pi moved into its third house during summer quarter 1951. The house stood on part of the land occupied now by the Wesley Foundation near the corner of 4th Street and Fowler. The house was tiny. Nine men could live upstairs with difficulty. Like the other houses the chapter had moved into, it was in bad condition. An interior designer was consulted and members held work parties to repair walls and paint. One member’s parents donated an upright piano, helping to start what became a long standing tradition of singing in the Chapter. There were machines for selling Cokes and snacks.
About the same time, a TKE alumnus from Rhode Island, Bob Kirkhuff, became the chapter’s first real advisor. He was young and his wife was pregnant but they (together) leapt into the role with immediate good effect. Bob remained advisor for 25 years.
Even in these early days, the Chapter assumed one of its most important features–the diversity of its membership. There were veterans and high school kids. There were “damn Yankees” and “Georgia crackers”. Several members had grown up on military posts in various parts of the world. Most were single but a few but a few were married. For years, there was a large and influential international contingent, especially from Latin America and the Caribbean. Many members of this international group were among the Chapter’s most interesting and active members.
The TKE house on 4th Street was too small to contain an institutional kitchen but a meal plan was important. Arrangements were made with a neighboring chapter to eat at their house. Later, an arrangement was made with the cook next door to prepare TKE meals there. Food was then carried over to the TKE House in large containers and meals were served family style. Folding chairs were borrowed regularly from the Wesley Foundation since the Chapter did not have enough storage space for all the chairs needed to seat the chapter. (Chairs became an issue between the Chapter and the Foundation since “we always had some of theirs and they always wanted them back.”)
Social events included numerous backyard parties with girls invited from Agnes Scott. Record parties were popular. The annual Red Carnation Ball was a big event and was held several times at the Georgian Terrace Hotel on Peachtree Street. All social events were chaperoned and Dean Pershing and his wife and, later, Dean Dull and his wife attended occasionally. Although the drinking age was 18, alcohol was not permitted on campus and restaurants were often BYOB. Disciplinary incidents from those days usually involved alcohol but the chapter never got into any great trouble.
In 1953, the Chapter reached a milestone when Bill Fricke, scroll number 13 and the last of the Chapter Founders, graduated, having spent “more than the usual amount of time” at Tech.
In fall 1957, Dan Laird led a rush that pledged 30 men, the largest pledge class the chapter had gotten until that quarter. In fall 1958, 20 more men pledged TKE and the Chapter entered the ranks of the large fraternities where it has remained ever since. In a decade, membership had grown from 15 to 75 members. For many reasons, the growth was beneficial. However, its suddenness meant that the Chapter House on 4th street suddenly become entirely inadequate to support the Chapter’s social events, housing needs, and meeting and meal plan seating needs. The organization was in danger of losing its cohesion. To make matters worse, in 1958, the Wesley Foundation completed plans to build on the two lots on 4th Street at the corner with Fowler Street. Once again, TKE had to move.
Fortunately, for the first time, the calendar favored the Tekes. Georgia Tech offered to allow the Chapter’s Board of Trustees (BOT) to buy two properties at the corner of 5th Street and Techwood Drive in an area designated for the expansion of Greek housing. BOT Chairman Bill Eisenhour made the arrangements, $35,000 changed hands, and for the first time, TKE Beta-Pi owned its own land.
In April 1959 the chapter moved into a run-down (of course) two-story brick apartment house, after known as The Brick House, at the corner of 5th Street and Techwood Drive, and a run-down (of course) two-story wooden house just downhill on 5th street that was, for decades, known as The White House regardless of what color it was painted. (This building was also called The Social Quarters and, later, the Old Social Quarters to differentiate it from the building that replaced it in 1993.)
The first meeting in the new houses was held on April 22, 1959. There were issues. Despite the Chapter’s good fortune at having finally found a property in which it could settle and grow, the Chapter had to come to terms not only with the need to fill its much larger facilities but also with the tremendous task of preparing and maintaining the new buildings.
Members set to work immediately repairing and improving the properties – a task that was never to end as long as the buildings were occupied. The White House had four rooms downstairs and a porch that wrapped around the south (Fifth Street) and east (Techwood Drive) sides of the building. The wall between the two front (east) rooms of the White House was removed to make a larger room for meetings, parties, and dinners. The kitchen (the first of its own the chapter had) was equipped for preparing meals for the Chapter. The other room on the first floor became the Social Quarters, where a TV was soon installed. Upstairs were three bedrooms and a sun room that were used to house members.
In the Brick House, a new door was created opening to a breezeway from the White House and, on the upper floor, a corridor was created by knocking out all the existing closets, which were conveniently lined up. There was one bath upstairs, one downstairs, and no private showers. The basement of the Brick House was mostly unfinished and was used for storage.
The Brick House also contained an apartment on the first floor facing 5th Street. It remained separate from members’ living space and was designated the House Mother’s Apartment. It was occupied by Mrs. Lomie “the Jet” Jetton, the chapter’s first house mother.
