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TKE house on its 50th anniversary in 1993. Courtesy | Greg McLogan

The Tau Kappa Epsilon fra­ternity on Hillsdale College’s campus dis­banded mys­te­ri­ously in December 1995, but rumors con­cerning why the TKE National Chapter chose to shut down the Iota Nu Chapter, and the increasing impa­tience of the admin­is­tration with its members still puzzle stu­dents nearly a quarter of a century later.

Some say the TKEs tarred and feathered the eagle statue on the corner of College and Hillsdale streets. Others suppose their downfall came from excessive hazing and drinking, while still other rumors say the TKEs burned down their own fra­ternity house in protest of the college’s actions.

While the TKEs did tar and feather the eagle statue, according to Dean of Men Aaron Petersen, it was said to be the “final straw” after their numerous vio­la­tions of college policy, according to Teacher of Art and TKE alumnus Bryan Springer, ’94. The TKEs were known for their crazy parties, and, at times, sus­pi­cious hazing rituals, as doc­u­mented in several Col­legian issues from the 1980s and 1990s. 

No, they didn’t burn down their house, once located at 328 N. West St. According to Petersen and TKE alumni, the fra­ternity house had many infra­struc­tural issues, including a flood-prone basement due to a burst pipe during the winter.

A Sept. 12, 1996 edition of The Col­legian reported, “After inspecting the property for pos­sible use as offices, the college decided that the potential cost of ren­o­vation out­weighed the pro­jected usage, and had the building destroyed.” 

The fraternity’s alumni asso­ci­ation decided to have the house torn down, selling the house and land to the college, according to the ’96 Col­legian piece. The loss of the fra­ternity sad­dened alumni, espe­cially those who grad­uated only a few years prior to its dis­bandment, and who cul­ti­vated the best mem­ories of their college expe­rience in the house and with the ritual of TKE.

“I felt very sad to hear the news, because here was this orga­ni­zation that had a history that went back to ’63 on campus, and then it was gone,” Springer said. “And, I don’t know why, and most people still don’t. Only those people who were there and probably will never step on this campus again will ever know.”

Although the TKE story and legacy ended on a sour note, the fra­ternity alumni don’t want their house to be remem­bered in a neg­ative light. The members of the fra­ternity before its dis­so­lution con­tinue to treasure the times when TKE, unique from other fra­ter­nities on campus, made Hillsdale home. 

“The late ’80s, early ’90s was a totally dif­ferent TKE house,” TKE Jeff Chandler ’81 said. 

Just like rumors, noto­rious stories have spread across campus over the years. One par­ticular story even per­tains to a former pres­ident.

“The legends are true: Ronald Reagan did come into the TKE house, and he was a TKE, which is how we got him to come. He hadn’t even declared his run for pres­i­dency yet,” Chandler said. “He gladly came over, spoke to us during our active chapter, was incredible, and then he took a picture with us. He was in a coat and tie, looking dapper as always.”

Chandler said times were dif­ferent. Security, although important, was not a primary concern for pres­ti­gious guests like Reagan when vis­iting Hillsdale.

“It was just us. Nobody from the school was there,” he said. “Just Reagan and one of his asso­ciates.”

But the legends don’t end here. Often com­pared to the 1978 “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” TKEs were known for their ram­bunc­tious social gath­erings — dare, say it — parties, that were almost too wild to be true.

“Every Greek house had its own niche in regards to social gath­erings. We liked to bring in live music and bands,” Springer said. “I heard stories about driving motor­cycles down the stairs. It was crazy fun.”

One Kappa Kappa Gamma alumna said she recalled a dance called the “TKE Shuffle,” where all the TKEs would gather whenever a spe­cific song came on during a party. 

“Everyone was welcome at the TKE house,” the Kappa alumna said.

The TKE’s tol­erance for more than mere shenanigans tran­spired across the Greek pages of The Col­legian back in the day.

The Sept. 3, 1981 “Party Line” beat article of The Col­legian said, “The Tau Kappa Epsilon’s tried to drink Broad­street dry Sat­urday night with an enormous beer party…”

One story from a Home­coming weekend encap­su­lates the TKE’s cel­e­bratory culture and influence on the nature of the social scene in the ’80s.

“Chuck Berry played at the Tent Party at Home­coming with buckets of beer,” the Kappa alumna said. “They would give you pails filled with beer, and we called it ‘Camp Happy Dale.’”

Chandler con­tinued the Kappa’s story, saying, “B.J., one of our TKE brothers who passed away trag­i­cally last year, made up ‘Happy Dale’ stickers. The deans were not happy about it.”

But these stickers were the least of the deans’ worries during the TKE’s reign. The TKEs were infamous pranksters, and their mis­chievous bent even­tually con­tributed to the end of their dom­i­nance on campus.

“They took the spindles off of the stairway of Central Hall,” the Kappa alumna said. “It was a prank that really wasn’t destructive — unless the building is over one hundred years old, and then you have to replace it. But it wasn’t any­thing bad or mali­cious.” 

But in the end, in spite of the vio­la­tions that even­tually caused the TKEs to be kicked off campus, TKE allowed young men to gather, be cre­ative, exercise their senses of humor, and ulti­mately become “better men for a better world,” in good TKE fashion.

“The guys I went to school with were some of the most pas­sionate, cre­ative guys I had known here,” Springer said. “They were deep.”

The legends and mem­ories of TKE live on through alumni sto­ry­telling and even with those who would gather at the TKE house for a little shuffle on a Sat­urday night.

“The legends are all true, all of the good and the bad,” Springer said. “It was an exciting fra­ternity to be a part of.”