April 25, 1959: The day that The Veterans Club was chartered into Lambda Chi Alpha, initiating over 100 members.
History of the Veterans Club at Arkansas State, chartering of the Lambda Chi Alpha chapter
By James E. Stephens, Iota-Theta 5
After the Korean War (June 25, 1950-July 27, 1953) several hundred thousand military personnel turned home and were greeted with unemployment. That‘s the bad news. The good news was the GI Bill, which provided a day of schooling for each day service, with a maximum of 48 months.
A few hundred of these vets ended up at Arkansas State College and in order to maintain some form of camaraderie among the troops, the Vets Club was formed. This happened in the fall of 1955 when 14 men under the leadership of Max Pylant petitioned the college to accept its charter.
The veterans were on the average about five years older than the other freshmen. It made a huge difference between 18-year-olds just out of high school and men at least age 23 who had returned from a war. We did not want to take freshman physical education, which was a requirement at the time. We had spent months of basic training, man-to-man combat training and 50-mile marches. We did not choose to take beginners‘ PE, where three push-ups would earn you a B. Jim Wimberly, ‘58, had a discussion with Dean Robert Moore in regard to this matter and within a few hours the registrar announced that vets no longer needed to take PE as a graduation requirement.
This is another reason we did not want to join an existing fraternity. It was the age factor! At that time most of the frats practiced hazing before the possible initiate was invited to join. They were asked, for instance, to find a pair of ladies‘ underwear. The clues were something like this: “Look in the empty Coke bottles at the Wigwam for your first clue. That may take you to the barber shop where you looked through the hair that had been cut that week, leading you to a clue that said go to the college pond, and the next clue would be in a Mayonnaise jar, hermetically sealed, at the bottom of the lake, etc, etc.” Hey, most of the veterans were married with young families. If we wanted a pair of ladies‘ panties, we would just go home.
Here is the list of the first 14 members: Curtis Baltz, Jack Calkins, Scrivner Ennis, Wilbur Estes, Tom French, Henry Gschwend, Clifford Mayo, Don Norwood, Max Pylant, Franklin Smith, Jim Sulcer, Bill Swan, Billy Taylor, Donald Vancil, and the Faculty Advisor was John Ed Cramer. Max Pylant‘s brother, Jackie, was later a member of the Veterans Club and a charter member of Lambda Chi Alpha.
In 1956 the Club grew to 61 members, and Harold Davis, from Walnut Ridge was the president. One of our greatest regrets is that Harold graduated in January 1958 and never had a chance to be a member of LXA. Sometime in the mid-1970s he lost his life in an auto accident in England.
Tom French of Rector became president in 1957 with a membership of 62. By this time we were well-recognized on campus and also very respected by the students, other social clubs and the administration. We had become a service club to the college. In the eyes of many, including the administration, we had gone from “Party Animal” to BMOC (big men on campus). That‘s the image we worked for and tried to always maintain. We did this with humility and pride. We felt we owed something for the GI Bill given to us by citizens of this Great Land. We wanted to give something back!
Here are a few of the accomplishments of the Veterans Club:
• Erected a large “Welcome to Arkansas State College” sign at the campus entrance on Caraway Road. • Established tutoring and study groups. • Regularly topped all social organizations in grade point average. • Handled publications of school newspaper and yearbook. • Provided leadership in Student Government and other service clubs. • Pruned and fertilized all trees that were damaged from the ice storm of 1957. • Planted new trees in spring of 1958. • Poured sidewalks in Indian Village. • Established the first blood bank at St. Bernards Hospital. The Vets were on call 24/7 as donors.
When we went Greek, we signed 27 of the 28 pledges we were recruiting for our first pledge class. The only prospect we lost was a brother of the president of another fraternity.
Ruth Lindley of Jonesboro was the first Veterans Club Sweetheart (1956-57), followed by Gaylene Houck of Oran, Mo. (1957-58). The Crescent Girl of the LXA Colony was Carol Carr of Mountain Home (1958-59). Sue Cato was the first Crescent Girl of Iota Theta Zeta (1959-60).
Why from the Vets Club to a fraternity?
There were many reasons why we began to think about affiliating with a fraternity of our own choosing:
• We wanted our club to endure — to have a place where we could return. • We wanted to have the equal recognition status afforded the fraternities. • We didn‘t want to split up and join other Greek groups — we wanted to keep our brotherhood together. • We were an “older crowd” and didn‘t want to join “the younger generation.” • We didn‘t like the hazing aspect of the other fraternities on campus.
Then why did we choose Lambda Chi Alpha?
We had a new member in the Veterans Club who had transferred from the University of Arkansas. In our discussions about the longevity of the Vets Club and the benefits of becoming a fraternity, Donald Ray James spoke up and said he was a Lambda Chi at the University of Arkansas and had joined the Vets Club after transferring in because ASC had no Lambda Chi. He just suggested if we planned to explore going in that direction we might consider talking to LXA.
That was our first lead. Jim Wimberly led a small group to explore the possibilities with the administration. Dean of Students Robert Moore, of course, was our contact.
Then along came George Spasyk, LXA traveling secretary from Indianapolis, Ind., who guided us in formation of the colony. He flew into Memphis and drove through the farming country to Jonesboro in a rental car. We were taking turns at sentry duty to greet George when he drove up. Jim Stephens was on duty at the time, and when George got out of the car, the first thing he said was, “Why in the world did you contact us?” Jim‘s response was, “We thought we‘d start at the top and work down if we had to.” In April 1958 we became a colony, which had a mandatory minimum 1-year trial period, allowing each side “a chance to look each other over,” so to speak.
The colony‘s officers were: Alfred C. Lindsey, president; James D. King, vice president; D.L. Bailey, secretary; Thomas H. Luter, treasurer; James E. Stephens, social chairman; Curtis M. Baltz, ritualist; Jimmy L. Clement, pledge director; and James W. Lundberg, rush chairman.
The colony was chartered into Lambda Chi Alpha on April 25, 1959. One hundred members were initiated on that date, and Charles P. Weidman, Blytheville (1959), became the first initiate, standing in for all of us.
The first officers of the full-fledged fraternity were: Jimmy L. Clement, president; Charles Long, vice president; Larry R. Cantwell, secretery; James H. Weaver, treasurer; Wayne Starnes, social chairman; John W. Hoggard, chaplain; James D. King, rush chairman; James W. Lundberg, pledge trainer. Roy E. Dawson was the first faculty adviser.
In Lambda Chi Alpha the members are assigned Zeta numbers in numerical order as they become members. The first 12 were selected by a secret ballot vote of the members. Succeeding members get their numbers as they are initiated. This normally occurs by alphabetizing each pledge class.
Here are the first 12 members of LXA at Arkansas State: #1 — James E. Wimberly; #2 — Thomas A. French; #3 — Robert W. Yates; #4 — Alfred C. Lindsey; #5 — James E. Stephens; #6 — Darrell E. Johnson; #7 — Curtis M. Baltz; #8 — Henry C. Gschwend; #9 — Ronald M. Slayton; #10 — Shirl D. Strauser; #11 — Macon D. Faulkner; and #12 — James H. Price.
Sixty years after its founding, there are more than 1,500 alumni of Iota-Theta Zeta of Lambda Chi Alpha at Arkansas State University, and the chapter continues to thrive and grow.