Greeks lost their ground

Maggie Saemann

Three months ago, TKE member Mike Hollenbeck knelt on the roof above his fraternity’s porch and hung three Greek letters, Tau, Kappa, and Epsilon, onto the red exterior of their home for the first time.

re-greekhouse-ssThe large wooden letters were near the second floor windows and were visible to anyone driving or walking down Fourth Street, and Hollenbeck explains that the fraternity wanted to hang them so that they would be more than just a “red house on the corner.”

“I wanted to put them up because I’m proud to be a TKE, I love it, and I want to show that,” Hollenbeck said.

However, these Greek letters are the only ones you’ll find hanging on any houses in Marquette, because unlike many other schools, NMU doesn’t have a Greek Row or a block with multiple social fraternity and sorority houses next to one another.

But why is this?

Well, the path to a potential Greek Row at NMU has been a long one.

The earliest Greek society, Sons of Thor, dates back to 1914 at Northern. By 1927, three different fraternities had bought houses for their members, and by 1964, there were 20 social Greek organizations on campus.

That number rose to 24 social organizations by 1969, according to A Sense of Time – The Encyclopedia of Northern Michigan University.

After the number of Greek organizations dropped to five fraternities and only one sorority in 1983, Mayor Michael Coyne created a Greek Row Committee complete with NMU administration, students, homeowners, and city commission to plan the building of Northern’s first Greek Row in 1987, hoping to revive Northern’s Greek system, according to A Sense of Time.

The Committee hoped to receive funding from the national sorority and fraternity organizations and build on Tracy Street, but according to A Sense of Time, “after the initial concerns and interest, the project was not realized” or completed. Throughout the years, the number of fraternities and sororities changed frequently on campus, and by 2014, there were five social Greek organizations on campus—three sororities and two fraternities.

But that same year, those Greek organizations were let down once again, when Greek Life Adviser David Bonsall retired, said active member of Alpha Sigma Phi, Ben Drymon.

According to Drymon, when he first entered Greek life at NMU in 2011, he was told the vacant lot behind the Woodland Park Apartments was reserved for building a Greek Row, but once Bonsall who was extremely determined and always willing to stand up for the students left, the project was never executed.

“We lost our voice,” Drymon said. “There was no one to go to the meetings and fight for [a Greek Row].”

However, the lack of a Greek Row doesn’t mean there isn’t any Greek housing in Marquette. Although none of the three social sororities have houses on campus due to various reasons, such as lack of funding or conflicting policies between NMU and their national organizations about how to obtain a house, both social fraternities do.

Various active members of Drymon’s fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi, have rented the same house since 2007.

And Scott Weiderholdt, a Tau Kappa Epsilon alumnus, bought a house for his chapter in 2006 that he has rented to active members like Hollenbeck ever since.

Although it’s clear that both fraternities are grateful for their houses and fraternities in general, both expressed their wish for a Greek Row at NMU.

“If we had a Greek Row, I think the Greek community would be larger and we’d have more support from the university,” said Drymon.

“I also think it would be more socially acceptable to go Greek on campus, because right now there are definitely stereotypes,” he adds.

Drymon is referring to the negative stigma Greek life can receive on campuses everywhere, and specifically the stigma it has at NMU being so small.

Due to the lower percentage of Greek students on campus, fewer numbers in fraternities and sororities, and lack of a Greek Row, NMU Greek life isn’t always looked at in a positive light or in an exciting way.

New students can be hesitant to join because of this, said Drymon, though he says they shouldn’t be.

Hollenbeck agreed that there is definitely a stigma and that things could be different with a Greek Row, mentioning Michigan Tech’s large Greek Row only two hours away.

“The jealousy is there, that’s for sure.  It’s just not as much fun without one, and our Greek life could really grow if we had a Greek Row like [Michigan] Tech’s,” said Hollenbeck.

However, both men expressed their optimism for the future.

“I’m extremely hopeful about someday getting a Greek Row. It’s one of the major things you think of when you go to a big university, so it would be nice to get something here that everyone can see and people want to be a part of,” Hollenbeck said.