Zeta Chapter History
Prepared by John R. Becker ’89
The American Chemical Society held their national meeting at Illinois in April 1916. The chapter hosted a smoker for all brothers, and over 100 took part. For the women chemists at Illinois during this era, Iota Sigma Pi, a national honor society for women in chemistry, chartered their Iodine chapter at Illinois in 1918; and Sigma Delta Epsilon, a recognition society for graduate women in science, chartered their Gamma chapter in 1924.
World War I crippled most other chapters, but Zeta remained strong with 16 initiates in 1917, including William A. Noyes, Jr.; 17 initiates in 1918, including Carl S. “Speed” Marvel; and 8 initiates in 1919.
William A. Noyes, Sr., (1857-1941), Zeta 1912, received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1882. He came to Rose Polytechnic Institute in 1885 where he developed the chemical program at the new school. He left Rose in 1903 to become the first Chief Chemist at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards in Baltimore, Maryland, where he worked on atomic weight determination. He came to Illinois in 1907, and served as department head until his retirement in 1926. He was the architect of the chemistry program at Illinois attracting such chemists as Roger Adams and Carl S. “Speed” Marvel. He was also closely involved with chemical literature being editor of JACS for 15 years and the first editor of Chemical Abstracts among other publications. He won many awards including the Nichols Medal and the Priestley Medal. He served as president of the ACS in 1920.
Zeta resurrected its chapter newsletter with “The Zeta Ion” first appearing in December 1921, and appearing with more or less regularity ever since. After six years at 917 W. Green Street in Urbana, the chapter moved to 907 S. 6th Street in Champaign. Zeta began to have yearnings to own a house and started a house fund with each graduate pledging $100, paid at $10 per year. Money built-up and the Alpha Chi Sigma Association was formed in 1924 to purchase the house, which it did for $20,000. The Association then rented the house to the chapter until it was sold in 1931.
National membership requirements during this period required advanced credits, thus many of the best men were absorbed into social fraternities before becoming eligible for Alpha Chi Sigma. To level the playing field, Zeta resurrected the name of the Muffle Club in 1924 as an organization for the advanced pledges. Zeta (and Nu at Penn State) went on to gain approval from the Supreme Council in 1929, officially sanctioning this extended 2-step pledge period. Zeta’s new Muffle Club allowed pledging as freshmen, advancement to the Muffle Club stage, and then full membership as sophomores when the academic requirements were met. The Club also promoted freshmen living in the house. The Muffle Club continued into the fall of 1935 when it transformed into an organization of all residents of the house.
Gamma Pi Upsilon had come on the scene beginning in 1921, and was a direct competitor to Alpha Chi Sigma. After peaking in about 1928, interest in GPU began to wane. An agreement was reached in 1931 to merge the two organizations under the umbrella of Alpha Chi Sigma. On April 27, 1931, Zeta chapter invited all current Gamma Pi Upsilon members to become members of Alpha Chi Sigma, and on May 3, 1931, 31 Gamma Pi Upsilon members were initiated into Zeta chapter, the largest initiate class until 1998. The officers for the next term were divided among the veteran Zeta brothers and former GPUs.
The District Counselor reported the chapter to be in excellent health in 1930, but rapidly declining in 1931, with over $6,000 owed to the chapter. The treasurer, a former GPU member, was found to be dishonest and expelled. No classes were initiated in the fall 1932 or 1933. District Counselor L. W. van Doren visited the chapter in the fall of 1933; and in November 1933, the faculty took a drastic step and approached the chapter with a list of 11 names proposed for membership. Several of these were soon initiated and were part of the rebirth. The 500th member of Zeta chapter was initiated on April 22, 1934. Much of the credit to saving the chapter is owed to the faculty brothers who took a stronger role: department chair Roger Adams, Omicron 1912; Zeta Corporation president George Reed, Alpha Theta; and chapter/financial advisor John C. Bailar, Eta 1922. The DC later stated “I do not think very many chapters could survive such an unholy set of conditions as have crept up in the last few years.”
The 1930s were also a time of flux for housing. Both Zeta chapter and Gamma Pi Upsilon entered the decade owning houses. Both houses were exchanged for an overvalued lot upon which to build, and the chapter resumed renting space and moving every few years. The house occupied from 1934-37 at 1004 W. Nevada suffered a fire in May 1935 necessitating temporary quarters again. Finally in 1937, the Zeta Corporation purchased the Theta Upsilon sorority house at 606 Ohio Street for $25,000. The house had a capacity of 42 and was occupied in June 1937, at which time the chapter reported all 51 member of the chemistry staff were members, there were 45 chapter members, 31 of whom lived in the house. The chapter library, started during the 1934 rebirth, was also growing rapidly.
