Our Beginning, Growth, and Development
On the cold night of January 10, 1899, students of Illinois Wesleyan University, in the small Midwestern town of Bloomington, had just returned from the Christmas holidays when Joseph L. Settles went to the room occupied by James C. McNutt and Clarence A. Mayer at 504 East Locust Street to discuss the organization of a new society on campus. Joined immediately by Owen I. Truitt and C. Roy Atkinson, these five students created the first set of regulations for the Knights of Classic Lore, a society whose avowed purpose was “to aid college men in mental, moral, and social development.”
Because of his late arrival for this meeting, James J. Love was made the first new member. Love, along with Edwin A. Palmer and George H. Thorpe became the first initiates of this new organization. Although Settles was the leader in organizing the society, Atkinson was elected President and McNutt was chosen as Secretary.
There were two fraternities already in existence at Illinois Wesleyan in 1899, both with more than 50 chapters nationally. Phi Gamma Delta had been established in 1866, while Sigma Chi had begun there in 1883. In addition, two other national fraternities, Phi Delta Theta and Delta Tau Delta, had inactive chapters at Illinois Wesleyan. The Phi Delts existed from 1878-1897 and the Delts from 1877-1880.
A Different Organization
The Founders of the Knights of Classic Lore desired an organization different from those represented by the existing fraternities. Their desire was to establish a fraternity in which the primary requisites for membership would be the personal worth and character of the individual rather than the wealth he possessed, the honors or titles he could display, or the rank he maintained on the social ladder. The Founders of the KCL had little regard for many of the common characteristics of fraternities at that time, including their usual snobbery and disdain for persons outside of a fraternity.
It was not long after their recognition on campus that the Knights of Classic Lore were approached by some alumni of the Illinois Epsilon chapter of Phi Delta Theta, whose charter had been surrendered in 1897. The Phi Delt alumni saw in this new group an opportunity for the restoration of its charter, and interested themselves in converting it into a strong local fraternity. Through the persuasion and effort of Richard Henry Little, for columnist on the Chicago Tribune and one of the most prominent Phi Delt alumni, the Knights presented a petition to the Phi Delta Theta national organization at its convention in New York in 1902. The petition was rejected.
In hopes that their organization might be more attractive to Phi Delta Theta, it was decided that a Greek-letter name should be adopted. The name “Knights of Classic Lore” was therefore abandoned and the Greek letters Tau Kappa Epsilon selected. As a further step, a fraternity house was rented. This was the first fraternity house at Illinois Wesleyan, although Phi Gamma Delta and Sigma Chi had both been in existence on campus for many years. The Wilder Mansion, former home of President Wilder of the University, became the first TKE house.
In the ensuing years, the Phi Delt alumni and some of the undergraduate members continued to press for affiliation with Phi Delta Theta by promoting petitions at the 1904 and 1906 Phi Delt national conventions. In each instance the petition was either withdrawn or postponed. It is reported that one of the petitions came within one vote of being accepted.
The Great Decision
Late in 1907, several undergraduate members of Tau Kappa Epsilon were again preparing a petition to be presented to the Phi Delta Theta national convention in 1908. The wisdom of petitioning, however, was being questioned with increasing frequency. To increase enthusiasm for this fourth attempt, a banquet was held on October 19, 1907, at which speeches were made both advocating and questioning the proposal. One of the most notable and influential speeches given was a blistering address by Wallace G. McCauley, titled “Opportunity Out of Defeat,” in which he advocated the abandonment of the petitioning process and the substitution of a campaign for TKE to become its own national fraternity.
At the banquet, Frater McCauley said, “Someone has said that most victories are defeats. As to the truth of that statement, numerous instances can be cited tending to establish it. But just as true is the converse of that proposition that most defeats are victories, and I truly believe an instance of this was our failure to have reinstated the Phi Delta Theta charter of Illinois Epsilon. I believe this in spite of the fact that no one labored more zealously to that end during the first two campaigns than myself. And, too, no one felt the defeats at the time more bitterly than myself; but now, after an absence of a year or so, I am brought to the conviction that Tau Kappa Epsilon was indeed fortunate in her defeats, because thereby there was reserved for us a large opportunity…”
Interwoven about the sentiments of our name and our pin, and engrained in the fiber of every member is the Teke spirit – a spirit typical of our fraternity – a spirit that does not shrink from sacrifice, that knows no defeat, a spirit indomitable. A spirit which if breathed into a national Tau Kappa Epsilon would spread our organization throughout the schools of our country…”
“But if we keep Tau Kappa Epsilon intact, the Teke spirit…will flow on forever… Let us not lack faith in this project. Remember faith as a grain of mustard will overcome mountains of difficulty. The history of other organizations lends us encouragement. Phi Delta Theta was born a few years before the Civil War in a student’s room in a building of Miami University, less pretentious than the preparatory building on the Wesleyan campus, and today Phi Delta Theta is the fourth largest fraternity in existence…”
“Fellow brothers, Tau Kappa Epsilon was conceived in the early struggles of our existence. Time is now right to start in on a national career, and we, its godfathers here tonight, when it is grown to be a strong and lusty organization, touching student life everywhere with the beneficence of its principles, will obtain a satisfaction inexpressible in the part we had in its inception.”
