History of Alpha Zeta Delta of Chi Psi

Alpha Zeta Delta was formed at the University of Illinois on 25 May 1912 from a petitioning body known as the Tau Lambda Fraternity which had, itself, been preceded by the Lambs Club, originated by H. A. Bestor. That this organization eventually became Alpha Zeta Delta of Chi Psi was not an afterthought, for Bestor, knowing something of Chi Psi ideals from Chi Psi friends, had Chi Psi as a goal from the beginning, and all throughout the evolution of the group, this goal remained fixed.

The Lambs Club, founded in 1906, was short lived. By the close of the year, June 1907, a small group headed by Bestor and A. O. Dady had decided that the club arrangements were neither satisfactory nor the membership wholly congenial. It was determined to abandon the club and form a local fraternity modeled more closely on the sought after nature of an Alpha of Chi Psi.

So, Tau Lambda came into being. Bestor was again the guiding spirit, and the members of the new organization, profiting by the previous experience, built up their personnel slowly and carefully. The men that were recruited had strong scholarship and were well represented in the university clubs and organizations. Within three years after careful recruitment efforts the Tau Lambda fraternity had become one of the strongest and most respected groups on campus. In fact, some of the men in this group became very active in Chi Psi well after their college careers were over.
The members of Tau Lambda had developed into what they believed was a group of men suitable to represent Chi Psi on the University of Illinois campus. So they applied to the 68th Chi Psi Convention in Milwaukee for charter as an Alpha. Unfortunately, with Chi Psi in an anti-expansion period, the last Alpha being established twelve years earlier at the University of Chicago, the petition was refused that year, and subsequent petitions submitted to the 69th and 70th Chi Psi Conventions were also refused, despite strong petitions with records of scholastic achievement, campus involvement, and recommendations from leaders of many sororities and fraternities as well as from the heads of all the colleges at the university.

But this adversity did not weaken the determination of the men at Illinois. They continued to excel at the University, becoming a group that had members in all aspects of college activity, which topped the list in scholastic achievement and a group of forty-two involved alumni to add to the twenty-seven active members on campus. The group, which rented a house on campus, owned furnishings and a prime piece of real estate suitable for building and furnishing a complete Lodge.

The strength of this group must have been apparent to the men at the 71st Convention in Boston, for they granted a charter to Tau Lambda and incorporated it as Alpha Zeta Delta, taking on the namesake of Alpha Zeta, alma mater of the #7 of Chi Psi, Elbridge T. Gerry, Ζ 1857. On the 25th of May in 1912, twenty-eight undergraduates and twenty-two alumni of Tau Lambda were initiated into the bonds of brotherhood in Chicago. The success of the group petitioning in 1912 was due in part to the brothers at Alpha Epsilon Delta, namely Howell W. Murray EΔ 1914 and Ernest R. Reichmann EΔ 1914, and the board of the Chicago Alumni Association. The initiation, which was held at the University Club of Chicago, no doubt made a deep impression on the men involved and became one of the most memorable events in their lives. The new initiates received greetings and congratulations from all across the country, which made it apparent to them that they were truly welcome in the Fraternity.

The following semester was a strong one for the new Alpha, and with the help of brothers from other Alphas they were able to gather a group of ten very strong pledges. They remained strong scholastically, placing second on a list of thirty fraternities, and they were very involved in campus activities. The men also had a growing building fund which would soon contain enough to allow construction of a Lodge. The men moved into a house near the new building site in order to be near their future home.

In the year following 1913 there was gradual slump in the activity of the men of Alpha Zeta Delta, a letdown after the prosperity and intense activity of the previous years. This slump soon ended because in 1915, only three short years after the new Alpha was born, Elbridge T. Gerry, Z 1857 made a generous $500 gift to kick off an ambitious fundraising campaign that resulted in enough funds to commence building of a Lodge in the fall of 1917.

The outbreak of World War I, however, halted the construction plans, and brought the Alpha to the brink of dormancy. The building once occupied by the brothers was taken over by an Army unit, and almost every brother, active and alumnus, from Alpha Zeta Delta headed off to the battlefields of Europe. The young Alpha had the unfortunate honor of having the first soldier from the state of Illinois to die in World War I. First Lieutenant Orlando Gouchnaur, one of the founders of Alpha Zeta Delta and a member of the Medical Officers’ Reserve Corps attached to British forces in France, was killed in action November 6, 1917. Four other men died in the first World War from Alpha Zeta Delta, a large casualty total for a group of men that had only been an Alpha for six years. The casualty total was the highest of any fraternity at the University of Illinois. But Alpha Zeta Delta also has the honor of having the only Flying Ace produced by the University. The men of Alpha Zeta Delta are proud of this war record.

