By Matt "Frodo" Anderson, 1683, with additions in 1997 by Sam Boone-Lutz, 1734
In the beginning, before Washington Beta, there existed many campus social organizations. One such group, The Illahee Club, was clearly the campus leader. The Illahee group was a society of men that took their name from an Indian phrase meaning "From the Earth". Members of the Illahee group were consistently on top in scholastics, campus involvement, athletics, and social life.
The Illahee Club petitioned Phi Delta Theta Fraternitiy for a charter in 1914. They chose Phi Delta Theta because of the strong fellowship and conviction evident within the fraternity guidelines. As part of this petition, they had letters of support from the Presidents of both Whitman College and the University of Washington, the Governor of the State of Washington, and several members of the faculty at Whitman. These letters spoke of the quality of men that were in the Illahee group and their contributions to their campus and the community. President Penrose's letter praised the men for their conviction to scholarship and their high degree of morals.
The installation ceremony for Washington Beta occured on April 1, 1914 and Washington Beta received a charter to become a full priviledged chapter of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. The installation of Washington Beta heralded the arrivial of Greek organizations on campus. Later that year, Beta Theta Pi became a chapter at the college. The other fraternities on campus followed much later.
Before 1914, alumni of the Illahee Club had donated several acres of land to the group. They began construction on the house after a fund raising drive from their Illahee alumni and the house was finally built in 1914, just after the charter was awarded.
The very first man initiated into Washington Beta was Harold 'Doc' Lyman. As an original Illahee member instrumental in bringing Phi Delta Theta to Whitman College, he was granted the honor of being Bond Number 1. He later went on to teach at Whitman, and was so respected by the faculty and students, that a building, Lyman Hall, was given in his name. Harold Lyman was continually involved in the Greek system, eventually helping to bring Delta Gamma Sorority to Whitman.
From 1914 to the start of WWII, the Phi Delts enjoyed a period of unparalleled prosperity at Whitman. During this time, a number of respected men joined the ranks of Phi Delta Theta. They include Harper Joy, whose lifelong dedication to the theater and to vaudeville earned a theater on this campus in his name. Ralph Cordiner went on to become the CEO of General Electric and donated a performance hall to Whitman College that bears his name. Donald Sherwood, who founded the Sherwood & Roberts Investment Company, has the honor of being the single largest donor to Whitman College. He helped construct Lakum Duckum, which is naturally heated so that the ducks will never fly south. Dorsey Baker graduated from Whitman and later founded the Baker Boyer Bank. His contributions led to the creation of the Baker Faculty Center. Molly Miller, a first team All-American basketball player, continues his dedication to Phi Delta Theta to this day. Washington Beta's chapter room is named after Molly for his commitment.
Due to the United State's involvement in WWII, a number of undergraduates were called up to fight for their country, including many members of Phi Delta Theta. The fraternity had great difficulty continuing with the low membership. Due to the low numbers, the alumni group allowed a women's social organization to live in the house. These women went on to petition and gain acceptance into the Delta Delta Delta Sorority.
A number of important alumni came from this period of time. Bob T. Rhay served as a fighter pilot in WWII, becoming an ace flying missions over Europe and making a squadron record of seven confirmed kills. While at Whitman, he ran track and cross country, earning the nickname 'Rabbit' due to his records in three different track events. After graduating, Bobby Rhay went on to erve as Warden at the State Penitentiary for 30 years. Robert 'Spud' Stevens owned the Garden City Carpet Center for many years and serves as Chapter Advisor. Pete Reid, now a special assistant to the President of Whitman College, served as Treasurer for Whitman College for many years until 1990. Pete is the Treasurer/Secretary of the Illahee House Corporation and coordinates most alumni activity for Phi Delta Theta.
From the time the Phis returned from the war until the mid-60's, Phi Delts picked up where they left off. From 1956 to 1959, Washington Beta won the highest award given by the International Fraternity, the Kansas City Trophy. This trophy goes to the most outstanding chapter of Phi Delta Theta across the country (incidentally, the Washington Beta chapter was runner-up for this award in 1996-1997). In these years, the Phi Delts won a total of eight Kansas City Trophies, as well as Harvard Trophies, Cleveland Trophies, Gold Star Awards, and Silver Star Awards.
During the start of the seventies, the consistency of excellence shown by Phi Delta Theta started to take a toll. The membership grew to an uncontrollable number, at one point having one- sixth of the male student body as members. The house began to believe it was invincible, and soon began to take pride in new activities, such as hazing, heavy drinking, and drug usage.
