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  • A BRIEF HISTORY OF RHO LAMBDA
  • OF

    DELTA KAPPA EPSILON

    by

    George Otey, PΛ ’73

    We’ll Sing to Phi and Rho Lambda

    And Dear Old Delta Kappa Epsilon”

    Founding

    The first Deke House at 701 DeBarr Ave.

    The first Deke House at 701 DeBarr Ave.

    In the spring of 1951 a group of men living at Oklahoma University’s Whitehand Hall won both University Sing and Sooner Scandals, student talent shows where Greek lettered societies traditionally garnered the trophies. The experience solidified a deeper bond among them, sparking enthusiasm to affiliate with an organization not already on campus. Banding together as the Charter Club they pursued Delta Kappa Epsilon. The club adopted Rho Lambda as their Greek name and were subsequently recognized by the University’s Interfraternity Council. By 1953 Rho Lambda’s membership included  Howard W. Byars, Morris L. Dunlap, Riley G. Goldsmith, Roger A. Hansen, Jerry L. Johnston, Howard L. McMillan, Mike Sandlin, George L. Scott, J. F. Van Ryder, and Jerry Wood; the officers being: Howard Byars, President; Howard McMillan, Vice President; Roger Hansen, Secretary; Morris Dunlap, Treasurer; and George Scott, Social Chairman. Keen in knowing the relationship of housing and fraternal existence, they secured an accommodating structure at 701 DeBarr Ave. They then employed the services of Mrs. Isla “Mom” Harris as Housemother.

    Chartering

    By 1953 the men of Rho Lambda believed a solid foundation existed for full recognition as a chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon. To that end Morris Dunlap, Riley Goldsmith, Howard McMillan, and Mike Sandlin traveled to Deke’s 109th convention being held December 28-30, 1953 at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, Canada. There the Rho Lambda delegation presented its formal petition bearing a dedication to Dan C. Kenan (ΓΦ, ’15) [former Mayor of the City of Okmulgee, OK] with support from Howard Taber (Φ ’49), a Deke alum living in the state, and Oppie Watson (ΩX ’28), known as Mr. Deke of the Southwest. The faculty sponsor for the group was OU history professor Donnell M. Owings, (ΨΦ ’34).

    Rho Lambda received approval of its application to become the 63rd Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon at the convention which had just installed the Honorable George A. Drew (AΦ ’17) as the fraternity’s 28th Honorary President. Following acceptance, Rho Lambda was officially chartered on February 21, 1954 with the 16 Petitioners being: George Dooley, Morris Dunlap, Riley Goldsmith, Roger Hansen, Ronald Holcomb, Cleo Maddox, Howard McMillan, Byron Parker, Charles Sanders, Malcolm Sandlin, Bob Scott, George Scott, Brady Stewart, O. A. Thomas, Preston Trimble, and John Woody. The Chapter’s first pledge following acceptance was James Howard.700elm

    700 Elm

    In the fall of 1956 Rho Lambda seized the opportunity to move to a more suitable location by purchasing the former Tri-Delt house at 700 Elm.  Located at the corner of Brooks and Elm, immediately across from the West side of the OU Campus, the house allowed the brotherhood to be centered within the north Greek community and provided higher visibility for the Chapter. The three-story red brick Dutch Colonial Revival style, with a full basement, furnished space for expansion.

    Facing Elm Street, the structure was visually pleasing from the street with the west half of the front façade being covered with English ivy which provided year-round green foliage. On entering the house, to the right was the dining room with hard wood floors and chandeliers. On the walls was a partial set of the striking panoramic wallpaper called “Views of North America.”

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    “Views of North America” as seen at the White House. Apparently to safeguard the wallpaper, at the Deke house, someone painted the walls with a clear lacquer. Unfortunately, this had the reverse affect of permanently discoloring it.

