The ATO STORY

Leading the charge

A RICH HISTORY

LEADING THE CHARGE

Alpha Tau Omega began as an idea in the mind of a young Civil War veteran who wanted peace and reconciliation. His name was Otis Allan Glazebrook. His people were defeated, many of their cities burned, much of their countryside ravaged. But Glazebrook, who had helped bury the dead of both sides, believed in a better future. He saw the bitterness and hatred that followed the silencing of the guns and knew that a true peace would come not from force of law, but rather from with the hearts of men who were willing to work to rekindle a spirit of brotherly love.

Most people weren’t ready for sermons on brotherly love. John Wise, a classmate of Glazebrook’s at Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia, and a member of Beta Theta Pi, put it this way when he wrote of that time: “For four years we had been fighting. In that struggle, all we loved had been lost… in blood and flame and torture the temples of our lives were tumbling about our head… we were poor, starved, conquered, despairing; and to expect men to have no malice and no vindictiveness at such a time is to look for angels in human form.”

Glazebrook, deeply religious at age 19, believed that younger men like himself might be more willing to accept, forgive, and reunite with the Northern counterparts if motivated by Christian, brotherly love. But he needed an organization, a means of gathering and organizing like-minded people. That was why a letter caught his attention. As cadet adjunct for the VMI Cadet Corps, Glazebrook routinely handled mail addressed to the Institute’s Superintendent, General Francis H. Smith. One such letter came from an official of a leading northern fraternity who wanted help in reviving his southern chapters. (The South lost all 142 of its fraternity chapters during the war, and it was only with great effort that they were revived and expanded.) Fascinated, Glazebrook asked Gen. Smith about fraternities. As Gen. Smith explained what they were, Glazebrook knew he had found his organization.

In Richmond, Glazebrook consulted with University of Virginia alumni who furnished further information concerning fraternities. He discovered that they were not Greek in name only, but Greek throughout. Their mottoes, besides being written in Greek, reflected Greek ideals.

Greek philosophy, sometimes tinged with the medieval mysteries and Masonic lore, waste the cultural ideal of the fraternities. Glazebrook had been a proficient student of Greek at Randolph-Macon College before he entered the Institute. While admiring the language he recoiled from Greek Philosophy, ideology, mythologies, ethics and morals.

Reared in a devout Christian home, confirmed at historic St. Paul’s in Richmond, he had served as a lay reader in St. Mark’s. Essentially a religious man, typical of his time, he believed implicitly in more government of the universe, convinced that morals are of God, ordained by Him. He thought and taught, in its highest and noblest manifestations is the unique and supreme gift of Jesus Christ.

Glazebrook could contemplate fraternity only in terms of Christian love. Out of his prolonged meditation emerged the concept of a fraternity Greek in name only; the Greek name, the visible symbol of passionate conviction that peace and brotherhood could be achieved under the protection of Jesus Christ.

The name came spontaneously. As a boy and youth in St. Paul’s and St. Mark’s, Glazebrook had seen the ancient insignia of the Church, first discovered in the ancient catacombs, depicted upon their walls, ceilings, or other ecclesiastical objects, the Tau Cross subjoined by Alpha and Omega. “Alpha” and “Omega” signify to the Christian absolute plenitude or perfection. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Joined with the Cross the whole signifies that Christ is all in all, the beginning and end of salvation.

Having projected a Christian fraternity and appropriated a distinctively Christian symbol for its name, the Cross naturally was its logical emblem. For it, Glazebrook selected a form he thought was the Maltese Cross, though actually, it is the heraldic cross pattee. In the center, he inscribed a crescent, three stars, the Tau Cross and clasped hands. Upon the upper and lower vertical arms, he placed the Greek letters for Alpha and Omega and upon the horizontal arms, the Omega and Alpha letters respectively.

Reading from top to bottom the fraternity’s name appears. Alpha Tau Omega, Reading left to right it becomes Omega Tau Alpha. This reverse arrangement has an esoteric significance to the initiate, but does no violence to the essential meaning of the insignia; it still indicates that Christ the beginning and end are joined.

