In just a few weeks, Phis from across North America will gather in our nation’s capital for the Fraternity’s 79th Biennial Convention. This will be the fourth time that we have met in the capital city for such a meeting, the other times being in 1906, 1970 and 1992. In gathering this summer we are continuing a tradition of meeting on a regular interval, as a Fraternity, since our founding 164 years ago.
The First Convention
The first Convention was held just three short years after the founding of Phi Delta Theta when seven Phis met on December 30, 1851 at the Woodruff House in Cincinnati. At the time there were only four chapters in the Fraternity. While that first Convention was very different in size and scope from the one we will soon experience, its purpose was the same; to discuss the state of our brotherhood and chart its future.
From Walter B. Palmer’s authoritative account, “The History of Phi Delta Theta”, we know that the first Convention was conceived in early 1851 when Founder John McMillan Wilson (Miami ‘49) wrote to Founder Robert Morrison (Miami ‘49); “What can be done as to holding a meeting at say Cincinnati, next Christmas holidays, or what do you advise on the matter?” The suggestion was carried out when, in November, 1851, Wilson wrote to Morrison, who was in Tennessee at the time; “The Convention will be held between Christmas and New-year’s day at Cincinnati.” The minutes of Ohio Alpha for December 2, 1851 report: “In order to transact some business of a general nature, a motion carried, by unanimous voice, to call a Convention, to be represented by the graduate and undergraduate members of the several colleges of the Order, to meet on Tuesday morning, Dec. 30, 1851. Messrs. Anderson, Ross and Harrison were appointed to report to the Convention the feasibility of establishing other chapters of ΦΔΘ.” The Convention, meeting on December 31st, first organized itself by electing I.S. Lane (Miami ‘52), President, and Benjamin Harrison (Miami ‘52), Secretary. Following the Convention Benjamin Harrison, John McMillan Wilson and L.W. Ross were appointed to communicate the proceedings of the Convention to the existing chapters.
In 1851, at the first Convention, seven undergraduate and alumni Phis gathered to discuss the state of Phi Delta Theta, chart its future and growth, determine policies and procedures, and celebrate the bonds of brotherhood. In just a few weeks, more than 600 undergraduate and alumni Phis will gather for the 79th time in our history, for very similar purposes.
While every Phi Delta Theta General Convention has its own unique characteristics, and while no two Conventions are the same, there are customs and traditions that have developed through the years that create common experiences for Phis in attendance. This will be my 16th General Convention, having been present at every one since 1982 when I attended my first Convention in St. Louis as an undergraduate Phi. I am pleased to tell you about some customs and traditions that I hope you will experience when we gather in Washington, D.C. which tie you to the experiences of previous Convention attendees. These are listed in no particular order or priority.
Customs and Traditions Which Link Us to the Past
Many decades ago, members who attended the General Convention started the practice of wearing small silver bars to designate the number of conventions they had attended. These bars, when linked together, resemble ladders. As Phis attend more conventions, the ladders lengthen, and provide striking evidence of a Phis devotion to the Fraternity. Each bar indicates the city and year in which the Convention took place. The Phi who has attended the most General Conventions, and has the longest ladder in Fraternity history, is Executive Vice President Emeritus Robert J. Miller (New Mexico ’50). Brother Miller served as the Fraternity’s chief executive for 36 years before retiring as Executive Vice President in 1991. In Washington, D.C. Brother Miller will secure his 33rd ladder, since he has attended every Convention since the Fraternity’s Centennial Convention in 1948. While at the Convention, be sure to take a close look at Brother Miller’s ladder. If asked, I bet he may even share a story or two about past Conventions.
(L-R) William Morrison (Embry-Riddle ’99), great grandson of Robert Morrison, and Robert Morrison (Westminster ’44), grandson of Robert Morrison, visit with Robert J. Miller (New Mexico ’50), who is displaying the longest Convention Ladder in Phi Delta Theta history at the 2010 Convention in Orlando.
