Greek alumni say little has changed since their days here
Nichole Schmelz, member of Alpha Phi, stands with her grandmother, Rebecca Culley McNeil. McNeil, an Alpha Phi alumna, was among the first class to live in an Alpha Phi house in 1948. Stephanie Dever | Daily Kent Stater
Credit: DKS Editors
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Mike Mills, Phi Sigma Kappa pledge of 1983, can still remember how he spent homecoming more than 20 years ago.
“We used to have a beer truck out back and we went through 27 kegs for the weekend,” Mills said. “Saturday morning was always kegs and eggs. The whole purpose of the weekend was to get smashed and do stupid stuff.”
As he turned around to look at the current Phi Sigs shouting and chanting on their front lawn holding their drinks in the air in a huddle, Mills said things have not changed.
For homecoming, past and current Greeks took time before the game to reminisce about what life was like in a sorority and fraternity during years of parties, schoolwork and camaraderie.
Becky Culley McNeil was the youngest woman in Alpha Phi when she joined the sorority in 1948. On Saturday, the tables turned when she was the oldest alumna to attend the alumni breakfast.
“I was in the first class that lived in the house,” McNeil said. “I don’t think there is any real difference from what it was back then. I really enjoyed the sorority because I got away from home and the girls were friendly.”
McNeil attended the breakfast with her granddaughter, Nichole Schmelz, current house manager of Alpha Phi. Schmelz said her grandmother being an Alpha Phi had some influence on her joining the sorority.
“I went through informal recruitment where I looked at only a couple of chapters, Schmelz said. “I know that my grandmother was in Alpha Phi at this chapter and I felt it was something worth looking into, and it ended up being a better fit.”
Karen Deer Sutton, a Chi Omega alumna from 1989, came back to the house for the first time in 23 years Saturday.
Sutton came with her young daughter and her mother, Ronda Deer, who was a former national regional director of Chi Omega.
“I grew up knowing about sorority life and knowing that is what I wanted to do,” she said.
Both Schmelz and McNeil agreed the women who have joined their Alpha Phi chapter over the years have stayed the same.
“I haven’t heard very many changes as far as personalities goes,” Schmelz said. “It sounds like our girls have always been very easy-going; none of our girls are really stuck-up, aside from your occasional one or two exceptions. Stereotypes are never really that accurate.”
However, fraternity members have seen a difference in the kinds of men that come into Greek life.
“I think they (fraternities) have expanded as far as the people they get,” said Chris Warman, 2004 graduate from Sigma Chi. “When I was here, there were not nearly as many freshmen.”
Warman said fraternities are trying to attract a more diverse crowd, such as athletes, for example.
“It’s not just the people who don’t do anything besides the fraternity,” he said.
There was a time when Greek organizations had trouble finding members.
McNeil said during the time of May 4 and the Vietnam War, when her children were in college, there was a lot of unrest and many people didn’t want to be a Greek.
“For what I have heard, when this house was built, it was built as apartment-style because of the May 4th shootings,” Schmelz said. “With that happening they (the university) weren’t sure if sororities were going to last.”
Deer, who graduated from Hillsdale College in Michigan in 1960, said some Greek traditions have died out, but some have stayed around.
“You still have big sisters and little sisters,” Deer said. “We had exchange dinners where 10 Chi Omegas would go to the Delt (Delta Tau Delta) and 10 of them would come over to the Chi Omega house during my generation. We used to have serenades. If you got pinned to a fraternity, six months after, the whole fraternity came and serenaded you.”
House life: Then and now
Dave McCarthy, Phi Sigma Kappa alumnus who has handled alumni affairs for the chapter for the past 10 years, said the number of people in rooms and luxuries in the house has changed since he lived there.
“Everyone pretty much has their own room, everyone’s got their own TV for playing video games,” he said. “When I was here we had one video game, Nintendo, downstairs. It was so arcade style, no one knew how to turn it on half the time.”
Sean Nicklos, 2003 Sigma Chi alumnus, said the fraternity house is surprisingly cleaner.
“I think the difference over the years as we come back as alumni with the house is that the guys here keep it pretty clean, especially for 16 guys in one house,” Nicklos said.
Before 1972, the Alpha Phi house was located on Main Street where the current Alpha Tau Omega house is located. Dues were only $38 compared to nearly $100 now. Sorority chapters maxed out at 60 members and the women had to sign in and out whenever they left the house. They had the tradition of having a housemother like they do today.
Sutton said in the 1980s, they had traditions such as memorizing the history of the sorority.
“You were more told what to do, now it is a more welcome thing. We had to interview the girls, we had to memorize the history of Chi Omega; where now you just learn about it.”
Sutton said traditions such as mandatory interviews were actually beneficial in getting to know her sisters when she was a pledge, but they were eliminated in the 1990s due to new hazing policies.
McCartney from Phi Sigma Kappa said his fraternity had eliminated the hazing in between the late 1980s and early ’90s.
“The kids in there now, they don’t get in any trouble. They are pretty well-behaved. I like that,” he said.
Greek life now
Matt Speed, rush chair for Phi Sigma Kappa, said going Greek was one of the best decisions he made in his life.
“It’s just the sickest thing I have ever been a part of in my life, and I don’t understand why everyone on campus has never gone Greek,” Speed said. “We clearly do other stuff besides drink and party. It’s not one big constant party. One of our basic principles is school and scholarship.”
Jeanette Nachman, president of Chi Omega, said the motives to join a Greek organization have definitely changed.
“I would say that women went into sororities in the past to get friendships,” Nachman said. “It wasn’t about networking, you weren’t focusing on your career. But here, now, it’s about the scholarships, to keep your grades up, it’s about getting your networking, to find so-and-so who has a lot of money to work underneath them.”
Even after graduating only two years ago, Sigma Chi alumnus Mike Little said he has noticed the Greek community at Kent has gotten stronger.
“Every time I come back to my chapter it seems stronger. When I walk around campus it seems that everyone is pretty proud about Greek life,” Little said.
Contact Greek life reporter Samantha Donegan