History

History of Dartmouth Beta

The Alpha Omega chapter of Beta Theta Pi grew out of an alliance with Sigma Delta Pi. This alliance grew out of a visit made to Dartmouth by Beta District Chief Wilbur H. Siebert of the Ohio State chapter, then at Harvard graduate school, to see if there were room at Dartmouth for a Beta chapter. He learned that Sigma Delta Pi, or the Vitruvian Society, in the Scientific School was considering the merits of several fraternities.

On January 23, 1889, letters of instruction from Beta General Secretary Hanna and District Chief Siebert were read in a meeting of the society. The consent of the Amherst and Boston chapters was sought for a petition. In June 1889, Charles Lord Weeks, Edward Staniels Holmes, and William Bruce Earl were initiated under dispensation in the Boston University chapter rooms. College had closed for the summer and only three or four existing members of other chapters of Beta Theta Pi were present, including Brothers Siebert and William M. Warren.

In the fall of 1889, the three first initiates, or one of them, obligated the rest of the Sigma Delta Pi members. There was no formal installation, the Sigma Delta Pi minutes closing on October 16, 1889, and the minutes of the Alpha Omega chapter of Beta Theta Pi beginning the same evening. The formal charter held by the chapter (and since given to Baker Library, where it now resides) is dated August 13, 1889, and names of the 21 active members of Sigma Delta Pi as charter members. The first fall initiation, held in the Currier Block, later known as T.E. Ward’s block, served as the formal beginning of Alpha Omega.

1904 saw the construction of a brand-new house, the first to appear on the campus exclusively for fraternity purposes, and it was so occupied for more almost 30 years. Standing between the cemetery and South Mass, it was a quite palatial frame building in the New England tradition and was a tremendous drawing card. Today [1968], it forms the front part of a spacious administration building, the rear section of which once stood on Main Street, north of the town library, and was known as Clark School.

It was along in the late nineteen-twenties when the College began to show interest in acquiring the Beta House, and particularly the land it occupied. Negotiations were entered into and a deal finally consummated by which the College took over the property in exchange for our present Webster Avenue land plus $17,000 in cash. After Brothers Bill Towler 1913 and James M. Mathes 1911 staged the only capital gifts campaign the chapter has ever attempted, the result was history. The alumni matched the College’s cash offer, and the present house, now [in 1968] worth some $150,000, was planned. Ground was broken in 1932, and a dedication in the presence of many prominent alumni was held in June 1933. This, then, was Bill Towler’s first great service to the chapter, which he followed up from year to year with annual appeals for alumni dues — the results of which have been of inestimable value.

And so we left the old house, in which so many great ones were developed, and were the memories were long and nostalgic…

The 1950’s marked an important change in attitude on the part of several houses on campus, a stance known as “going local.” The Betas, together with other strong national fraternities like Alpha Delt, Deke, Psi U, and a few others that were in compliance with the Administration’s decree prohibiting discriminatory regulations, seemed immune to such drastic and rather pointless action. Unfortunately, however, Alpha Omega contained an overzealous and persuasive do-gooder (no longer a brother) who, misunderstanding the reaction of the national to a Williams College administration edict regarding fraternities, led the bulk of the undergraduates into a mass resignation from the national and to the establishment of a logical organization called the Beta House.

Quite probably neither he nor any of the undergraduates realized that as the house is owned by the alumni, the position of the undergraduate is really that of temporary custodian. Therefore, while he has every right to resign, by doing so he automatically gives up his privileges as a member of Alpha Omega, including occupancy of the house itself.

Here, then, was a most delicate situation into which, fortunately for the chapter, Bill Towler 1913 stepped with both feet. The ramifications, of course, were many and complicated. Suffice it to say that Bill attended the 122nd National Convention of the fraternity held in Pasadena in 1961, were aided and abetted by Guy Wallick 1921, he was able to persuade the national fraternity to accept all requests for reinstatement — though no reconsideration was given to the status of the originator of the ill-founded movement. Today [1968], about half of the chapters on campus are national in affiliation.