    The Placid ’50s and ’60s

    As the 25th fraternity at OU, Deke was one of the youngest Greek houses on campus. The Chapter wasted little time living up to Founder Jacobs’ characterization of a Deke being a “gentleman, scholar, and jolly good-fellow.” By 1958 the house had grown to 55 members and pledges. Deke’s campus leaders included: Sherrill Whitten, OΔK; Jerry Duncan, TBΠ Honorary Engineering Society; Derrill Whitten, OΔK, TBΠ, and BMOC; Rick Kingelin, OU varsity baseball; Bill Whitaker, OU Rifle Team; Randy Robbins, OU varsity tennis team; Walter Milligan, Convair Air Cadet Award; and Tim Miller, a Westminster fellowship recipient. During this period Max Weitzenhoffer and Larry Wade joined Deke. Max eventually represented Rho Lambda on the Deke Council before Deke changed its governing structure. Both Max and Larry became members of the OU Board of Regents with each serving in the capacity of chairman. Founder Preston Trimble was elected as District Attorney for Cleveland County and later District Court Judge through the 1980s.

    Harking back to its roots of participating in campus talent shows, in 1959 Dekes, under the leadership of Brothers Jim Burdett and Walt Millington, created an award winning comedy troupe called “The Undertakers” which became a sought after act especially for Sooner Scandals. The cast of five dressed in black suits, white shirts, black bow-ties, and black derbies with one member holding an open umbrella.  Taking inspiration from a televised Ernie Kovak skit, they developed a series of mime-like skits lasting approximately two to three minutes. With dead-pan looks, the Undertakers went about the macabre business of finding a person (inevitability their victim) in need of their mortuary services.  The Undertakers were active on campus until 1972.

    The Chapter continued to round itself with a variety of social events including an annual Founder’s Day banquet, spring and fall formals (eventually merged into an annual Deke Diamond Formal), the traditional Prohibition party (later renamed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Party), a Western Days BBQ, and the Morbid Meal and Reincarnation Ball (the last two eventually combined into the Graveyard Party).

    The Tumultuous ’70s

    The college scene at OU remained sedate and seemingly unchanged from the 1950s and well into the 1960s but by the end of the 1960s, changes occurring on college campuses around the nation finally caught up to OU. The Greek system, long recognized as a bastion of traditional college life, found itself a not so subtle target of those demanding social change and seeking to uproot “the Establishment.” Fraternities found themselves caught in the middle of this culture war and Rho Lambda was no different.

    The years 1966-70 were a watershed for the Chapter. In 1966 Mom Harris retired and Mrs. Ouwita “Mom” Moran assumed the task as housemother. Also that year Dr. Owings retired and Professor Charles C. Suggs replaced him as the Chapter’s faculty adviser, remaining in that position until the Chapter’s demise. Professor Suggs’ tie to Rho Lambda was strengthened as his son Charles Suggs, II and later his nephew Tom Norman both joined Deke. In a gesture of support, Dr. Suggs, a Sigma Chi, spent hours hand crafting a Deke and a Rho Lambda crest both of which were works of art. The 1966 Distinguished Air Force Cadet went to Brother Dave Johnson, a recognized BMOC.

    While other fraternities on campus fit a “cookie-cutter” mold of Greek houses, Rho Lambda accentuated its difference by reflecting Deke’s tradition of strong individualism.  This leadership characteristic was exemplified by Rob Stites, OΔK and BMOC, and Hank Helton, a campus police officer, who held the presidency of the RUF/NEKS, the nation’s oldest male pep organization which is responsible for driving the iconic Sooner Schooner at football games. Additionally, Deke was diversified for its day, being the only fraternity on campus open to Jews, except the Jewish fraternities.

    Until 1968 Rho Lambda leaned heavily on out-of-state recruitment because of Deke’s international prominence. In 1968, largely due to the efforts of Rush Chairman David Cooper, Rho Lambda’s numbers grew when over 20 pledged, most coming from Oklahoma. In the spring of 1969, the symbolism of initiating 15 new brothers (the largest class since the Founders) during the 15th anniversary of Rho Lambda’s founding, was not lost on the brotherhood and served as an encouragement that serious growth of the Chapter was eminent. With the new initiates scheduled to move into 700 Elm, over the summer of 1969 the entire backyard was converted to a paved parking lot for the burgeoning house. The 1968 success was amplified when the 1969-70 pledge classes grew to nearly 40 men, mostly from Oklahoma.

