Xi Lights Fall 2016

The Annual Theta Chi Homecomings Tailgate on October 15, 2016 outperformed the University’s football team. Despite the early start necessitated by the early game time the 120 celebrants had a good time feasting on breakfast foods until 11AM and then Earl Henderson’s traditional barbeque choices, along with venison and crab dip compliments of the Morris family (Jackie (81), Jackson (12) and Bonnie).

The Alumni Corporation’s annual meeting on Sunday October 16, 2016 yielded three new board members: Mike Atwood (74), Mark Williamson (81) and Patrick Higgins (10). We welcome them and offer our sincere gratitude to departing members Gregg Johnson (75), Jackie Morris (81) and Billy DuVal (08). Will Teass and Mark Chinn led a detailed discussion of the physical status of the house and our Annual Fund. The Board held extensive discussions to start the planning of a renovation of the garage and some long needed repairs including the in-line gutters. The generosity of the alumni has enabled us to begin the planning process. Please consider making a gift to the Annual fund to help us ensure that all of the needed projects can be completed. You can use this link to make a gift.

We publish Xi Lights only in electronic form. If you know of anyone who is not receiving Xi Lights please contact Rick Nadeau at rjnadeau333@aol.com and I will communicate with the UVA Alumni Association to clean up our mailing list.

During the renovation and expansion project in 2012 some old chapter minutes and records were located. Carter Levinson, the current President of the Chapter, recently turned these records over to the alumni corporation board. We thought that the alumni might enjoy reliving some past days of the Xi Chapter of OX from the accomplished pen of Bill Sullivan (67).

Your Board of Directors is always happy to hear from you:

Rick Nadeau (’76) – President rjnadeau333@aol.com

Will Teass (’97) – Vice President will@teass.com

Spencer Phillips (’85) – Corporate Secretary spencerrp802@gmail.com

Patrick Higgins (’10) – Treasurer phiggins388@gmail.com

Bill Sullivan (’67), wbsuva@msn.com

Mike Atwood (’74) atwood.mike@verizon.net

Mark Williamson (’81), mwilliamson@mcguirewoods.com

Mark Chinn (’91), chinn6@gmail.com

Chris Winter (’07), christopherwwinter@gmail.com


Blast from Xi Past

By Bill Sullivan (’67)

During a recent inspection of the House, your Alumni Board discovered in the attic a large trunk of old Xi Chapter records. Being a bit of a history buff, I had the trunk moved to my car by some willing brothers with limber backs, transported it back to my home in Winston-Salem, and started delving through its contents. I found a trove of early Xi history in the trunk, including some old issues of The Rattle of Theta Chi spanning (with some gaps) the late 1920s through the late 1930s.

Back in that day, The Rattle of Theta Chi contained a lot more information than in more recent years.

In a 1927 issue, I found a section entitled “At the Altar – At the Cradle,” announcing that Edward Ernest Rexrode (Xi ’27) married Miss Jane Andrews of Mineola, NY. One of the ushers was W. H. Stromenger (Xi). Demonstrating a wry sense of humor, the writer informs that “[o]n account of the possibility of embarrassing errors, no announcements will be made of engagements.”

In the earliest issue (1926) pulled from the trunk, I found this impressive blurb: “Xi Chapter challenges Alpha Epsilon’s sole right to the record of having three presidents in the chapter at one time, as it has the same number this year. Those brothers are Edward N. Hardy, Jr., who expects to get his L.L.B. in law this June and who was president in 1923-24; George M. Barner, who will receive the same degree as Hardy and who was president in 1924-25; and Stuart P. Jones, present president, and also in the School of Law at the University of Virginia.” In reading these old Rattles from the late 1920s and early 1930s, it became evident to me that Xi’s active members once included numerous graduate students in law, medicine, architecture, and other professions. It may then have been true for other social fraternities at UVA. I am not sure when that practice ended but it was certainly before my time in the 1960s.

In 1926, we had a pledge class of four – one a freshman (yes, he does not say “first year”) on the football team, another an “adjunct” (whatever that means) for boxing, a third an adjunct for basketball, and the last working for his Master’s degree (in exactly what area, our reporter fails to say). Xi brothers were on, or were trying out for, the wrestling, baseball, lacrosse and track teams, and our basketball team reached the “second brace” (second round?) of the interfraternity tournament. Various Xi brothers were involved with the Corks & Curls yearbook and the two then current publications of the University – the The Virginia Reel and the University of Virginia Magazine (I hadn’t heard of the The Virginia Reel but a little research revealed that it was published from 1920 to 1929 when it was suppressed for alleged “vulgar obscenity”!). Louis W. Ballou distinguished himself in the Beaux Art exhibition and also in drawing plans for Monticello that were to be published in the Richmond and Washington newspapers. Brother Ballou went on to become a distinguished, nationally-recognized architect who practiced in Richmond for many years.

Harry Stromenger (the wedding usher identified above) was Xi Chapter’s representative at the Theta Chi 70th national convention held in Philadelphia during September 1926. The first Theta Chi Manual was published and distributed at the convention. Other Xi members who attended the convention were Edward Buddy, Ephriam Mulford, George Denny, Jack Cleaton, and Lawrence Douglas. Don’t you love those names!

