Tau Kappa Epsilon and Ronald Reagan

On January 10, 1899, Tau Kappa Epsilon was founded at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. In a meeting at 504 East Locust Street, Charles Roy Atkinson, Clarence Arthur Mayer, James Carson McNutt, Joseph Lorenzo Settles, and Owen Ison Truitt formulated plans for a fraternity they first called the Knights of Classic Lore. The name was changed to Tau Kappa Epsilon when, in 1902, the men rented the Wilder Mansion, a home which formerly belonged to the College’s president. It was the first men’s fraternity house on the campus.

One of its most famous members, the 40th President, Ronald Reagan, pledged TKE’s Iota Chapter at Eureka College on September 19, 1928 and served in several leadership roles as a chapter member, including Chapter Prytanis (President). 

The Reagans were not a well-to-do family and finding the money to attend college was a challenge, but one that was met head on. At the 1982 Eureka College commencement, President Reagan said “Everything that has been good in my life began here.”

Reagan kept up his TKE connections. In 1955, while on a tour junket of the Morrison, Illinois, General Electric plant, he stopped and visited and visited the high school where one of his fraternity brothers, Enos “Bud” Cole, was principal. In a 1967 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Cole noted that as college students, “We talked about politics then, but it never entered anybody’s head that Dutch would go into politics. He had a lot of ideas.”

frater reagan

In March 1984, a TKE luncheon was held at the White House with about 60 alumni in attendance. The President was awarded the Order of the Golden Eagle, TKE’s highest honor. He was also the recipient of the North-American Interfraternity Conference’s Gold Medal Award. Another ceremony took place at the White House in June 1988 when the President was given the Order of the Silver Maple Leaf Award. In turn, he presented the Ronald Reagan Leadership Award, given to  TKE undergraduate, to that year’s winner.

reagan eureka

The Iota Chapter President was invited to the funeral services for President Reagan after his death in 2004. A Youtube video shows the President talking about his fraternity https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExKc4ZZtPbI. Its message is heartfelt and true.

Reagan’s older brother, John Neil “Moon” Reagan, followed his brother to Eureka. He, too, became a TKE and served as Chapter Prytanis. According to a quote on the Eureka College website:

Ron came home at the end of his first year with the news that he had it all fixed for me. I would have a scholarship at the school and he had a job for me ‘hashing’ at the girls dormitory so I’d have three meals a day. He said he’d have me pledged to the fraternity he belonged to. I laughed and said, ‘You got to be out of your mind!’

Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2014. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/.

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