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texas theta founding history
The Texas Theta chapter of Phi Delta Theta sprang from a local fraternity, Phi Kappa Delta. The local was organized on the WT campus (then West Texas State College) in the fall of 1962 at the initiative of faculty advisor Frank Heflin, a Phi Delt alumnus (Indiana Delta, Bond #682), then an assistant professor of history at WT. Phi Kappa Delta had five founding members: Doug Tanner, Gary Hackley, Bill Neslage, Tom Ford, and Terry Niemeier. Formal chapter initiation took place on January 31, 1963, following an orientation program conducted by John Janak, a WT transfer student and Phi Delt alum from Texas Tech (Texas Epsilon).
As the similarity of the names would suggest, Phi Kappa Delta was founded expressly to petition Phi Delta Theta for a national charter. Phi Delta Theta was a leading national social fraternity founded in 1848 and headquartered at Miami University of Ohio. There were four national fraternities and four sororities already on the WT campus, but the steady growth rate of the college suggested that there was room for more; especially considering that the student enrollment of around 4,200 at the time was approximately 60 percent male. The Greek system at WT had only gone national in 1959, although at least one fraternity had begun as early as 1923.
The drive for new members and campus recognition began immediately, with Brother Heflin and Assistant Chapter Advisor Don Bozeman, a University of New Mexico (New Mexico Alpha) alum, clearing the way. In its first semester of organized activities, the chapter received the aid and support of the Amarillo Alumni Club of Phi Delta Theta in its social and rush activities. The chapter’s first President, Bill Neslage (Bond #3) and its second, Frank Bowie (Bond #6), were particularly adept at promoting interest and membership. Brother Gary Hackley (Bond #2) served on the Interfraternity Council and helped smooth the path to campus acceptance.
That same spring, 1963, West Texas State College was notified that Governor John Connally had signed a bill renaming the school West Texas State University. University President James P. Cornette was named Man of the Year by the
Amarillo News and Globe Times
and the WT Buffalo football team won the Sun Bowl over Ohio University. That fall, November 22nd to be specific, Governor Connally was struck down in a Dallas motorcade by the same volley of assassin’s bullets that killed President John F. Kennedy. There were turbulent times ahead for the nation in the struggle over civil rights and the conflict over Viet Nam, but campus life on the High Plains of Texas was relatively insulated from such disturbances.
The chapter doubled its membership in the spring of ‘63, and that fall brought in the largest pledge class on campus including Don Curry (Bond #11), who as a future Rush Captain and “BMOC” proved to be a recruiting magnet. The chapter also gained more than its share of campus distinctions, individually and as a group. Its first organized success in the spring of ’63 was taking second place in the Greek Sing. In ’64 the Phi Kaps took first place. In ’65 the other fraternities decided not to continue the Greek Sing!
From the beginning, Phi Kappa Delta held the highest grade point average among the fraternities. Its leading and well-balanced position in scholarship, membership, campus activities and leadership, athletics, and (always important!) finances resulted in the chapter’s formally becoming a colony of Phi Delta Theta in September 1963. The Rho North Province leaders, notably John Harding and Bill Dean, and other national fraternity officials, including Executive Secretary and Survey Commission representative Bob Miller, helped the chapter gain valuable backing and endorsements in the quest for national affiliation. The drive for a national charter, spearheaded as always by Frank Heflin and by then President Frank Bowie, culminated in approval by the fraternity’s 55th biennial national convention in Pasadena, California, September 2 – 5, 1964.
Since those early days, Texas Theta has continued to be a mainstay of WT campus life and a touchstone for young men interested in gaining lifelong friendships through membership in the Bond. More than two generations of Brothers in the Texas Theta chapter (the chapter recently gained its first triple generation of members) can attest to the lasting value that Phi Delta Theta membership and participation has brought to their lives.
The Texas Theta Interest Group came to be in the fall of 2001, after a 6 year absence at West Texas A&M University. Texas Theta, who at one time was one of the largest Phi Delt chapters in the country with 100 plus membership, was returning to a much different campus than they left. The percentage of Greek students on campus had dwindled to 3 percent and the average fraternity size was now in the low twenties. Things would not be easy.
A group of alumni from the Amarillo/Canyon area began the interest group process. After receiving the approval of West Texas A&M the alumni group began recruiting on campus. Eleven hand selected men comprised that first pledge class of the Texas Theta Interest Group. The alumni recruited men within already existing student organizations. This strategy proved to be very successful. These organizations included the WTAMU Herdsmen and the WTAMU Farm & Ranch Club. Recommendations from local alumni were also key to the success of the recruitment effort.
Operations ran smooth for the Texas Theta Interest Group due to outstanding alumni support. Brothers Dick Gaither ‘67 and Jerry Woldridge ‘73 took on the role of chapter advisor and eleven alumni were selected to be “big brothers” for the new Phikeia. Members of the interest group were introduced to the colonization process and Greek life. Throw in an unforgettable social event with the ladies Zeta Tau Alpha and the group was off to a good start.
Under the direction of Brent Ferguson ‘03 things continued to move forward and once again with the help of several alumni spring recruitment was a success. At the conclusion of the spring 2002 semester the Texas Theta Interest Group was colonized with 26 men and became, once again, officially recognized by Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity. At the time of colonization Texas Theta was the largest fraternity on campus, tops in grades, tops in recruitment and University Sing champions alongside Chi Omega.
The image of the new Texas Theta Phis began taking shape at this point. The Colony was comprised of mostly small town farm kids from the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico. Phi Delta Theta immediately impacted the Greek community at West Texas A&M. The colony offered students a fresh alternative to the existing fraternity chapters at WT. Although Texas Theta was striving on campus we faced an uphill battle in IFC. The Texas Theta Colony, even though it was the largest fraternity on campus, would not be voted in as full members of IFC until late October 2003.
In the fall of 2002 the colony, under the direction of Tim Bynum ’05, began to focus more on its relationship with the General Fraternity and taking steps through the colony organization process to fulfill the requirements set forth by Phi Delta Theta to regain the charter. Texas Theta was dominating on campus but meeting the requirements for membership of Phi Delta Theta was difficult on a campus like West Texas A&M. Although the Texas Theta Colony was the premiere fraternity at WT, our first charter petition was denied by the General Council of Phi Delta Theta.
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