Legislation passed at the 70th national convention included new initiation and hazing rules described, as follows: “All forms of public initiation are prohibited; there is to be no interference with classroom obligations during probation week; paddling and roughhouse tactics are either to be abolished or decidedly minimized. That means Theta Chi has grown up; it has put away childish things. Public attention is, at best, undignified; interference with classroom obligations is a violation of the pledge of Theta Chi, ‘Alma Mater first, and Theta Chi for Alma Mater,’ and is unfair to the initiate; paddling and roughhouse tactics are cowardly, vicious, and unworthy of a fraternal relationship. Theta Chi is against these sources of criticism, poor scholarship, and personal bitterness.” I wish I had known about that legislation when I went through Hell Week in the 1960s. Certainly the “decidedly minimized” approach would not work today!

Xi was a vocal supporter of a new endowment fund established in 1927 by the “Grand Chapter” (i.e., Theta Chi international): “This is in our opinion one of the best moves yet made by the Grand Chapter and we hope to see it go over strong. Nothing could be more useful than a substantial fund on which to rely; it would also raise our prestige among national fraternities.” To my knowledge Xi has never benefitted from the Grand Chapter’s endowment fund. Xi also “took one of its greatest steps forward . . . adopting the Grand Chapter budget system.” Not sure whether the Grand Chapter still has a budget system and, if so, whether Xi is following it.

Also around this time, a new edifice for the St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church was being built at the University of Virginia at the staggering cost of $750,000. The rector was Rev. Noble C. Powell who was a Chi Chapter (Auburn University) member and an alumni advisor to Xi Chapter.

Most alumni know that Xi’s house was at 1810 Carr’s Hill Road before being moved to its present address of 600 Preston Place. But where was our house located before Carr’s Hill Road? You won’t find the answer on Xi’s website and Wikipedia on University of Virginia Greek Life incorrectly states that Xi’s first house was located at Carr’s Hill Road.

We know from these old Rattles that Xi had one or more houses before the one on Carr’s Hill Road. In 1926-27 news updates from brothers J. T. Marshall, Jr. and C. H. Mann, Jr., we are told that Xi was then 28 members strong but hoping to grow to 35 or 40 members and had a newly built house after a fire disaster damaged or destroyed the old house. The rebuilding project was funded by fire insurance proceeds and included “four lounge rooms that opening directly into each other.” The Carr’s Hill Road house did not have four lounge rooms, let alone ones all opening into each other.

Elsewhere, several Rattle issues in the 1930s list Xi’s house as being on University Circle. I had to look at a map to recall that University Circle is near the intersection of Grady and Rugby Road. Exactly where on University Circle our house was located or for how long is unclear.

A report to the Rattle in 1931 states that Xi brothers “straggled into Charlottesville between September 10 and 30 and started the arduous labor of trying to get the summer dirt out of our antique mansion . . . and the lawn cut.” The Carr’s Hill house was anything but an antique mansion. Also, I may be wrong here, but I don’t recall any lawn mowing on that sloped Carr’s Hill terrain. Was the “antique mansion” the same house as was damaged by fire and rebuilt with the “four lounges”? Incidentally, it appears that Xi was thriving in 1931. We had an eight-man pledge class, which was the second largest of the then thirty-one UVA fraternities.

On February 22, 1932, many Theta Chi fraternity chapters paid tributes on the bi-centennial year of the “Father of His Country,” George Washington. Approximately fifteen members of Xi “gathered on the front lawn and assisted in the planting, between two gnarled catalpa trees, of a sizeable Virginia pine.” Doesn’t sound like the Carr’s Hill Road house to me.

It appears that as the decade of the 1930s progressed, Xi ran into some hard times. I read through six or seven years of Rattle issues without any news about Xi. Finally, in January 1939, I found a brief report from Xi that includes this telling statement: “A goodly fellowship of wholesome brotherhood, which is never measured by quantity of members, is our aim.” Exactly how small the chapter had become is revealed in the following May 1939 Rattle article entitled It Takes Work, But It Can Be Done:

Disaster faced Xi Chapter at the University of Virginia last June. A survey of the chapter brought out the fact that but two men would return to school the next fall, both men who had been initiated but a month previous. Alumni put the question up to the new initiates whether to call the matter quits or to carry on. They agreed that they had not joined Theta Chi Fraternity to quit. A freshman to whom the situation was presented honestly accepted the pledge.

Austin D. Brixey, Earnest Purcell, and Pledge James Littlefield returned last fall three days before the opening of the first semester, cleaned and painted the rooms they had rented on the campus from the University, rooms that had been built by Thomas Jefferson. With the help of Charles H. Mann, Jr. ’30, the two actives initiated Pledge Littlefield, and the three put on a rush that, despite all handicaps, netted them five pledges. Later, five other men were pledged.

Five of the men made the Dean’s List the first semester, four averaging above 90. A number of the men are engaging in campus activities.

With the present chapter made up of men intent on building a strong chapter and with a reorganized alumni association confident that there is now an undergraduate group worthy of their support, Xi is on its way back to the place that chapter once held in Theta Chi Fraternity.

Wow! I never knew we were so close to extinction back in the day. We all owe brothers Brixey, Purcell, and Littlefield a huge debt of gratitude for pulling us back from the brink. The picture shows the three of them as well as presumably eight of the ten additional men who pledged the fraternity. Was the picture taken in front of the rooms they rented on campus?

If true that Thomas Jefferson built the rooms, were they on the Range or the Lawn? Xi has come a long (and in the early years rocky) way since its founding in 1914. All of the chapter’s prior houses/rooms were either leased or rented. Xi’s alumni corporation owns the current house at 600 Preston Avenue, and it is easy and accurate to say that Xi is now in its strongest position in terms of finances, active membership, and alumni support.