This was the speech I gave at the 10 year anniversary of the founding of the Pennsylvania Omicron chapter of Phi Delta Theta:
The REAL History of PA Omicron
by Justin Kaufman
We’ve all probably read the history of the Pennsylvania Omicron chapter of Phi Delta Theta. It’s concise, to the point, and almost all true.
It reads essentially like this:
“In early 1996, eight men met in the recreation room of Naugle Hall, a campus dormitory at Shippensburg University. It was there that I described my visit to the Phi Delta Theta chapter at the Rochester Institute of Technology. My older brother Clinton is a Phi from RIT, and while visiting him I had seen a successful Phi Delta Theta chapter in action. Convinced that the ideals and beliefs of my brother’s fraternity were exactly what was missing at Shippensburg, I set out to form a chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Shippensburg University.”
That’s sort of how it happened. It certainly sounds good. But I thought today I’d talk about the REAL history of the Pennsylvania Omicron Chapter of Phi Delta Theta.
Like I said, it’s almost all true. My brother is a Phi and he went to RIT. I was in high school and I remember Clint coming home after being initiated and I had all sorts of questions for him.
“What’s it like being in a Frat?”
He said, “I wouldn’t know. I’m in a Fraternity.”
“What’s the difference?”
“A Fraternity is a brotherhood of men with similar ideals. We are respectable and do work for our community. A Frat is a bunch of losers who just get together and party.”
I said, “You don’t party?”
He said, “Well, yeah, we’re a social fraternity, so actually we party a lot.”
“So how is that different from a Frat?”
“It’s public perception. It’s about respect. Look, you wouldn’t call your country a… (well, you know what). You don’t call your fraternity a frat.”
Made sense I think.
“So what kind of things did you do when you pledged?”
He said, “I can’t tell you that.”
I said, “What was initiation like?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Do you have a secret handshake?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“You are not a brother of Phi Delta Theta.”
I said, “But I’m YOUR brother.”
He said, “It doesn’t matter. If you want to know these things, go to a school that has a Phi Delta Theta chapter.”
I was intrigued. A brotherhood my own brother held at least equal to our own.
I looked at a lot of different schools before settling on Shippensburg. I almost didn’t come here because there was no Phi Delta Theta. But there was a greek system and I thought that worst case, I’d have my own set of secrets from a different fraternity.
Now, you might be thinking “Wait a minute, what was all that about visiting RIT and seeing a successful chapter in action?” That did happen. Sort of.
I did visit my brother at RIT, and as a good older brother does, he took me to a party. THAT is where I saw a successful Fraternity in action.
It sounds funny, but it’s true. I witnessed the bond of brotherhood that they shared. It all became clear to me when a certain song by Dennis Leary came on. Hopefully most of you know the song, but there is a part where he spells out a certain word, then says “Everybody!” and repeats the spelling. Well, when Dennis Leary said “everybody” the New York Eta chapter must have thought he meant it, because everybody, no matter what they were doing shouted along and stomped or pounded on whatever was around them.
It was quite a sight and I thought, “I want to be a part of THIS.”
But I chose to come to Shippensburg. So while Phi Delt was out of the question, I decided to find what I was looking for in the existing greek system. Only I couldn’t. I attended many a party, met with many a fraternity brother, but I never felt it. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it felt like something was missing.
I talked to my brother about it. That’s when he dropped a bomb on me. “Why not start a chapter of Phi Delta Theta yourself?”
Start a chapter? A regular kid like me could do that? That seemed like a rather huge undertaking.
My brother said, “Sure, Phi Delt is always looking to expand. I’ll make some calls to General Headquarters.” GHQ.
Before I knew it I was in contact with a man named Rich Fabritius at GHQ. He said he was sending me some materials and the guidebook with the steps to create a new chapter of Phi Delta Theta.
And he did. I literally got a guidebook with 10 steps required to become a colony of Phi Delta Theta. First you become an Interest Group, then you become a Colony, THEN you become a Fraternity. I was now the official Interest Group.
Step one of the guidebook: Recruit 25 members.
Whoa. Most of the fraternities on campus didn’t have 25 active members.
It wasn’t actually step one, but it was the step that looked the most challenging. So, I started recruiting.
Just so you know, getting 25 guys willing to be in a fraternity when they don’t have to pledge is easy. Getting 25 guys willing to put in the work to accomplish the other 9 steps, not so easy.