    In the fall of 1969 things appeared to be going extremely well. All rooms in the house were filled with 40 members, the new parking lot was nearly filled to capacity, the Chapter had a 30-man pledge class, there were another 15-20 active upper-class members living in apartments, Dekes had a number of recognized campus leaders, and Deke International had recognized the creation of the first chapter of “Deke Little Sisters.” But Deke was about to get caught in the culture war of the 1960-70s which centered on the anti-war movement, demands for social and political changes, and an overall anti-Greek feeling on campus. Although other fraternities were experiencing the same pangs, Deke’s youthfulness proved a disability with a small alumni base and a large number of out-or-state members.

    Many fraternity members attended OU on military ROTC scholarships.  Rho Lambda was no different.  But larger political and social issues became internalized and controversy over house social and political policies arose late in the spring semester of 1970 and remained unresolved through summer rush. That fall Deke attracted only 10 pledges.  Nevertheless Dekes continued to bring leadership laurels to the house when Bill Millar served as president of the RUF/NEKS, Bob Pickup was OΔK, and Bob Tierno was OΔK and BMOC. Yet dissension continued, ultimately leading many brothers to leave the house mid-year at the end of fall semester 1970 and no longer participated in fraternal activities. This had a negative impact on summer rush.  At the beginning of the fall semester 1971 the Chapter attracted fewer than 10 pledges. Yet Deke continued to provide leadership for the campus when Brother T. Ramsey Cantrell became president of AΦΩ service fraternity and Brothers Bob Tierno and Bill Nation started the Student Store.

    While news media focused on war protests, radicalized racial relations with the emergent Black Panthers, a burgeoning feminist movement, and the birth of environmentalism, little attention was paid to the student’s rights movement with its demands for curriculum changes for “relevant” courses and more student participation and decision-making power in both policy and everyday campus life.  Believing students empowered at a grassroots level provided more valuable life skills than protesting, a number of Dekes decided to venture into the area of direct student involvement.  The idea was simple: be radical but not revolutionary; as such, develop a student owned and run business providing student jobs and offering merchandise priced to assist limited budgets.  The Student Store was born.  Beginning in the Fall or 1970 Brothers Bob Tierno and Bill Nation quickly began working with the OU Student Association to obtain the necessary $10,000 investment and use empty space in the University’s Muldrow Tower at Adams Hall.  Many Dekes, led by Fred Streb, volunteered hundreds of man hours to build out the facility.  After month’s of promotion and publicity the Store opened on March 29, 1971 with Brother Tierno as store manager assisted by Brother Nation who brought on Brother Rick Hagar as the accountant. Despite lack of support from the School of Business, the Store became an overnight success, selling sodas, snacks, and study aids as well as renting refrigerators, calculators, and bicycles.  By September 1971, the Store had grossed over $50,000.  When the Store obtained a license to sell beer University officials intervened even though private vendors sold beer at the Student Union.  Brother Tierno used the situation to negotiate better terms for the OUSA with the University.  A snack bar and grill was eventually added (with Brothers Dennis Caufield and Mike Shipman being the cooks) and in the spring of 1972 Brother Bill Nation expanded to a satellite location at Ellison Hall, catty-corner to the Deke House, which served a breakfast of an egg, a piece of toast and two pieces of bacon for a dollar.  Although Deke’s committed participation in the Store’s success was recognized across the campus, it was not enough to overcome anti-Greek sentiments and did not translate into attracting rushees.

    From 1970 the declining pledge numbers resulted in an inability to keep the house sufficiently occupied and ultimately made it impossible to keep the doors open. Mom Moran retired in the spring of 1972, her replacement being Mrs. Margaret “Mom” Lester. At the beginning of the spring semester 1973, Mom Lester resigned; there were approximately 20 active members remaining on campus with only 6 brothers continuing to live in the house. Yet another Deke emerged in a campus leadership role when Al Sherer was elected as President of the RUF/NEKS. Unable to attract more than a handful of pledges, that semester alumni informed the brotherhood of the impending sale of the house at the end of the school year. In an ironic twist, Deke’s overall academic rating at the end of spring 1973 was No. 1 on campus toppling Beta Theta Pi from its the long held monopoly.