On September 11, 1865, Glazebrook invited two close friends to his home at 114 East Clay Street in Richmond, Virginia. There, in the rear parlor, he read them the Constitution he had written and invited them to sign. As they did, Alpha Tau Omega was born. It was the first fraternity founded after the Civil War and the first sign of Greek life in the old Confederacy.

Glazebrook had chosen his co-founders well. Alfred Marshall, a friend of Glazebrook’s from boyhood, was first captain of the VMI Cadet Corps and a popular individual. He was the spirited man of the trio, the man of action, the one most likely to attract new members. Erskine Mayo Ross, who ultimately became a federal judge, gave a sense of order to the meeting. He could curb the sometimes reckless energies of Marshall without dampening the charge of Glazebrook’s ideas. The three formed a well-balanced group.

THE CRITICAL YEARS

It should have gone better, Alpha Tau Omega began with high ideals, strong members, and a progressive constitution. But instead of growing stronger, it gradually grew weaker. Its National Officers, duly elected and vested with the authority in 1870, failed to take control. Chapters grew out of touch with each other. Several ignored their financial obligations to the National Fraternity. They sent no delegates to Congress. Finally, at the 1876 Congress in Raleigh, North Carolina, ATO sank to its lowest point. With 22 chapters charted, only two showed up, Virginia Delta (University of Virginia) and North Carolina Xi (Duke University). The National President himself was not there. Those present knew that they had a choice. They could find men willing to attempt a revival of ATO, with all the personal sacrifice that implied. Or they could simply go home and allow the Fraternity to die. They chose the hard path and found the right man to travel it.

He was not present in Raleigh, but Joseph R. Anderson, an 1870 graduate of VMI, accepted the Congressional appointment to the office of Senior Grand Chief (as the National President was then known). Of distinguished Virginia Lineage, a brilliant scholar, fluent writer, devout churchman and admirable executive, Anderson was an affable, companionable, hospitable “Southern gentleman of the old school.” He was a warm and exciting personality, with a sense of mission, great inner strength and outward polish, and a deep and abiding love of Alpha Tau Omega.

A brief survey of the Fraternity showed him its deplorable condition, but he devoted himself, his time, his money, and his energy to its revival. In one year he wrote hundreds of letters, recovered lost archives, updated records, and met with dozens of alumni throughout the South. Then in 1877, he presented his findings to the Fifth Congress in Richmond, Virginia.

Alpha and Beta, the Lexington chapters, were both prospering although cut off from the General Fraternity. But aside from Virginia Delta and North Carolina Xi, every other chapter was dead. In the face of this, Anderson stood before Congress and made his recommendations: New chapters must go only to strong, growing colleges, preferably in the North and West; a Fraternity would never again be strangers to one another; the Constitution must be revised, printed and distributed; and the Laws must be codified.

This was leadership. And the Fraternity responded. The Sixth Congress met in Baltimore, Maryland in 1878; that was where Alpha Tau Omega was “reconstructed.” The foundation laid during those three December days remained virtually intact for well over a century. From this Congress came a revised cipher and Ritual; a new Constitution; The ATO Palm; the first Membership Directory; and the first High Council. The High Council was a forerunner to the Fraternity Board of Directors. National and chapter officers were given their present ceremonial titles; and the Alpha Tau Omega was incorporated under the laws of Maryland.

EXPANSION

From 1878 – 1895 “more chapters” was the Fraternity’s goal. Now ATO began flexing its muscles. With a High Council to investigate institutions of higher learning, ATO was able to issue charters with more assurance. For a time, it was even possible to found a new chapter through the mail. All it took was a due inquiry and consultation with National Officers. Once satisfied the chapter would be a strong one, the officer to whom a grant had been issued might send the charter, Constitution, and secret work by registered mail. The chapter would return a signed oath of secrecy, and the founding officer would send the key to the cipher, by the fastest means available and the group would the initiate itself!