See, normally the way a new chapter of Phi Delta Theta starts, GHQ targets a school with a solid Greek system that is looking to expand. Sometimes the schools themselves contact Phi Delta Theta. Either way, GHQ sends representatives to recruit Interest Group members. GHQ then actively guides those members to Colony status.
We were doing what was called “a cold start”. GHQ had no real interest in a chapter at Shippensburg University where Greek life was faltering. Shippensburg University for the same reason had no interest in bringing a new fraternity into an already failing system. We had our work cut out for us and no real support. Just a book with 10 steps.
In the beginning membership fluctuated a lot. We hovered around 18 guys who seemed willing to put forth the effort it was going to take to make Phi Delta Theta at SHIP a reality.
The first order of business: Campus recognition. If Ship wasn’t willing to allow a new fraternity, we were stopped dead in our tracks.
So, around 18 of us went before the very intimidating director of greek affairs, Mr. Marvin Worthy. He was a large man who never smiled and was not interested in expanding the greek system.
We stated our case for becoming a new fraternity. He said he liked our enthusiasm, but the greek system was struggling and didn’t need another Fraternity at the moment. Why didn’t we take our ideals and all join one of the smaller Fraternities. Essentially he was suggesting a hostile takeover since the 18 of us would outnumber a lot of the current rosters.
That probably would have worked. But we insisted we had dedicated ourselves to Phi Delta Theta. We also convinced him that a new fraternity might just bring the spark the greek system needed. Generate interest in the system. All fraternities could benefit.
He didn’t exactly give us his blessing, but he said he wouldn’t stand in our way. So we left the meeting on a very high note. After the summer break we’d recruit a few more members and we’d be well on our way to Colony status.
Only it didn’t work out that way. We returned from summer break to find out our numbers had been reduced by more than half. Some of the guys just didn’t come back to Ship. A few stated they were going to take Marvin Worthy’s advice and join an existing Fraternity. Some just thought it was hopeless and quit. That left 8 of us. Dan Lapenta, Dan Borrelli, Rich Dietz, Mark Maholick, Tim Finkey, Ben Castiglioni, Ed Borkenhagen and myself.
It was the smallest the group had been since I started recruiting. We decided it was probably hopeless. Our strength had been our numbers and now we didn’t even have that.
We prepared to have one final meeting and officially disband the interest group. I sent an email to Rich Fabritius to let him know we had failed and to thank him for the opportunity.
I got a response later that day. “Don’t give up yet. We’re sending help.”
So, as the written history says, “eight men met in the recreation room of Naugle Hall, a campus dormitory at Shippensburg University.” And I told them GHQ was sending help. We weren’t finished yet.
Headquarters sent an adviser who told us not to worry about numbers for now. We were to work on the other 9 steps, work on building the brotherhood between the 8 of us, and only then, start recruiting.
And that’s what we did. We started having meetings according to Robert’s Rule’s of Order. We elected officers. We worked as a cohesive unit. Also, Ben Castiglioni and myself attended Leadership College. There we learned recruitment tactics and brought back a new energy to the interest group. We began recruiting quality men who understood and were enthusiastic about the hard work we were under taking.
While we were at Leadership College, we asked if we could wear the Phi Delta Theta letters. We were told yes, just nothing with the crest. Fair enough.
As our numbers continued to grow, we started organizing letter days. Every one of us would wear our blue Phi Delta Theta letter shirts, with the silver letters. We were suddenly a presence on campus. It seemed like everywhere you looked you saw those silver Phi Delta Theta letters. You could hear the buzz around campus. Who was Phi Delta Theta?
Then one morning at some time around 7am my phone rang. Anybody in college right now can appreciate how early that is. It was Marvin Worthy. He said, “I’ve received reports of men wearing Phi Delta Theta letters around campus.” I told him we were allowed to wear the letters, just not the crest. He called back half an hour later, “I’ve spoken with Phi Delta Theta General Headquarters. You are not authorized to wear Phi Delta Theta letters until you have been officially colonized.” *click*
But it didn’t matter. It had worked. Our name was out there. People knew there was a new Fraternity forming. Plus, it was always fun to see a member wearing a sweatshirt, and underneath it you saw the tip of a Delta poking out of the collar. We wore the letters in secret meetings and held secret initiations ceremonies for new recruits. We were truly a secret society. And, we had 29 members.
We still had one more major hurdle to overcome. GHQ required that Shippensburg want Phi Delta Theta on campus. This meant we needed approval from Marvin Worthy. Since Ship was not looking to expand Greek Life, Marvin Worthy put it on us to convince the rest of the Fraternities on campus that Ship needed to expand. In other words, we had to go before the campus Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) and convince the existing fraternities to let us into the Greek system. A majority vote was all that was needed.
