The Founding and History of Xi Chapter

Xi Chapter of Theta Chi was founded at the University of Virginia on January 26, 1914.

In 1913, a local fraternity named Eta Pi Rho was established at the University. Shortly thereafter, Eta Pi Rho’s seven members (William A. Adams, L. L. Miller, G. E. Gwinn, T. E. Didlake, L. G. Burton, R. Guy Leebrick, and S. M. Jett Jr.) petitioned the Grand Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity for a local chapter charter. The petition was granted, and the installation of Xi Chapter was held January 26, 1914. The installation committee was composed of National President Dr. Robert L. Irish, National Vice President Edwin D. Huntley, and National Secretary E. Wesson Clark.

The man most instrumental in chartering Xi Chapter of Theta Chi was William P. Hazelgrove. Hazelgrove obtained his bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees from Hampton-Sydney College. While at Hampton-Sydney, he joined a local fraternity named Delta Delta. In the fall of 1913, Hazelgrove began law school at the University where he encountered the members of Eta Pi Rho.  Knowing that his Delta Delta brothers were seeking affiliation with Theta Chi, Hazelgrove recommended that Eta Pi Rho do the same.

Eta Pi Rho was installed as Xi Chapter two days after Delta Delta was installed as Nu Chapter. Thanks to Hazelgrove, these two Theta Chi chapters are forever linked in history.

Hazelgrove obtained his law degree from the University in 1916 and shortly thereafter found himself in the Great War (WWI) as a first lieutenant in the American Expeditionary Force. Surviving the war, Hazelgrove became a successful lawyer and civic leader in Roanoke, Virginia. In 1932, he was belatedly recognized for extraordinary heroism in the Meuse-Argonne offensive and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

During its early years (1914 – 41), Xi rented several different houses. According to early chapter minutes and news updates by Xi in The Rattle of Theta Chi, the rented houses were located on Virginia Avenue and University Circle. One of the rented houses was referred to as “an antique mansion.” In 1926 – 27, the fraternity had grown to 28 members and was occupying a newly built house after a fire disaster had destroyed the old house. The rebuilding project was funded by insurance proceeds and included “four lounge rooms that opened directly into each other.” A History of Theta Chi (1856 – 1927) published by the Grand Chapter reports that by 1927 Xi had acquired a $4,000 “equity” in a $14,000 “building site.” Whatever became of this house investment is unknown (but perhaps it was lost in the Great Depression).

Xi appears to have thrived in the 1920s, with many brothers attaining high academic achievement and participating in sports and other extracurricular activities. Issues of The Rattle report that our brothers were on the University’s football, wrestling, baseball, lacrosse and track teams and contributed to the Corks & Curls, the University of Virginia Magazine, and The Virginia Reel. During this era, it was common for many graduate students in law, medicine, architecture and other disciplines to be active members of Xi. In 1926, three presidents were in Xi at the same time – Edward N. Hardy who was expecting to receive his L.L.B. in law and who was president in 1923 – 24, George M. Barner who was expecting the same degree as Hardy and was president in 1924 – 25, and Stuart P. Jones, the then current president and also in the University’s law school.

The 1930s were hard on Xi. In 1931, the fraternity was occupying “an antique mansion” rather than the “newly built house” it occupied in 1926 – 27. By the end of the decade, we were on the brink of collapse. Membership had declined and finances were tight. Fortunately, three gallant men saved us.  Their story appears in the May 1939 issue of The Rattle:

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.

With twelve active members to begin the 1939 – 40 school year, the fraternity had outgrown the two rooms built by Jefferson (called the “Grottoes” by the brothers) and therefore rented a house near the University in September. The fraternity had long been looking forward to building its own house and, with the addition of nine new members, the decision to build was finally made.

A long-term ground lease was signed with the University, money was raised from active and alumni members, and plans were drawn for the house at 1810 Carr’s Hill Road. We are indebted to brother Charles C. Boatwright ’41 for his article entitled “How Xi’s House Came To Be” appearing in the August 1941 issue of The Rattle:

Ground was broken for the house in June of 1940, with a group of the brothers shoveling out the first dirt. There were, however, many things which had to be done before that first shovelful could be removed. Under the legal guidance of James E. Palmer, ’39, a lease was obtained from the university for 99 years. With the alumni under the leadership of C. H. Mann, ’30, money was raised as well as pledges for money secured by a strong alumni drive. Most of the money was raised from the alumni and brothers in the form of twenty-year loans redeemable at 6% interest on maturity.  Louis Scribner, ’29, volunteered his services as architect for the new house, and the long awaited plans for the new house finally formulated and work started.