Although arousing bitter opposition at the time, this speech ultimately reduced the fourth petition to a bare formality and became one of the significant turning points in the history of the Fraternity.
One of the measures advocated by McCauley in his address was the publication of a quarterly magazine called The Teke. This proposal met with immediate approval and the first issue was published in January 1908, with Clyde M. Leach as the editor.
(To view the full history of Tau Kappa Epsilon, please visit TKE.org.)
The history of Lambda Chapter comes from the “Golden Book” which chronicled the first 50 years of TKE and it’s individual chapters.
Lambda Chapter was installed by National on Saturday, December 15, 1917. The installation took place in Madison after the Akela Club, a local fraternity, petitioned the National and was accepted.
Lambda took its place as the Eleventh Chapter to be accepted by TKE, following the installation of Kappa Chapter by two months. The Lambda Chapter Founders were: Henry N. Wolf, M. G. Zellmer, J. Wolfram, Jack Williams, H. Bruns R. P. Herzfeld, Fred Smith, Ben G Brickbauer, Roland Bethke, Wm. Maleckar, Elmore Fiedler, C. F. Arzberger, Ralph Fiedler, Hans Emmerling, Frank Schemick, Lyd. P. Guttman, Darwin Bruns, Thos. H. Binney, Henry A. Bruns, Lloyd Fitzgerald.
Several members of the Akela Club were already in Army training camps at the time of the installation of the Club int TKE. More men soon followed into the Armed forces. Lambda, along with all other fraternities at Wisconsin, was in desperate straits, but the chapters survived with the efforts of fraters remaining and the help of the fraters in service.
Following the Armistice, servicemen from Lambda began trickling back after discharge. The strengthened Chapter moved to 10 Mendota Court, in the heart of the Fraternity district, in the fall of 1919. Here the fraternity became firmly established. Lambda was at the top of the list scholastically, as the chapter had been since its installation. The Madison Tekes also began proving themselves in varsity sports with Maleckar, Klug, Herzfeld in track, Horne and Klug in football, Wall in baseball, Horner in basketball, and Sapper in swimming.
The Chapter cemented ties with the Alumni during the school year of 1920-21 and the Alumni proved their loyalty and interest by often stopping at the Fraternity House. They also turned out en masse for the homecoming festivities at Thompson’s Hall in Madison.
Lambda, backed by its alumns, put in a bid for the TKE National Conclave that year, and their invitation was accepted in April, ’21, turned out to be a huge success. Representatives had a splendid time in scenic Madison, making new frater acquaintances and renewing old friendships. The business of the Fraternity, enacted at this Conclave, proved to be very important in TKE’s history, particularly for that of the establishment of a new National office, with an official supported by salary.
The following year, 1921-22, found Lambda more active than ever. Supporting their top position in sports and study, they pledged a large group of fine men and also started an active campaign to buy a Chapter House. Alumni support greatly encouraged them.
By the fall of 1922, the Chapter, with alumni advice and aid, had purchased the beautiful mansion at 216 Langdon Street for $38,000. Not resting on the laurels of their beautiful new home, the Wisconsin Tekes continued to pileup honors in sports and extra-curricular activities.
Lambda varsity sportsmen this year included Dwight “Doc” Spooner and Fritz Radke, in basketball; Walter Radke in baseball; Schneider in track; and Al Lahman and Herb Sapper in water basketball.
Tekes at Wisconsin also set some new records in interfraternity sports during the next school period. A first place in baseball and placing in several other sports won cups for them while they gaind a “Big Ten” championship in Fraternity foul shooting (the “Big Ten” championship was the first ever won in foul shooting by a fraternity).
