Apr 16, 2009

Miller’s Meanderings – Volume 3

Miller’s Meanderings – Volume 3

Guy Potter Benton wore the pin of Delta Zeta

The fall, 1993, issue of The Scroll carried the unique story of George Banta’s membership in Delta Gamma Fraternity. I use the word unique with the full knowledge that it refers to something that is without a like or equal. I stick by that usage and yet, there is another story to tell; one that is similar but different and causes one to regard it as another unique situation.

Dr. Guy Potter Benton, Ohio Wesleyan ’86, served as president of Phi Delta Theta’s General Council in 1913-1914 some 30 years after George Banta became the first person elected to the position. Incidentally, both men served in this position of leadership without the benefit of prior General Council experience.

During Brother Benton’s presidency of the Fraternity, he also served as president of the University of Vermont. Prior to that presidency, however, he served as the 12th president of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, from 1902-1911.

The year Guy Potter Benton became president of Miami University, the total enrollment was 124 students, mostly male. (Women had only recently been admitted to the university.) It was not uncommon in those days for students to have ready access to the president’s office. It is easy to understand, then, how several young ladies who set about to establish the first women’s Greek-letter organization on campus called on the university president for his sage advice and wise counsel. Take, for example, the following inserts from the diary of Delta Zeta co-founder Julia Bishop:

October 2, 1902. Anna Keen and I spent most of the afternoon discussing Delta Zeta plans with Dr. Benton. He is such a big help to us and generous with his timely suggestions.

January 19, 1903. Keen and I have had long sessions with Dr. Benton on Delta Zeta matters. At last, have one project finished.

January 20, 1903. Anna K. and I have had two hour session with Dr. Benton. Rough draft completed. Anna had it snatched from her hand outside Old Main. Dr. Benton saved the day. “Senators” struck again!

January 28, 1903. Anna Keen and I met with Dr. Benton again. We finally have finished the Zeta business.

Delta Zeta officers have verified that the quote “Zeta business” referred to in the diary note of January 28, 1903, refers to the sorority’s ritual. So, like George Banta, Guy Potter Benton assisted with the founding of a women’s Greek-letter organization, assisted that organization in the writing of its ritual, and also served as president of Phi Delta Theta. Unlike Brother Banta, Brother Benton was not initiated by the women’s organization. However, “for his great and continued interest in the sorority, Dr. Benton was made grand patron, a position he held for the remainder of his life. He was the only man ever permitted to wear the Delta Zeta pin.”

By the time Brother Benton resigned the presidency of Miami University in 1911, the student body had grown ten fold to a total of 1,200. Prior to his arrival in Oxford, he served as president of Upper Iowa University. Following his eight-year tour as president of the University of Vermont, he became president of the University of the Philippines, 1921-1924. In the intervening war years, he was located in Europe, where he served as general secretary of the YMCA for the city of Paris for a few months before being named chief educational director of the American Army of Occupation with headquarters in Coblenz, Germany.

His “dream to retire in Oxford and have a home at the edge of the campus” was not fulfilled. He died of sleeping sickness in Minnesota in 1927, and his body was returned to Oxford for burial. Two buildings on the Miami campus have been designated “Benton Hall.” The first was an auditorium building which housed the administrative offices (built in 1908) and the second, which bears his name to this day, is a psychology building dedicated in 1969.

Brother Robert J. Miller joined the General Headquarters in 1951 and was named Executive Secretary (later Executive Vice President) in 1955, a position from which he retired in 1991.  He continued to serve as President of the Educational Foundation until 1997 and currently serves as the Historian of Phi Delta Theta.

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