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The History of the Michigan AlphaChapter of Phi Delta Theta

The Michigan Alpha chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity was established at the University of Michigan (U of M) on November 28, 1864. It was the first chapter of Phi Delta Theta in the State of Michigan and the 16th chapter in the nation. Phi Delta Theta was the 7th fraternity established on the U of M campus.


Rise to Prominence and Leadership in the U of M Greek System

Despite a strong start, the chapter dissolved in 1869. During 1887, Michigan Alpha was refounded and went on to enjoy 112 years of continuous operation.

By the early 1900s, Phi Delta Theta was regarded as one of the top fraternities on campus boasting membership of campus leaders, star athletes and students who aspired to high standards of achievement.

Between 1902 and 1903, the chapter acquired land at the corner of Washtenaw and South University to build a new chapter house. Renowned architect Albert Kahn oversaw the designing of a Georgian Revival style red brick mansion that became known as 1437 Washtenaw Avenue. The structure was first occupied by members in the fall of 1903 and currently is the oldest fraternity house on campus still owned by the entity that built it.

Prominent students such as 1940 Heisman Trophy winner, all-time Michigan football great Tom Harmon, early 1940s track star Bob Ufer (who later became the legendary voice of Michigan football as an announcer for 36 years), All-America halfback of the 1947 National Championship football team Bob Chappuis put Michigan Alpha in the spotlight.

Both Harmon and Chappuis appeared on the cover of Time Magazine while they were students and members of the fraternity. Numerous other outstanding Wolverine scholar-athletes contributed to the fame of the chapter on campus. Phi Delt Theta's members were also known for their dominance in intramural sports and the Mud Bowl.

The annual Mud Bowl tradition was started in the fall of 1934 when Phi Delt member E. Reed Low '37 challenged the "house across the street" (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) to a spirited match of football. Phi Delta Theta went on to win the balance of the 65 annual Mud Bowl battles with SAE from 1934 to 1998 when the rivalry matches ended. During this time period, the Mud Bowl rivalry between Phi Delta Theta and SAE became one of the most revered U of M homecoming traditions.

Throughout the balance of the 20th Century, Phi Delta Theta was a pillar of the U of M Greek System. The fraternity maintained a reputation for strong brotherhood, competitiveness in intramural athletics, robust social activities and philanthropic contributions in the community.


The Second Refounding and Return to Excellence

Despite its long record of achievements and position as one of the largest houses on campus, the Phi Delta Theta General Headquarters suspended Michigan Alpha's charter in the fall of 1998 for violations of various policies of the national fraternity.

Shortly after this action, the Phi Delt Headquarters leadership and the Michigan Alpha Alumni Association Board of Directors developed a plan to refocus the chapter on the fraternity's best traditional values while placing new emphasis on leadership development. The Alumni Association decided to take advantage of this brief closure period by investing approximately $500,000 to completely renovate the historic chapter house.

After four years of careful planning and hard work by Michigan Alpha alumni, the Phi Delt Headquarters granted the chapter status as a colony on November 9, 2002. The colony status made the chapter eligible for reactivation once stringent standards were achieved.

During the next two years, the membership of the colony struggled to attract students who were willing to commit to the vision of restoring the fraternity to greatness while abiding by the Phi Delt Headquarter's new "Alcohol-Free Housing Policy" that banned alcoholic beverages from all chapter houses of the fraternity across the country.

By the spring of 2003, the colony was granted full voting membership in the U of M Interfraternity Council. The colony spent the next 18 months building the organizational structure of the fraternity while recruiting new members to reach the total number required for the chapter to be reactivated by the Phi Delt Headquarters.

After a strong rush during the fall of 2004, the colony achieved the membership requirements and completed other steps that led the Phi Delt Headquarters to reactive Michigan Alpha's charter. On December 10, 2004, the 34 members of the colony became Michigan Alpha initiates of Phi Delta Theta. This men responsible for the Second Refounding of Michigan Alpha are considered the Third Founding Fathers of the chapter.

Once re-established, Michigan Alpha enjoyed steady growth as the chapter restored its tradition of leading in the U of M Greek System, competing vigorously in intramural sports and accomplishing meaningful philanthropy projects as well as engaging in responsible social activities.


Today, Michigan Alpha is proud to remember its rich heritage while striving to ensure that the best years of the fraternity are yet to come.


The Michigan Alpha Alumni Association and Michigan Alpha Alumni

The foundation of Michigan Alpha is a brotherhood shared by an alumni body that totals more than 1,800 members -- approximately 1,100 living alums found in almost every state and many countries across the world.

Michigan Alpha alums have distinguished themselves in a wide range of endeavors including business, law, medicine, engineering, technology, academics/education, government, politics, military, professional sports, music, science, etc...

Established in 1895, the Michigan Alpha Alumni Association keeps these far afield alums in contact with each other as well as the active chapter membership. The Alumni Association also plays the key role of owner and landlord of the historic chapter house at 1437 Washtenaw.


Distinguished Michigan Alpha Alumni

  • General Motors Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Roger B. Smith '47

  • 1940 Heisman Trophy Winner and Sports Broadcaster Tom Harmon '41

  • Legendary U of M Football Announcer and Insurance Company Founder Bob Ufer '43 (voice of Michigan football from 1945 to 1981)

  • U.S. Commerce Secretary and Hudson Motor Car President Secretary Roy D. Chapin '03

  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Judge Baily Brown '39

  • Valassis Communications, Inc. founder George E. Valassis '51

  • U.S. Air Force Major General John T. Buck '54

  • Florida Lieutenant Governor Thomas Burton Adams, Jr. '40 (also served as Florida Secretary of State and a State Senator)

  • U of M Head Football Coach Harry G. Kipke '24 (coached the Wolverines to two National Championships)

  • U of M School of Music Dean Earl Moore '12 (co-writer of the U of M classic "Varsity")

  • Renown sculptor Bill Barrett '50 (represented in numerous private and public collections nationwide including more than 9 museums. Works in front of the U of M Dental School and U of M School of Social Work)

  • Jazz Musician Bob James '61 (writer of the instrumental theme for the sitcom Taxi)

  • 1947 Heisman Trophy Runner-up and Pro Football Player Bob Chappuis '48

  • Professional Baseball Player and U of M Baseball Coach Don Lund '45 (coach of the U of M College World Series Championship Team of 1962)

  • Dr. Rudy Reichert '43, Director of Cardiology at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital 1955 to 1989 ("Reichert Health Building" at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital was named in his honor)

  • St. Louis Cardinals Football Team Head Coach Robert "Bob" Hollway '50

  • University of Delaware Head Football Coach Harold R. "Tubby" Raymond '50


Michigan Alpha Alums Who Made the Supreme Sacrifice to the Nation During Military Service

  • Philip C. Craig '63, U.S. Navy (fighter pilot killed in action over North Vietnam in 1967)

  • Scott "Harv" Waldinger '86, U.S. Navy (fighter plane navigator killed during a training mission in 1992, combat veteran of the first Gulf War)