Chapter History

History Of The Alpha Phi Chapter Of Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity at the University of Akron (1922-1990)

By Bob Leatherman & Bob Pairan

The fraternity to which you are considering membership, a current associate or active member was founded as Sigma Beta Nu Fraternity during the 1922-1923 school year at the University of Akron. It officially came into existence on February 19, 1923, when its nine original founders held their final organization meeting, drafted a constitution, prepared an initiation ritual and chose their name. These founders and the year that they were graduated are: William R. Robb, ‘23; John Hutchinson, ‘24; Alton R. Wells, ‘25; Harding S. Christ, ‘25; Marion Kleckner, ‘25; Ralph Brown, ‘26; Myron E. Chapman, ‘25; Hugh W. Harding, ‘25; and John L. Harding, ‘25. Its first advisers were Frank Grismer, of the University of Akron English Department, and Dr. Lloyd Short, an Assistant Professor of Political Science.

One of the instrumental factors in the organization of a new fraternity at the University in 1923 was the inability of existing fraternities to satisfy the then available fraternity material. The University was growing fast and fraternities refused to keep pace. A quick glance at the composite chart of all fraternities existing at the University of Akron will clearly demonstrate that the period of 1919 through 1924 was its most spectacular period of fraternity expansion. Seven new fraternities were founded and one other affiliated with a national organization. Phi Delta Theta originally existed between 1875 and 1896 and was inactive for twenty eight years before it induced another local, Zeta Alpha Eta, to accept affiliation. Phi Kappa Tau is one of the oldest fraternities at Akron never to have had an inactive period.

Groundwork for the founding of Sigma Beta Nu was started in the fall of 1922 and culminated in the historic meeting of February 19th, the following year. The purpose of the fraternity as set up by the Founders was to band together worthy students in a common social bond, promote good fellowship, encourage scholarship, and foster true Christian principles of brotherhood. The first pledge group of five men was initiated in the summer of 1923. When the fall term started, Sigma Beta Nu had a chapter strength of twenty members. A factor in the success of the fraternity from the very beginning was its toleration of various religious beliefs. Religious prejudices existed in all other fraternities at that time. Toleration, then, early was an ideal of this fraternity.

Sigma Beta Nu strove for a place of leadership on the University campus and quickly attained such recognition. Even in the early years when the problems of organization were greatest (there was no permanent house until 1924), Sigma Beta Nu men were noted for their participation not only in fraternity affairs but in all campus activities. Many of its initial members have since come to realize a great deal of personal recognition and success in life. At the conclusion of 1924, the following men were members of Sigma Beta Nu: Francis Glasheen, Eugene Salber, Ernest Snyder, E. C. Brown, R. J. Brown, Frederick Cain, James Hinton, Carl Krill, Byron Larabee, George Boss, Francis Seiler, David Swanson, Wallace Hutchinson, and, of course, the Founders. Pledges at this time were: Raymond Bitter, Jesse Crankshaw, Norman Gresham, Raymond Harper, Louis Neff, Ward Replogle, Norbert Roth, Carl Vinez, and Thomas Hart.

Late in 1923 a Mothers’ Club had been formed, the first organization of its kind at Akron. Many items of furniture in the fraternity house, as well as other forms of assistance, have been contributed over the years by our especially active Mothers’ Club.

The early members realized the advantage of owning their own fraternity house. In 1924, within eighteen months of their organizing on the campus, the Akron Fraternal Home Holding Company was incorporated and the chapter house at 408 East Buchtel Avenue was purchased for $15,000. It was not SBN’s first house, however, for up to this time the fraternity had leased a structure on the corner of Sumner and Carroll Streets before occupying the Buchtel Avenue building. Our first houseparents were Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Lawson. At this time, Sigma Beta Nu was among the larger fraternities on campus.

A new school president, George F. Zook, succeeded Parke R. Kolbe in 1926, and in this year the school adopted the athletic nickname “Zippers.” Our last Founder to graduate, Ralph Brown, left school and it was a new era for Sigma Beta Nu. Charles R. Olin was our faculty adviser. His gift of a painting to the fraternity has hung for many years in the front room of the chapter house. Several people who were ultimately to go on to national fame, including Raymond Bliss and Kenneth Wells, were now in the membership. Harding Christ, Bliss, and Wells are Alpha Phi chapter’s contribution to Who’s Who in America.

In 1929 Fred Gardner assumed the duties of Dean of Men and inaugurated an illustrious personal career at the University. Dean Gardner, as he was known by his students, played an integral part in an epoch of the fraternity, related later in this history.

