History of Kappa Chapter

Our story opens in July 1934. While the U.S. economy has shown signs of growth for the first time since 1929, the rate of unemployment remains above 20%. In Madison, the Kappa Chapter is about to begin its fifth year in the new home constructed at the northwest corner of Langdon and Henry. To fund the structure, the active and alumni members were asked to make pledges in the form of building fund notes, payable to the house corporation—the annual payment topping out at $25 ($400 in 2010). In addition to the notes, alumni were required to pay annual dues of $10 ($150 in 2010).

 

In Madison, Brother Bill Haacke ’19 is gravely concerned about the financial health of the alumni association. As the economy has worsened, more of the building fund notes are in arrears and the annual dues are left unpaid. Presently, receivables from members and alumni stand at nearly $10,000 ($160,000 in 2010). With another $2,400 coming due on September 30, the outlook looks sour, especially considering that more than $4,500 remains outstanding from 1932-33.

 

In early August, Bill sends an optimistic note to one of the Brothers who steps up to help out. Although current in his dues, and having satisfied his building notes, Brother Lloyd Strope ’20 sends a check for $25. Bill responds: “Dear Lloyd, Bless your soul, and thanks for the $25. I am, however, entering this receipt as an account payable. I hope to have this back to you on or before December 1. Many thanks for the loan.”

 

Unfortunately for Bill and Lloyd and the rest of the Kappas, the challenges will only get bigger as the nation will continue to be tested by a tough economy. And ominously, on August 19, Adolf Hitler will be named Fkhrer in Germany.

 

Our story picks up again in November 1935. Brother Robert Murphy ’29 sends a note to all active alumni pleading for funds to rescue the house from its perilous financial condition. Emery Hueston’s reply is emblematic of the era. He writes:
“Dear Brothers,…My present financial condition will not permit me to help  out at this time. This is no comfort or relief to you; neither do I find it a comfort or relief to be so hard pressed for funds…”

 

Fast forward a year to 1936. Brother Al Haake’s urgent appeal to alumni members to meet a $3,000 cash requirement includes selected financial information. In the assets section of the balance sheet, Brother Haake adds the following entries that ring true today:

Asset
– The influence, traditions and fellowships of and a permanent of Chi Phi, reunion home
– A live and active chapter, sufficiently large to complete support

Value
– Incalculable
– Enough to justify our fill the house and fully disposed to do its part

 

Brother Haake goes on to say: “the active chapter has ‘come back’, we have lived through the depression that killed off fraternity houses by the hundreds, it is worthwhile, the hardest part of the job is behind us, and a renewal of our interest in the house will do the rest. We are frankly depending on you.”

 

In spite of the financial condition of the Chapter, the alumni planned a 20th anniversary celebration. The call went out to all Brothers to invite them back for the celebration. The Meteor included the following gems in its update section:

 

Fred Kaplan won the saber championship of the Big Ten this spring and qualified to enter the primaries for the Olympic team.

 

Ade Dornbush ’22 visited Madison recently, he is one of the high ups in the Roosevelt Administration in Washington… [Brother Adrian Dornbush founded an art colony in Stone City Iowa and later became a friend of Mrs. Roosevelt. His involvement in the administration stemmed from the creation of a FERA (later WPA) arts program in1935.]

 

Ev Baker is a fellow at Taliesin, the establishment of the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright…

 

The reunion would prove a welcome respite as war in Europe loomed on the horizon.

 

We pick up the story in the summer of 1940. After hanging on by a thread through the latter half of the decade, urgent letters are written to key men in Detroit, Milwaukee, Racine, New York, and Chicago. The letters from Madison ask these men to make a personal appeal to their Brothers. The house is now financed with a first mortgage in the amount of $39,900, which is $3,000 in arrears, and a smaller second mortgage. The active Chapter has been stabilized and is ahead on their rent, but the risk of foreclosure is very real.

 

The appeal does not fall on deaf ears. In Chicago, founding Brother Al Haake ’14 pens an appeal to his Brothers. The passage below rings true today.

 

“Chi Phi means a lot more than just a Chapter House for someone else to live in. It represents something for which we fought, an idea and ideal which is part and parcel of our lives, something which must be kept alive on the campus at Wisconsin and continue to send out fellows imbued with the same spirit.”

 

Brother Haake meets the challenge with a pledge of $500. He also notes that his son, a freshman initiate at Kappa, has pledged $100 and that “he is digging ditches this summer to earn that hundred dollars.”

 

As is always the case, Chi Phi requires the time, talents, and treasure of its best men to succeed. While Brothers such as George Crownhart, Bob Reynolds ’25, Bob Murphy ’29, Lloyd Strope ’20Chet Reich, and Roy Ragatz ’27 worked to secure financing from the alumni, a small group in Madison was dealing with the business of negotiating with the Chapter’s creditors.

 

In September a meeting was held with a representative of Guardian Life, the holder/insurer of the first mortgage. Brother Ragatz reports that at this meeting the Brothers proposed that in return for a minimum payment of $12,000 by March 16, 1941, Guardian “forget the $3,000, give us the current year interest free, the next four years at two percent, and then up the interest to a maximum of four percent.” Bill Kiekhoefer weighed in that Guardian “would be money ahead by playing ball as outlined, and letting us first squeeze out the [secondary financing] at a bargain price…$500.” Professor Kiekhoefer, who Life magazine in 1937 referred to as “the most popular lecturer in one of the nation’s leading economics departments,” apparently carried considerable credibility with the Guardian Life representative, as they agreed to take the plan under advisement.

 

Meanwhile, the March fundraising deadline loomed.

"I developed a number of lasting friendships with Kappa Chapter brothers."
‐ Charles Robb ’61, Alpha Kappa

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