The return of many seasoned veterans from the war gave the Alpha a chance to regain its strength. In 1920, Chi Psi became one of the top fraternities at Illinois, having three of seventeen members of the junior honor society. The following year Chi Psi received the Sachem Trophy, an award from the university for outstanding scholastic achievement. The years from 1920 to 1923 marked a rebirth of the Chi Psi Alpha at Illinois, during which time the men won trophies in many sports and contests with other organizations. However, the crowning achievement of those years was the fulfillment of the young Alpha’s dream of final construction of a permanent Lodge worthy of Chi Psi, completed in 1921.
The new Lodge cost almost twice the estimated price before the war, but the final product became a model fraternity house. Built in the majestic Colonial Revival style of architecture, and having an average capacity of forty-two men, it was one of the most spacious buildings of its kind on campus. The building, with a large porch facing Washington Park in Champaign, was also in a prime location on campus.

After completing the building of the new Lodge, the Brothers once again relaxed some and enjoyed their status on campus. Although nothing detrimental happened at this time, the men did not sustain the high reputation their predecessors had achieved in the fraternity system.

Near the end of the twenties the Alpha was able to acquire a new group of strong men. The Alpha regained its place of prominence on campus, and at the 89th Chi Psi Convention in 1932, Alpha Zeta Delta was awarded the Thayer Trophy for the first time, as the most outstanding Alpha in Chi Psi.

The Alpha celebrated her 25th anniversary in 1937 in relatively strong fashion, even though competition on campus was formidable. The number of fraternities at this time numbered almost one hundred, serving the housing needs of a growing university while increasing the competition for the highest quality men among the fraternities. The finances were strong during this time, and the brothers bought a plot of land north of the lodge to expand the property and renovated the second floor of the Lodge.

In 1940 the number of fraternities dropped to fifty-nine, and even though Alpha Zeta Delta survived this abatement it did so with a decrease in membership and activity on campus. In January of 1940 the brothers were approached by Chi Beta, a local fraternity on the University of Illinois campus. Chi Beta had been founded in 1906, and during its life had become the strongest local fraternity on campus. Several national fraternities had approached Chi Beta about affiliation, but its members had never shown interest in becoming a national organization. So, when the group approached the Alpha and Alumni Corporation board, the brothers were surprised, but they accepted the offer. On 1 June 1940, sixty-three alumni and twenty-two actives of Chi Beta were formally initiated into Alpha Zeta Delta of Chi Psi, including four father-and-son groups. The following fall’s Homecoming Weekend, 26 October 1940, saw the initiation of another group of twenty-two Chi Beta alumni. The merger brought a diverse group of men into the Lodge and a new group of alumni, which helped boost the morale and recruitment of the Alpha.

The next few years were good to the Alpha, but at the end of 1943, the Lodge lost many men to the onset of World War II. In February of 1944, and Army group took residence in the Lodge, because there were only eleven Chi Psi brothers left on campus. The number decreased to six by May, and the Alpha was only able to initiate one man that term. By the summer the number of Chi Psis on campus was reduced to only four and by the fall the Alpha was inactive. With no men on campus the Alumni Corporation rented the Lodge out to women and was able to keep the Lodge in good shape because it possessed enough funds. The ratio of men to women at the University of Illinois at this time kept fraternity activity at a virtual standstill. Although some fraternities had enough men on campus to keep their kitchens open, most were in a situation similar to that of Chi Psi.

In the fall of 1945, following the war, the Lodge was once again occupied with brothers, a group of young men who found themselves in a situation much like their predecessors from twenty-five years earlier. It took some time for the men to resume their involvement on campus, but by the onset of the fifties, they were beginning their resurgence.

In 1953 Alpha Zeta Delta once again won the Thayer Trophy, although this time having to share it with Alphas Beta Delta and Epsilon Delta. The brothers also won the Goodbody Trophy for scholastic achievement three consecutive years from 1951-1953. Their scholastic strength was also recognized on campus during these years, with Alpha Zeta Delta being a finalist for the Sachem Trophy every year. The brothers were also involved on campus and held many leadership positions in university organizations. However, the peak accomplishment during those years was hosting the 111th Convention in Champaign, which reflected the strength of the Alpha at that time.

At the onset of the sixties, Alpha Zeta Delta was operating at a moderate level of achievement. However, a strong emphasis on campus involvement and recruitment allowed another peak in the Alpha’s storied history. A powerful rush in the fall of 1961 produced twenty-three pledges, four of whom were football players on scholarship and a number of whom were managers on campus sports teams. Campus involvement had reached one of its highest levels ever, and scholastically the Alpha was among the top five fraternities on campus, including among professional societies. Pledge classes during this time were among the largest and highest quality on campus, despite the fact that overall campus fraternity involvement had declined in size. The prosperity of the Alpha continued into the late sixties, when membership and involvement began to drop again.

The cycle of highs and lows continued through the seventies and eighties. The impact of the Vietnam War and counter culture movement was felt among all fraternities in the early seventies, resulting in lower membership numbers. Alpha Zeta Delta bounced back, winning the Founders Trophy in 1976 as the most improved Alpha and the Goodbody Trophy in 1977 as the best overall Alpha scholastically.

