By John Charles Ford – Maryland ’64
It’s not your typical dorm room – fairly large with a high ceiling, probably a bit more spacious than a typical university dorm room of today…rather drab battleship gray in color, no fancy moldings, mattresses upturned for the summer season, two standard desks with pedestrian chairs…two built-in closets, probably added in the early 1900’s. Nothing really special here, other than two brass plaques that indicate that this was the room in Old North Hall (now called Elliott Hall) that has a very special meaning for Phis worldwide.
Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the 10th oldest public university in the United States, was chartered in 1809 when Thomas Jefferson was still President. Three story Old North Hall was built for $7,000 in 1825 as a male residence hall for 35 students and designed in the Federal style after Connecticut Hall at Yale University in New Haven. Little was done to modernize it until 1899, when steam heat replaced fireplaces, electric lights subbed for oil lamps and porcelain wash basins and chamber pots were traded for modern bathroom amenities.
As one stands between its two parallel windows on a hot summer day and on an equally deserted Ohio campus, one can imagine the gathering of six tail coated students in 1848 in crisp shirts and ascots. The room was probably heated by a fireplace or a wood burning stove. A carpet undoubtedly covered the bare wooden floor to preserve warmth in the colder months and, in the absence of closets, large chiffarobes (or wardrobe chests) were allotted to each resident for his personal belongings. Mid-Victorian desks were crowned with oil lamps for ease of reading and there was possibly a Bible on prominent display for these young men were, after all, in ministerial training.
It was in this room that Phi Delta Theta’s vision became reality and where its six noble founders composed and signed the first Bond, handwritten and still preserved at General Headquarters, just a few blocks away. To this day, that same Bond is hand-copied for every new chapter, preserving as best it can the amazingly complex script of the early writers when cursive penmanship was an art form.
As I stood there during the most recent Kleberg Emerging Leaders Institute this summer, my first ever visit to Oxford as a Phi of fifty five years, I was struck by this churning in my brain as we read The Bond aloud – the inevitable song worm that catches us and won’t let go until exhausted. The song, The Room Where it Happened, from the highly lauded Broadway production of Hamilton, encompasses so many of those feelings and emotions:
God help and forgive me
I wanna build
Something that’s gonna
I wanna be in the room where it happens
Brother Ford was a Fellow at the 2017 Kleberg Emerging Leaders Institute. Alongside other alumni, John was immersed in the program and received an on-the-ground look at the leadership development that occurs at the Institute.