[Editor’s note: Lest there be any confusion now, this item refers to confusion that existed at the time with regard to whether Beta was indeed anti discriminatory on both a local and national level. As we know, the answer is that it always has been — and is today — against discrimination.]

As the Alpha Omega chapter of Beta Theta Pi emerged out of the 1960s, it remained one of the strongest and most respected houses on campus — if not the strongest and most respected. In addition to contributing valuable members to many intercollegiate teams (especially football, baseball, lacrosse, rugby, hockey, and crew), the “Sons of the Stars,” as Betas are known, had brothers involved in literally dozens of intramural teams, campus organizations, senior societies, and outside activities.

In the late 1970s, under the direction of House Advisor Bob Bartles ‘64 and the Beta Trustees, a $125,000+ renovation of the house was successfully accomplished. The living room woodwork was repaired and refurbished, and a wet bar was installed in the northeast corner, abutting the guest room bathroom. Leather furniture, wing chairs, tables, lamps, new rugs, Dartmouth chairs, and curtains were all purchased. The Harrison Hume (‘66) Library and David E. “Chip” Reese ‘73 card room were returned to “Sanbornesque” condition. In the basement, kitchen facilities were added in the room abutting the boiler room. Upstairs, many new singles and doubles were created from former suites, and fire doors were added to the hallways at the stairwell.

As the Alpha Omega chapter of Beta Theta Pi celebrated its 100th birthday in 1989 and began to move toward the 21st century, it remained one of the strongest houses on campus, continuing the legacy of diversity, leadership, and excellence that had been handed down to it. Rush classes continued to showcase a cross-section of campus leaders and athletes, and the chapter’s contributions to community and campus life were numerous as well as legendary.

 

Slowly, though, unseen storms were building on the horizon — with ominous clouds that would come to cast a hurtful shadow on more than a century of bright Beta history…

 

There was not one cause of the demise of Beta, but seveval. Certainly, the tone of the times in the 1990s was one of steady if not increasing anti-Greek sentiment (as had happened before in the College’s history). More and more infractions — mostly related to alcohol — were committed by Beta and other houses, which led to a cycle of greater restrictions followed by more violations, which begat even tighter regulation.

Similarly, College administrators and officers at all levels were widely perceived to favor the decline, if not elimination, of the Greek system, while the faculty periodically voted (usually with unanimity among those voting) in favor of banning Greek organizations.

At the same time, despite the best of good intentions, Beta alumni oversight fell down. No local Beta alumni were available to help supervise the undergraduates, most of these alumni having already “served their time” many times over. This left the hands-on help for the undergraduates to members of the Beta trustees well outside the Upper Valley, which by definition meant that the alumni presence and influence at the house was much diminished. An SOS to Beta Theta Pi General Fraternity led to one non-Dartmouth Beta who volunteered to be chapter advisor, but he lived at some distance in Vermont from Hanover and thus faced the same challenges as Dartmouth alums from outside the area.

In the end, though, it was a number of successive classes of Dartmouth Beta underclassmen who did the chapter in through repeated disrespect for their heritage and responsibility, as manifested in a series of serious violations of College and Dartmouth Beta policies. In fairness, it should be pointed out that some of the incidents had what might be construed to be extenuating circumstances, however minor. Similarly, it is important to realize that none of these acts was sanctioned by the chapter in any way, but instead each was perpetrated by a small minority of brothers — usually a handful or fewer. And throughout this period, the majority of brothers were doing their best to control the miscreants and come out from under whatever restrictions they happened to be under at any given time.

Still, the undergraduates could not or would not police themselves, and their downward spiral of behavior was reflected not only in sanctions against them, but also in the condition of the house itself. Most of the furniture on the main floor became damaged in major ways or downright missing. Beta dogs roamed at will and often were not taken outside in time. Alumni were ashamed to take their families to the house, and their financial support correspondingly diminished.

