TKE Beta Pi History
1950s - Transition and Arrival
In 1950, communist forces in China occupied Tibet, communist forces in North Korea invaded South Korea, the US recognized a Vietnamese government in Saigon and signed arms and training agreements with it. The US entry into the Korean War made scholarship a very serious matter since students had to make certain grades or risk being drafted. The Chapter's scholarship standards were firm and many pledges took several quarters to make the grades necessary for initiation. Some never did. How strange it must have seemed to the many veterans in the Chapter to see the US at war again! Fortunately for the Greek system nationwide, the conflict was not of the same scale as WWII and the system continued to expand.
The struggle to fill the house continued. Without rent revenue, the Chapter could not support the house and advancing highway construction threatened the property anyway. The Chapter would have to move and could not afford to take the house with them. On November 15, Prytanis Bolton announced that it might be possible to rent a house on 4th Street. Unfortunately, highway construction moved along faster than the Chapter's plans.
The Chapter left the house on Williams Street during Winter quarter 1951. The fraters and pledges were scattered. Having no place of its own to assemble, chapter meetings were held, once again, in the Georgia Tech YMCA. For meals, there was the cafeteria, known to students as the "Ptomaine Tavern", which was not popular. It was hard to maintain the feeling of fraternity. Dick Dougall, who worked at the YMCA and had access to a mimeograph machine, published a weekly chapter newsletter to help hold the organization together.
In the meantime, at 185 4th Street, near the corner with Fowler, a sweet, elderly lady loved the little house she lived in. She had a little fish pond in the back yard and a garden, of which she was proud. She could never have imagined that John Diehl, Bill Fricke, and others would soon be working on a 'Reck where her flowers bloomed. What would she have said if she had known that, one Summer soon after, a famous Hollywood actress, in Atlanta to make a movie, would party in her house and fall into her pond?
Beta Pi's third house stood on part of the land occupied now by the Wesley Foundation near the corner of 4th Street and Fowler, just a minute's walk from the current location. At the time, this area was considered "just off campus." The move took place during Summer quarter 1951. The house was tiny. Nine men could live upstairs there with difficulty. Like the other houses the chapter had occupied, this one was in a terrible state. An interior decorator was consulted and work parties were held to repair walls and paint. Dick Phelps's parents donated an upright piano, helping to start what became a long standing tradition of singing in the Chapter. There were machines for selling Cokes and snacks.
About the same time, a Teke alumnus from Rhode Island, Bob Kirkhuff, replaced Colonel Edgerly as the chapter advisor. Edgerly was in his 60s and wanted to retire. Despite his youth and that his wife Louise was pregnant, Kirkhuff agreed. By all accounts, the arrival of the Kirkhuffs was a great boost to the Chapter. Bob remained advisor for twenty-five years.
A salient feature of the Chapter in its early days was its diversity. There were veterans and high school kids. There were "damn Yankees" and "Georgia crackers". Several fraters, such as Phelps and Grimshaw, had grown up on military posts in various parts of the world. Most fraters were single but a few, such as Richard Le Veille, were married. For years, there was a large and influential international contingent, especially from Latin America and the Caribbean. Many members of this international group were among the Chapter's most interesting and active members.
The TKE house was too small to contain an institutional kitchen but a meal plan was important. Arrangements were made with neighboring Theta Xi to eat at their house. Members would show up at the TKE house around midday and socialized until someone said "Squeet", which meant "Let's go eat" and the Chapter would go to their sitting next door. Later, an arrangement was made with the cook next door to prepare TKE meals there. Food was then carried over in large containers by pledges and served family style. Folding chairs were borrowed regularly from the Wesley Foundation since the house did not have enough storage space for all the chairs needed to seat the chapter. Chairs became an issue between the Chapter and the Foundation since "we always had some of theirs and they always wanted them back."
Social events included numerous backyard parties with girls invited from Agnes Scott. Record parties were popular. The annual Red Carnation Ball was a big event and was held several times at the Georgian Terrace Hotel on Peachtree. All social events were chaperoned and Dean Pershing and his wife and, later, Dean Dull and his wife attended occasionally. Although the drinking age was eighteen, alcohol was not permitted on campus and restaurants were often BYOB. Disciplinary incidents from those days usually involved alcohol but the chapter never got in any great trouble.
In 1953, the Chapter reached a milestone when Bill Fricke, scroll number 13 and the last of the Chapter Founders, graduated, having spent more than the usual amount of time at Tech.
In Fall 1957, Dan Laird led a rush that pledged thirty men, the largest pledge class the chapter had gotten until that quarter. In Fall 1958, twenty more men pledged TKE and the Chapter entered the ranks of the large fraternities where it has remained ever since. In a decade, membership had grown from fifteen to seventy-five members. Though a good thing generally, the rapid growth of the Chapter at the end of the 1950s put great strains on the facilities and on the social organization of the Chapter.
In 1958, the Wesley Foundation completed plans to build on the two lots on 4th Street at the corner with Fowler Street. TKE and neighboring Theta Xi had to move. Fortunately for TKE, Georgia Tech held options on two properties at the corner of 5th Street and Techwood Drive, an area designated for the expansion of Greek housing. When Tech offered to allow the Teke Board the buy the houses, the Board eagerly accepted. Chairman Bill Eisenhour made the arrangements, $35,000 changed hands, and Beta Pi owned its own land for the first time. There could hardly have been a better turn of fortune, for the house of 4th Street had become entirely inadequate and the growing chapter desperately needed more social and living space.
In April 1959 the chapter moved into a run-down two-story brick apartment house, the Brick House, at the corner of 5th Street and Techwood Drive and a run-down wooden house, the White House (later a.k.a. the Social Quarters or Old Social Quarters), just downhill on 5th Street. Kappa Alpha had long occupied the southeast corner of 5th and Techwood. Delta Upsilon soon moved into the house formerly occupied by a Tech faculty member on the southwest corner. The large house on the northeast corner was not occupied by Phi Kappa Sigma until much later. Lambda Chi Alpha's house stood beside Delta Upsilon on Techwood. The Pikes occupied a house on a lot on Techwood drive just north of the new Teke houses.
The move to the new houses was difficult as the Chapter had to come to terms not only with the need to fill its much larger facilities but also with the tremendous task of preparing and maintaining the new buildings. The first meeting in the new houses was held on April 22, 1959.
Despite the Chapter's good fortune at having finally found a property in which it could settle and grow, the organization had serious problems to address. Could the Chapter "grow into" the considerably increased demands that its new facilities demanded? In the Summer 1959, the Chapter embarked on a radical departure from normal fraternity practice at Georgia Tech. Earlier in the school year, in an effort to get an edge on rush competitors, Beta Pi had appointed a Summer rush committee. That committee rushed and pledged ten men during Summer 1959. This rush proved to be important because the rush of Fall 1959 produced only fifteen pledges - alone inadequate but acceptable when combined with the results from Summer. The storm had been weathered.
The Chapter began the 1950s as a small organization, never certain of housing, dealing with the growing pains typical of any new group facing the loss of its original members. By the end of the 1950s, the Chapter was established firmly in the Greek system at Georgia Tech and prepared to begin thirty years of sustained high achievement remarkable for a group so recently created, so diverse, and without the housing and social advantages held by the older chapters on campus.