Zeta entered the new decade with a strong and well-organized professional program praised by the department. The chapter’s safety program was particularly noteworthy. The chapter’s strength is evident by its winning the T. Dale Stewart Award for the Best House Chapter in 1938 and retaining the title in 1940, 1942 and 1946, there being no conclave in 1944.
With World War II on the horizon, Zeta was one of the few chapters to hold an initiation on Sunday, December 7, 1941, bringing 20 new brothers to the fold. While many chapters were again weakened by the war, Zeta remained strong and averaged over 20 new brothers in each of the six initiations in 1942, 1943, and 1944. Zeta supported the war effort by planting tomatoes in their back yard Victory garden in 1943, and added beans, beets, carrots, onions, and peas in 1944. More than 50 brothers served in the armed services and other crucial scientific roles as civilians. In the post war years the chapter continued its strong slate of social and professional activities centered around the house. Dr. Herbert A. Laitinen, Zeta 1943, became the advisor in 1946. The 1000th member of Zeta chapter was initiated on November 6, 1949.
Elliot E. Ryder, Zeta 1952, the fall 1953 Recorder, wrote snippets of the minutes in verse. His final minutes were fully rhymed. Jack McNary, Zeta 1956, was next in the fall of 1957, and the twice-yearly poetic tradition has continued ever since. During 1954, Zeta served as the mother chapter for a successful expansion effort at Purdue University. Two colony classes of 23 and 16 Purdue students were pledged and initiated into Zeta chapter on May 23, 1954, and December 5, 1954, respectively. A charter was granted to the Beta Nu chapter with the third pledge class initiated on June 12, 1955.
District Counselor reports through the 1950s document the continued strength of the chapter’s social and professional programs. The first of the annual Lobster Dinners was held in 1956. Zeta’s major social event of 1958 was the celebration of its Golden Anniversary on October 18, 1958. A banquet at the Urbana-Lincoln Hotel drew 125 members and guests. Department Chair Dr. H. E. Carter, Grand Recorder John R. Kuebler, and Dr. John C. Bailar were the speakers for the evening. Kuebler described Zeta as a “pure ingot of gold which has weathered the years diligently” and all looked forward to the next fifty years. The evening concluded with an informal gathering at the house.
The 1500th brother had been initiated into Zeta chapter in December 1959. However, the culture of the 1960s slowed the pace of attracting new members. Master Alchemist Len Kaplan, stated in his November 1961 MA address that “Zeta Chapter is in a condition which at best can be described as floundering mainly because, I believe, it lacks concrete ideas on why it exists and where it is going.” The District Counselor noted a decrease in membership by 1962. With the lower numbers came a decrease in the professional program.
Initiation numbers decreased even more in the last half of the 1960s, averaging fewer than ten initiates per class with no pledge class in the spring of 1965. The trend of smaller classes would not be fully reversed until the mid 1970s. The chapter profile in 1969 included approximately 50 members, mostly graduate students. All was not negative as the chapter held a mortgage burning in 1962. Dr. Bailar was a regular visitor to the pledge classes speaking on the history of the chapter. The chapter also developed several new professional events such as review and tutoring sessions, “Wednesday Night in the Lab,” regular speakers, and safety lectures to incoming graduate students. The Lobster Dinner also continued successfully.
The 1970 Conclave voted to allow women members beginning in the fall of 1971. Zeta’s first women-allowed pledge class was initiated on December 4, 1971. The class included Elizabeth P. Rogers among the seven initiates. In October 1970, Zeta was chosen to host the 1972 Conclave. On the heels of the 1970 co-ed decision, this was the first conclave at which women attended as brothers. Isaac Asimov was asked to be the honor initiate, but living in New York City, he declined, writing “Unfortunately, I do not fly and I hate to travel. My idiosyncracy compels me to remain imprisoned in the northeastern quadrant of the United States, and Illinois is, and remains, beyond my horizon.” Dr. Robert L. Metcalf, head of the department of zoology, was chosen to be the honor initiate instead.
In 1973 and 1974, Zeta again served as a mother chapter for a successful expansion, this time at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Three colony classes were initiated: 11 pledges on November 10, 1973; 8 on March 30, 1974; and 10 more on November 11, 1974. The result was the chartering of Beta Psi chapter on April 12, 1975. Dr. Richard T. Arnold, Zeta 1935, winner of the 1949 Alpha Chi Sigma ACS Award in Pure Chemistry, was instrumental in the growth and success of Beta Psi chapter. He later won the John R. Kuebler Award in 1976. In 1975 Dr. Hubert Alyea of Princeton University presented the first Krug Lecture, speaking on “Lucky Accidents, Great Discoveries, and the Prepared Mind.” A fire in the spring of 1978 caused damage to the east end of the third floor. The minutes soon reported they were “looking into smoke detectors for the house after contacting building inspectors.”