The new house is very conveniently located near the university and is in the midst of other fraternities. It is a two-story building with a high sloping roof in the back, which makes a third floor available for dormitory style quarters. The house accommodates twelve persons, but because of the dormitory style sleeping and studying rooms on the third floor, it can readily accommodate as many as eighteen men with ease.

The basement provides a coal heating plant, storage room, and a “rumpus room” in which can often be found a gay group playing ping pong, or singing around the new piano.

The first floor includes a library, living room, and powder lounge room for feminine guests. The living room is decorated in green, has a solid dark red rug and red Moroccan leather furniture. The library is paneled with stained knotted pine and is furnished in maple, while the floor is covered with bear skin rugs. The house is one of very few on the campus which has included a ladies’ lounge for use at dances and other social affairs. The second floor provides four double bedrooms and a large bathroom. The third floor is divided into two parts, one accommodating two double decker beds and the other a large study.

The house was built with the possibility of adding wings to the sides at a later date. The chapter and the Alumni Association did not attempt to building too much at first, for, when the necessity arises, the house can easily be enlarged.

The spirit of the members developed through gaining their much-wished-for house is not to be underestimated. There is also much to do in a new house as we quickly learned. Most of the woodwork was finished by the brothers under the guidance of James Littlefield, ’41. The double decker beds, built of California redwood, caused so much comment that representatives of other fraternities have been around to see them and get specifications for building them in their own houses. There is still much to be done for the beautification of the house, externally as well as internally. Landscaping was started in the spring, and it is hoped that be next September the lawn and shrubbery will add much to the appearance of the house.

It was a long and hard journey from the fall of 1938 with two actives to June of 1941 with twenty-one actives and pledges, but with every new member the indomitable spirit of the brothers has increased, and Xi Chapter of Theta Chi is climbing steadily to hold that place in leadership and the promotion of good fellowship which it used to hold, and the new house is a strong stepping stone to this position.

The alumni’s support in the building of our house has been the mainstay of the chapter. Without the combined pull of the alumni and the active members, Xi Chapter’s new house would never have been. In June the chapter lost by graduation a number of the brothers who have done much of the rebuilding of Xi. Such brothers in Thjeta Chi as James Littlefield, Ernest Purcell, A. D. Brixey, Eric Bancroft, Thomas Kurtz, and Charles Boatwright will be severely missed. Their contribution to the chapter can never be estimated as they not only saved the organization from destruction, rebuilt it into a strong, vigorous chapter, but made the twenty-seven-year-old dream of specially planned chapter house a reality.

1810 Carr’s Hill Road served as Xi’s house for twenty-six years. The expansion wings were never built, and the house lacked kitchen/dining facilities. That being said, it was a great party, meeting, and residence house and remains a dear memory of many older Xi brothers.

In late 1966 or early 1967, the University informed Xi’s alumni corporation that it was terminating the fraternity’s ground lease in order to build a Fine Arts center on the property. Then chapter president William B. Sullivan ’67, alumni corporation president James E. Palmer ‘39, and alumni, Rector, and member of Board of Visitors Hovey S. Dabney ‘46 conducted a search for a new house and eventually settled upon a former church manse located at 600 Preston Place.

During the summer of 1968, using compensation paid by the University for its termination of the Carr’s Hill lease and with bank financing facilitated by brother Dabney, the alumni corporation purchased Xi’s present location at 600 Preston Place for $47,000.

The spirit of Xi still has a place on Carr’s Hill. Robert B. Craven ’66 was chapter president during the 1964 – 65 school year and passed away in 2006. In his memory, several Xi alumni purchased a bench from the University, and it is now located in a small park near the Architecture School and next to an old white oak tree that hovers over the old 1810 Carr’s Hill Road site.

Over a period spanning four decades (1950-1985), Xi was blessed to have the services of Jesse Willard (“Willie”) Alexander – bartender extraordinaire, caretaker, mentor, friend, and occasional parental stand-in for countless Xi brothers. In 2006, at the age of 91, Willie was initiated as a Xi brother. As a measure of how many Xi lives he touched, more than 200 brothers contributed over $60,000 to help Willie and his family meet medical and other expenses in his final years.  The Willie Alexander Room is a permanent feature of the fraternity house at 600 Preston Place.

After more than forty years of occupancy, the fraternity house at 600 Preston Place was in dire need of major refurbishment and expansion.