In 1931 the chapter made a decision that proved to be one of its most significant acts: It approached a young sociology professor newly arrived on campus and asked that he become its adviser. It was thus that Dr. Harmon O. DeGraff, “Doc” to his many loyal students, inextricably wound his University of Akron experiences with this fraternity. Having taught previously at the University of Missouri, the University of Iowa, and the Superior State Teachers College in Wisconsin, he knew little of what an adviser’s role was supposed to be. He was a member of Acacia, one of the present national social fraternities, however, and this was

“Doc” contacted other advisers in order to find out just what they did. As his students later came to discover, “Doc” was acting true to his customary form. He never made an important decision without first seriously exploring its responsibilities. One adviser told him that he merely went to the house when the grades came out and gave him hell; another told him that he went to the fraternity formal once a year. “Doc” was concerned over such reactions and he presented to the men of Sigma Beta Nu his acceptance based on certain conditions: 1) that he have full access to the house at any time; 2) that he be allowed to sit in on any of their meetings; and 3) that he be associated with the Mothers’ Club and the alumni group. He then went home to Curtis Cottage, which stood on the site of the present student center and waited for the chapter’s response. Later that evening, Curtis Blair, then president of the chapter, visited “Doc.” The all important decision had been made, which was to be of utmost significance to the chapter in its later years; “Doc” was informed that the chapter was favorably impressed with his program and it wanted him for an adviser.

Of “Doc’s” many and varied contributions to the chapter, one stands out in particular. For many years Alpha Phi has enjoyed favorable public relations and considerable prestige through its luncheon program. Guests chosen from the University, from business, the professions and industry have enjoyed the hospitality of the members of Alpha Phi. The entire program was directed by Dr. H. 0. DeGraff and has been so well managed that through the years almost every prominent citizen of Akron has had an opportunity to know Alpha Phi. “Doc” set a standard of culture and gentility that has given a proper atmosphere to the chapter house and to its members, seldom equaled in Phi Kappa Tau or in the other campus fraternities, and not alone for its continuity, but also for its very nature of fraternalism. In 1958 “Doc’s” portrait was painted by Bob Ammon, Akron ‘62, and hung in the dining room of the chapter house.

In 1936 Sigma Beta Nu experienced a period characteristic of many fraternities. This was the year that marked a low point in the chapter’s growth. Again, “Doc” was the moving force in assisting the chapter to overcome its problems and once again assume a position of strength on the campus. The idea occurred to him that affiliation with a national fraternity could be the solution to the chapter’s dilemma. He immediately confronted the brothers with his proposal.

A committee was set up, headed by Morris Jobe, among others, and national fraternities with a potential were surveyed. Among those considered, generally because of the similarity of name, were Sigma Nu and Sigma Chi. Delta Tau Delta, who had a charter at the University of Akron between 1873 and 1895, was also interested. Consideration was also given to the possibility of Sigma Beta Nu and Chi Theta Tau (now Theta Chi) merging and choosing a national affiliation together. Before this could be effected, however, Chi Theta Tau chose an affiliation with Beta Kappa. This national fraternity ultimately joined with Theta Chi National Fraternity.

One of the obstacles to be hurdled at that time was convincing Sigma Beta Nu alumni that it was in the best interests of the chapter to relinquish its local status. This was a difficult task, but eventually accomplished. With a successful rush campaign, a boost in scholarship and a better cash position, the chapter approached the point of being able to accomplish its goal.

A combination of circumstances affected the chapter’s decision to affiliate with Phi Kappa Tau. Past Phi Kappa Tau National President Joseph V. Cotton was living in Akron and was interested in the movement. Past Presidents Ewing T. Boles in Columbus and E. N. Littleton in Bowling Green also lent their prestige to the project. Dean Gardner and “Doc” DeGraff both were thoroughly impressed with the fraternity and influenced the men to select Phi Kappa Tau. Sigma Beta Nu’s petition for a Phi Kappa Tau charter was granted in 1937 and the installation of Sigma Beta Nu as Alpha Phi chapter of Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity occurred on February 20, 1938. It thus became the forty-fifth chapter of Phi Kappa Tau.

The colorful ceremony took three days to conclude. The undergraduates were initiated at the Epsilon chapter house in Alliance, Ohio, on February 18, 1938. The alumni became members of Phi Kappa Tau at a ceremony at the Mayflower Hotel in Akron later that evening. Over a hundred and twenty couples attended the installation. Church services, an annual custom of Sigma Beta Nu Founders’ Day, were held Sunday morning at the First United Presbyterian Church where Reverend William Robb, one of the Sigma Beta Nu Founders, delivered the sermon. Harold McIntosh, president of the chapter at the time, officiated at the afternoon banquet attended by over 200 persons. Featured speakers were Ewing T. Boles, Dean Gardner, “Doc,” Mr. Cotton, and then National Secretary Richard J. Young.

