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Chapter 14 - Renaissance and Centennial: 2007-2012

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After the Denison University Board of Trustees decreed on April 22, 1995, that fraternity members could no longer live in their own chapter houses, some fraternities sold their chapter houses to the university. However, like several others, the Board of Trustees of the Gamma-Xi Alumni Association entered into a lease agreement with the university. It provided that the upper two floors of the chapter house, containing the dormitory rooms and a large living room, would be under university control and would be separated by walls and locked doors from the lower level, which was retained and became the Kappa Sigma lodge.

A serious hazing incident in 2004 had led to the suspension, effective May 11, of Kappa Sigma by the Denison administration for a period of three years. The Supreme Executive Committee of Kappa Sigma also withdrew the chapter’s charter on May 11, and on May 15, the SEC expelled Gamma-Xi’s five executive officers and suspended its other 19 undergraduate members. The Alumni Association continued to manage the chapter house, receiving rental payments from the university for its use of the property as a dormitory, all the while planning for the return of the chapter.

But was the chapter inactive? There were rumors of a “descendent” underground organization called “KZ,” apparently established by some of the suspended and/or expelled members of the 2004 chapter. The university questioned Kappa Sigma headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia, about any connection with the group and was assured that there was no direct or indirect sponsorship or toleration of this sub rosa group by Kappa Sigma.

The seeds of the revival of Gamma-Xi Chapter were planted in January 2007 by a letter from Richard S. Bonesteel ʼ52, secretary of the Gamma-Xi Alumni Association Board of Trustees, to Dr. Samuel J. Thios, Denison Vice President for Student Affairs, requesting an opportunity to recolonize the chapter during the 2007-2008 school year and after the three-year suspension. Dr. Thios responded in February, warning that Sigma Alpha Epsilon had attempted a revival, but that the joint effort of their national headquarters and Denison alumni had yielded only four interested men. He stated that the university currently had a closed expansion policy for fraternities, but that if that policy changed, preference would be given to fraternities that had strong Denison alumni support.

Undaunted, the spring of 2007, Donald J. Bren ʼ52, who had served as District Grand Master for Ohio in the early 1970s, contacted Kappa Sigma’s Executive Director Mitchell B. “Mic” Wilson. This led to a conference call in May between Alumni Association President David W. Horning ʼ72, Bonesteel, Bren, and Head¬quarters staff members Mic Wilson and Director of Colony Development Christopher P. Kontalonis, who together commenced the efforts to secure approval to attempt to return the chapter to Denison. In November, a Headquarters letter to Dr. Thios requesting a meeting to discuss possible recolonization was answered with the need to submit a formal request to return to campus.

Over the winter a letter requesting the opportunity to return Kappa Sigma to Denison was prepared and in March 2008, sent to the Denison administration and Interfraternity Council.

The response from the university in April was that they would not meet with Kappa Sigma. Immediately, a letter was sent to all Gamma-Xi alumni describing the situation. Shortly thereafter, the university did agree to meet with head¬quarters and chapter alumni leaders.

On June 16, Gamma-Xi alumni leaders, Horning, Bonesteel, Bren, Irvin H. Harlamert ʼ52, and Ferdinand Bach III ʼ52, along with Wilson and Kontalonis from Headquarters, met with Denison administration officials Thios and Associate Dean of Men John Beckman in Granville. The result of this meeting was reluctant granting of permission to contact the Denison Interfraternity Council and to seek their approval to proceed.

In August, Kontalonis wrote the IFC, requesting the ability to make a presenta¬tion before that body. In September, the IFC rejected the opportunity.

In October 2008, a letter was sent by board secretary Dick Bonesteel, to all Gamma-Xi alumni, explaining the situation and urging them to contact university leaders, from the top down, to demand a reversal of the IFC decision.

The pressure on the administration clearly made a difference. A renewed request to the IFC was finally accepted and in April 2009 Kappa Sigma was invited to make a presentation before the IFC.

On May 5, Mic Wilson and Director of Recruitment and Expansion Carl J. Reisch from Headquarters, along with Dave Horning, Don Bren and Dick Bonesteel from the Gamma-Xi Alumni Associ¬a¬tion met with the IFC. Wilson had contacted other national fraternity headquarters and had solicited and received support for Kappa Sigma’s return to Denison, and this support was transmitted to the IFC.