All the while, Beta alumni were scrambling to preserve the chapter. College administrators such as Assistant Dean of Residential Life Deborah Reinders did their best to work with the undergraduates on their own rehabilitation. At the same time, Beta trustees found that the chapter’s funds had become depleted because undergraduate members had given “rides” (dues discounts of up to 100%) to more than 25 brothers. It was only because of generous donations from alumni such as John Allen ‘45, Frank Aldrich ‘45, and Dick Dunham ‘53 that the house was able to pay its bills. Beta trustees met with undergraduates regularly, instituted a new Code of Conduct, disciplined several brothers, and in general did everything they could to stem the tide of misbehavior.

The undergraduates persisted in the destructive attitudes, words, and deeds. It should be noted that by this time Beta’s traditional diversity had been left behind and the house was now 100% (or close to it) made up of present or former football players. This led to what was perceived as an insularity and defensiveness that may have been totally coincidental with the continued violations — or may not have been. Indeed, Beta had been home to hundreds and hundreds of football players in the past, yet had always maintained a balance of activities among its brothers. To some extent, it was felt, Beta had become an extension of the locker room, in which aggressiveness and attitude were much valued.

After concluding yet one more disciplinary session in the Chip Reese Card Room, Beta trustees asked the chapter officers if there were any more “skeletons in the closet.” The trustees wished to try to clear everything up with the College so that there would be no more surprises and all potential problems could at least be identified. The chapter officers replied that there was nothing else. Later, the Beta trustees found out that while the chapter officers were disclaiming the possibility of any further trouble, they knew at the same time, below them, in the basement, sat a piece of property that had been stolen from Chi Heorot the night before.

On another occasion, two Beta trustees spoke with all the chapter brothers at a special house meeting. The trustees explicitly told the undergraduates that if they had one more violation of any kind, even minor, the College would shut the house down permanently. The trustees entreated the undergraduates to bear in mind the 100+ years of history that had preceded them and to not go down the road to derecognition. At that point, the trustees detected some smirking and snickering among the undergraduates. When asked why this was happening, the chapter president replied that despite what the trustees said, neither he nor the other brothers believed that the College would shut them down.

At the next meeting of the Beta trustees, the discussion then turned to the trustees shutting down the undergraduate chapter before the College could beat them to it.

However, in November 1996, an unregistered keg was found in the Beta basement, a direct violation of the College’s sanctions.

In December 1996, after a fair judicial process, the College “permanently derecognized” Beta. An appeal was denied. Said Dean of the College Lee Pelton, “Beta’s undergraduate chapter does not exist.”

The Beta trustees were shocked — but not surprised — and immediately began scrambling to preserve whatever future chance the chapter might have to return.

After the College “permanently” derecognized Beta, an extraordinary alumni meeting of brothers from across the country was convened at a hotel in Nashua, N.H., resulting in more energy and more Beta alumni volunteers to help, albeit often from a distance.

Thus began what would turn out to be almost 12 years in the wilderness for Dartmouth Beta.

But although the chapter was done for the Beta undergraduates, the Beta undergraduates were not done with the chapter.

Upon leaving the house for the last time at the end of the Fall 1996 term, they trashed it to the tune of more than $15,000. The stone bar in the basement was dismantled and thrown outside. The irreplaceable stained glass Beta Theta Pi round window in the stairwell was destroyed. Furniture and furnishings were stolen or damaged. Walls throughout the house were damaged and defaced.

The Hanover Police Department was called in.

At this point, a true hero of Dartmouth Beta emerged. Trustee William "Bill" Glos '58, who lived almost an hour away in Walpole, N.H., began what were to be almost daily pilgrimages over the next two years to help to salvage Beta both literally and physically. Working with the College and the HPD, Brother Glos arranged to have much of the stolen property returned and monetary restitution made for the rest.

Because there were no witnesses other than the brothers involved, who would not identify each other, the HPD and College left the punishment of the perpetrators to the Beta trustees. Eventually, in a divided vote, the Beta trustees decided not to expel from the Beta rolls all brothers who had been on campus at the time, largely on the thinking that "once a Beta, always a Beta" and that the quality of mercy is and should be a desired part of Beta character.

