Sometimes You Can Go Home Again and a Happy Founders’ Day Phi Gamma Delta

I spent Friday and Saturday in Monmouth, Illinois, where Pi Beta Phi was founded on April 28, 1867. I was able to stand in the very room where the organization came to life 150 years ago and I shared that significance with the chapter and alumnae, and even a few family members of alumnae who tagged along.

A goodly number of Illinois Alpha Chapter alumnae returned for the 150th celebration. It was heartwarming to see so many conversations pick up where they left off decades ago. That is one of the hallmarks of almost every fraternity and sorority alumni/ae anniversary celebration. Lyn Harris, Chi Omega’s Archivist, spent the weekend celebrating a 50th anniversary with the South Dakota State University Chi Omegas. I have no doubt that the conversations between the Chi Omega alumnae were almost identical to the ones I overheard between the Pi Phi alumnae.

Sharing the bonds of a fraternal experience transcend time and place. I can remember attending the Centennial of Pi Phi’s Kansas Beta Chapter at Kansas State. The older alumnae had lived in a different house than the one the current one which was built in the 1960s. That didn’t matter a bit. There were so many common bonds that the place itself wasn’t the primary focus.

It is my fervent contention that the 26 National Panhellenic Conference organizations, when stripped of all the externals – the colors, badges, songs, mascots, etc. – are essentially the same. They are all built upon friendship, a common bond connecting each sister to one another. Being an exemplary member of the chapter, advancing the college community, and contributing positively to the world at large are values embedded in each of the organizations. Becoming a member is a privilege and not a right. Therefore, members are expected to live up to the values of the organization and to do their part to make sure the organization flourishes.

Being at Holt House, where it all began 150 years ago, when the organization I joined on a whim was founded, is a thrill I will remember my whole life long. When the arrow was first pinned on me, I had no clue what was in store. I am grateful to be a member of Pi Beta Phi and I will attest that the more one gives to an organization, the more one gets back.

Some of the members of the Illinois Alpha Chapter of Pi Beta Phi in front of Holt House on April 28, 2017. The window on the top left is in the bedroom where Pi Beta Phi was founded in 1867.

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Today is also the date upon which Phi Gamma Delta was founded in 1848. The Immortal Six – John Templeton McCarty, Samuel Beatty Wilson, James Elliott, Daniel Webster Crofts, Ellis Bailey Gregg and Naaman Fletcher – were students at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, when they founded the fraternity. The Beta Chapter was established the same year at Washington College in Washington, Pennsylvania. The chapters became one when the colleges merged to form Washington and Jefferson College in 1865.

In the summer of 1920, a Phi Gamma Delta  alumnus from Amherst College  won the Vice Presidential spot on the Republican ticket. At the time of the nomination, Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge was at Amherst attending his 25thcollege reunion and the 99th anniversary of the college. A reception at the chapter house was arranged with his wife Grace Goodhue Coolidge, a Pi Beta Phi member, helping the chapter quickly plan the event. More than 1,500 people attended the hastily planned reception.

Calvin Coolidge became President after the death of Warren G. Harding on August 23, 1923. The Coolidges were planning  to attend Phi Gamma Delta’s 75th anniversary celebration in Pittsburgh in September 1923, but were unable to attend. Later, a founders badge was presented to the President. On that occasion, President Coolidge said, “I am very glad to have this badge. My wife wears mine most of the time.”

On November 17, 1924, the Coolidges’ oldest son, John, became a member of his father’s Phi Gamma Delta chapter at Amherst. On the following Founders’ Day, May 1, 1925, FIJI Sires and Sons was organized.  Its purpose is to “impress upon all fathers and sons, who are members of the fraternity, and in time upon their sons, a realization of the noble trinity of principles of the fraternity, with the hope that they may outrun the fervor of youth.”

The Coolidge family - Calvin, Jr., Calvin, Grace, and John shortly before Calvin, Jr.'s death. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Coolidge family – Calvin, Jr., Calvin, Grace, and John shortly before Calvin, Jr.’s death. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

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