Opening Business Session Roll Call
Think of this as a chapter meeting roll call – but larger and more impressive. During the first business session on Friday morning the meeting will begin with the traditional roll call of chapters, alumni clubs, and General Officers of the Fraternity. The roll call is conducted by Executive Vice President Robert A. Biggs (Georgia Southern ’76) and it is always impressive to hear how widespread the Fraternity is across North America. It is especially moving for many when Brother Biggs introduces a new Phi Delta Theta Chapter to the Convention with the introduction; “Please welcome to their first Biennial Convention (name of chapter),” or a reinstalled chapter with the introduction; “Please welcome back to the fold (name of chapter).” These introductions are always special for those undergraduates and alumni who worked especially hard during the biennium to be assist with chartering a new chapter – and are usually acknowledged with enthusiastic applause.
Executive Vice President Robert A. Biggs (Georgia Southern ’76), conducts the Roll Call during the first business session of the 2010 Convention in Orlando.
One of the most solemn events, which takes place during the General Convention, is the conducting of the Fraternity’s ritualistic Memorial Ceremony. The Ceremony, which is open to non-Phis as well and attended by many family members and surviving spouses, acknowledges those Phis who have entered the Chapter Grand since the last Convention and pays special notice to those alumni who have previously served the General Fraternity in a position.
Mark H. Ochsenbein (Eastern Kentucky ’77), 2008-10 General Council President, presents the wreath during the 2010 Convention Memorial Ceremony.
Committee Reports and Convention Voting
Since 1880, the General Convention has held all supreme and legislative powers of the Fraternity. The Convention has three main responsibilities and powers. They include:
- Electing the General Council
- Consideration of judicial matters
- Enacting laws for the regulation of the Fraternity, since only the General Convention may amend the Ritual, Constitution, and General Statutes of the Fraternity.
There will be approximately 250 voting delegates in attendance, with undergraduate chapter delegates holding about 2/3 of the voting power of the Convention. Imagine a big chapter room with 250 voting members. Phi Delta Theta is a democratic fraternity, and in order to efficiently conduct the business of the Fraternity, a number of committees are appointed by the General Council to consider issues being presented to the Convention. These committees are composed of both undergraduate and alumni voting delegates and discuss issues for the Convention in committee meetings prior to bringing them to the floor for discussion and voting. Committees include: Code Committee; Chaplain’s Committee; Credentials Committee; Procedure Committee; Nominating Committee, Appeals Committee; Resolutions Committee; and Wardens Committee. Once a committee has reviewed an item under its jurisdiction, than it can be brought to the Convention floor – where it will be discussed and, if necessary, voted upon – just like in a chapter meeting.
An undergraduate member of the Code Committee presents proposed legislation to the Convention floor during the 2010 Convention in Orlando.
Meet the Candidates
One of the most important responsibilities of the General Convention is to elect the five men who will lead the Fraternity for the next two years as members of the General Council. The men elected to the General Council are charged to “be the legal representative of the Fraternity and custodian of the property of the Fraternity. The General Council shall interpret and administer all laws of the Fraternity and make such policies and appointments as may be necessary to promote the general welfare of the Fraternity.” Living within the regulations of the Constitution and General Statutes of the Fraternity, the men elected to the General Council chart the course, priorities, initiatives and direction of Phi Delta Theta for the biennium and beyond. During the Convention, delegates have the chance to meet with each of the candidates for the General Council in the “Meet the Candidates” forum. In this format each candidate rotates through small groups of voting delegates to discuss their ideas and thoughts for the future of the Fraternity and answer questions from Convention delegates. Elections matter, and the ‘Meet the Candidates’ sessions allow delegates to have questions answered, learn about the ideas and priorities of the individual candidates who are running for election, and determine whom to vote for in this secret-ballot election. The decisions and actions of the General Council affect many areas of the Fraternity and this is the time when delegates help determine the future of Phi Delta Theta.
General Council Reporter Richard E. Fabritius (Kent State ’94), meets with a group of delegates during the 2010 General Convention ‘Meet the Candidates’ session to answer questions about the future of the Fraternity from Convention delegates. Brother Fabritius went on to win re-election during the Convention’s General Council election.
