History of the Beta Alpha Chapter of Alpha Gamma Rho
By Rick Hiatt
A group of men persisted and formed “Little Egypt Agricultural Cooperative” (LEAC). They held meetings in Room 209 of the Agriculture building to organize the new fraternity with a set of bylaws, symbol, fraternity pin, a script of the fraternity oath, and elected officers. The LEAC men desired to rent a house together and the first house location was 506 South Poplar Street in Carbondale. Younger members of the house were housed in the upper part of the house called the loft. (In those days air conditioning was very limited.)
The men decided to acquire a St. Bernard mascot dog by the name of “Barry”. He was a beautiful dog with lots of character. Not only was Barry a great companion, he was an attention getter. Hopefully this would soften the farmer stigma given to the chapter by other Greek organizations, and who would complain that Barry seemed to be a chick magnet. Barry went everywhere; Football games, basketball games, walking on campus and around the lake. Barry attracted a lot of attention.
In the spring of 1965, LEAC made an application to rent a house on Greek Row at 116 Small Group Housing. (This later became 116 Greek Row.) At the time all leases were individual leases with Housing Division of SIU. Therefore, to fill the house the men started with several independent students living in the house. A few notable achievements came to LEAC: A) We are one step closer to true “Greekdom” by living among other fraternities and sororities at SIU. B) We had a long run of men in leadership positions of the Inter-Fraternity Greek Council C) OOPS – Barry could not live at 116 Small Group Housing, so the brothers asked Jake and Carolyn Rendleman to be foster parents for Barry with visiting rights to the house. D) The Greeks had intramural sports of Flag Football, Basketball, Olympics, Greek Spring Carnival, and Greek Sing. LEAC was competitive in sports. They teamed up with the Ladies of Freeman Hall to win the Spring Carnival with “The Wizard of Booze”. They also practiced very hard to win the Greek Sing with the “Sweetheart Song”. E) Pledge brothers at that time can remember never winning the Active/Pledge football or Pork Chop Hill games, or the Indy 500 races in the dorm hallway. F) Parents weekend was a huge event. G) Little Sisters’ program was a smashing success as many dates came out of relationships as well as a few marriages, GPAs got better, Little Sisters were invaluable with rush, special dinners, and helping with projects. H) House mothers were important for keeping a family spirit going, manners, etiquette, counseling, and teaching proper table manners. I) How about that special cook “Wadie” who would fix anything from catfish to steak. J) How many times did House Manager Mike Kleen go in the lake for “Wooly burgers?” K) Sub-zero temperatures in the sleeping dorm, where 50 electric blankets were plugged in. L) Jim Godke and crew finished out the basement with barn siding and built a beautiful bar. M) Steak and bean dinner outings, where the dinner depended on the Brother’s GPA for the quarter. N) Luau parties at Hartline Orchards. O) Spring toga parties.
LEAC was a huge success, but we never gave up the goal to be Alpha Gamma Rho.
On February 28, 1970 after the application was approved by AGR national fraternity and the University, the Brothers were granted Chapter status. Beta Alpha chapter was installed on that date by the Brothers of Western Illinois University AGR chapter. Noble ruler of WIU chapter was Don Longfellow, a brother of Beta Alpha member Ed Longfellow. A great turn out of brothers attended for the signing of the charter, and we have been proudly wearing the Green and Gold AGR letters ever since that date.
For the next 30 years the fraternity worked on its positive identity and to build better men of AGR. We worked hard to establish ourselves with the University’s College of Agriculture, the Carbondale community, and agriculture employers, to give our brothers a job upon graduation. These years were important for cultivating relationships and working on recruitment, GPA, interaction with Greeks and making a name for ourselves as AGRs.
It was unfortunate that the class of 1970 year was cut short by the riots of 1970, and SIU closed early. We had a special relationship with the National Guard at our back door and which allowed us to go to town during those few days the university was in chaos.
Many brothers continued to hold significant positions in the College of Agriculture clubs, work on SIU farms, and even had a brother who was President of student senate.
During the 30 years from 1970 to 2000 the university treated us like a fraternity and recognized us a as a group of responsible men. The Alumni were able to lease the house from the University for one lease payment, and the fraternity alumni leased the house to the brothers. Business management was a part of the fraternity life.
By year 2000 we had several alumni on the rolls, and several of the brothers at a Founders Day weekend reminded those in attendance that every pledge class was told, some day we would like to own our own house. This idea was getting a lot of support from the chapter members as it was getting more difficult to get SIU Housing office to keep up with repairs at 116 Greek Row.
