Be a Builder

The founders of Greek-letter organizations are revered. Every organization has its founders. They get the glory. Members know their names. 

Every organization also has builders, those who do the heavy lifting, who make difficult decisions, who work hard to advance the organization. The builders do not usually bask in the glory given the founders.

A good many of the builders had a role in the early years of an organization, or in times of great tumult. Those organizations founded before the Civil War had builders who took a role after that war and the World Wars that followed it. The campus turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s provided opportunities for builders to emerge. 

This thought has been swirling about in my head because I am writing about the P.E.O.s who came after the seven founders. P.E.O. started as a collegiate society at Iowa Wesleyan University; it likely would not exist today had it not been for the builders, those women whose names 95% of the membership would not recognize. In 1902, Alpha Xi Delta, a local organization at Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois, made the decision to become a national organization and P.E.O. became a community organization. Anna Gillis-Kimble helped the Iowa Wesleyan P.E.O.s become the Beta Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta.

George Banta, a Phi Delta Theta, as a Franklin College student, became an initiated member of Delta Gamma and helped that women’s fraternity, founded in Oxford, Mississippi, to grow in the northern states. Without his efforts, that might not have happened.

Theta Chi was founded in 1856. Its second chapter was not installed December 1902. This came about because a member, Park Valentine Perkins, transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He wanted to share his Theta Chi bond with some of the students there. He and a group of men petitioned the Alpha chapter three times before a charter was reluctantly granted. Had Perkins not been so persistent perhaps Theta Chi would not be here today.  

In 1876, Alpha Tau Omega Joseph R. Anderson received a letter telling him he had been appointed as Senior Grand Chief (National President) of the fraternity. Had he chosen to ignore the letter, perhaps ATO would not exist. Colonel William E. Berry, a winner of the Thomas Arkle Clark Award during his senior year at Ole Miss, gave up his dream job to serve ATO at a critical juncture in 1975.

Being a chapter officer is hard work and sometimes despite the best intentions and plans it doesn’t go very well. But when it does work, through vision, effort, persistence, teamwork and that feeling that there is something greater than what is in front of us, it is glorious. No chapter is perfect. And it is not perfection that is telling. It is in the working through of less than perfect situations that one learns to adapt, one learns resiliency, and one learns that doing the right thing at the right time is better than appearing perfect. Learning can take place at any point from falling slightly short of the mark to experiencing abject failure. Failure is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if one learns valuable lessons from it.

Theodor Seuss Geisel , a Sigma Phi Epsilon, wrote And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He submitted it to 27 publishers none of whom were willing to take a chance on him. Had Geisel given up after the fifth or sixth rejection, the world would not know Dr Seuss. 

I implore the collegiate members of GLOs to be builders, to do that hard work of making a chapter better than you found it. The Founders deserve and those builders who came before you deserve it, too. Honor them by your actions.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1925, while a student at Dartmouth (courtesy of the Dartmouth College Library)

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