There was a general feeling from the Denison administration that Kappa Sigma’s return to the campus would not be successful, but the IFC approved a fall 2009 recoloniza¬tion effort and the administration agreed it could go forward.

In the early fall of 2009, Kappa Sigma Area Recruitment Managers Matthew A. Bemister and Matthew R. Rippetoe arrived on the Denison campus and commenced putting up posters, announcing that the Kappa Sigma Fraternity was seeking to establish an interest group of unaffiliated Denison men with the goal of becoming first a colony and then a chapter of Kappa Sigma.

Alumni president Horning joined Bemister and Rippetoe in the resulting meetings, held initially in a campus dormitory lobby, and indicated the strong character and financial stability of the chapter Alumni Association, including the fact that the alumni owned a chapter house on campus.

William D. Curto ʼ11 and Alper Tuzcu ʼ11 were two of the first persons expressing interest. Will was the son of James K. Curto ʼ73 and Alper was a student from Istanbul, Turkey, with family in Boston. They were most instrumental in the efforts. After a month or so of information sessions, many members of the Denison swim team became interested. Patrick Kirsch ʼ10, a swimmer, became the driving force as soon as he became involved.

Another early member of the interest group was Michael S. Cobb ʼ11, who reported that he attended several of the initial meetings with his roommates James W. “Jake” Lewing ʼ11, Kyle J. Chabot ʼ11, and Andrew A. Krawchyk ʼ11. “We were all very hesitant about the idea of joining a fraternity, but were sold, in part, by the enthusiasm of Matt Bemister. We were very much motivated by the idea that we could make Kappa Sigma into a unique experience, something different from the other fraternities on campus.”

After the initial meetings in October at the dormitory, which about 15 to 20 men attended, subsequent meetings, usually weekly through November and December, were held in the ground floor rooms of the chapter house, which was then in the process of repair and remodeling by the Alumni Association,  as they hadn’t been used in several long years. Either Matt Bemister or Dave Horning would be present for these meetings, offering tremendous amounts of support and encouragement, along with promises of financial support.

From the earliest meetings of the interest group it was obvious that members of the varsity swim team would dominate the group. This presence continued throughout the colony period and well into 2011. Over a third of the colony members were a varsity swimmer or diver.

Funds accumulated from rental of the upper floors to the university provided for substantial renovation of the ground floor. The old dining room became a lounge and the commercial-style kitchen was completely renovated to remove all the old facilities and to install residential-style refrigerator, stove, sink, and dishwasher, together with lots of cabinets. A room originally planned as a trunk room (back in the days students brought trunks!) had long before been converted to a ground floor dormitory room but was now converted, along with the old “Green Room,” (originally an office) into study rooms. The lodge provided an attractive space for relaxing and studying with brothers, and for games, television, snacks, and an occasional meal.

The interest group grew during the fall and     favorable reports to the Supreme Executive Committee of Kappa Sigma led to its approving the establishment of the Gamma-Xi Colony on October 15. Kirsch was elected Grand Master of the colony and the pledging ceremony was conducted by Alpha-Sigma Chapter at Ohio State and District Grand Master Toby H. Taylor, a 1995 initiate of Epsilon-Psi Chapter at Lambuth University, on December 12, 2009, as 25 members of the interest group became Kappa Sigma pledges. 

The Kappa Sigma Colony Development Program is an extensive and intensive test of a new colony’s staying power, financial stability, campus and community service, scholarship, and brotherly cohesiveness.     Among the many requirements the colony was charged to meet were submitting details of their by-laws and scholarship, recruitment, liability, risk management, pledge, and big brothers program; conducting workshops for academic/time management, date rape, sexually transmitted diseases, and My Brother’s Keeper (Kappa Sigma’s renown alcohol and drug education program); showing that every member participated in at least one campus organization; maintaining an overall membership grade-point average above the all-men’s GPA; completing 25 hours of community service per member; and raising the $2,500 chartering fee.

The chartering fee was a gift of the Alumni Association, which also provided significant funding for many of the colony’s operational expenses.

Participating in rush for the first time, the colony added six additional pledges on January 31, 2010, and seven more on March 7.