From the installation until the outbreak of World War II Alpha Phi remained strong on campus. Traditionally the chapter has pledged and initiated one of the larger groups of new men annually at the University. At this time its members were the largest contingent in student activities, on the Dean’s List, and more than a dozen members participated in varsity sports. Phi Taus such as Marvin McCormick, John and William Good, Richard Weaver, and Akron Mayor Charles Ballard, with his brother John, were prominent on the campus at this time. It was in 1938 that the tradition of hanging a photograph of the chapter president in the chapter meeting room was instituted. At this time one of the University of Akron’s all-time outstanding football players, Frank Zazula, was on the Phi Tau roster, as well as one of Akron’s better known coaches, Otis Douglas. The latter was a member from William and Mary College and affiliated with Alpha Phi during his days at the University of Akron. Alpha Phi learned its lessons well enough to help install Beta Omega chapter at Baldwin-Wallace College in 1942.

The war period was difficult for Alpha Phi, as it was for most fraternity chapters. Alpha Phi continued to operate, but manpower declined. Finally, the point was reached where only three men existed on the fraternity roster (Richard Bules, Herbert Murray, and a pledge with the last name of Isaacs who was never initiated) along with “Doc.” With so few members the house could not be maintained and it was leased to Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, with the chapter room padlocked and used exclusively by members. At one time the house was divided between the remaining members living there and the sorority, with one housemother serving both groups. When the fraternity resumed full operations following the war and reacquired the house, “Doc” said it took days to get it back in shape and related it took him and the members over two days merely to clean the dishes left scattered around the kitchen. It must be emphasized, however, that at no time was the chapter officially inactive during the war years, one of the few fraternity chapters anywhere to keep its active period intact. Altogether THE LAUREL listed 108 Alpha Phi men in uniform. With the conclusion of the war all but nine of its members returned. We honor our brothers Clement Berkley, Ted Brown, John Day, George Gildow, Robert Stroup, Gene Sucharda, Harold Weaver, Harold Wheeler, Ernest Workman who made the supreme sacrifice. We salute you! As a memorial the chapter members dedicated the second floor library in 1947 (now in the Active Chapter Room) and placed a bronze plaque therein to indicate to future Phi Taus the measure of the contribution to their country of these nine men.

The Alpha Phi alumni newsletter in 1945 indicated that the tide was turning: “The original $15,000 burden is now $4,799.63 as of January 1, 1945. All back taxes are paid to date. Current taxes are met. The insurance is in force. The furnace heats the home. The active chapter hit the all-time low in December, 1943, and is now going forward aggressively.” Before long the chapter reached its greatest numerical strength of all time, and only recently again approached, of well in excess of one hundred members. Ultimately, the chapter house was completely paid for through alumni assistance, and a mortgage burning ceremony was held.

Phi Kappa Tau Founders William H. Shideler and Clinton D. Boyd attended the Alpha Phi Founders’ Day program at the Mayflower Hotel on March 1 of 1947. Donald W. Dilley and George Wilson joined the Central Office traveling staff as field secretaries. There have been four field secretaries from Alpha Phi, Bob Leatherman being the most recent, serving from 1962 - 1964.

In the early fifties the house was almost completely redecorated and several rooms were paneled, a favorite pastime of Alpha Phi men, it seems. Alpha Phi at this time ranked number one in scholarship on campus. The chapter has achieved this distinction on numerous occasions, and as recently as 1968.

During the mid-fifties the chapter declined in membership to less than thirty members. However, the challenge again was met and a correct combination of circumstances and leadership sparked the chapter in an upward cycle of new achievements during the latter part of the decade. In 1956 Dr. Ray S. Sandefur, then head of the Akron Speech Department, became an active adviser to the chapter and was initiated into Phi Kappa Tau. For his long service and dedicated loyalty to Alpha Phi, Chapter President Bob Leatherman started a petition through the Central Office to request permission to also initiate Dr. DeGraff into Phi Kappa Tau. Although N.I.C. regulations forbid a man from belonging to more than one member national fraternity, Acacia indicated they would not object in view of “Doc’s” long and sincere devotion to our chapter. The Central Office granted the necessary initiation petition and “Doc” was then formally initiated into Phi Kappa Tau at our Founders’ Day program in 1962.

For many years Alpha Phi had Mr. and Mrs. Guy Berry as houseparents. “Pop” Berry took care of the physical plant and Mrs. Berry did the cooking. They occupied the apartment on the ground floor in the rear of the house. “Pop” stayed on after his wife passed away, and it was about this time the chapter acquired the excellent services of Mrs. McClure. Her famous Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening meals are now chapter history. “Pop” passed away in 1960 and the chapter honored him with a fraternity ritual service. Since that time the chapter has been without the assistance of any houseparents.