Beginning in 2010, work began on a Centennial Plan for a major expansion and renovation of the venerable house at 600 Preston Place at a cost of approximately $1.1 million. Three board members of the alumni corporation (Grady Lewis ’65, Jim Johnston ’66, and Will Teass ’97) drove the project to a successful completion in 2013. A capital campaign drew more than $670,000 in donations from nearly 400 alumni and active brothers. Brothers contributed more than money. As the concept for expansion and renovation was developed, Will’s architectural firm provided drawings and advice at no cost to the fraternity. Once the city approved the plans, Will’s firm became the architect of record. Alumni lawyers provided legal services from their law firms at no charge.  Alumni also negotiated the terms of bank financing, resolution of neighborhood and local zoning issues, and University compliance, all without compensation. The generous collective effort of so many was truly extraordinary.

Over the years, Xi brothers have been members of the Honor Committee, the Inter-Fraternity Council, the Cavalier Daily, ROTC, and countless other organizations on grounds. Xi brothers have been recognized by election to ODK, Raven, IMP, Z, Purple Shadow, and “21” societies. Xi brothers have also garnered the honor of being lawn residents.

2013 was a prestigious year for Xi. The University’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life recognized Xi as being both the Most Improved Chapter and the Most Outstanding Chapter in the Inter-Fraternity Council. In addition, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life named Xi’s president Miles Kirwin ’13 as Greek Man of the Year.

In 2014, the centennial anniversary of Xi chapter’s installation at the University was celebrated in style during Homecomings weekend. The festivities included golf at Birdwood; cocktail reception, dinner, speeches by alumni corporation president Richard Nadeau ’76 and others, and dancing at Alumni Hall attended by more than 200 brothers and guests; and a tailgate at the newly renovated and expanded house attended by a record crowd of more than 350 brothers and guests. Special centennial additions to the house included bronze memorial plaques for Willie Alexander and Hovey Dabney; an old banner with a rare leather UVA symbol and Theta Chi fraternity shield sewn in (having once belonged to Al Siewers ’43 while a student at the University and having recently been donated to the fraternity by Wayne Cozart, Vice President for Development at the UVA Alumni Association who purchased the banner from an unknown internet seller); two large Theta Chi rattlesnake and sword shields lovingly procured by brother Johnston; a Centennial Plan Capital Campaign donor plaque listing every donor and class; a bronze plaque placed at the front door commemorating the centennial anniversary; a 100-year congratulatory broadside from the Grand Chapter; a permanent video display of long lost class composite pictures and historic photos of the University and Charlottesville watering holes; and, of course, the anchor in the tree.

Contemporaneous with the successful capital campaign for renovation and expansion of the house, Xi’s alumni corporation (under the leadership of board members Jackie Morris ‘81, Gregg Johnson ’75, and Mark Chinn ‘91) conceived and implemented a 5-year (2014 – 2018) annual giving campaign. 150 brothers have made pledges through 2018 totaling $148,000. Payments through 2016 totaled $84,000. The annual giving campaign has helped reduce debt and funded much needed capital repairs and improvements not covered by the Centennial campaign.

Over the years, Xi brothers have been leaders of the Grand Chapter. Wirt P. Marks ’17 was elected to the Grand Chapter for four years including one year as National President. Charles H. Mann, Jr. ’30 served as President of the National Board of Trustees. Brothers Marks and Mann are both recipients of Theta Chi’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.

Norman R. Pond, Jr. ’34, Neeley C. Lewis ’68, and Laurence J. Burke ’86 each served Theta Chi as a Regional Counselor.

Xi brothers have fought in every major war for our country over the past 100 years including World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and, most recently, the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some made the ultimate sacrifice. In 2015, Lieutenant General Robert Neller, ’75 was appointed Commandant of the United States Marines.

In recent years, Xi has established several scholarship programs to provide financial aid to undergraduate brothers.

The Chris Winter Presidential Scholarship was the brainchild of Christopher Winter ’07 and Michael O’Brien, ’07, with the sole purpose of helping pay the fraternity dues for a deserving Xi brother. The scholarship paid out over $5,000 to eight brothers from 2008 to 2013.

On May 22, 2015, William B. Sullivan and his wife Donna D. Sullivan donated $1 million in trust to the University. Bill and Donna will receive income and tax benefits from the trust during their lifetimes. Thereafter, the trust income will be used to fund three or more full scholarships for deserving Xi brothers and provide for qualified educational facilities at Xi.

After the untimely death of Xi chapter president Quentin Alcorn in June 2015, brothers from the classes of 2013 through 2016 established the Quentin Alcorn Memorial Scholarship to recognize Greek fraternity and sorority members who have positively impacted the University community. The first scholarship in the amount of $3,000 was awarded in 2016.