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 Andys 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 fraternitys 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 thats
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 insiders 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.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
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PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115