All fraternities were expanding rapidly. Students were enjoying new freedoms, and the fraternity system fit right in. Colleges during this era grew more tolerant of student activity — recreational, athletic, and social. It was only natural that membership in Greek-letter societies swelled and competition for the best freshmen grew. ATO gladly joined in the rush for new members.

This was the era when pledgeship got its start. Through the mid-1870s, there was not such thing as pledgeship. Chapters observed prospective members for weeks or even months — then, when satisfied, invited them to join. If selected, you might be awakened in the middle of the night, asked to become an ATO, and hustled off to be initiated the moment you accepted.

In an 1885 Palm, though, a revealing article appears. There is a problem, it seems, with the new initiate who never bothers to “acquaint himself with the origin, history, progress, and present condition of his Fraternity.” Thus, apathy grows within the chapter.

Given the rush for new members, fraternities found themselves with less time in which to judge a new man. If they picked their members too early, they might not get what they expected. If they waited too long, other fraternities would snap up the best men. The solution was a sort of waiting period whereby a new man might be “pledged” to join a fraternity. This would keep him safe from competitors, but allow him and his prospective chapter a chance to really get to know one another.

CONSERVATISM

It was Larkin W. Glazebrook, Mercer 1880, who applied the brakes. The younger Glazebrook, son of the Founder, was elected Worthy Grand Chief in 1895. His goal was the consolidation of existing chapters — improving their quality and living conditions.

One of the most important steps taken toward that end was the development of the Province system. Chapters did better when alumni came by regularly to visit and advise the undergraduates, so the Fraternity decided to make an institution of the practice. Province Chiefs were appointed on a provisional basis in 1899. Their job was to act as deputies of the Worthy Grand Chief, visiting their chapters and offering guidance. The Worthy Grand Chief might then concentrate on long-range matters, free from the constant travel and correspondence of older days. The system worked so well that the 1890 Congress made it official, and ATO’s far-flung chapters now had the assistance of regular alumni visits and supervision.

The Fraternity’s oldest chapter houses date from about this time, for chapters were encouraged to build. By now, ATO possessed thousands of alumni able to devote time and money to fund-raising drives. Colleges frequently encouraged the trend in order to help provide much-needed housing at a time when enrollments ballooned.

The University of the South (Sewanee) chapter was the first ATO chapter with a house and the first of any fraternity in the South. Actually a lodge, the building was an early University library donated to the chapter in 1880 “in recognition of service rendered to the University.”

Despite ATO’s conservative outlook, it still granted charters to promising interest groups and by 1916 boasted 67 chapters from coast to coast. That was gratifying, but it presented a new problem: administration. From the Fraternity’s founding, its correspondence had been written, its treasury kept, and its archives preserved by individual National Officers. They received no remuneration beyond travel expenses. Records of great value were kept in officers’ homes, taken to Congress, transferred to new Officers, and dumped into trunks for the trip to their new homes. The 1916 Congress appropriated a small budget for a central office and amended the Constitution to authorize the High Council to open the office and employ an Executive Secretary.

World War I forced the issue. When several key National Officers entered the service, the High Council knew the time had come to act. It hired a University of Illinois professor of English, Dr. Frank W. Scott, Illinois, to be ATO’s first, albeit part-time, Executive Secretary. Dr. Scott set up his office in Champaign, Illinois, and vital records began arriving from across the nation. Even those initially opposed to the expense of a central office were ready to call it the most important event in recent years. For the first time, the Fraternity had a “home,” which remained in Champaign until the 1990’s.

The 1920s – 1950s

Just as the nation was never quite the same after World War I, neither was Alpha Tau Omega. Taus streamed back onto campuses to find themselves in a different world. There was a feeling of unrest, and students began to question old values. A Wittenberg University dean described students of the day as follows:

If I catch the drift of the situation, the students are giving less time to preparation for class than they did before the war and are more engrossed in student activities.

The Dean of Men at the University of Illinois made a somewhat sharper point: “They are indifferent, lazy, cynical, and the men in fraternities more so than the men outside.” Thomas Arkle Clark, Illinois, never minced words.