Along with Jack Burnett '71, Jeff Sassorossi '75, and others, Brother Glos set about to rebuild and restore the house. An exhaustive search was made of the entire building, from which furniture, articles, and artifacts were removed from almost literally every square inch and brought to the living room, which was completely filled to a level of between three and four feet. Every single item, as well as everything in the Harrison Hume Library, was painstakingly inspected. Everything of value or of value to Beta was removed for safe storage, first to the home of Dick Dunham '53 and later to a permanent storage facility.

Brother Glos conducted a public yard sale, or rather, living room sale. A $100,000 loan was secured to finance the renovations. The house was cleaned and painted, and prepared for its next use — whatever that would be. Let the history of Beta show that without the sustained, selfless efforts of Brother Bill Glos, the chapter house, and perhaps the chapter itself, might not be in the good shape they are in today.

Meanwhile, we began to receive offers from entities wishing to buy, lease, or rent the house. The Beta trustees almost immediately received from many Beta alums an unofficial mandate to do whatever it took to (1) retain ownership of the house; (2) come back as an undergraduate chapter; and (3) come back as Beta national if possible.

With these guidelines in mind, the trustees next leased the house to Alpha Xi Delta sorority for a period of one year (after which the tenancy was eventually verbally renewed on an annual basis until 2008). Anticipating that at some point in the future there might be controversy if Beta were to displace the sorority in order to return to its own house, the Beta trustees wrote into the lease some clauses in which the sorority not only acknowledged Beta's right to come back but also supported it.

For the better part of the next 11 years, the sisters of Alpha Xi Delta occupied the Beta House. Throughout all of this time, they treated Beta's property, legacy, and alumni with the utmost respect, without exception. Let the history of Beta show that there will always be a place in the heart of Dartmouth Beta for the sisters of Alpha Xi Delta.

The Beta Trustees next turned to bringing back the undergraduate chapter. "Permanently derecognized" had originally been explained to mean that a period of four years needed to elapse so that all undergraduate institutional memory of the previous Beta would have left campus, at which point Beta could reapply as a "new" organization. This had been accepted by Beta Trustees as fair (as opposed to unfair, which would have meant going to court to remain on campus), because no one wanted any part of the "old" Beta anyway. However, over the next decade various administrators would prove to have varied interpretations of "permanently derecognized," as the time distance from the judgment itself began to lengthen.

In the meantime, Brothers Burnett, Sassorossi, Bob Bartles '64, Ron Schram '64, Frank Aldrich '45, and others continued to brainstorm about ways to return, in the presence of a College administration that appeared to be increasingly leaning against the Greek System. In 1999-2000, the Dartmouth Trustees implemented the Student Life Initiative (SLI), among the goals of which were the safer use of alcohol and an increase in the quality of coeducational life. As a consequence, the College placed a moratorium on the formation of any new selective, single sex, residential organizations — such as fraternities. Thus Beta not only found itself in the wilderness but also found all roads out blocked.

The Beta trustees continued to persevere, at this point making a crucial decision that would have a major impact on Beta’s return: They called for reinforcements. Recognizing that they had for all practical purposes run out of new ideas (not to mention energy), in 2005 the Beta trustees put out a call for help, which resulted in more than two dozen alums volunteering to take up the front lines in the fray. Leading this new charge were new Trustee Co-Chairs Scott Sipple ‘84 and Davies Beller ‘83, both of whom would prove instrumental in the ultimate return of Beta.

At this point, after many years of consistent pressure from Beta alumni as well as the realization that the Beta trustees did indeed wish to create a new model for a Dartmouth fraternity that was based on leadership training, community service, scholarship, and fellowship — and not just alcohol and partying — administrators at the very highest level of the College began to acknowledge that there might indeed be some wiggle room in the notion of "permanent" derecognition. The question then became how to enable the return of some sort of Beta legacy organization in a way that was politically acceptable as well as administratively justifiable and doable. In a simultaneous yet unrelated move, the College lifted the previous moratorium on new organizations, which opened the door even wider for the introduction of a new Beta.