There were 13 fraternities at Ship at the time so we needed 7 votes. That was a tall order. But we put together our best team of 5 guys and went before the IFC and presented our case. Our basic premise was the same as it was to Marvin Worthy – a new Fraternity will spark interest in the greek system. Not everybody who rushed was going to be interested in joining Phi Delta Theta. Those people would then likely look to the other fraternities and hopefully everyone would experience a surge in membership because of the buzz we were creating.
The IFC members were to take back the information to their respective fraternities, vote, then come back the next week and vote on behalf of their Fraternity. We were one week away from one of the last steps to becoming a colony.
Only we weren’t. The following week, not all of the fraternities showed up so the vote was postponed. The same thing the next few weeks, then suddenly it was winter break and I was told they were going to vote first thing next semester. After the break in the new semester I was asked to come back in to answer a few last questions for the IFC members before the vote. I asked if I should bring everybody, and I was told that just me would be fine, in case of any last minute questions.
So I went by myself.
As it turns out, THIS was their last minute question: “Most of the fraternities have new IFC delegates this semester, so could you just go over what you said last semester again?”
I said, “Which part?”
They said, “All of it.”
I was NOT at all prepared for that. I stumbled through the whole thing, and tried to cover everything I could. It was a mess.
Then I was told the worst thing of all. Two of the fraternities hadn’t showed up, so they weren’t even going to vote. Maybe next time.
I knew the two fraternities were definitely “No” votes. But at the same time, I knew I hadn’t convinced anybody in that room to vote for us that night. But I decided to take my chances. I said, “We’ve done everything you’ve asked of us. Why do we keep getting punished because other fraternities can’t be bothered to show up? They knew the vote was tonight.” The IFC president agreed and decided to hold the vote without them. I was asked to leave while they voted.
As I walked back to College Park I thought I had made a mistake. I shouldn’t have pushed for the vote. I should have asked for another shot to speak, but this time with a prepared crew. I walked in the door of the aprtment and I was totally disheveled. Ed Borkenhagen took one look at me and was like “What happened to you? You look like somebody died!”
I just looked at him and said, “I blew it.”
Later that night I got the call. The vote was counted.
The original vote had been 5 to 5 with one abstention. The IFC president had been about to announce that we had not obtained the majority vote when Frank, from the last Fraternity left to vote said, “Wait, there is one more vote that needs to be counted.”
Now it’s important to note that Frank had been one of the Phi Delta Theta interest group members who had gone with us to meet with Marvin Worthy the first time. However, after the summer break, he abandoned the interest group to join an established Fraternity.
Frank said his Fraternity voted yes.
I later found out that prior to the IFC vote, Frank’s Fraternity had actually voted against us by the slimmest of margins. He was supposed to vote no, but he went against his own Fraternity and voted for us, because he too had believed in what we were trying to accomplish.
Final vote: 6 to 5. We were in.
A few amazing things happened that night. Two Fraternities that held the power to make the vote 7 to 6 against us didn’t show up. And then there was that final vote from Frank.
Our history reads:
“Convinced that the ideals and beliefs of his brother’s fraternity were exactly what was missing at Shippensburg, Kaufman set out to form a chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Shippensburg University.”
I may have been the one to start this great chapter, but it was the hard work and dedication of first 8 and from there 29 members that brought this fraternity from a dream to a reality.
The rest of our history says:
“On April 4, 1998, the Pennsylvania Omicron Interest Group was officially colonized. The colony by now had twenty-nine members, each distinctly individual, but also bound by a bond of brotherhood as strong as any other. These twenty-nine men will forever be remembered as the Founding Fathers of Pennsylvania Omicron.
Less than a year later, on March 26, 1999 the Founding Fathers and four members of the first pledge class known as the Alpha Class were initiated into Phi Delta Theta. The following day, the fraternity was officially installed as a chapter and granted a charter from Phi Delta Theta headquarters.”
And that is the real history of the Pennsylvania Omicron Chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Shippensburg University.
I look around this room and I see that the hard work that went into this Fraternity has obviously paid off. Four fraternities at Shippensburg have failed since our initiation, yet Phi Delta Theta is still going strong.
Cheers, to 10 great years and here’s to 10 more. Thank you.
Edit: As per Brother Almacy’s suggestion, I added a picture from our Charter Ceremony
The Founding Fathers of the Pennsylvania Omicron Chapter of Phi Delta Theta, March 27, 1999