Pi Kappa Alpha – Alpha Tau: The Prolific Chapter at the University of Utah

by DAVID HARRIS

Greek life has been a part of American History since the 18th century. The end of the Civil War marked a shift in the definition of brotherhood and sisterhood for the youth of America. The need for unity and understanding between brothers and sisters had reached its pinnacle and thus, fraternities came to be. One of these fraternities is Pi Kappa Alpha. The official website of Pike Kappa Alpha states: Pi Kappa Alpha was founded on Sunday evening March 1, 1868, at 47 West Range at the University of Virginia. Frederick Southgate Taylor, William Alexander, Julian Edward Wood, James Benjamin Sclater, Jr., Robertson Howard, and Littleton Waller Tazewell Bradford created a secret social Greek letter society.

Pike was founded with the colors garnet and old gold, along with the Greek letter Pi, Kappa, and Alpha. Other symbols of Pike include a white horse and an oak tree. Pike has more than 220 chapters and 17 colonies throughout the United States and Canada. The fraternity’s headquarters are located in Memphis, Tennessee. Once every two years the fraternity holds a national convention similar to a political party convention where delegates and executives are elected, and fraternity business is conducted. The most recent convention was held in Austin, Texas, July 28-August 1, 2010.

First Pi Kappa Alpha House, 51 N. Wolcott St. This was the chapter’s first house. The house remained occupied by members until 1959. Courtesy of the Alpha Tau Chapter.

Since its creation more than 140 years ago, Pike has inducted more than 250,000 members. The first chapter founded was the Alpha Chapter at the University of Virginia. The next was Beta Chapter at Davidson College (now Davidson University), and so on for the next 44 years, until Pike arrived at the University of Utah. (Fraternity Life)

Greek Life first arrived at the University of Utah in 1908 with the founding of the Beta Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Chi. Hart stated that in 1912 some members of the Beta Epsilon chapter helped found the Alpha Tau Chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. Both chapters are the oldest existing fraternities at the University of Utah. According to the Autumn 2011 Shield & Diamond, Alpha Tau Chapter ranks third nationally in initiations with more than 2,700.

Since its chartering, the Alpha Tau Chapter has gone through four homes. According to Garnet & Gold: The Official Handbook of The Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, the first, and longest tenured home, was on 51 N. Wolcott St. near the University of Utah campus. That house saw the first 1,000 brothers initiated into the Alpha Tau Chapter and was occupied by the chapter until 1959.

Second Wolcott House (1959-1974). This house was the home of Alpha Tau until a fire destroyed everything in 1974. Courtesy of the Alpha Tau Chapter.

The second house was also on Wolcott Street near campus. Unfortunately, the second house burned down due to an electrical fire in 1974. The fire was started by the use of too many electrical cords in a room on the second floor of the house. Everything in the house burned up except for a few secret fraternity relics. The chapter did not have a chapter house again until 1979 when the third house was purchased.

Greekbook; University of Utah Fraternity/Sorority recounts that between the fire and 1979, Alpha Tau held its meetings in the student union on campus. This house was the largest, and first three-story house the chapter occupied. The house was located on 41 University St. and was the first off of the main Greek row. This house saw over 1,700 initiates, and two full renovations. This house also received a full 2,000-square-foot two-story extension in 1983. The 41 University house (as it was called) was sold in 2009 to the Kappa Sigma Fraternity.

The Alpha Tau chapter then moved back to the main Greek row for the first time since 1974. The current house is the largest at more than 6,000 square feet and four stories. The house is located on 1431 East 100 South across from the Physics building on north campus. The house is situated next to the Chi Omega sorority house and directly south of the Alpha Phi sorority house. The house became fully active in the fall of 2009 and has seen more than 100 initiates since the relocation in May of 2009.

41 University Street (1977-2009). The second-longest-tenured house saw more initiates than the first two houses combined, and was home to Alpha Tau for more than 35 years. Courtesy of the Alpha Tau Chapter.

