Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity receives highest chapter honor in the nation

Posted by Centre News in Greek Life, News 15 Aug 2013

deke coat of armsGreek organizations have been a storied and memorable part of life at Centre for nearly its entire 200-year history, and this week, Centre’s Greek life shines especially bright: the Iota Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) has been awarded the International Fraternity’s Lion Trophy, the highest honor that can be achieved by a DKE chapter. The trophy goes to the chapter judged to have the best overall performance in the United States and Canada.

The original silver cup was a gift of the Fraternity in 1894 to William Boyd Jacobs (Yale 1846), the last surviving founder of DKE. Now, it is symbolically presented each year to the group excelling most notably in chapter operations. Applications are submitted by the individual chapters and cover the four areas of Chapter Improvement, Alumni Relations, Scholarship and Community Service.

The Lion Trophy is a huge honor for the members of DKE (or “the Dekes” as they are known on campus). It symbolizes a huge accomplishment for a chapter that has had its share of ups and downs throughout its 159 years.

In fact, the Deke fraternity is well known around campus and Danville for its colorful past and rowdy antics. Arthur P. Bodner Jr.’s Iota Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon: 1854-1954 sheds light on the early years of the Iota chapter, which first came to Centre’s campus in 1901.

Early in its history, the Deke fraternity struggled with finding a permanent location for its chapter house, eventually becoming affectionately dubbed the “Wandering Sister” because of all the different places around town the chapter house moved. Temporary chapter house locations included Maple Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Main Street and even rooms in Old Centre during World War I, when fraternities dwindled drastically in size.

Bodner’s account describes the financial straits the chapter struggled with after moving to an expensive and over-sized house on West Main: “Throughout that unforgettable year the bill of fare monotonously consisted of dry cereal, kidney beans, and canned spaghetti.”

Despite the precarious state of the chapter in its first few decades, “the Iota members considered themselves the best on the campus in scholarship, in debating, and especially in giving lively parties. These parties were frequently distinguished by the lusty singing that they inspired. One alumnus recalls the revelers usually sang many different songs simultaneously, each man following the tune that he knew best. Apparently vigor and enthusiasm were more important than harmony.”

Of course, the Dekes are also known for their more wild antics, particularly the 1923 Deke-Sigma Chi war, which came to a head when the two fraternity houses were located next to one another.

According to a “Deke veteran” that Bodner interviewed, the conflict reached a fever pitch in 1929: “shotgun fire knocked out all the windows on the sides of the houses facing each other. One afternoon, while some Sigs were playing cards in their living room, a Deke shot down the chandelier, but there were no casualties. Dr. Turck [the president of the college] then took over as mediator, and peace was restored. In the next issue of the Cento, three-inch headlines proclaimed: ‘ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT.'”

Following these tumultuous beginnings, the Iota chapter went on to become one of the most academically successful fraternities on campus. In 1941, the chapter won the DKE Fraternity Founders’ Scholarship award, “a plaque presented annually to the chapter having the highest scholastic standing.” This was the third time the Iota chapter won, thereby retiring the trophy, where at the time of Bodner’s writing, it was “enshrined in the chapter room.”

Since the 1950s, the Iota chapter of DKE enjoyed success in campus athletics, student government and philanthropy programs. Notable Iota alumni include Isaac Tigrett ’69, founder of Hard Rock Café and House of Blues; S. Kern Alexander ’61, a prominent education specialist; and David Grissom ’60, chairman of Mayfair Capital and life trustee who served as chair of Centre’s Board of Trustees for more than 20 years.

The Iota chapter was suspended from the College in 2003, however, for policy violations during its new member education process. A controversial event for the chapter, it meant that the Dekes would not be on campus for at least four years, and, in many people’s eyes, tarnished the fraternity’s otherwise sterling reputation.

In 2009, thanks to the hard work and dedication of a core group of current students and Iota alumni, the Iota chapter returned to Centre, slowly growing in numbers and success. Currently, the “Wandering Sister” has taken residence in a chapter house on Greek Row and, just this spring, Iota was named the “Chapter of Excellence” by Centre.

In light of recent events, the Lion Trophy award could not have come at a better time, galvanizing a young and ambitious chapter of DKE ready to take on ever bigger and better challenges.

“I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the Iota chapter’s accomplishments on two levels,” says Shea Agnew ’12, DKE international chapter consultant. “First, and most intimately, as a member of the colony-turned-chapter, and second, as a current employee for DKE’s international headquarters.

“While I’ve always been confident in what we’d achieved at Iota, the Lion Trophy is tangible proof that everything we’ve done over the past few years is worthwhile,” he continues. “We’ve laid a strong fraternal foundation, restoring DKE as an integral part of the Centre undergraduate experience.”

Learn more about Greek Life at Centre.

By Mariel Smith