Imagine being initiated in a large room, in front of hundreds of Phis serving as the chapter, with the initiation being conducted by the Fraternity’s General Council. For a few men, this is precisely what will happen to them in Washington, D.C. During every Convention a model initiation is conducted and several new brothers are admitted into the Fraternity. What an honor and privilege for these ‘soon-to-be’ brothers to share their initiation experience with Phis from across North America.
Several men will sign The Bond of Phi Delta Theta and become members during the Convention, much like Lou Gehrig (Columbia ’25), signed this Bond of the New York Delta Chapter on April 10, 1922. The “Gehrig” Bond will be on display during the Convention.
Changing of the Guard
During every General Convention there is a changing of the guard from one General Council to the next. As the General Council is charged with overseeing the Fraternity between Conventions, this biennial change represents an important orderly transfer of leadership and authority. The formal transition will take place during the Convention’s final business session on Saturday afternoon. Once the newly-elected General Council is sworn into office by the Convention Warden, I will have the honor, as Phi Delta Theta’s 63rd President, of pinning the General Council President’s pin on Phi Delta Theta’s 64th President. However, the leadership transition doesn’t end with the pinning. At this point, since I will be a Past President of the General Council (PPGC), the other PPGC’s, sitting on the Convention’s front row, will somehow find it necessary to help escort me to my new “retirement” seat with the other past presidents. Sometimes this is done with careful attention to providing a new PPGC with balance by carefully holding a new PPGCs elbow, providing a cane or perhaps even a walker.
(L-R) 2008-10 General Council President Mark H. Ochsenbein (Eastern Kentucky ’77) is presented with a special plaque after pinning 2010-12 General Council President M. Scott Mietchen (Utah ’84) with the General Council President’s badge. Shortly thereafter, Brother Ochsenbein was escorted to his new seat with the other Past Presidents.
Recognition of Outstanding Chapters
The best and the brightest are acknowledged in many ways during the Convention. Awards are presented recognizing many aspects of chapter life, with the awarding of the most prestigious awards reserved for the Grand Banquet on the final night. The outstanding work and traits of our chapters is on full display during the several different award ceremonies.
The George E. Housser Trophy, recognizing the most outstanding Canadian chapter, was presented to the Phis of Nova Scotia Alpha at Dalhousie University during the 2008 Convention in Paradise Valley, Arizona. The trophy is a Canadian Inuit soapstone carving called the Bird Man.
Memorabilia from the Fraternity Archives
The Fraternity has quite an important collection of Fraternity and alumni memorabilia on display at General Headquarters in Oxford, Ohio. Unfortunately it’s hard for many to see these items unless they travel to GHQ. However, during the Convention, the Fraternity brings some of the items and displays them for attendees. In addition to historic Phi Delta Theta badges and publications, items of interest which are also on display include the Gehrig Bond; Neil Armstrong’s Phi Delta Theta badge that he took to the moon; and the Academy Award won by Francis D. Lyon (UCLA ’28). You’ll definitely want to have a camera with you when you take a look at the collection.
On display during the Convention will be the Oscar won by Francis Lyon and later presented by Brother Lyon to the General Fraternity.
These represent just a few of the many customs and traditions attendees will experience next month. I look forward to seeing many of you from our Phi Delt Nation in Washington, D.C. as we celebrate all of the great things taking place in Phi Delta Theta, and take part in many of the same traditions and customs that tie us to those whom came before us. Please travel safely and let’s have another great Convention.
Brother Mietchen is the General Council President. Scott is a 1984 graduate of the University of Utah where he earned both his B.S. and MPA. He has served the Fraternity as a chapter consultant, chapter adviser, house corporation president, province president, delegate to the NIC and member of the General Council from 1994-2000 and 2004-Present. Scott became an Iron Phi in 2010. Professionally Scott is President and Managing Partner of Fund Raising Counsel, Inc. (FRCI), the oldest fundraising consulting firm in the Intermountain West. He was recognized as Fund Raiser of the Year in 2006 by the Utah Society of Fund Raisers. Prior to joining FRCI, he served as Vice President for University Advancement at Utah State University. Scott, his wife Lisa, and their children, Abby and Alex live in Salt Lake City.