This lack of respect for the principles of the fraternity led to the Phis' downfall. They quit applying for awards, and were largely feared by the campus. This lead to a loss of campus and administration support, till finally in the Spring of 1985 the alumni revoked the charter. The house was over $40,000 in debt and no longer had any supporters. The alumni closed the house at the end of the school year, confiscated the property, and converted all of the active Phi Delts to alumni status. All pledges were summarily depledged.
During the fall of the following year, a group of three freshmen approached Pete Reid, then the Treasurer of Whitman College, to discuss the possibility of starting an interest group to reinstate the chapter. These men were Dave Anderson, Ted Kulongowski, and Charles Steele. Pete Reid was impressed with their commitment and agreed to support them. Pete was later joined by Robert Stevens and Bob Rhay in his support of the return of Washington Beta, and all three were instrumental to its return.
The Phi Delta Theta Interest group was soon formed. This group was composed of men who were dissatisfied with the Greek system and wished to have a group that would aid them in increasing their scholastic opportunities and social interactions without the presence of alcohol. In the spring of that year, the college recognized their status as an Interest Group. This meant they were allowed to participate in Intrafraternity activities such as Rush and IFC, to a limited degree.
That summer, a number of the members, along with the aid of the alumni, worked to restore the house. When the old Phis lost their charter, they threw a final party which consisted of demolishing the interior of the house. Many of the doors, windows, and fixtures of the house were destroyed, and many of the trophies were lost. Under the direction of Brek Lawson, a clean-up process was began. Pete Reid conducted an alumni drive that generated over $250,000 for the repairs. The house was restored to liveable status by this effort. Another side effect of the loss of the charter was that the College bought the house. The Illahee Corporation leases the house from the College, and in turn the Phis now pay rent to the Illahee Corporation.
After the summer of work, the Phis returned to the campus on a positive note. Greeting this enthusiasm was the opposition of the old Phis. They felt that they had been unfairly treated and that the new group was yet another insult. They caused much difficulty for Dave Anderson, the president of the group, and the rest of the Phi hopefuls. In spite of this, the group managed to achieve Colony status.
The next goal was to become an active chapter. This required overcoming a GPA deficiency that had plagued the group from inception. The Council of Student Affairs required that the Phi Interest Group achieve a GPA level competitive with the rest of the Greek organizations. The Phis also suffered in Rush, pledging only three men the next fall. Regardless of these setbacks, the Phi Delta Theta Colony became a full Chapter on April 2, 1989, seventy-five years and one day after the original Chapter had been founded.
After the chapter was awarded, the Phis pledged sixteen men during the following fall. This would be the beginning of a revitalized house intent on regaining the respect of the Whitman community. This effort has paid off in many areas. The scholarship of the house has improved to the extent that Phi Delts have held the highest GPA among all campus groups for a number of consecutive semesters. A number of philanthropy projects were started, including the annual Teeter-Totter-A-Thon with the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority and highway clean-up with the Delta Gamma Sorority.
On campus Phi Delta Theta has had a strong presence. At one point, Phi Delts held four out of five leadership positions in ASWC. Phi Delts have been active in many varsity sports, with a number of varsity captain positions, and have fielded various teams in Intramural competitions. The Pioneer has had a number of Phi Delts in key positions, to the extent that it was referred to as the "Phioneer". In 1994, the Phi Delts won the annual Chorale competition held by the college. Phi Delt pledge classes have ranged up to 25 pledges in a Rush period.
An important change in Phi Delt policy was the banning of kegs. This was a step intended to begin greater responsibiliy towards alcohol usage, and to change the focus of parties from drinking to social interaction.
In 1994, long time Phi Delt and Whitman benefactor Donald Sherwood died. This was on the eve of Phi Delta Theta's 80th Anniversary, an event that will be culminated with a grand alumni reception. His death opens up a place in the ranks of legendary Washington Beta Phi Delts, a place that the new generations of this chapter will be challenged to fill.
In the fall of 1996, concerns about diminishing membership were laid to rest with a pledge class of 21 men, one of the largest in recent history. Together with a sizeable spring, 1997 pledge class, Phi Delta Theta was once again the largest house on campus. Nearly one fifth of all men in the class of 2000 initiated into Phi Delta Theta.
Lead by momentum from the 1996-1997 school year, the 1997 Fall rush was even more successful than the year before. Hard work by the actives paid off with an amazing pledge class of 25 men. This has raised house membership to over 70 men, leaving Phi Delta Theta the domainant house on campus.