From the time I was a kindergartener, it was a given that I would be a “college boy.” Almost from the same time, it was a given that I would NOT be joining a fraternity. My parents were of the determined persuasion that Greek life would not foster brotherhood quite so much as alcoholism, debauchery, and a general wasting of their hard-earned money.
Though my own anecdotal observations of Greek life seemed to confirm the parental fears, I was forced to reconsider my animus after learning that one of my heroes was not only a fraternity member in college, but remained quite a booster well into his seventies. That’s right friends, before the Gipper was the Gipper…he was just another Greek plebe.
I arrived at Eureka in the fall of 1928…Thanks to Margaret’s folks and the boyfriend of one of her sisters, I wasn’t making a cold entrance but was already slated for the Teke house—Tau Kappa Epsilon... (Reagan, Ronald & Richard Hubeler, (1965), Where’s the Rest of Me?, New York: Duell, Sloan, & Pearce. p. 23)
Tau Kappa Epsilon had been founded on January 10, 1899 at Illinois Wesleyan University. TKE was an especially good house for Reagan as its attitude toward other races and religions aligned with the values he had imbibed from Jack and Nelle. TKE is one of the few fraternities that never had a discrimination clause in its membership requirements. (Tau Kappa Epsilon, Wikipedia)
The timing of Reagan’s initiation may have been another example of the serendipity that seemed to follow him through life. He entered college the same year that TKE abolished “Hell week” and replaced it with an initiation “consisting of the lessons portraying the finest attributes of brotherhood.” (Tau Kappa Epsilon, Wikipedia) Not only did TKE welcome Reagan to Eureka, it played a critical role enabling him to be there at all! Despite a small athletic scholarship, the costs of attending Eureka still represented a challenge to the financially-strapped Reagan. TKE “provided free room and board in exchange for some kitchen duties.” (Happy Founders’ Day 2009. TKE.org)
In 1983, he created the Ronald Reagan Leadership Award to recognize superior academic and leadership achievements. In 1984, he sponsored a TKE luncheon at the White House (at which time Reagan was awarded the TKE Order of the Golden Eagle, as well as the Gold Medal of the North-American Interfraternity Conference. (Tau Kappa Epsilon, Wikipedia). Even in the midst of his 1984 re-election campaign, Reagan made time to attend a TKE luncheon at Ohio State University.
For its part, TKE has tried to return the positive press it received from Reagan, adopting the Alzheimer’s Association as an official philanthropy. (As of November 2009, it had raised $357,676.64). At the grassroots level, most TKE chapters conduct an annual Run for Reagan Relay.
Earlier this year, Frater Richie Gregory from Reagan’s own Iota chapter at Eureka helped plan the Reagan Centennial celebration at the Reagan Presidential Library.
So, while mom and dad’s advice was probably right for me, apparently frats aren’t necessarily all bad. I mean…a guy can do worse than becoming President of the U.S.A.