All these renovations, while adding to the social and bed spaces on the property, did not correct the basic heating and plumbing problems of the Houses, which remained money pits until they were torn down. There were also always problems with the kitchen equipment, especially the refrigerators and dishwashers.
During these years, the Chapter benefited from the oversight and hands-on involvement of a skilled and stable Board. Chairman Bill Eisenhour knew real estate. Advisor Bob Kirkhuff, an alumnus of the Alpha-Rho Chapter at the University of Rhode Island (the only Teke on the Board) was a business executive skilled in construction work. Working with them were John Bachman, an insurance executive who was also a skilled carpenter and woodworker, and Hugh Thompson, a professional electrical contractor.
In summer 1959, the Chapter embarked on a radical departure from normal fraternity practice at Georgia Tech. Earlier in the school year, in an effort to get an edge on rush competitors, the Chapter had appointed a summer rush committee, which then rushed and pledged 10 men during summer 1959. The chapter had taken the first steps toward being active year-round.
That summer rush turned out to be crucial because the rush of fall 1959 produced only 15 pledges – alone inadequate but acceptable when combined with the results from Summer. That level of membership allowed the chapter to weather the next challenge.
Lack of financial planning and spending discipline on the part of the undergraduates had drained the bank account. Then an unexpected $600 bill for back taxes on the new properties appeared. Difficulties surfaced when it became apparent that, due to the shortage of cash, the social chairman could not produced the quantity and quality of parties the chapter had become accustomed to. But the chapter had sufficient members and sufficient space and the momentum to meet the challenge.
By the end of the decade, the chapter had become something different from the small, wandering, struggling organization it had been in 1950. TKE Beta-Pi was now established firmly in the Greek system at Georgia Tech and prepared to begin decades of sustained high achievement remarkable for a group so recently created, so diverse, and without the housing and social advantages held by the older chapters on campus.
In 1960, Frances Gary Powers was shot down while flying his U2 over the Soviet Union. Nixon and Kennedy debated on TV and African-American students in Greensboro, NC protested segregation by nonviolent sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters. US scientists developed the LASER, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Triton circumnavigated the globe under water, and Tiros I (the first weather satellite) was launched.
In spring 1960, the Chapter voted to give the members present during the Summer the full powers of the chapter and TKE Beta-Pi became a four-quarter fraternity–the first at Georgia Tech. Members would pay dues, meetings would be held, and votes taken during the Summer would be as binding as those taken during the regular school year. This made particular sense at Georgia Tech because of the co-op program, which placed many students in school during Summers. Having members who needed housing during the Summer and Winter balanced the temporary loss of revenue from those that left to work out of town during those quarters. That summer, the Chapter pledged and initiated six men, firmly establishing summer rush. At first, it was like “shooting fish in a barrel” since TKE was the only chapter rushing during summer. However, a few other organizations soon picked up the idea and Summer Rush became competitive throughout the 1960s.
In 1961, Yuri Gagarin of the USSR became the first human in space, followed a few months later by American Alan Shepard. John F. Kennedy became President of the USA and the Peace Corps was established. Racial tensions grew in the South as “freedom riders” were beaten in Anniston and Birmingham, AL. The US broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba and Cuban exiles were routed at the Bay of Pigs. In Europe, the Berlin Wall was erected.
In 1962, the USA and the USSR came close to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis and a USA military council was established in South Vietnam. The Telstar communications satellite and the Mariner II Venus Probe were launched. Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring”. The first “thalidomide babies” were born. US marshals and 3,000 soldiers were sent to the University of Mississippi to suppress rioting accompanying the arrival of an African-American student.
Despite having two houses, the Chapter needed still more room. In Spring 1962, the Board began to look seriously at buying a house occupied by another fraternity at 828 Techwood Drive just north of the two Teke houses. In November 1962, the price of $18,500 was agreed upon and the BOT bought what became known as The North House. Three committees were appointed among the undergrads to create separate proposals for modifying the newly acquired space to meet the Chapter’s needs.
The North House could be entered through the main floor from Techwood Drive or through the basement from the TKE patio that connected The Brick House and The White House.
Tekes demolished a three-story frame addition that the former occupants had long ago built onto the back of the house with a new one built of cinder blocks at the basement level and prefabricated framing on the main floor level. Construction was done by ten Tekes who stayed in Atlanta during the break between Winter and Spring quarters. The kitchen was moved out of The White House and into the new addition.
During Spring and Summer, the Chapter added a new room was added and removed four walls (two of which were load-bearing), and installed a steel beam to support the upper floor. This beam was carried onto the property and placed by hand (at least twenty pairs).
The modifications to The Brick House created a large combination dining-chapter-party room. The basement was also used for parties.
TKE’s three houses could sleep forty-five men and, together, became known around campus as The Teke Village.
Although the chapter worked hard to improve its houses, rearranging interior spaces and digging out and finishing basements, maintenance was always a problem. Everyone realized that, eventually, the old buildings would have to be replaced. The hope of better facilities was always with the chapter.
In 1967, TKE went 20-1 in fast pitch softball and won its first school championship of a major league.