A serious bump in the road was encountered on April 16, 2010. The colony was accused of violating school policies and the Kappa Sigma Code of Conduct as a result of participating in a spontaneous, unregistered, alcohol-related event on campus. Sanctions were handed down after a hearing by the university on May 5 and by Kappa Sigma on July 2. The university placed the colony on probation through the fall of 2010 and required 100% chapter participation in an educational risk management program and strict adherence to the university alcohol-related policy. The fraternity required that the colony meet to review the Kappa Sigma Code of Conduct and to accelerate the finalizing of the Colony Development Program.

When the 2010-2011 school year commenced in late August, Kirsch had graduated and Jake Lewing was elected the second Grand Master of the colony.

During the fall, the colony members made a trip to Hico, West Virginia, where they went camping and whitewater rafting down the Gauley River, noted for its exciting and varied rides, but most importantly, for the purpose of bonding into a brotherhood. Every fall since then, the chapter has returned for the experience.

 


On December 17, 2010, District Grand Master Toby Taylor, formally recommended the rechartering of Gamma-Xi Chapter. He wrote to the Supreme Executive Committee: “Throughout the colonization process, the gentlemen of the Gamma-Xi colony have personified the ideals of our Order. The future of one of Kappa Sigma’s oldest chapters is in good hands. These gentlemen represent everything that the Kappa Sigma Fraternity stands for, and I look forward to standing beside them as Brothers of our Order in the near future.”

Two day later, Andrew L. Branum, a 2005 initiate of Chi Chapter at Purdue University and a member of the Colony and Development Commission of Kappa Sigma, a group of volunteer officers who were specially trained in the Colony Development program, submitted his report to the SEC: “This letter is to show my full support and recommendation for chartering of the Gamma-Xi colony at Denison University. Over the 140 days that I have been involved with the Colony . . . , they have not only met all of their goals, but done so with a great drive and perseverance.”

On the 21st, Katelin L. Getz, Assistant Director of Student Activities at Denison wrote Kappa Sigma Headquarters: “I have been truly impress with the progress of the Kappa Sigma Colony at Denison University. The men of Kappa Sigma have learned a lot throughout their recolonization process. I am happy to report that Kappa Sigma Colony is once again in good standing with Denison University. I support the Kappa Sigma Colony’s petition for chartering.”

On January 5, 2011, Director of Chapter Operations Chris Kontalonis submitted the request for approval of installation to the Supreme Executive Committee. He reported that the colony had completed every aspect of the Colony Development Program: “They currently average 42 hours of community service per man. The GPA for the colony is above the All Men’s Average. The largest fraternity at Denison is currently 48 men. However, the Colony is hoping to be approved at this point with 43 men since they are on a deferred recruitment system, and have approximately 20 prospects for recruitment which starts on January 25th.” The normal standard for approval is 50 men or largest on campus, so a waiver was requested in order that the installation could occur in February.

The reinstallation of Gamma-Xi Chapter was the feature of the Southern Ohio District Conclave, held at Lazenby Hall at Ohio State University in Columbus on Saturday and Knapp Hall at Denison on Sunday, February 19-20, 2011. Alpha-Sigma Chapter at Ohio State University was the host, and the Omicron-Rho chapter from University of Michigan-Flint was also in attendance. Saturday was filled with the business of the District Conclave, seminars and workshops, led by District Grand Master Toby Taylor; Assistant District Grand Master Randy L. Robbins, a 2003 initiate of Theta-Nu Chapter at Ashland University; Alpha Sigma Alumnus Advisor Dan Tierney; and Area Recruitment Manager Nic Josey.

Initiation of the Gamma-Xi men commenced on Saturday, while the district conclave was in progress. The first initiate was colony Grand Master Jake Lewing, followed by other chapter officers members. Those who were on the Denison swim team had a meet that day, and were initiated on Sunday in Granville.

On Sunday morning, February 20, one hundred years and five days after its original installation, Gamma-Xi Chapter was once again formally opened by Taylor and officers from Alpha-Sigma Chapter.

When all of the eligible colony members had been initiated (11 men pledged on January 31, were initiated on April 1, after serving their pledgeship), the Explanatory Lecture was given by DGM Taylor.

Next, the colony officers were installed as the chapter officers: Jake Lewing, Grand Master; Sean M. Redmond ʼ11, Grand Procurator; Mike Cobb, Grand Master of Ceremonies; Jonathan D. Tzeng ʼ11, Grand Scribe; and Michael A. DeSantis ʼ12, Grand Treasurer.

