Eta Chapter of Kappa Delta Rho
The Eta Chapter of Kappa Delta Rho was formed on the campus of the University of Illinois in the fall of 1919 as a small local fraternity called Delta Pi. The local chapter operated and grew for the first two years of its existence. In the fall of 1920, the chapter petitioned the National Fraternity of Kappa Delta Rho, which was undergoing an expansion process at the time. Following meetings and correspondence, the membership of Delta Pi, feeling that the goals, standards, and expectations of Kappa Delta Rho matched their own, voted to join the National Fraternity. On February 21, 1921, the local Delta Pi Chapter was chartered as the Eta Chapter of Kappa Delta Rho.
The chapter first occupied a residential house located at Fourth and John. Today the phone company building sits on this site. The chapter grew quickly, and with a growing housing need on campus, many fraternities were building chapter homes, which permitted increased occupancy. An alumni board led the process to design and build a new chapter house.
Chapter alumni, Harold Vagtborg and his brother Henning, designed the new house. An alumni committee led the process to raise the funds necessary to build the house. The Eta Building Association raised $70,000 to cover the cost of construction by issuing coupon bonds to investors, who included alumni, parents, and other persons in several Midwestern states. A site was acquired in Champaign on South Williamson Street (later renamed South Second Street), and construction was completed in the fall of 1928.
At the time of its completion, the chapter house held approximately 50 men. It was a modern luxury residential mansion and reflected well on the chapter brotherhood, which comprised athletes, scholars, and leaders in a wide cross section of campus organizations. The residential rooms were for studying, and the brothers all slept in a large cold-air dorm, which comprised approximately two-thirds of the third floor of the building.
Following completion in 1928, the chapter very quickly ran into challenges faced by much of American society as the Great Depression took hold with the market collapse in 1929. Finances were extremely tight, students left school to return home, and it was through thrift and austerity, along with support from those alumni who could, that the Eta Building Association was able to continue to operate the facility.
Having survived the Great Depression, the chapter was next faced with the beginning of WWII. Virtually overnight, a majority of college-age men were drafted into the military to respond to perhaps the greatest threat our nation ever faced. Interestingly enough, all of the new military recruits had to be trained, and the military leased the chapter house to house recruits during their training. The area now occupied by what most alumni would recognize as the six-pack dorms was, at the time, occupied by military barracks. Anyone returning to the Eta Chapter house during this time would have been met by a military guard at any door.
Following the War, the surviving brothers returned to campus to resume their lives and studies. They repopulated the house and began to regrow the membership. This process was challenging, given that there were older students who had faced some of the greatest ordeals in the war that one can imagine. The regrowth challenges culminated in the 1950s with an intervention by the alumni board to reorganize the chapter.
The chapter operated relatively smoothly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Invariably, as society evolved and changed, so did the focus among the brotherhood, as the photos can depict: changing hair styles and clothing styles. However, at the core, the brotherhood of ΚΔΡ and the spirit of ΚΔΡ were solid. In the 1980s, the chapter, while comprising good guys, ran into difficulties as membership declined, and by 1990, the Eta Building Association board made a very difficult decision to close the chapter and, with the involvement and support of the National Fraternity, reorganize.
At the time, finances were tight. The Building Association was able to pay the bills by leasing the chapter house to the men of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity for two years while they renovated their own chapter house on campus. For the fall 1993 and spring 1994 academic year, the house was boarded up and closed. For the brothers of ΚΔΡ, that was a particularly challenging year, and it was hard to see their beloved and beautiful mansion sitting dark.
In the fall of 1993, a recolonization effort was led by Eta alumnus and then executive director of the National Fraternity, Bill Paris ’87. The Eta Building Association, led at the time by Dale Schaffenacker ’78, worked hand in hand with the national staff to recruit and support a new group of men to reconstitute the Eta Chapter. The new chapter group prospered, not without setbacks, but through their diligence and vision, they grew and strengthened.
At the time of the recolonization, the National Fraternity was stretched thin in terms of resources and staffing, and the ultimate success of the recolonization of the chapter was largely due to the vision and dedication of the re-founding brothers and the active cooperation and team spirit between the alumni and the National Fraternity. The ultimate result was the re-chartering of the chapter in fall 1994 at Homecoming.
Beginning in the early 2000s, the Eta Building Association board began to realize that the aging chapter house would need to be substantially renovated. While work had been done over the years, a major overhaul had never been done. In addition, the City of Champaign adopted an ordinance in 2005 that, within five years, all houses had to install a fire sprinkler system.
A building committee was created. At the time it was co-chaired by Bill Paris ’87 and Chris Jahn ’97. Other committee members included Bob McCormick ’79, Mark Winters ’75, Don Russell ’70, and Brian Vladovich ’99. The committee looked at whether replacement made sense or whether a renovation was more appropriate. At the same time, a feasibility study was conducted to determine whether a successful capital campaign could take place to support the project.
In 2007, the Eta Building Association undertook a major capital campaign to support the projected $1.8 million renovation project. The brothers of ΚΔΡ responded with more than 230 brothers making a financial pledge, raising more than $1,070,000 toward the overall cost of the project. The active chapter members moved out of the house in June 2009, and for the following academic year, construction was underway. At Homecoming in October, 2010, a gathering of the brotherhood officially dedicated the renovated chapter home.
Today, the active chapter occupies the chapter’s historic home. The Eta Building Association, lead by volunteer alumni, oversees and manages the property in conjunction with the chapter. Through careful stewardship, Kappa Delta Rho is one of the best maintained and operated fraternity facilities at the University of Illinois. As ΚΔΡs, the members take great pride in the historic nature and beauty of our chapter home.