Over a century worth of ongoing brotherhood
The proud and long-standing tradition of Phi Kappa Psi is not in the number of men that have passed through our doors, but in the excellence and quality of our individual members. This tradition is no better expressed than in the founding of our local chapter.
Samual Day Ayers from DePauw University at Greencastle, Indiana (Indiana Alpha) wanted to start a chapter of Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Missouri. He wrote the Dean and asked for a list of the five most outstanding men at the University. After receiving the list, Ayers wrote to one of the men on the list and asked him to select four other outstanding men on campus. The same list as the Dean’s came back. Thus, only 30 years after the University was open to the public, the Missouri Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi was founded on June 12, 1869. Missouri Alpha is not only the first Fraternity founded at the University of Missouri, but at any land grant institution and public university west of the Mississippi River. The five men were initiated in a brief ceremony at the original administration building (Where the famous and historic columns are located at the University of Missouri). The five charter members included: James Cooney, Eli Penter, John Prather, Prosser K. Ray and Bentley H. Runyan. These men are now referred to as the founding fathers of the Missouri Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi.
Years after, one of the charter members, the Honorable James Cooney, a member of Congress, wrote an account of the chapter. In it he says:
"Brother Runyan, an instrumental leader in the chapter, died of lung disease on December 28, 1872. This was the first great stroke of affliction that was laid upon the chapter. Runyan had been Brother Ayer’s “right-hand man” in founding the chapter. After Runyan’s death, the lack of leadership and an anti-greek college administration contributed to Missouri Alpha’s demise in 1876. Frank Seebree #72, was the last man to be initiated before the chapter folded."
Missouri Alpha was, both by necessity and by choice, limited in the number of its members. There were many able men attending the university, whose membership would reflect honor and credit on any fraternity, who were barred from the chapter on account of their number. The necessity for rival fraternities was felt, and that necessity was soon met. In the latter part of the year 1870, two other fraternities of the Greek letter order were introduced. The Zeta Phi, which had its origin in the university, and Phi Delta Theta, established under the chaperonage of Eugene Field…..(Field’s contemporaries were James Whitcomb Riley and Edgar Allen Poe)
But Phi Psi led all others in its strength and populartiy. It had a well-appointed and furnished hall of its own, and a fellowship en rapport with the principles and motive of Phi Psi. While its life was dominated and in touch with its charter members, and those who were initiated under their influence, it was one of the greatest honors of a university career to be called to its circle. It is now a difficult matter to discover and state the causes of the decadence and final disruption of the chapter. There was a period in which Greek letter fraternities were under the ban of the university, and had grown in contempt. It is said that Missouri Alpha became frivolous, and that the spirit of pleasure corrupted it. Its charter was resigned or taken from it. The Zeta Phi and the Phi Delta Theta fraternities also disbanded, and of the first fraternities to spring from the fresh soil of the Missouri University in ’69 and ’70, there is scarcely left a memory on its campus.
In 1891 there was an effort made to revive the chapter. Several of the old members met in Columbia for that purpose, but events indicated that the time and the conditions were not favorable to the desire, and the attempt was abandoned. Not until 1908 does Phi Kappa Psi again plant her banner on the campus at the University of Missouri.
In 1907 a local fraternity, Zeta Chi, expressed interest in becoming part of a national fraternity. The Zeta Chi’s petitioned several national fraternities and chose Phi Kappa Psi. Finally, on November 28, 1908 (Thanksgiving Day), the Missouri Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi was re-chartered. The first man initiated after the chapter re-opened was J.C. Hawkins, #73.
Missouri Alpha’s first chapter meetings, before the chapter folded, were held in the Academic Hall (Where the columns stand on Francis Quadrangle). They rented the first official chapter house at 809 College Avenue. The second house was located at 511 Rollins (approximately where the current Pi Beta Phi house and the Phi Kappa Theta parking lot is). In 1916 Curtis Bingham Rollins sold land to the Phi Psi’s for the third house. Phi Psi built the present Sigma Pi house at 808 South Providence and later sold it to Tau Kappa Epsilon (Tekes). The Tekes later sold the house to Sigma Pi. The Phi Psi’s currently live in a 116 year old plantation house that lies on the western end of Rollins Street at 809 South Providence. It was bought from a Dr. Claude Bruner in 1954 for $65,000. In 1957 the “new wing” was added on for $100,000. The company doing the work went bankrupt before the job could be completed. Phi Psi’s sued for damages. They recieved a mere $660.
Schurz, Neff and Lowry Halls on the University of Missouri campus are named for Phi Psi’s. John Oberall, a Phi Psi, was the first dean of the Law School at the University of Missouri. The first three fraternities on the University of Missouri campus were Phi Kappa Psi, followed by Phi Delta Theta and Zeta Phi.