The 2000th Zeta member was initiated on March 22, 1980, although there was worry that there were fewer active graduate student members. Initiations in the first half of the 1980s averaged 12-13 members. The average increased to 20-25 by the end of the decade with 31 initiates in the fall 1988 class alone. The 1980s also started with the chapter in debt and lagging participation in professional events. The slow turn-around began about 1982 as more undergraduates were pledged. Socially, the annual Lobster Dinners and the smokers continued from the 1970s, but the annual Wild West Night parties evolved into more popular themes like Tropical Night and a Halloween party. Alternativley, there was always happy hour at O’Malley’s.
Subsection: The Physical Chem came to Zeta about 1988 through Michael Zachmeier, Beta Phi 1976, who served as the North Central District Counselor from 1986 to 1990, before advancing to the Supreme Council. It was toward the end of his time as DC that he taught “The Physical Chem” theatrics to his chapters. Zeta has continued to teach and perform it with a locally improved “virialed” motion. Here, Sean Padden, Eric Skinner, and Aric Roush demonstrate the original version of “Beer’s Law Plot” at the 1996 North Central District Conclave.
Despite another house fire in April 1993, Zeta continued to survive and thrive. Although not accepted, Zeta submitted a bid in the spring of 1993 to host the 1994 Conclave. Zeta initiated its 2500th member a year later on April 23, 1994. Zeta experienced an increase in professional activity in the mid 1990s with the reestablishment of the Boy Scout merit badge program. The initiation ceremony also began a slow and steady improvement process to more closely conform to the ritual and eliminate questionable local traditions, a process that took more than decade and resulted in positive recognition with the Second Star Award. O’ Malley’s Pub at 4th and Green Streets closed in the summer of 1994, yet the midnight singing of Don McLean’s 1971 classic “American Pie” was not gone. It has continued at chapter, district, and national events – including Conclave. Social events of the 1990s added additional theme-parties like the Barn Dance, Casino Night, Toga parties, and hot tubbing. Many became annual events. At one event in the fall of 1995, Frank Omana, Zeta 1991, invented the Rainbow with six champagne glasses and some spare punch.
Visitors included all types. A stuffed Pink Panther took up habitation at the house for a while in 1996 before departing (Note: This was later found in the 2009 Central district conclave and then taken to the Epsilon chapter), tied to the rack of a car for the spring break trip to Florida. Iota’s mascot Rosaniline Ammonia also paid one of her several visits in 1999. Beginning in the spring of 1997, Zeta chapter was asked to be the mother chapter to reactivate Upsilon chapter at the Northwestern University, which had been inactive since the 1968. A first pledge class of nine brothers was initiated on March 1, 1997. After two more classes, Upsilon was declared reactivated on January 9, 1998. Lori Sekera, Zeta 1994, served as historian in the spring of 1998, and compiled much of the chapter’s historical information, anecdotes, and alumni interviews into a small hard-back volume published in 2000.
Beginning in October 2002, Zeta Chapter again served as the mother chapter to reactivate Beta Psi chapter Southern Illinois University, which had been inactive since 1984. After several years and pledge classes, Beta Psi was declared reactivated on February 3, 2006. Throughout the decade Zeta continues to have a strong program of professional activities including faculty chats, professor lunches, Boy Scout and Girl Scout events, and the Krug Lecture. Socially, the chapter hosts a variety of themed-events, which can best be observed in the unpublished scrapbooks.
Zeta brothers have come to prominence within the Fraternity in recent years. Chuck Carroll, Zeta 1990, has been active with the Indianapolis Professional Chapter and served as a Professional Representative; Robin Fishbein, Zeta 1998, published his informative newsletter, The Dipole; Wade Jarrell, Zeta 1989, has been active in the Chicago Professional Chapter and has served a term as Northern District Counselor; and Jennifer Showerman, Zeta 1992, has filled many roles described on the next page. Subsection: GMC Jennifer Showerman, Zeta 1994, is the first Zeta brother to serve on the Supreme Council since the earliest years of the Fraternity. She served as a Professional Representative 2000-2004, as North Central District Counselor 2004-2006, and has been Grand Master of Ceremonies since 2006. (And two years as GVD!) After 70 years of occupancy, the chapter house at 606 W. Ohio Street was sold in the spring of 2007. It came after much soul-searching, decreasing occupancy, and increased maintenance costs. The last initiation was conducted in the house on Saturday, April 21, 2007. Undaunted in the year since, the chapter put in a bid to host the 2008 Conclave, planned its own centennial celebration, and recruited and initiated two very large and successful pledge classes during the 2007-2008 academic year. The initiations were held on campus.
The Zeta Founders