Dean Clark, born in 1862 spent the first 23 years of his life on a farm and clerking in a country store. He did not receive his college degree until 1890. He earned his own way through the University of Illinois, yet took full part in campus activities, being editor of the Illini, president of the Literary Society and the Christian Endeavor Society of his church, and graduating with a 97 percent average.

 

The 1960s – 1970s

The early 1960s looked wonderful. Colleges enjoyed record enrollments. Chapters pledged men in record numbers. A building boom was on as chapters renovated old houses or built new ones. It seemed the dawn of a golden age of fraternity power and prestige. But the seeds of discontent were present.

The issue of restrictive membership, for example, was coming to occupy most of the time and talents of several National President in succession. It was the source of most criticism outside the Fraternity and most dissension within it. The subject had been deliberately studied at every Congress from 1954 on, with substantial sentiment present for eliminating the restrictive membership clause in the Constitution. But there was also a lingering sentiment for keeping ATO as it had always been. Finally, in 1963, Worthy Grand Chief Sherman Oberly, Muhlenberg, appointed a Special Committee on Membership of seven Province Chiefs and charged them not to merely survey the problem, but to solve it–to develop a proposal that would gain the approval of Congress. The committee met and devoted countless hours to the task.

At the 1964 Grand Bahamas Congress, a successful proposal was submitted, revising both the Preamble to the Constitution and the Constitution and Laws. That giant step, coupled with continuing Committee work, led to amendments at the 1966 Macinac Island Congress whereupon the Fraternity could at last state: “Alpha Tau Omega does not discriminate in its membership requirement against any person on the basis of race, color, creed or national origin; its individual chapters are free to select members without regard to race, color creed or national origin, and without interference on these grounds, directly or indirectly, from any source outside the local undergraduate chapter.” Thus, ATO began its second hundred years.

ATO IN CRISIS

The economic crisis the Fraternity faced was formidable. Despite a growing number of chapters, a drop in overall membership brought revenues down and money was simply not available for business as usual. Several chapters had to be closed.

At the 1974 November High Council Meeting, the Chapter Services staff was reduced from seven men to three and the clerical/support staff was reduced to three. Former staff members who speak of that time refer to it as the “November Massacre.” It is refreshing to note that many of the men who were so suddenly let go, in the years since, served the Fraternity in one or more volunteer capacities. The spirit of fraternity in the men who serve ATO is not easily dampened. This is undoubtedly a key to the strength and resilience of the Brotherhood.

 

ATO RE-ENERGIZED

Worthy Grand Chief William Berry, Ole Miss, was instrumental in 1977 in bringing to the National Headquarters a new Executive Director, Stephen R. Siders, Purdue. Siders was to have a remarkable 11-plus year tenure which saw the Fraternity reach new heights of success and recognition in the Greek world. Tough-minded in his approach, Siders demonstrated an unfailing single-mindedness in managing an ever-increasing Fraternity budget and in positioning ATO in the forefront of national fraternities. He is well known for his efforts to maintain high levels of chapter compliance with Fraternity law and the rules of host institutions. Never satisfied with the status quo, Siders was the prime mover in the acquisition of a new, greatly expanded, ATO National Headquarters to 4001 W. Kirby Avenue in West Champaign. In 1980, ATO decided to move to a facility that offered some 3,000 square-feet more office space, a convenient, one-story layout, and 10 acres of ground to grow on. The building’s interior was completely remodeled and the new headquarters was dedicated in May, 1982.

Siders saw his mission as moving ATO to the forefront of the Greek movement. His constant prodding of staff and volunteers to take risks and to put ATO in a leadership position was the catalyst in changing ATO from a relatively staid to a dynamic organization. He instilled a commitment to planning by ATO’s volunteer leaders and staff, a commitment which continues today.

BACK TO ILLINOIS

If you were to call central casting and request a national fraternity president, Bob Simonds would probably show up. Elected to his first term in 1986 and his second in 1988, Simonds is the epitome of a devoted, volunteer fraternity officer. His credentials are long and impressive.

