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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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My perceptions of NIU fraternity change

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................February 28, 2012

A half century ago when I was at Northern Illinois University, there were two classes of students – the Greeks and the rest of us.

To be accepted into a fraternity or sorority was a status symbol of sorts. I chose to be a part of the journalism gaggle at the Northern Star barracks where we produced the paper and after deadline headed to Andy’s Tavern for a sarsaparilla, disdainful of the Greeks.

Probably the most notorious fraternity on campus – the real hell-raisers – were the guys from Tau Kappa Epsilon. They were called the Tekes, and they were mostly athletes and wannabe jocks. I avoided walking by McCabes on Friday nights because I knew the TKEs were in there, leading the other Greek hordes in some kind of debauchery.

(From left) Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter president T.J. Schwerdtfeger, vice president Pete Laubenstein and member Jeff Paris show off the fraternity’s trophies from campus intramural events and the Tugs at the NIU Lagoon. (Barry Schrader photo)

Fast forward to 2012, and I actually know a guy who is a TKE at NIU. His name is Jeff Paris, and he is my physical fitness trainer at my senior housing complex. When I first saw those Tau Kappa Epsilon symbols on his shirt, I was taken aback when remembering the stereotypes of bygone days.

But as we became friends I asked him about fraternity life at NIU today. He said belonging to a fraternity is about brotherhood and networking to him. Then I got brave enough to invite myself over to the TKE house where he and his 31 fraternity brothers live on the 800 block of Russell Road. I spent time talking to them about fraternity life today.

I met the chapter president, T.J. Schwerdtfeger from North Aurora, and the chapter vice president, Pete Laubenstein of Round Lake. Looking inside the “denizens of debauchery” I found it pretty much like any other off-campus housing. A vacuum cleaner needed to be taken to the carpet, there was dust on the bookshelves and the fridge could use some baking soda freshener, but that’s pretty much the case anywhere around campus.

They said the fraternity had been banned for bad behavior from NIU since the 1970s, but it was allowed to return in 2002. It has a long and colorful history as the largest social fraternity in the nation, which was founded in 1899, the same year NIU opened its doors. The first chapter was formed at the mild-mannered, Methodist-sponsored Illinois Wesleyan University where my wife once attended. (She claims she never dated a TKE.) With my ingrained nose for news I knew they must be hiding something behind closed doors, so I asked to see the “inner sanctum.” They unlocked their “private den” and behold, only a bunch of trophies, TKE alumni portraits and a Budweiser sign. They use this special room for meetings, pledge initiations and storing records. They emphatically said there is no hazing allowed anymore, and they claim they abide by it.

They readily volunteer for community service and spent 1,000 hours at Hope Haven last year. I can even imagine them helping Boy Scouts cross the street. To explain this insider’s bit of humor: In the old days, Alpha Phi Omega used to be called the “Boy Scout fraternity” because members were service-oriented. Today, even Scouts can belong to Tau Kappa Epsilon.

Amazing the changes I have witnessed after 50 years.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115