FARGO, ND – On the evening of Saturday, March 25, 2017, seating was at a premium at the Crystal Ball Room of the Hilton Garden Inn. The dull roar of conversation filled the room, and it was difficult for brother Jack Haines (Phi / ‘86) to communicate with hotel staff that another table for seating would be helpful. A cackle of laughter erupted nearby as brothers viewed familiar photos of each other from years ago on a running slideshow. Carefully-worded retellings of the events surrounding the photos were shared, with only an appropriate amount of hyperbole. For a moment, it appeared that not much had changed from the traditional Monday Night Meals that were held so long ago at 1307 North University Drive in Fargo.
The banquet at the Hilton was the culmination of a weekend celebration of 100 years of Theta Chi Fraternity at North Dakota State University. Haines, the Centennial Event Chairman, and a group of dedicated brothers on the Alumni Council of Phi chapter have gathered for the past 4 years in anticipation of the event. Traditionally dubbed the annual “Pig Banquet” of Phi chapter, the weekend included social hours at the hotel each evening for brothers to reconnect, construction tours of the chapter house followed by a pig roast luncheon, campus tours for brothers who had not been back to NDSU for quite some time, a local brewery tour, and a formal evening banquet.
It is not unusual for over 100 alumnus brothers to gather for a Pig Banquet luncheon, but this year brought 368 brothers to the chapter house on Saturday afternoon. Brothers reminisced as they walked through the hallways and through the rooms in which they used to reside. The house was never in perfect condition when the brothers themselves lived there, but the halls were in particularly rough shape as they took house tours this year. The Phi chapter house has been under construction since June of 2017, and much of the remaining interior is structural only. This was only slightly concerning for some, as the weight of several hundred visitors was much more easily observed now than during a house party during undergraduate years.
In celebration of 100 years, Phi chapter began a capital campaign to renovate the chapter house. Over $1.3 million of the $1.55 million project had been pledged by around 300 brothers leading up to the weekend, and I’m happy to report that many of the brothers who had come back to celebrate also supported the chapter house project. $186,500 was raised in a little over 48 hours due to the generosity of many and alumni treasurer Jason Gates (Phi / ’02) and his wife Sarah, who have been championing the campaign, were busy reconciling accounts between reconnecting with old friends.
Oddly enough during the 4 or 5 different phone-calling efforts by the Alumni Council to encourage brothers to come back, money never seemed to be the center of conversation. More important to each interaction were the stories about getting the sled stacked with a keg back from Chub’s Pub back to the chapter house, or the moments when brothers hopped in a vehicle to road trip across the country, or the formal that made men thankful social media did not have a presence in their lives 30 years ago. It could have been the celebration of recent retirement, the sorrows of brothers passing; the joy of new employment or the beginning of a family. The thick feeling of nostalgia upon hearing the voice of someone with whom one hasn’t spoken for a decade or more is palpable, and it was something that I was able to witness in my fellow brothers as they reconnected for this special event. When asked about the most meaningful moment of the weekend, current Phi Chapter Alumni Council President Brad Westrum (Phi / ’72) remarked that the power of reconnection stuck with him. “I think seeing over 300 alumni return for the celebration was the most meaningful. Over 100 alumni from the 1960’s and 1970’s eras made it back. For fear of sounding too dramatic, I think many of us realized that we may not have another opportunity to spend time with some old friends…friendships made for life back at Theta Chi.”
During the evening program of the banquet, former Grand Chapter member Al Calarco (Eta Pi / East Stroudsberg ’78) shared his memories of visiting Phi back in the 80’s. Brother Al was in attendance from the east coast with fellow former Grand Chapter member Joseph D’Amore (Eta Pi / East Stroudsberg ’77) in an effort to surprise brother Jim Hardwick (Phi / ’87). Brother Hardwick, who also formerly served on the Grand Chapter with brother D’Amore, was to be recognized with the Distinguished Service award at the evening banquet. The reunion of old friends from different chapters around the country was truly emblematic of our international brotherhood. Also in attendance that evening were brothers Phil Thornton (Gamma Theta / San Diego State ’05), Grand Chapter member Creig Andreasen (Alpha Pi / Minnesota ’90), and Executive Director Michael Mayer (Epsilon Phi / Central Missouri ’04).
Each Founders Day celebration evokes a period of reflection upon the promise made by two men to take care of each other, and make the place in which they studied and served a better place. Phi chapter is only 100 years old, but our fraternity has roots 61 years prior to this centennial date. When I consider this longevity, I have no doubt in my mind that the same kind of connection exhibited by brothers at celebrations like Phi chapter’s centennial has been shared by every brother in our great fraternity. That connection is our fraternity. I consider myself thankful to be a part of it.
Phi / ‘12