Numbers fell again in the early eighties before peaking again in 1987 with the initiation of seventeen new brothers in the fall, and a full Lodge. However, recruitment suffered in the wake of a growing anti-Greek sentiment on campus due to news stories linking fraternities to hazing, binge drinking, and acquaintance rape. Reduced occupancy in the Lodge led to deferred maintenance and depletion of Alumni Corporation funds.

In the spring of 1993 the insurance carrier for the Lodge issued an ultimatum to the Alumni Corporation to either make an exhaustive set of specific physical changes to the building or face cancellation of coverage. Unable to afford these changes without a time-consuming fundraising campaign, the Alumni Corporation board had no choice but to evict the brothers from the uninsurable property. Without a home the brothers scrambled for places to live on campus, and only one new brother was initiated in the fall.

While the Alpha continued to operate at Illinois, the historic Lodge had sadly become a financial burden. So, in January of 1994, the Lodge which had been home to generations of Chi Psis at Illinois was sold to a local developer and subsequently demolished in March 1994. The sale of the Lodge that had held such significance in the lives of so many Chi Psis fittingly enabled the establishment of a new legacy that will hold a different significance in the lives of many future Chi Psis. The majority of the proceeds of the sale of the Lodge were given to the Alpha Zeta Delta of Chi Psi Educational Foundation to be applied towards promoting scholarship among the Brothers at Illinois. This endowment, now administered by the Chi Psi Educational Trust, has provided tens of thousands of dollars every year in scholarships and fellowships, as well as grants for books and computers, to the Brothers of Alpha Zeta Delta.

With an active Alumni Corporation and Educational Foundation and a small but determined group of active brothers, the Alpha rebuilt itself slowly during the nineties. Scholarship improved, membership increased, and like a phoenix Alpha Zeta Delta emerged from the ashes, winning the Founders Trophy in 1995 and again in 2000 as the most improved Alpha. As the number of men in the Alpha and the level of activity increased, the Alpha moved into increasingly larger houses that served temporarily as Lodges. Finally, in December of 2001 the Alpha was notified that they would have to vacate the fraternity house they were renting by July 2002, leaving very little time to find a home. Fortunately, the Alumni Corporation was able to secure a contract to lease a vacant fraternity house at 110 East Armory in Champaign with an option to purchase, and a capital campaign was launched. The brothers worked tirelessly to restore the building to livable condition before moving in for the fall 2002 semester.

The first decade of the 21st century was one of ups and downs. In 2004, financial markets had changed in a way that made it impossible for the alumni corporation to secure a mortgage to purchase the Lodge while the capital campaign was underway, causing the purchase of the Lodge to fall through and the capital campaign to stall. The corporation managed to maintain a lease on the Lodge but was unable to make planned investments due to high rent and low occupancy caused in part by issues with the building.

By the end of the first decade in the Lodge on Armory, the longest period of stability in one location since moving from the old Lodge on Second Street, occupancy and Alpha operations had improved, and support from a few young alumni saw a turnaround in living conditions. By 2012, Alpha Zeta Delta proudly celebrated her 100th year at Illinois by hosting the 171st Chi Psi Convention, the second time the national organization met for the annual Convention at the University of Illinois. The Alpha entered its second century with a renewed hope for the future. Over the next few years, Alpha Zeta Delta had some ups and downs but overall continued to build momentum on campus.

However, in the fall of 2015, with momentum building again, the Alpha was notified that the landlords had sold the property to Kappa Delta sorority and would not be renewing the lease. The alumni corporation board and the undergraduate brothers once again set out looking for a place for Alpha Zeta Delta to call home. After a laborious search the Alpha decided that beginning in the summer of 2017 the Alpha would move to the other side of campus and sign a long term lease with option to purchase a beautiful old fraternity house at 606 West Ohio in Urbana. Originally built in 1935 for Theta Upsilon sorority, it was owned and occupied by Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemistry fraternity from 1937 to 2007 before being sold to and recently renovated by a local property management company.

A surprising turn of events in 2018 presented a unique and exciting opportunity to the Alpha. The property at 710 West Ohio became available, and the house, which had been owned and occupied by Delta Zeta since it was constructed in 1921, was in impeccable condition and a block closer to campus.. Thanks to the generous support of a core group of interested alumni, on 19 April 2019, papers were signed, and Alpha Zeta Delta once again owned a Lodge. After twenty five years of semi-nomadic existence, the Alpha moved into her new home for the fall of 2019 full of hope and optimism.

For more than a century, Alpha Zeta Delta of Chi Psi has experienced cycles of highs and lows at the University of Illinois but has never wavered in her persistent pursuit of the Chi Psi experience, and every generation has continued the unbroken chain of never-ending friendship and fellowship only available within the bonds of our beloved Fraternity. The brothers of Alpha Zeta Delta enter a new era with a spirit of enthusiasm and hope for the future as Alpha Zeta Delta continues her quest to be a model fraternity at the University of Illinois. Oskee Wow Wow!