    The 1973-74 school year marked the demise of Rho Lambda. Not wanting to disband and hoping for some revival four remaining brothers rented a house on the corner of Flood Ave. and Lindsey Street. The rolls continued to reflect about 15 “active” members, all upperclassmen. The location, five blocks from campus, held no attraction for potential pledges. The Chapter continued at that site until a fire over Christmas break destroyed the structure. The members then moved into separate apartments and the fraternity ceased to exist. Its memorabilia was ultimately sent to Deke Headquarters.

    Rejuvenation

    707wlindsey

    704 West Lindsey

    A short lived three year rejuvenation occurred from 1990 to 1993. A group of men, disenchanted with efforts to recolonize the Acacia fraternity, turned to Deke in the spring of 1990. The brothers resided at 704 W. Lindsey (corner of West Lindsey St. and Chautauqua Ave.) and decorated it with composites and crests returned from Deke Headquarters.  Although located on the fringes of Greek housing the brothers asserted their presence by volunteering to assist with the Special Olympics’ regional competition held at Norman High.  The brothers hosted monthly parties from September through April, opening the festivities to the campus while complying with the IFC policy against uninvited guests. This attitude projected into Rho Lambda’s commitment to promote a diversified membership as opposed to the traditional OU fraternity experience. Although one of the smallest houses on campus, Dekes took pride their brotherhood included men from Malaysia, Canada, Nigeria, Germany, France, Taiwan as well as having Latino, Cherokee, Cheyenne-Arapaho, Shawnee, and Native-Alaskan backgrounds.  Deke welcomed Christians, Jews, Atheists, and Taoists seeing the open exchange of ideas and cultures as nothing more than a real life application of the fraternity’s fundamentals expressed in the Objects.

    Isolated by geography from other Deke chapters the brothers made unsuccessful attempts to connect with Dekes at Kappa Delta at Louisiana Tech and Omega Chi at Texas.  Yet one of the most satisfying events occurred in September 1991 when a group of Sigma Alpha Dekes traveled from Blacksburg, VA to Norman to see Virginia Tech take on the Sooners at Owen Field (OU won 27-17). For the visiting brothers Rho Lambda rolled out the red carpet, quickly covering it with plastice to shield it from spillage when it became obvious that fraternal bonds were turning the weekend into a long revelry, the stories of which are mercifully perishing with the fog of memory.

    In 1992, the chapter allowed its lease at 704 W. Lindsey to expire and Rho Lambda again faded from campus due to an inability to sustain membership.

    Roundup Reunions

    In the spring of 2013 upon learning of the chartering of Omega Mu Chapter at Oklahoma State University, a call went out to Rho Lambda alums to meet in Norman for the inaugural Rho Lambda Roundup reunion at the upcoming fall homecoming football game. The Friday night before the game about 14 brothers with their spouses met for dinner. Brother Fred Streb, acting as emcee, presented awards of recognition with Brother Dennis Clowers receiving the Ron Sorter Rho Lambda “Goal Post” Award.  (The “Goal Post” is a segment of a Cotton Bowl goal post from the 1956 OU-Texas game bearing the score OU-45 Texas-0; it hung in Ron Sorter’s room at 700 Elm until he left for Vietnam when it then prominently graced a basement wall at the house until its mysterious disappearance in 1973, only to resurface at the 2013 Rho Lambda Roundup along with a letter from Brother Sorter.) As alums from around the country journeyed to Norman, old friendships were revived and new ones made when 12 men from Omega Mu traveled from Stillwater to Norman for introductions and participated in the tailgate before the game. The successful 2013 gathering has resulted in annual Roundups since then.

    The 2014 Roundup marked the 60th anniversary of the chartering of Rho Lambda. The Friday gathering drew nearly 30 alums, many with their spouses, along with Deke’s Executive Director Doug Lanpher, Deke alumni from other chapters, and representatives of Omega Mu. Founder Howard McMillan attended and received a standing ovation. Brother McMillan and Executive Director Lanpher both made remarks with the evening festivities closing as Brother Richard Burns received the Ron Sorter Goal Post Award. One of the highlights of the reunion came the next day when 30 Omega Mu brothers traveled from Stillwater to Norman and hosted a tailgate for the alums at 700 Elm. The reunion of Dekes from each era of Rho Lambda’s existence combined with meeting the brothers from Omega Mu underscored the fraternity’s open motto Kerothen Philoi Aei.

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