The Beta Eta chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha was founded on March 24, 1917 as the 55th chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha. The chapter began with 44 members, a white-framed building used as our chapter house, and Guy B. Reno as our first chapter president. While all of this sounds fairly standard and straightforward, our actual beginnings are far more interesting.
In 1904, a group of young men on campus banded together to form a law fraternity. They became the Magruder chapter of the Phi Alpha Delta national fraternity. As was common with professional fraternities in those days, the Magruder chapter recruited a number of people who were already members in social fraternities. In order to expand their brotherhood, they began to recruit some members who were pre-law and not yet enrolled in law school. A few members were recruited who were not even planning on going to law school. Phi Alpha Delta Nationals decided that the Magruder chapter no longer aligned with their recruitment strategy, so they asked the chapter to disassociate themselves with their national body to allow Phi Alpha Delta to recharter a chapter at the University of Illinois. Phi Alpha Delta allowed the Magruder chapter to keep its chapter house and retain its membership under the condition that they found a new national fraternity to associate with. These men chose Pi Kappa Alpha, and on March 24, 1917, were issued a charter to become the Beta Eta chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha.
Over the next couple decades our chapter encountered a number of challenges. Due to our countrys involvement in World War I, members started leaving to support our countrys fight in the spring semester of 1917. By the fall of 1917, our chapter boasted only 9 members. Our numbers climbed back up to 24 later that year, but by the following school year, all of our members were enrolled in the Student Army Training Corps. Our original chapter house even became an army barracks used for student soldiers. The few members still on campus for military training rented a small house off campus to meet when they could escape military life, and thus, kept Beta Eta afloat until the following year. The University of Illinois campus ceased to be overrun by the military and returned to a student campus by the fall of 1919.
The 1920s were a time of great prosperity for our chapter. In 1921, we were able to purchase our Four Columns chapter house at 305 E. John St., and later that decade had the good fortune of being able to completely pay off our loans on it. In 1927, our chapter followed the current trend of deciding to build a new chapter house when we constructed a beautiful new house at 303 E. Armory (this house is still standing on campus today as the current Sigma Alpha Mu house). Unfortunately, the Great Depression began shortly after and devastated our chapter. We initiated less than 100 men during the 1930s and struggled to pay our bills. Tough economic times forced us to foreclose on the house during World War II, and shortly after it became a girls dormitory called Keagle Hall.
After a few years of temporary housing, Bill Mumford and Harold Callahan bought and reformed 4 apartments in a building at 402 E. Daniel St to act as a chapter house. The living room of the house was previously a janitorial supply store, so the brothers living there referred to it as the Mop Shop. In 1948 the former Tau Kappa Epsilon house at 102 E. Chalmers became available. We acquired the house through a generous alumnus donation by Bill Schroeder and two mortgages. Our chapter struggled a bit through the 1950s after losing members to the poor grades and the call to serve during the Korean War. Due to the perseverance of our chapter leaders and a dedicated Mothers Club, we remained on campus. As our chapter returned to health in the 1960s, the brothers of Beta Eta made several improvements to our chapter house. They raised money to remodel the interior and also purchased the lot at 106 ½ E. Chalmers, the site of our Pike Annex. We also bought the Harding House at 106 E. Chalmers in the 1960s for additional living space, but an arsonist burned it to the ground the following summer.
Beta Eta went through a time of relative prosperity through the 1970s and 1980s, maintaining the condition of the chapter house as well as their reputation on campus. It was 1974 when our chapter won its first Robert Adger Smythe Award, and Pi Kappa Alpha Nationals awarded us a second in 1981. The 1990s, however, are often looked back upon as troubling times in our chapters history. Numbers began to dwindle during that decade, and a major incident involving a brawl with another fraternity chapter on campus turned our 100-man chapter into a chapter of 24 guys. Our fraternity brothers persevered through these tough times, and we rebuilt the Beta Eta chapter to its former glory during the early 2000s. Our chapters numbers continued to climb to upwards of 150 members, and our chapter continued to excel academically, athletically, and socially. We brought home our first Robert Adger Smythe National Excellence Award in 24 years in 2005, and we continued to collect them in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, giving us one of the longest active streaks in the country and making us 1 of 8 chapters on the Dynasty Level (out of our 210 chapters total). Our first Smythe in the early 2000s was following the chapter presidency of Mark Doerr (06) and continued with Rory Langefeld (07), Mike Cashman (08), John Mann, Zack Cress, Jon Abnor (09), Adam Muszynski (10), and Jimmy Ouska (11). Despite all of our success, our chapter house began to deteriorate in the early 2000s. A capital campaign driven by our alumni and Housing Corporation was underway and approaching the goal needed to build a new Pike Mansion when the chapter house was condemned and deemed unlivable in the Spring of 2009. Our alumni made one final push, and in the Fall of 2009, demolition and construction began at 102 E. Chalmers. Our Housing Corporation rented the old Delta Phi house at 1008 S. Fourth Street for the 2009-2010 school year. Tough economic times forced our contractor into bankruptcy, and our chapter moved into 18 apartment units at 512 S. Third St. for the fall 2010 semester until construction could be completed. On January 21, 2011, 72 southerly gentlemen moved into the brand new Pike Mansion at 102 E. Chalmers
We remain on campus today upholding the same ideals as our founding fathers and continually striving for excellence in academics, athletics, service, and social advancement. Our duty to our fraternity is to bring new men into our brotherhood and mold them as Scholars, Leaders, Athletes, and Gentlemen.
phi phi 2066
Last updated: 6/27/12
For a more detailed version of our chapter’s history click here