Finally, with the assistance of experienced brothers from the other chapters, the new officers of Gamma-Xi closed the chapter.

That evening, everyone gathered at the Curtis Banquet Room on campus for the traditional installation banquet. Executive Director of Kappa Sigma, Mic Wilson, was scheduled to be the principal speaker, but a family emergency required his leaving early. DGM Taylor did the honors, presenting the new charter to Gamma-Xi officers. Other speakers were Denison University president Dale T. Knobel; James E. Vitela, Alumnus Advisor for the new chapter and a 1991 initiate of Theta-Eta Chapter at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; Dave Horning, president of the Gamma-Xi Alumni Association; Jake Lewing, Grand Master; and Mike Cobb, Grand Master of Ceremonies.

 

Cobb later wrote: “By our 2011 initiation we felt like a real fraternity. It was interesting because we wanted Kappa Sigma at Denison to be something that was molded in our identity, and to some extent, it became that, but on the other hand, we were greatly influenced by the passion and involvement of the Alumni and the history of the Ritual, and we really embraced the unique identity of Gamma-Xi. We realized that instead of ‘starting’ a fraternity, we were joining one!”

The officers installed on February 20 served for only a few weeks. On April 3, new officers for the next year were installed: Timothy D. Martin ʼ12, Grand Master; Michael J. Barczak II ʼ12, Grand Procurator; Wilson M. Fraser ʼ12, Grand Master of Ceremonies; Daniel C. Thurston ʼ12, Grand Scribe; and Julius C. Smith III ʼ13, Grand Treasurer.

Kappa Sigmas continued to lead Denison’s swimming and diving team. And what a team they were on! The fall undergraduate newsletter reported:

Denison Men’s Swimming and Diving ended the longest championship streak of any NCAA competition when they defeated the Kenyon Lords last spring by one point, largely due to the contributions of several of our Gamma-Xi brothers. When trailing by four points, heading into the men’s three-meter dive, Brother Cody Smith ʼ11 performed under mounting pressure, posting a career high score and placing fifth, helping give Denison a 9-point lead before the last event.

Brothers Andrew Krawchyk ʼ11 and Mike Barczak ʼ12 were critical in then sealing the victory, propelling the 400-meter freestyle relay team to a third-place finish. Brother Al Weik ʼ14 won an individual national title in the 1650-meter freestyle by shattering the national record of 15:14:55 by over eight seconds. Weik covered the mile-long, 66-lap swim in 15:06:47. Brothers Kyle Chabot ʼ11, Sean Chabot ʼ14, Mike Desantis ʼ12, Dan Thurston ʼ12, and captain Jake Lewing ʼ11 all made significant contributions, pacing the Big Red and leading to podium finishes in several events. 

Swimming and diving weren’t the only varsity sports where Gamma-Xi brothers participated. Members were also on the football, basketball, tennis and track teams.

For the school year, Kappa Sigma posted the second-highest grade point average on campus.

Six members of Gamma-Xi Chapter attended the 68th Biennial Grand Conclave in Las Vegas, July 27-31. GM Tim Martin, GT Julius Smith, GS Dan Thurston, Jonathan Sarver ʼ12, Garrett Wimer ʼ13, and Alper Tuzcu, attended seminars, heard messages from Fraternity leaders and guest speakers, participated in committee meetings, attended the model initiation and enjoyed the final banquet, learning that Kappa Sigma is more than one’s own chapter, but a great, expansive brotherhood of men from all over North America who learn from each other.

Over the summer of 2011, the Alumni Association completed the renovations to the lodge. Improvements included new couches, chairs, tables, and a deluxe 65-inch television. The new scarlet and emerald green carpet gave the room a traditional Kappa Sigma feel. Several windows were replaced and the walls were repainted.

In the fall, Gamma-Xi participated actively in philanthropic events, in the Inter-Fraternity Council, and in intramural sports like softball, sand volleyball, basketball, and football. Numerous trophies and awards were hanging in the house.

In December, the chapter published a 2012 calendar, “The Gentlemen of Kappa Sigma,” picturing the brothers in various poses and activities for each of the twelve months, around the campus and the chapter house. It also featured its athletes and its scholars and was sold to alumni and friends for $25 as a fund-raising project.

 

In the spring of 2012, Shawn D. Whites ʼ13 was elected the third Grand Master of the chapter.