Let me begin by thanking Richard Maltz and other Omega alumnus members for establishing this website and for giving me the opportunity to post an article about Omega chapter.
In March of 2000, the Executive Steering Committee of our Fraternity, composed of the elected leaders of the then four entities of the Fraternity along with the Executive Director, met in State College, Pennsylvania. The decision to meet in State College was prompted by the opportunity to join alumni and undergraduates of Omega in celebrating “Howard Alter Day” that weekend. It was a very special occasion for all and especially for Howard, an Omega alumnus from the Class of 1941 and “Mr. Theta Chi” to all of us.
I recall standing in the living room of the chapter house on Allen Street and watching through a window as Howard made his way to the front door on a sunny Saturday afternoon. He was greeted by three other Omega alumni, including the brother who had given him his bid to join Theta Chi and his fraternity Big Brother. As the men shook hands, tears began to flow. I turned to several of our undergraduates who were standing with me and said, “Guys, this is what it is all about—the friendships that last over the years”.
On October 31st of 2001, I sat on the front steps of my home in Carmel, Indiana, handing out candy to trick-or-treaters while participating on a conference call with Matt Valangeon, our Director of Chapter Development, and several undergraduate members of Omega chapter. The undergraduates were telling us in no uncertain terms that Omega was “Dying or dead”, and that little could be done to bring it back to life.
The contrast between the feelings of pride, brotherhood and tradition in March of 2000 and the understated comments by undergraduates that, “We’re done—it’s over” barely 18 months later was striking, to say the least.
Some of you may recall that we sent out letters and emails to alumni asking for help. Our stance was, quite simply, that we weren’t going to let Omega die. It wasn’t just because Omega produced two Executive Directors—George Chapman and Howard Alter, Jr., whose consecutive terms of service ran from 1948 to 1984--along with other Theta Chi giants such as William Renton, Omega ‘46. It wasn’t just that The Pennsylvania State University was a significant campus in Greek life and boasted one of the largest Greek communities in the nation. It wasn’t just the consistently excellent and dedicated efforts of Joost Keesing, Epsilon Sigma/Wagner ’71, who served for many years as chapter advisor to Omega. It wasn’t just because Omega is a single letter chapter. It was for all of those reasons, but also that we belong at Penn State, and that we felt we could succeed there again.
And, in all candor, I share a trait with many Omega alumni…..I hate to quit. That was a reason, too.
I received my fair share of scathing emails and letters from Omega alumni in response to the request that Ed Brown and I sent out. The criticisms were typical: “Alcohol-free housing killed our chapter”……”Who are you to tell us where and when we can drink?”…..ad infinitum.
Some of those younger alumnus members were and perhaps are among those whom Ed Brown described in a message. Ed noted that they parked their cars on the front lawn of the chapter house, went to the football game, stopped by the bars on the way back from the game, then made their way to 523 South Allen Street, got into their cars, and drove away without making the effort to meet the undergraduates or visit the house.
We also received some very positive and supportive messages from alumnus members who asked, “What can I do to help?”
Through and with leadership by Ed, Omega ’87, and James Stuhltrager, Omega ’89, among others, we agreed upon a plan to rebuild the chapter by recruiting men as though we were recolonizing or starting up again at Penn State.
That effort began in the fall of 2002. It has been a long, arduous, and difficult process. As the saying goes, we are not home yet. But, we are making progress.
I visited Omega Chapter on Tuesday, April 12th, of this year. The Grand Chapter scheduled its meeting in Vermont beginning on Thursday, the 14th, and the stop at State College was on the way. Jared Brown, a Theta Chi alumnus of Eta Zeta/Edinboro, serves as an Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Penn State, and he helped arrange my visit, including a brief speech during a Greek Week event that evening.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, although reports from a number of staff members, volunteers, alumnus members and folks from the University had been positive. In February, I had the opportunity to meet with Dennis Foley, the new Alumni Corporation President, and Dennis had noted that membership was increasing and that things were looking better.
Based upon my visit, there are other good things to report.
- We have 24 undergraduate members. Our grade point average for the chapter is among the highest on campus. Our undergraduates come from a variety of majors and backgrounds. Several of them are leaders in other campus organizations. They waited on dinner until I arrived, and everyone ate together.
- The chapter house was clean from top to bottom. Even the areas that are not currently being used were clean. No litter, no garbage, no dumpster odors.
- Our undergraduates understand the heritage of Omega Chapter. They proudly showed me the chapter room, and how several members have restored or reframed historical items for display. On occasion, I have visited single letter chapters and found that the members have little appreciation for what that means in our Fraternity. That is not the case at Omega.
- When I returned from the presentation on campus, I talked with most of our members in the Howard Alter Room on the main floor of the chapter house. I asked the members if they were planning on visiting Howard in the near future. “Can we?” one member asked me, as though asking to visit the Wizard of Oz.
I whipped out my cell phone and called Howard at his home. It was 9:12 p.m. and knowing Howard, I gambled that he would still be awake. Howard answered, and I said, “Brother Alter, I am standing in the middle of a room named in your honor at 523 South Allen Street, State College, Pennsylvania. There are some men who wish to speak with you”. I then passed my phone to the nearest member. Twenty-seven minutes later my phone was returned to me. While that conversation may put me over my monthly minute limit, it was worth it to watch the faces of the undergraduates. Howard greeted each member and New Member in turn, and then had a quip or comment about that individual’s hometown. We couldn’t hear Howard’s comments, but the smiles on the faces of the undergraduates told us that Howard was working the crowd.
The men indicated that they will visit Howard after the end of the semester. Several of our members are from the Pittsburgh area, and it is my hope that they will stop by and visit Brother Alter on their own as well.
I enjoyed my visit to Omega. Much remains to be done with the chapter house in terms of professional work to bring it up to code so that all rooms may be occupied, but our undergraduates have clearly done everything that they can do to improve the house. It was among the cleanest houses that I have visited this academic year, and the members take pride in being members of Omega Chapter and Theta Chi Fraternity.
If you are an alumnus and reading this, I hope that you will contact Dennis Foley and offer your assistance to the alumni corporation. As I understand it, there are some positions to fill. From my experience, we can never have too many involved alumnus members. We have a brotherhood to advise, and a house to fill. And, we are on the way to bringing Omega back.