The Alpha Tau chapter is not only known nationally for its strength in numbers, but its impact on history.  Alumni Jim Cannon said, “the Alpha Tau chapter is credited by the International Fraternity and by other houses across the country with officially challenging and successfully breaking the race barrier of fraternity membership. The first was in the spring semester of 1966 Up until that time there was a unwritten “white clause” in the International Fraternities by-laws that essentially stated no men other than white protestant were allowed membership into the Fraternity.”

The Alpha Tau Alumni Association website states: That spring, the chapter pledged an Asian-American man named Dennis Mitzamota Miya. The International Fraternity immediately revoked the charter of the Alpha Tau Chapter. The chapter lobbied against the fraternity, but was silenced for more than a year. While on suspension, the chapter operated normally as if it had a charter. It was not until the International Convention of 1968 that the Fraternity recognized Alpha Tau again. After more than a year of lobbying, the Alpha Tau chapter officially overturned the unwritten “white clause” at the International Convention of 1968.

Philanthropy is a huge part of Greek life in the United States. Every Greek letter organization has at least one charity it dedicates itself to supporting. Alpha Tau is no different. The chapter has been a partner of the Salt Lake City community, fulfilling philanthropic endeavors since its inception in 1912. The house currently is partners with two local and national charities. The local charity is Camp Hobe. Camp Hobe is a camp for children with terminal cancer located at Camp Wapiti in Settlement Canyon near Tooele, Utah. Christina Beckwith, director of the camp, says Alpha Tau’s partnership began with Camp Hobe in 1990, and has been strong ever since. Brothers of the house raise more than $15,000 annually for the camp, which equates to more than 20 percent of its budget. The main event to raise money for the camp is called the Kevin B. Kennedy Gameball Run. In the spring of 1994, the Alpha Tau chapter lost one of its members to brain cancer. Kevin B. Kennedy lived on through his brother, Cory, who created the idea of the Gameball run.

The run is the day before the annual Utah-BYU football game. The fraternity begins the run at the stadium where the game was held the year before, and finishes at the site where the game will be played. The length of the run is 71 miles. The run accounts for more than 50 percent of the chapter’s total donation to Camp Hobe annually.

100 South House (2009- Present). The current residence of Pi Kappa Alpha-Alpha Tau. The chapter celebrated its 100th anniversary on April 20, 2012. Courtesy of the Alpha Tau Chapter.

The second and official charity of the International Fraternity is Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Currently, Pi Kappa Alpha has more than 1,000 members nationally who participate as Big Brothers. The Alpha Tau Chapter currently has five members who participate. Annually, the more than 1,000 members who participate donate more than 100,000 hours toward Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

The Alpha Tau chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha has a rich and tenured history at the University of Utah campus. More than 2,700 men have been initiated into the House, including the founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell; acclaimed author Stephen Covey; Gordon Gee, chancellor of The Ohio State University; and two International Fraternity presidents. The chapter celebrated its 100th anniversary at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City in April 2012. (“Alpha Tau Celebrates”)

David Harris graduated in May 2012.

Sources

Our Founding,” The Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity.

University of Utah Interfraternity Council, Fraternity Life; a Magazine of Fraternity Life at the University of Utah (1946).

Freeman H. Hart, The History of Pi Kappa Alpha, 10th ed. (Little Rock, Ark.: Democrat Printing & Litho, 1953). 

Mark Herszchel, “Pike All-Time Initiate Numbers.” Shield & Diamond (Autumn 2011): 37-39.

Garnet & Gold: The Official Handbook of The Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity (Memphis: Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity, 1970).

University of Utah Student Periodicals, “Times of Your Life,” Greekbook; University of Utah Fraternity/Sorority (1979).

“Alpha Tau History with Jim Cannon,” personal interview, March 15, 2012.

Tom Dowell, “Maverick Chapter With a Halo: A brief history of the Alpa Tau chapter,” Alpha Tau Alumni Association.

Christina Beckwith, “Alpha Tau Impact on Camp Hobé,” telephone interview, March 15, 2012.

Pi Kappa Alpha, “Alpha Tau Celebrates Centennial,” The Shield & Diamond (Spring 2012): 48-50.

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