Lambda proved its superiority over 58 competing fraternities in sports during 1924-25, by winning the All-Fraternity Athletic supremacy Cup, which was accomplished by winning a first in basketball, tennis and baseball, seconds in foul shooting, and thirds in bowling, water basketball, swimming and hockey, and the was busy in other extra-curricular activities also. Over the next few years, there were many Lambda representatives in the Union Vodvil (talent show); the Octupus (humor magazine); Daily Cardinal, (newspaper); and many other worthwhile school activities.
By January of 1929, Lambda Chapter’s mantle held more athletic cups than any chapter in TKE; 35 big cups was their tally. And several more varsity athletes were secured; Robert Bonini, football; and George Stoll, baseball.
A drive to re-decorate the Chapter House was started, and with the aid of alumni, a rejuvenated home was Lambda’s. Claimed the Madison Tekes in November of 1931, we have the most beautiful Fraternity House of the Wisconsin scene.
But then the depression began to have its effect on the Chapter as it did on all other Fraternities. Although the Actives were as energetic as ever, with Ernie Lusby, Joe Linfor , and John Schneller, making names for themselves in the Wisconsin football backfield, financial conditions began to throttle the chapter. “Poor financial control” it was said, added to the external depression factor, and Lambda, along with dozens of other fraternities left campus in 1933.
Although TKE lost its Active Chapter at Wisconson, Lambda’s spirit was not dead. Lambda Alumni were still active in the Graduate Chapters in Beloit, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, and many other cities.
After the economic depression, plans were formed to re-establish Lambda Chapter – but steps which might have been taken sooner were delayed by World War II when many other Wisconsin fraternities went off campus.
Fraternities were weak from 1941 to 1945 due to World War II, and were almost banned at Wisconsin by faculty Fraternity attackers. Wisconsin Fraternity Men were too strong on the faculty and in alumni groups, however, and even in their weakened condition, with most of their members in the Armed forces, the Fraternities maintained their democratic rights to return to their rightful places after the war. And so it was ordained.
Lambda Alumni and the TKE National found the nucleus of a re-installed Chapter in a group of men in a campus local Fraternity after war’s end. A group from this local petitioned TKE for re-instatement and was approved by National to re-organize Lambda. On December 14, 1947, 18 of these men traveled to Kappa Chapter at Beloit, where, on December 14, 1947, they were initiated into TKE. Lambda was reinstated and reactivated.
The re-established Lambda Chapter showed the energy reminiscent of the chapter in its earliest days at the very start. The new Actives energetically set up offices and committees and soon pledged a number of men. Scholarship and extra-curricular activity were among the qualities looked for in new pledges; and 15 of the pledges were initiated in the spring of ’48.
Up to this time three dances and a picnic, held at the home of Frater Ron Rosa (Lambda) were enjoyed by Lambda Tekes. A summer get-together was held in Madison for all Lambda Actives who could attend
A summer Chapter House committee, composed of men staying in Madison for the Summer School session, was formed and was allowed a budget for communications and contact work. Several householders were contacted and two offers of renting were obtained. The committee presented these offers to the group at the first business meeting in the fall. One of these offers is still being worked on (Spring of 1949).
A group of men, again picked for scholarship and activities, among other qualities, was pledged in the Fall of ’48. Lambda Tekes became very active in sports participating in football, volleyball, basketball and bowling. Three dances were held during this semester as well as several joint Fraternity get-togethers. All parties were, of necessity, held at local, rented dance halls or in other Fraternity Houses.
Lambda Chapter had on March 26, 1949, 31 actives, 5 inactives, five pledges and 15 men about to be pledged. Among men prominent on the Wisconsin campus are Don Collins, Judiciary Committee member on the Interfraternity Congress; Dallis Shaver, Memorial Union Librarian; Eugene Parrott, in five Honorary Fraternities; John Kermisch, Graduate Instructor in Sociology; Charlies White, Graduate Instructor in Sociology; Donald Ladrow, Undergraduate Instructor in Accounting; Em Williams, Undergraduate Instructor in Drawing and John Schwartz, Interfraternity Congresser and spokesman for several committees. These are but a few of the many accomplishments and positions of Lambda Tekes on the University of Wisconsin campus.
Lambda men are now pushing through plans for a Board of Control, incorporation of the Chapter, and purchase or rental of a Chapter House.
This brings the History of Lambda up to date. Faces, attire and scholastic interests have changed since the Chapter’s incipience in 1917, and since TKE’s very beginning in 1899, but the principles supported by Tekes in each decade, have remained constant.
Were we allowed a glimpse into the future, we might safely hope to see Tau Kappa Epsilon’s spirit more firmly entrenched than ever!