One of the requirements for a new fraternity was that it be a national. Ever since derecognition, Dartmouth Beta trustees had kept the Beta Theta Pi General Fraternity apprised of its situation and been told that the national was there for Alpha Omega when it was needed. As it became clearer that there was a real possibility for the return of Alpha Omega, however, close scrutiny of the national Beta Theta Pi requirements for "new" colonies revealed that they might not be compatible with life in Hanover. For one thing, all new houses were required to be permanently dry.

Beta trustees did extensive firsthand research into how the national Beta Theta Pi fraternity chapters were getting along, contacting undergraduates and alums at a number of Beta chapters throughout the U.S. Beta Administrative Secretary Jud Horras came to Hanover to further discuss the situation with the Beta trustees. In the meantime, the College gave permission to the Beta trustees to start a new interest group as a local, Beta Alpha Omega. Eventually, at the same time that Alpha Omega trustees were realizing that Beta Theta Pi was no longer a fit for Dartmouth Beta, the Beta Theta Pi national was coming to the conclusion that it did not want the Alpha Omega Chapter to be reinstated because of the “unacceptable” characteristics of Greek life at Dartmouth.

Hence the birth of local Beta Alpha Omega.

During 2006 and 2007, literally scores of meetings were held and hundreds (if not thousands) of emails exchanged among Beta trustees and Dartmouth administrators. The vast majority of the strategic planning and negotiation was carried out between Beta Co-Chair Scott Sipple '84 and Dean of the Office of Residential Life Martin Redman, culminating in an agreement that Beta Alpha Omega could participate in rush in Fall 2008.

In the first week of January 2008, Beta and College representatives met with representatives of Alpha Xi Delta sorority to give them advance notice of the announcement of Beta's return, which came on January 9, 2008. The sisters were requested to vacate the house by June 30, 2008; needless to say, they were surprised, angry, and hurt to think that they would now no longer be able to inhabit the only house they had ever known in Hanover.

Beginning from the earliest days of AXD's tenancy, however, after their ongoing respect for all things Beta had become apparent, Beta trustees had unofficially told AXD representatives that Beta would never entertain a solution to its return to campus and its own house that did not include a new place for the sisters to call home. In other words, Beta had assured AXD that it would never just be "thrown out into the street."

Consequently, as part of Beta's return, the College offered AXD a new residence near Leverone Field House. This new house was nowhere near as big or nice as the Beta house, though, which prompted outcries and protests on campus about perceived inequalities between the social spaces provided for men and those provided for women. The women of AXD initially resisted the return of Beta and its reoccupation of its own house, but once they were reminded of their commitments in their initial lease, they not surprisingly did the honorable thing and supported Beta's return.

During the spring and summer of 2008, Beta trustees held information sessions on campus for the purpose of determining who, if anyone, might be interested in a fraternity that was not based on alcohol. One of the College's rules for return was that a new colony had to be dry for at least two terms, so any possible new Betas first had to accept that possibility. Many on campus discounted any possibility of student interest. Others did not believe that the Beta trustees were serious about starting a different model. They would all prove to be wrong.

Beta trustees now worked feverishly to prepare the way. Lon Cross '75 spearheaded the creation of a new Constitution and Bylaws. Student Liaison Dimitri Gerakaris '69 (who also designed the new chapter pin), Bob Bartles '64, Jeff Sassorossi '75, and others interviewed prospective members of the new interest group. Brothers Gerakaris and Bartles physically repaired the house columns, as well as worked with Star Johnson '70 in purchasing new furniture and making sure that the house was put into pristine condition throughout. Co-Chairs Sipple and Beller worked both behind the scenes and out front to make sure that the transition back onto campus was smoothly coordinated with the College.

Eventually, an interest group of 19 upperclassmen made the commitment to be the founding fathers of the new chapter.

On October 11, 2008, in the presence of more than 50 alumni who had returned for the occasion, 17 of these 19 (two being off-campus) were initiated into Beta Alpha Omega.

Since that first rush class of the new chapter in 2008, Beta Alpha Omega has prospered, continuing the legacy of diversity, leadership, and excellence that had been handed down to it. Rush classes since 2008 continue to showcase a cross-section of campus leaders and athletes, and the chapter’s contributions to community and campus life are numerous as well as legendary.