Alpha Phi won the Domain Achievement Award in 1962, after a lapse of many years. Since that time they have repeated this feat on several occasions. In 1965 the chapter acquired the services of another in a long line of outstanding advisers when Dr. Roger Kvam consented to affiliate with the chapter. Dr. Kvam participated in a complete pledge program and was initiated in 1966.

The chapter suffered an irreparable loss in 1966. Dr. DeGraff succumbed after several years of failing health. The chapter, and especially its alumni...some several hundred of whom had been close friends and students of “Doc” going back over 35 years...took the tragedy hard. “Doc” was buried with Phi Tau honors. He truly was a man who took his responsibilities seriously. “Doc’s” favorite aspect of the fraternity was its pledge training program, and there is no more appropriate way to insure that his teachings remain with the fraternity than to instill them through this media into incoming members. “Doc’s” famous Founders’ Day and Christmas season remarks are to be collected and printed for the continued edification of the fraternity.

The year 1968 was in many ways a monumental year for Alpha Phi, and much of it relates directly to “Doc’s” influence. It was he who encouraged Otto Schellin to accept the position as Phi Kappa Tau Domain Chief. This led to Schellin being elected by acclamation to the National Council in 1968. Schellin was also on the committee that organized IMPACT, the fraternity’s first leadership school, in the same year. At the time, another Alpha Phi alumnus, Bob Leatherman, was also a national officer, serving as a Domain Chief in Colorado. Jay Ruble distinguished himself and Alpha Phi by winning for the chapter the Outstanding Presentation Award at the 1968 National Convention.

Alpha Phi’s achievements continue to mount. However, this material is not given to the pledge in an attempt to dazzle him with the chapter’s “big name” alumni or with an account of prizes and awards won. The point of relating names and accomplishments to the pledge is to create awareness in him that Alpha Phi has a tradition of bringing into its membership men who have the ability to think for themselves. In order to continue to attract such men, toleration of each man’s personal goals and characteristics must be practiced at all times.

In 1973 our old Sigma Beta Nu and Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity house near the corner of E. Buchtel and Spicer Street made way to a newer house closer to the university.  Our Akron fraternity house was built by Brother Jack Force a local contractor at 380 E. Buchtel Ave. Our Sigma Beta Nu coat of arms taken from the old house now takes a prominent position next to our Phi Kappa Tau crest on our fire place in the active chapter room.  In the early 1990’s the University of Akron expansion closed part of Buchtel Ave. and made a commons area.   Our fraternity house now is located at 380 E. Buchtel Commons in Akron, Ohio 44304-1513.

In 1975 the active chapter approved due to the efforts of Alex Arshinkoff giving an award year to outstanding alumni called after its first recipient Ray C. Bliss award. Ray C. Bliss (1907 - 1981) was one of the important national U.S. Republican Party leaders of the 1960s and served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1965 to 1969, culminating in the election of Richard M. Nixon as president. He had been Ohio Republican state chair (1954-1965) and was a delegate to Republican National Convention from Ohio in 1956 and 1960. Bliss, an Akron, Ohio native an early member of our local Sigma Beta Nu helped to pull the Republican party back together after Barry Goldwater's defeat in 1964.

In 1986, the University of Akron established the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics to promote citizen knowledge and participation in the political process, values in which Bliss strongly believed. The Bliss Institute also recognizes Bliss' long association with The University of Akron. Ray Bliss earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University in 1935 as well as an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1968. He served on The University of Akron Board of Trustees for nine-and-a-half years, and was chairman at the time of his death in 1981.

Alpha Phi has known periods of draught as well as periods of plenty. Awards, prizes and famous alumni are not goals in themselves, but merely the results of successful living and practicing the real goals of this fraternity. To succeed, one must persevere; one must dedicate himself to the good of others, which in reality is dedicating himself to his own welfare and best interests. It is this loyalty, persistently present, that has enabled this chapter to overcome adversity time and time again in order to excel. The pledge is admonished not to settle for mediocrity or become the carbon image of other campus fraternity men. Strength lies in diversity and differences, not in similarities and duplications. One bond unites us all...the bond of brotherhood. Here is the one common characteristic that will allow this chapter to grow in “Doc’s” image and according to his expressed ideals. The secret is to attract men who have the capabilities to succeed by being original, and to instill into them the spirit of Phi Kappa Tau so that they will continue to honor and respect the fraternity in their graduate days.