By Dr. Will Keim
I am not a member of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. I am a D.U. It was, however, my great honor to be decreed a member of the very select group of The Order of The Sword and The Shield by Phi Delta Theta. My son JJ was with me that night and the look of pride in his eyes that he held for me will never be forgotten. Several Phi Delts are great friends and Dr. Thomas Sparky Reardon is much like a brother to me, one that in my family life, I never had.
Friendship, Sound Learning, Rectitude. Morrison, Wilson, Lindley, Drake, Rodgers, and Rogers. The Immortal Six. Could they have ever imagined on a cold December night in 1848 in Ohio that their vision would create a Fraternity of great leaders? A fraternity clearly ‘out on a limb?’ First in offering a free magazine to its members; a pledge button, a pledge manual; first to hold every major office in the United States; a brother on the moon; staunchly and primarily anti-hazing; and for our purposes of discussion today, the national leader in substance free living facilities for its members. As my dear friend, mentor, and hero Sparky Reardon offered at the old Mid-American Greek Council Association meeting in Chicago when Phi Delt made the announcement, “Even pigs don’t poop where they sleep.” He also offered, when I asked him if he was nervous explaining the new substance free living policy to his first group of undergraduates, “Will, I was shaking like a dog poopin’ peach seeds.” I have never seen that, but the image made quite an imprint in my mind!
I applaud Phi Delta Theta for inspiring and empowering the fraternities to make a smart move toward substance free housing much like the women’s groups had done years before. It doesn’t take long to realize when you visit a sorority chapter house why it is such better shape than the average fraternity house: The absence of alcohol and alcohol related damages and problems. In fact, I have often heard when people visit a clean and orderly well-kept fraternity house, “Wow…this looks like a sorority!” The highest compliment and given because the brothers live like human beings. Who led the way? Phi Delta Theta. Who stood at the base of the tree and waited for the branch to break? The rest of us. As Sparky likes to say, “If you’re not the lead dog in the sled dog team, the view is always the same.” Phi Delta Theta, since its inception, has been the lead dog in almost every major area of goodness, greatness, and rectitude for the entire Greek Community.
A fraternity that historically appealed to Hank Ketchum, J. Williard Marriott, Doak Walker, Wes Welker, University of Alabama President Robert Witt, US Vice President Adlai Stevenson, Neil Armstrong, Tim Conway, and Frank Lloyd Wright, now appeals to young men who value service over substance abuse, brotherhood over barbarity, and love of others above love of self. Ten years after the Great Decision to go substance free in housing, ten years after the predictions of the end of the Fraternity, ten years after Phi Delt went out on the limb, IT IS STRONGER THAN EVER!!! Leadership is lonely, and though many have now climbed a little farther out on the limb of sanity, Phi Delta Theta continues to lead the way, reap the benefits, and consider new frontiers of character driven decision making to encounter and pioneer. One can only imagine what is next for Phi Delta Theta!
The Phikeia Oath says, in part, “I will strive in all ways to transmit the Fraternity to those who may follow not only not less, but greater, than it was to me.” Any brother who has imagined, instigated, and installed the substance free living facilities policy has done just this. And to the undergraduates who had to make the real changes in their community life together in the face of other fraternity’s staunch ridicule and criticism: You have my respect, my admiration, and my thanks that someday my son JJ might have the opportunity to become a brother of yours and not only live through the process, but become a man among fine friends, great learning, and personal rectitude because of it. God Bless Phi Delta Theta and the lives it has changed and saved! I am honored to be your interfraternal brother.
Dr. Keim has spoken to over 2,500,000 students on over 2,500 different campuses about leadership. He earned his Ph.D. from Oregon State University and is married with four children. Dr. Keim is a member of Delta Upsilon Fraternity and has received many fraternity awards for his contribution to improving Greek life. He has published numerous books, videos, and articles and is a long-time friend to Phi Delta Theta. At the 2009 Emerging Leaders Institute, Will was awarded with the Order of the Sword & Shield, an award given to a non-member who has promoted the attainment of higher education, shown an appreciation for Greek letter societies, and proven to exemplify the principles of friendship, sound learning, and rectitude.
Will’s blog post is part of a series to celebrate Phi Delta Theta’s Brotherhood: Our Substance of Choice campaign, a 10-year celebration of alcohol-free housing. Read the white paper, written by Dr. Edward G. Whipple, Past President of Phi Delta Theta and Vice President for Student Affairs at Bowling Green State University, recapping 10 years of alcohol-free housing.