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  • Jack Bowerman

BIRTH OF THE GREEKS AT BAKER 1905 – 1910

From the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter history: “On April 20, 1905, an organization known as Manhood Fine Manhood or M.F.M. Club was organized at Baker University and publicly appeared on the campus May 11th of the same year. M. F. M. was an acronym for Mighty Fine Manhood. The charter members were Cecil Erwin Ames, Earl Caspar Arnold, Edward Lafayette Baker, D. C. Beach, Frank Beach, James Chalmers Browning, Earl Douglas, Lee Halsey Eddington, Arthur Herman Fast, Christie Jacob Fischer, Joseph Franklin Haigh, Winfred P. Leuszler, Vernon Thomas Nicholson, Clarence T. Wolf


From the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter history: “In 1908, the M.F.M. Club was changed to Phi Sigma Phi fraternity, and on December 11, 1908, a new pin was designed. A year later, December 2, 1909, the first mention of Sigma Phi Epsilon was found in the form of a letter from J. M. Price of Colorado Alpha, recommending Sigma Phi Epsilon for the local's consideration. A committee was appointed to present to the Faculty and Board of Trustees of Baker University, the proposed plans of Phi Sigma Phi to become a national fraternity and in particular to become affiliated with Sigma Phi Epsilon. Brother V. M. Liston was sent to the National Conclave in Washington D.C. as a delegate representing the petitioning Phi Sigma Phi and while he was there, he was initiated as a member at large. On Saturday morning April 2, 1910, a committee consisting of Grand Secretary William L. Phillips of Washington D.C., J. P. Plemmons of Arkansas Alpha, together with Brother V. M. Liston arrived in Baldwin as guests of Phi Sigma Phi. After several hours of preparation, the installation committee initiated twenty-four actives and thirteen alumni into the mysteries of a larger fraternity life. Phi Sigma Phi had ceased to exist and in its place was the Kansas Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon.”


The charter members were Frank Howard Allis, Willard F. Tidyman, Alvin Silas Wright, Vernette A. Muller, Miner Raymond Pyles, Ora Benton Douglas, Virdon Milne Liston, Fred Allen Price, Clive Paul Mueller, Dionel Anderson, Orval Duane Allis, Paul Henderson Lawless, William Elvin Long. Carl West Spence, Ralph Godfrey Maxson, Clyde DeWitt Spangler, Joshua Lavern Brindley, Murl T. Capps, Raymond Gordon Ransom, Paul Strafford, Harry Stetchel Wise, George Harris Yoe. Virdon Milne Liston graduated from Baker in 1911 and received a master’s degree in administration from Columbia University. He spent 31 years as the superintendent of schools in Waverly, Oswego, Neodesha and Fort Scott and was Treasurer of the Kansas State Teachers Association for 24 years. In 1943 he became superintendent of the Kansas Masonic Home in Wichita, retiring in 1958. He served a term as President of the National Masonic Home Association. Virdon’s younger brother, Emil, was initiated into the Sig Ep chapter and served as Baker’s athletic director for many years. He is the subject of another article in this blog.


The 1909 yearbook shows a picture of the Phi Sigma Phi fraternity house, but according to the chapter history Kansas Alpha’s first house was at 601 9th Street which is pictured in the 1910 yearbook.



Sigma Phi Epsilon House in 1910


The Tri Delta chapter at Baker, installed in 1895, continued to prosper, but for the first decade of their existence housing was an issue. From “A Detailed Record of Delta Delta Delta 1888-1907”: “A Chapter house has' been successfully maintained for several years. The parlor was furnished by the Alumnae, the remainder by the Chapter. Their renting days they hope will soon be over, as a new house has been built for them at a cost of $10,000.00, to be occupied in 1906-7 and which ultimately will be their own.” This house was at 619 Ninth St and was the first Tri Delta chapter house built in Kansas.


Tri Delta House 1907


The first Tri Delta House today


The Lambda Chapter celebrated a special occasion in the spring of 1905 when one of their members, Anna Hoch, hosted a “House Party” at her home “The Governor’s Mansion” in Topeka. Anna’s father, Edward Wallis Hoch, had been elected Governor of Kansas in 1904 and was reelected in 1906. Anna was also invited to stand, as the Governor’s daughter, as sponsor at the christening of the Battleship Kansas in New Jersey in 1905.


Alpha Chi Omega, the sixth national Greek letter fraternity for women, was founded in 1885 at DePauw University. Omicron chapter was installed at Baker on September 17, 1908, formed from a local group, Nu Alpha, which had been organized in 1889, the first local sorority for women at Baker. From the November 1908 edition of “The Lyre”: “At four-thirty, twenty girls took the pledge and put on the colors, and at eight in the evening came the initiation. To add to the sweet and pleasant memories of the occasion, it was held in the parlors of the house which has been the home of the girls for a number of years. . .. As Mrs. Tennant and I placed pins on these loyal girls, the happy faces attested that we were not the only ones who were glad that Nu Alpha has found a place for herself in a national Greek letter fraternity.” The charter members were Edith Bideau, Minerva Bragg, Grace C. Davenport, Mae Dennis, Marie Moorhead Ebright, Birdean Motter, Zula E. Green, Aletha Kelly, Beulah Kinzer, Stella Morton, Laura V. Nicholson, Edna Pearce, Alice Reid, Ivy W. Riley, Eula Smith, and Bonnidell Sisson.


Omicron Chapter charter members


Of the charter group two became national officers: Bonnidell Sisson Roberts, national vice-president; and Birdean Motter Ely, national secretary. Edith Bideau Normelli, after study abroad, sang with the Chicago Opera Company, and later taught in the Episcopal College at Evanston, Ill. In 1943 Baker awarded her the honorary degree of Doctor of Music. Marie Moorhead Ebright, a charter member, served as chapter adviser for thirty-six years and was the first state alumnae chairman for Kansas. Her twice-yearly mimeographed newsletter, The Omicron Observer, was anticipated and enjoyed for twenty years. She was the wife of long time Baker professor, Homer Ebright and the mother of Elizabeth Ebright who was a Baker professor for a number of years.


The chapter was installed at 604 9th Street and in 1909 the chapter moved to the home formerly occupied by President and Mrs. Murlin, on the corner where the Phi Mu's were later to build.


Alpha Chi House in 1908


Alpha Chi House in 1910


The other existing fraternities, Kappa Sigma, Delta Tau Delta and Zeta Chi were doing well during this period adding members and establishing more ties to the Baker faculty and the local community. In 1907, the Zeta Chi’s rented a house for their chapter now occupied by the Lamb-Roberts-Price Funeral Home at 713 9th St.


Zeta Chi House in 1908


The former Zeta Chi House today


As the first decade of the 20th century came to a close, the expansion of the Greek community was beginning to slow down, but new developments were soon to come.

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