At the 30th Alumni/Chapter Founders Days, a motion was made to start strategic planning. So, in the spring of 2000 the Board of Directors and Executive Council from the house met in Effingham, IL with the leadership of Zane Akins, representing the National Fraternity, to lead a Strategic Planning Session. It was two days of good thinking, heart bleeding creativity that culminated in a recommendation to pursue the possibility of building our own AGR House at SIU.
In August 2000 the planning committee met again at Jake Rendleman’s Hideaway with Steve Ellis and Lowell Newsome from the National Fraternity, to continue the exploration of the idea. It was again confirmed that pursuing the possibility of building a House was the priority.
Prior to this meeting Tadge Davis and Rick Hiatt met with Mr. Ed Jones of SIU Housing Office to relate our goals and planning. Mr. Jones gave us a very supportive response and offered assistance in the planning with SIU.
“At the present time what is needed is a BETA ALPHA-AGR ROUND-UP. We need your spirit. We need your help in planning. We need you to stay in communication and don’t get lost. Send your address changes and phone changes to the house and National AGR immediately. In the next 20 days we need some volunteers to serve on the following committees:
The committee members were identified, chairmen selected, and the work was started. After many months of meetings, a vision statement was made; “To provide for the continuing progression of Beta Alpha by establishing an improved fraternal environment.” The vision statement was followed by making a Mission statement;
- Build a house
- Raise money
- Recruit and retain quality members
- Increase alumni involvement
While the committees identified several sub-goals, there was a need for a professional to identify the financial support and commitment from all the alumni brothers. The Omega group was selected to conduct a feasibility study to answer this question.
During the feasibility study time, committees were working hard. The building committee identified a property on old route 13 south of Carbondale that had a finished 200 foot long building with 100 parking spaces sitting on about 2 acres of property. This building was West Communication Center acting as a call center with thousands of wires running through it. The alumni acquired the property for $325,000 with the help of a loan from the Bank of Carbondale.
An architect was hired to prepare an arrangement of living spaces, library, housemother quarters and chapter room. The end result for a great fraternity house was a project of 2.5 million dollars.
Omega presented their study to the Steering Committee and the Chapter Executive Board revealing the results of being able to raise 1.25 million dollars. After much discussion of whether to scale back and move forward, it was decided to engage more alumni and to locate many lost alumni brothers with addresses and contact information.
Don Knepp started a campaign to locate more alumni and after several years and much effort, about 70% of the 600 alumni had been identified.
During the mid-2000 years the chapter moved out of 116 Greek Row and scattered to other housing. Tight finances, low numbers of brothers living in the house and the university’s lack of response to repairing the house contributed to the move. The alumni brothers spent the next 5 years paying off the contracted debt to the university, ($70,000).
The decision to engage more alumni was a slow process and the alumni decided to sell the “South 51” property. Additional debt and remodeling the building determined this to be the best action. Also, alumni were not making sufficient pledges to support a building project. The result was the sale of the property and a remaining debt of $90,000. In 2015, with the support of the Beta Alpha Alumni Board of Directors, Ron Brohammer wrote a personal letter to every known alumnus explaining our debt condition and requesting donations to finally clear this burden. A second campaign was accomplished in 2017. The combination of these and other Board efforts, along with a very cooperative Bank of Carbondale, led to the final elimination of debt after 5 years and allowed Beta Alpha Alumni to move forward with establishment of scholarships and to begin thinking about future endeavors.
The Beta Alpha chapter and Alumni have never forgotten the AGR fraternity motto “To build better men.” During the AGR national convention at Ohio State University several Beta Alpha brothers were named to “Brother of the Century”, namely Don Knepp, Ed Longfellow, Ed Dillman, Rick Hiatt, Keith Hoskins, and Scott Seegmiller. The National AGR brothers were celebrating 100 years anniversary.
The fraternity house today is a home rented on Freeman Street housing 12-14 brothers with the balance of 25 brothers living elsewhere. Activities continue to flourish with an annual philanthropic fund raiser of trap shooting to raise money for St. Jude Hospital. For eight years in a row the chapter has won first place with the Homecoming Float. Many brothers still serve in leadership positions of the College of Agriculture clubs. Brothers are finding successful internships and employment with agriculture companies. The All-Ag Banquet culminates the COAS year, with attendance growing each year and AGR men engaged even more to support COAS.
Recently through the unanimous efforts of the Beta Alpha Alumni, a Beta Alpha Alumni Scholarship fund has been established with the SIU Foundation to support a scholarship for Outstanding Sophomore of COAS and for Outstanding Junior of COAS. These $500 awards are made at the All-Ag Banquet from Beta Alpha Chapter of AGR. The alumni have also created a Beta Alpha Scholarship fund through an endowment with the AGR Foundation to provide scholarships to Brothers of Beta Alpha. Today is marking the first $1000 scholarship to a brother with many more to come.