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Frat boys redux

When the Western chapter of Beta Theta Pi closed its doors, the fraternity’s alumni pledged to open opportunities for future students

by Fred Devries | September 22, 2014

Frat boys redux
Fellow fraternity brothers Jim Etherington, BA’61 (left), and Pete Telford, BA’63, remember their time at the former home of the Delta Alpha Chapter of Beta Theta Pi in downtown London.

Once a month, at a pub in London, a cadre of men gather to kibitz. These doctors, teachers, lawyers, business leaders and researchers, most of whom are retired, chat and joke as they reminisce about what draws them together.

They are all ‘brothers’ pledged to lifelong friendship – a connection initiated as members of the Delta Alpha Chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Western.

“As most fraternity alumni will tell you, you become lifelong friends with your fellow members,” says Jim Etherington, BA’61, who joined Beta Theta Pi in his third year at Western. “These men have been part of my life for more than 50 years. I can’t envision what life would be without them.”

One of these men is Pete Telford, BA’63, a Beta member from 1959 to 1963. “We developed a strong bond and connection that went beyond friendship,” says Mr. Telford, a retired teacher. “To join, we committed to adhering to a set of principles – trust, integrity, mutuality, responsibility, accountability. These are the values that we still live by.”

For several decades, starting in the 1930s, Western welcomed fraternities and sororities because they offered badly needed residence accommodation and created centres for student leadership. “Being a fraternity member brought focus to our lives as students,” says Mr. Etherington, adding they raised money for local charities, participated in intramural sports and hosted Homecoming celebrations.

Fraternity ‘brothers’ also took on key roles in student leadership – as presidents of student councils to editors of the Gazette. “Seeing how others were involved on campus inspired us to contribute to a great student experience,” says Mr. Telford.

During the 1950s and 60s, upwards of 10 per cent of Western students belonged to a fraternity or sorority. However, interest in the “Greek movement” faded through the 1980s and 90s. In 2008, after attempts to save the Delta Alpha Chapter, the members decided to sell the fraternity house near downtown London – closing an 80-year-old tradition.

“We had a good time, but more importantly, we took great pride in our academic achievement,” says Mr. Telford. “Our weekly meetings were about inspiring a spirit of volunteerism, getting involved on campus and contributing to the community. That call to give back is still as important today as it was during our time as students.”

The giving spirit of Beta Theta Pi will continue through the fraternity’s recent endowed gift of $250,000 to Western. Through discussions with members, the chapter leaders chose to donate their fraternity assets to create three student scholarships – the Delta Alpha Chapter of Beta Theta Pi Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and two undergraduate Delta Alpha Chapter of Beta Theta Pi Leadership Awards. The awards are open to both male and female applicants.

“Many of our members have advanced degrees from Western, so it made sense to support one graduate student award,” says Mr. Etherington. “And since our fraternity only accepted pledges after they finished one year of university, we also wanted scholarships to benefit upper-year undergraduate students.”

While the sale of the chapter house and the closure of the fraternity ended a long history for Beta Theta Pi at Western, Mr. Telford and Mr. Etherington see the value in the legacy they’ve created.

“Years from now, maybe a Western student who receives one of these scholarships will wonder what our fraternity was all about,” says Mr. Telford. “I hope they discover how committed we were to making Western a great university.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2014 edition of Impact Western
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