By David Andrew Prichard, Kappa Kappa ’75
Kappa Kappa is one of the oldest and most-honored chapters in the Sigma Chi Fraternity. It rightfully boasts a proud and rich legacy of prominent leadership, achievements, idealism, and undergraduate and alumni service. Moreover, it is widely recognized and praised for its consistency in remaining a strong and viable chapter over the decades of its existence.
Perhaps its early struggle for survival on the University of Illinois campus was a hint to watch for a great development of enduring qualities. The University of Illinois campus had been in existence only five years when it was first invaded by the Greeks, but the earliest fraternities were poorly conducted and their exploits angered the university administration and encouraged anti-fraternity legislation.
The establishment of Kappa Kappa was an outgrowth of the annual meeting of the Interstate Oratorical Association at Oberlin, Ohio, in May of 1880. As it developed, there were two distinct groups of men, each desiring a charter. The recommendation was to confer the charter on the underclassmen group, and this was accordingly done. The Kappa Kappa Chapter of Sigma Chi, like the fraternity itself, had seven founders. The charter members are: John G. Wadsworth, Arthur M. Bridge, Edward H. Swazey, Henry L. McCune, David Eichberg, Clarence M. Brady, and Richard E. Dorsey.
The installation ceremonies occurred in the early morning hours of May 31, 1881, and thus, Kappa Kappa became the 41st Sigma Chi chapter and has turned out to be the oldest fraternity in continuous existence at Illinois.
However, taking the lead from Professor White and the Purdue administration, Illinois officials began legislating against joining secret societies in Champaign. What followed was a heroic struggle by Kappa Kappa to survive the anti-fraternity legislation of the university. The next five years consisted of a desperate struggle to stay alive. Kappa Kappa went sub rosa (underground), and during its darkest hours, it was William A. Heath 1883 who eloquently said:
Kappa Kappa is by no means dead. We know our cause is just, and we will have to be killed nine times before we die. Where now the (sub) roses bloom, we hope are long to raise the glorious emblem of our fraternity in all its purity: the White Cross of friendship, the White Cross of hone, the glittering cross our fraternity wears.
However, after these five long years of struggle, Sigma Chi national officials, committed to the policy of avoiding those institutions where college fraternities were in any official disfavor, decide that the best thing for Kappa Kappa was to become inactive and await the dawn of a better day at the University of Illinois. The inactivity of the chapter is dated in fraternity records as the winter of 1885–1886.
On December 22, 1891, came the triumphant return of Kappa Kappa. The chapter of the White Cross as re-established there in 1891 has ever since been maintained with honor. It was William “Dad” Heath who became known as the founder of the newly-established Kappa Kappa Chapter. The 16 petitioners were initiated into the mysteries of Sigma Chi on December 22, 1891. At the end of the century, plans were underway to move the chapter headquarters from rooms in downtown Champaign to a first chapter house near the University of Illinois, the one which still stands today. A strong era had just begun.
The founding re-establishment of the Kappa Kappa is the one event to always remember. The history of our chapter from 1900 is sketchy due to misplacement of records and because little has been recorded on our chapter since then. Hence, the following will be the brief mention of some important people and events at Kappa Kappa to the present.
Brother Ben F. Duvall ’24 was instrumental in building the chapter during the late 1920s, the 1930s, and the 1940s, as the plaque on the house’s entrance wall declares. Another familiar figure during the 1920s and 1930s was the jovial “house mother,” Gram Trevitt, who was loved by a near generation of Kappa Kappa Sigs. A plaque in her remembrance also hangs in the house. Brother Duke Baird was another looming figure of that era. During World War II, the house served as barracks for the Army and Navy, and many of the chapter’s historical materials were lost in the confusion and crowded conditions.
With well over 100 Sigs on campus, many returning from the war in Europe, the late 1940s and the decade of the 1950s remain to this day as one of the strongest Kappa Kappa eras, with Kappa Kappa as the chapter that led Greeks on campus. Top athletes, including Dike Eddleman ’46, Ruck Steger ’50, and Max Hooper ’54, were pledged, as well as the top campus scholars and leaders. Indicative of this strength was a 1950 poll conducted by Sigma Alpha Epsilon which called Kappa Kappa the best Greek chapter in North America.
In 1960, a $300,000 addition was constructed on the Old Tudor House, and the special efforts of Forrest Lindsay ’29, Charles Hough ’15, Bill Cameron ’29, Ben Duvall ’24, and “Boz” Prichard ’48, as well as all who contributed, were instrumental in raising the needed revenue. In addition, a scholarship rebate program was started to pay undergraduates for superior academic achievement. This is the only such program of its kind in the Greek world. Serving Kappa Kappa as chapter and faculty advisor for 25 years was the beloved Dr. Henri Stegemeier, who was initiated into Butler’s Rho Chapter in 1932 but who became so closely linked to this chapter that many less knowledgeable assume him to be a Kappa Kappa Sigma Chi.
On May 20, 1970, the first fire in the chapter’s glorious history caused a tragic $65,000 worth of damage in the house, but quick, untiring work by loyal alumni had the house refurbished for classes the following September. If that fire was not bad enough, October 19, 1973, was a dark day for Kappa Kappa as a second fire caused more than $150,000 of damage to the famous chapter house. Again, undergraduates and alumni teamed up to refurbish the house while the undergraduates temporarily resided in the old Pi Lambda Phi house on Armory Street until repairs were completed. In May 1974, former corporation president and ardent Kappa Kappa Chapter supporter John Varble entered the Chapter Eternal.
In August 1995, the undergraduates moved out of the 410 East John House so that a $1,800,000 renovation project could commence. Brother Ed Fisher ’28 provided $1,100,000 of the funds, which allowed this project to be undertaken. Brothers Steven Sarovich ’75 and James Hoffman ’52 managed the efforts for the additional fundraising. During this period, the undergraduate brothers moved to the old Alpha Chi Rho house at 311 East Armory while this renovation was occurring. This offered an interesting dilemma for the fraternity. Only 33 undergraduates were able to live in the temporary house; however, with the exhausting efforts of Consul Mark Lafferty ’96 and other executive board members, the fraternity was able to keep the brotherhood together, even with more than 75% of the members living out of the chapter house. The move out of the chapter house did not affect the strength of the rush program. Kappa Kappa led the campus with a remarkable 250 rushees.
These, then, are the major people and events since 1900 at Kappa Kappa. Of course, those interested in reading in depth about the chapter’s truly fascinating history can find material in The Centennial History of Sigma Chi, volumes III–IV of The History of Sigma Chi, and past issues of The Illinois Sig, which is the chapters biannual alumni newsletter.