St. Elmo Hall was established at the University of Virginia in 1908, as the Rho Chapter of the Delta Phi Fraternity. Delta Phi had been founded in 1827 at Union College in Schenectady NY, and is the third oldest college fraternity in the United States. Along with the Kappa Alpha Society (1825) and the Sigma Phi Society (1827), Delta Phi is part of the “Union Triad”, and is considered one of the forefathers of modern Greek systems. The name “St. Elmo” was first used in 1889 at the Omicron Chapter of Delta Phi at Yale University, and was based on the historical interconnection of St. Elmo and the Knights of Malta. The cross of the Knights of Malta had been adopted as the emblem of Delta Phi in 1833. In addition to Virginia, use of the name “St. Elmo” spread to several other chapters, including the University of Pennsylvania (Eta) and Johns Hopkins University (Xi), and has become synonymous on these campuses with Delta Phi.
Establishment of the Rho chapter at Virginia was authorized at a special convention of Delta Phi in 1907, and soon after the Committee of Founders met in Baltimore to elect to membership eight University students who would form the nucleus of the active chapter. Out of this original group, one of whom became a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, grew a diverse and active brotherhood that earned a reputation for high scholarship and dedication to the ideals of Mr. Jefferson’s University. They also initiated the hosting of some of the best social events in the entire community, a tradition that has endured to this day.
St. Elmo Hall thrived during its early years, but at the outbreak of World War II, all of its active brothers joined the armed forces. In 1946 a small group of dedicated brothers returned to Virginia to revive the fraternity, which had lost eleven of its members in the war. This group, which included founding members James L. Camblos ’10 and Channing W. Daniel ’10, Carey F. Jacob ’13, and Donald S. Beard ’25, organized a successful reopening of the House and a healthy rebirth of St. Elmo Hall. This also marked the beginning of a long tradition of active Alumni involvement and generous financial support for the House. It is this loyalty that has helped St. Elmo to earn and maintain its reputation as one of the pre-eminent fraternities at the University.
St. Elmo continued to flourish during the 1960s and ’70s, but by the early ’80s the physical condition of the building at 130 Madison Lane had badly deteriorated, as had most of the fraternities at Virginia. Recognizing that this crisis required the collaboration of the University administration and fraternity alumni organizations, a small group of Elmo Alumni took the initiative in trying to find a solution. This group was led by William V. Daniel ’52. and included Bayard Sharp ’36, Henry F. Harris ’51, and Allen B. Rider ’76. The result was the creation of the Historical Renovation Corporation (HRC), which was an independent, not-for-profit corporation funded initially by the Board of Visitors. Through the use of historical renovation tax credits, tax exempt financing from the Charlottesville Housing Redevelopment Authority, and alumni investment, HRC could sponsor individual limited partnerships that would purchase, rehabilitate, hold and eventually return a fraternity to its Alumni House Corporation. St. Elmo was the first fraternity to renovate its house using this HRC partnership structure, with many of the Elmo Alumni as investors. In 1984 the House underwent a $650,000 renovation, which was completed in time for the 75th Anniversary Reunion weekend in October. This was the first in what has become a very popular tradition with the Elmo Alumni: the five year reunions.
The most recent reunion, held in 2008, marked the 100th Anniversary of the Fraternity, and by all measures was a resounding success. In addition to House Corporation leaders Bill Daniel and E. Gordon Johns ’58, the Reunion was ably organized by longtime Directors John Lillard ’52, Phil Nesmith ’77 and Tommy Brannock ’79. Over 350 Elmos registered for the Centennial Celebration, which represented almost 50% of all living Alumni. Including wives and dates, there were over 500 who attended the Saturday party at the Farmington Country Club. University President and Mrs. John Casteen paid the Elmos a special tribute the night before by hosting a reception at Carr’s Hill. It was a great privilege for the Alumni to kick-off this important Reunion in such an historic building, which fittingly was constructed at the same time as St. Elmo’s house on Madison Lane. Special recognition was given to St. Elmo’s longtime Faculty Advisor, Gordon C. Burris, for his deep interest in the Elmo undergraduates. And in a touching presentation, Bill Daniel was honored by President Casteen and the Alumni Association for his many contributions to the University over the years.
In conjunction with its 100th Anniversary, St. Elmo launched the Second Century Campaign, to “secure the future of St. Elmo Hall”. Over $1.5 MM was raised, of which roughly $500,000 was used for extensive renovations to the House, with the balance providing a permanent endowment for the future. In addition, as a gift to the University commemorating the Fraternity’s Centennial, the Alumni established the St. Elmo Hall Jefferson Trust Subscription. In doing so the House initiated its support for the Jefferson Trust, which is an unrestricted endowment administered by the Alumni Association that has become critical in providing grants to under-funded groups and programs at the University. As with its commitment to The Jefferson Scholars that began twenty years earlier, St. Elmo Hall is the only fraternity to sponsor a Jefferson Trust Subscription. This tradition of philanthropy and generosity to the University is a hallmark of St. Elmo.
No history of St. Elmo Hall would be complete without acknowledging the inspirational leadership of its patriarch, William V. Daniel, who sadly passed away on July 4th, 2010. Bill, whose father Channing was one of the founding members of St. Elmo in 1908, oversaw the Fraternity for over four decades, as Alumni President, Treasurer and Alumni Advisor. No matter what his official title was, there was no doubt he was in charge. His concern and influence permeated every aspect of St. Elmo: operations and financial management of the House; oversight of the undergraduates; interaction with University officials; long term planning; Alumni relations and fund raising. Of his many responsibilities, the one Bill enjoyed the most was working with the active members, providing guidance and setting high expectations for their behavior and loyalty to St. Elmo and the University.
Bill’s influence and stature extended well beyond the house at 130 Madison Lane. He believed fervently in the importance of the Greek system at the University, and given the standing of St. Elmo Hall, he enjoyed a high profile and commanded enormous respect among the entire fraternity community. When the fraternity system was under siege during the late ’70s and ’80s, Bill led the effort to restore the viability and respect for the Greek system. The result was the formation of the Fraternity Alumni Council, which President Casteen asked Bill to organize and lead. Thanks to his vision and dedication, the fraternity system at Virginia survived, and thrives today as an integral part of student life.
As the Elmos prepare for their 105th Reunion in the Fall of 2013, the nearly 800 living Alumni remember Bill Daniel with great respect and affection, and gratitude for his lifetime of service to St. Elmo Hall.