Simonds is, by his own admission, much too young a man to have known the legendary Tommy Clark. Yet Clark, the world’s first collegiate Dean of Men, left an indelible impression on Simonds by way of a man named Fred Turner. Turner was Clark’s protege and successor. He was also the employer of freshman Bob Simonds.

Participation in the Navy V-12 program kept Simonds moving from campus to campus. Before graduating he had studied on three campuses — Illinois, Ohio Wesleyan and Pennsylvania. And he had been Worthy Master of ATO chapters at all three schools.

Simonds and Mark O. Thorsby, Albion, who had succeeded Steve Siders as Executive Director in 1987, began focusing the Board of Directors on a long-term strategic plan for ATO. The strategic plan calls for major changes to make the Fraternity’s actions follow its words. The plan calls for increasing the number of new chapters, standards for which members will be held accountable, more cooperation with other fraternal organizations, increasing the number of volunteers giving time to the National Fraternity and teaching undergraduate leadership principles that will help them solve problems specific to their chapter.

Thorsby proved very effective in keeping the Fraternity moving toward its goals. He possessed the ability to focus on the large picture, avoiding pitfalls that would have slowed or stopped the Fraternity’s progressive attitude.

Thorsby’s leadership style, optimism and twelve years of experience on the National Headquarters staff was instrumental in assembling what is arguably the best professional staff in the Fraternity world.

In August 1990, the Fraternity celebrated its 125th anniversary in Richmond, Virginia. The 125th Congress elected the first National President following the adoption of the corporate model of government. Robert C. Knuepfer Jr., Denison, a highly successful attorney who knows his way around a corporate board room, was the man elevated to Fraternity’s highest elected office. The youthful ATO brilliantly then went back to his undergraduate days when he was Zeta Iota chapter president and the 1973 recipient of the coveted Richard A. Ports scholarship fellowship award. Marked for great things in the Fraternity, he became the 1974 Thomas Arkle Clark award recipient. That same year he graduated from Dennison University summa cum laud. While attending law school at Northwestern University, he used his spare time to earn a master’s degree in management, finance and accounting, and served as chairman of the High Council.

Several of the initiatives of the 80s had a profound impact on ATO and defined ATO’s leadership in the Greek-world. At the onset of the liability insurance crisis in the mid 80s, ATO was the first fraternity to deliver a “state of emergency” and adopt a risk of avoidance policy that placed added controls on the consumption of alcohol at chapter functions. The change in Fraternity government enacted by the Richmond Congress — wherein the Fraternity adopted a corporate rather than federal system of government — was another major event that had its genesis in the 80s.

By 1990 ATO’s track record on producing state of the art leadership development programs was well know. Other national fraternities and sororities were asking questions about ATO programs. LeaderShape Inc. was beginning to attract other collegiate organizations that were interested in the programming ATO helped create. In 1992, ATO joined with Kappa Kappa Gamma women’s fraternity to conduct leadership conferences nationwide for undergraduates of both organizations. It was the first time in the Greek system that national men’s fraternity and a national women’s fraternity co-sponsored any type of programming on a national basis.

The Fraternity’s focus, along with its strategic plan had already begun paying off. For that, ATO became known as America’s leadership development fraternity.

UNPRECEDENTED CHANGE

Wm. Brian Ruyle, Stephen F. Austin, was elected National President at the New Orleans Congress in 1992. His terms marked an accelerated rate of change within the Fraternity. As the boom of the 80s gave way to declining membership in the 90s, the Fraternity became aggressive in its belief that ATO must be more relevant to college men or face a diminished future. Ruyle knew that ATO’s deeper meanings…those truths contained within the Ritual…needed to play a more prominent role in everyday chapter life.

Thomas M. Schneider, DePauw, succeeded Thorsby as executive director. Schneider believed as Glazebrook, that true brotherhood was anchored in love demonstrated by Jesus Christ. During Schneider’s tenure, the Fraternity carefully began moving back toward its heritage. ATO welcomes men of all faiths into the Brotherhood. However, the Fraternity cannot ignore or try to hide its founders’ deeply held beliefs that “Jesus Christ is the Way the Truth and the Life.”

Schneider was responsible for ATO’s membership in a select group of national fraternities making up the Fraternity Insurance Trust. F.I.T., later reorganized as FRMT, Inc. Members demonstrated they could successfully manage the risk inherent in operating a fraternity chapter. A record number of chapters were closed between 1992 and 1994. Most lost their charters only after members demonstrated an unwillingness to correct problems.

By the end of 1994, M. Scott Gilpin, Oklahoma State, had replaced Schneider as the Fraternity’s executive and the Fraternity Board of Directors and the Foundation Board of Governors had adopted a vision that would dramatically change the organization.

One component of the vision that had the greatest impact on the Fraternity was the creation of boards of trustees. A group of alumni, parents, faculty and community leaders makes up a local board of trustees. The Board’s mission is to provide encouragement and accountability for its chapter.

 

HOME IN INDIANAPOLIS

One of the most visible changes connected with the changes of the 1990s took place late in 1995. On a December evening, two semi-trucks pulled away from the Champaign Headquarters and began the two-hour trip east to Indianapolis. After more than 84 years in Champaign, the National Headquarters moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. The City serves as the site of national headquarters for 26 other national fraternities, the NCAA, and a host of other college associations.

Following two years in a temporary office, the Fraternity moved into its new home on the twelfth floor overlooking the Indianapolis Circle at the heart of Downtown. Appropriately, the major attraction at the Circle is a memorial paying tribute to the soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

When W. Bruce O’Donoghue, Florida, was elected National President in 1996, the ongoing organizational changes were taking their toll. As president and CEO of a traffic management company, O’Donoghue knew the benefit of operational traffic signals. His diplomatic skills were put to good use as he and the Board of Directors began looking for ways to stabilize the Fraternity while allowing it to continue its progressive move forward.

The Board of Directors began looking at ways to be more strategic in its focus. As a non-profit association, ATO shared many of the typical operational and governing problems of other non-profits. A new governing system called Policy Governance effectively addressed the Board’s desire to be more strategic while at the same time, allowed the professional staff to manage the Fraternity. At the 1998 Orlando Congress, Policy Governance was formally adopted as sweeping changes in how the Fraternity was governed went into place. With its adoption, ATO achieved another first in the greek world. A growing number of non-profits were using Policy Governance, including metropolitan school districts, major hospitals, and governmental organizations but ATO was the first to fully implement the new government structure within the greek world.

As part of the new structure, the Executive Director serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Fraternity, with the National President serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors. Wynn R. Smiley, Illinois & Purdue was named the Fraternity’s ninth Executive Director and the first staff Chief Executive Officer. Smiley had served as Director of Communication for the Fraternity since 1991 and knows the Fraternity well. His journalism background and a commitment to the ideals of the Fraternity were well suited to meet the Fraternity’s needs.

Dr. Miles McCall, Stephen F. Austin, was elected National President in 2000. Dr. McCall had been heavily involved in educational initiatives of the Fraternity, including LeaderShape since its beginning. During his four years as National President, Dr. McCall led the Board of Directors to develop its own organizational practices including strategic planning, chief executive officer progress and accountability, Board recruitment and strategic changes in how ATO related to and led the North American Interfraternity Conference. Miles was also well-known for his entertaining and hard-hitting presentations and speeches to undergraduate brothers. Miles passion for excellence in ATO was contagious.

On July 30, 2004, The Honorable Cory J. Ciklin, Florida State, was elected the 38th National President at the 76th Congress in Atlanta. As a county court judge in Palm Beach County Florida, Ciklin sees what happens when citizens have not internalized the basic ideals of a successful life. Ciklin writes, “As Glazebrook’s descendants each of us are required to help lead the charge and propagate the message of Alpha Tau Omega. This solemn responsibility, like love, never ends.”

The 78th Biennial Congress elected the 39th ATO National President, Walter J. Hughes from Alabama.

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