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From left, Steven Smith, Rodney Winston, Bran Skipper, Ken Gawronski Jr., Jimmy Kennedy, Josh Parandi and Corey Cason in front of Founders Hall at Athens State University. The group is resurrecting the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, which has been defunct since the mid-'90s at the college. Winston is an Athens State alumni and was a member of the old fraternity.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
From left, Steven Smith, Rodney Winston, Bran Skipper, Ken Gawronski Jr., Jimmy Kennedy, Josh Parandi and Corey Cason in front of Founders Hall at Athens State University. The group is resurrecting the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, which has been defunct since the mid-'90s at the college. Winston is an Athens State alumni and was a member of the old fraternity.

It's all Greek
to TKEs

College students finding an uphill battle trying to revive frat at Athens State campus

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com 340-2447

All is quiet on the campus of Athens State University.

The sounds of energetic college students changing classes, playing football in the quad and heading back to their dorms isn't heard often at this two-year commuter school.

Thus, members of the struggling Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity colony face a daunting task — to recruit enough men to officially bring back their Mu Delta TKE chapter to the university.

"It's probably one of the most difficult things I've ever done," said Ken Gawronski Jr., a 26-year-old political science major who started the TKE's comeback. He thinks he and his core group of recruits can get the 35 they need to become an official TKE colony.

But the yearlong road so far has been all uphill, especially at a school with no other fraternities or sororities, a sports program or a booming student life. An upstart program also struggles to provide enough benefits to justify membership dues.

Right now, about nine men are on the roster and six more will likely join soon, he said.

The heyday

Mu Delta TKE alum and assistant computer networking professor Dave Fitzsimmons brought up the idea of reviving the fraternity to Gawronski last year, which got the ball rolling. Mu Delta TKE thrived at ASU in the '60s, '70s and '80s until it finally fizzled in 1995.

In the 1980s, TKEs organized bonfires before sporting events, threw Halloween costume parties, and participated in the "TKE Dribble" before UAH-ASU basketball games, Fitzsimmons said. During the TKE dribble, fraternity members dribbled a basketball all the way from Athens to UAH, or vice versa, depending on where the game was held.

Each year, the TKEs would host the Red Carnation Ball at ASU, a big event that many students looked forward to.

A changing landscape

But the campus back then was much different, Fitzsimmons said.

"We had more students on campus," he said. "The students we (Athens State) are catering to now are maybe the older and more professional, which makes it harder to find the recruits."

However, even though one-third of ASU students take classes exclusively online, there still seems to be interest in student activities and Greek life, said Tena Bullington, coordinator for student activities and alumni affairs. It's just been difficult to find determined leaders to get the programs going again from the ground up, she said.

The revival of a sorority

In fact, when ASU student Fallon Pirtle found out that the TKEs were coming back, she made it her mission to bring women's fraternity Phi Mu back to campus, which closed its chapter in 1999. While she is still in the very beginning phases of the process, many girls have already expressed interest in the group, she said.

A sorority and fraternity on campus could work together and feed off each other's success, she said.

"If we had the sorority then it would boost the people who would want to join (the fraternity)," Pirtle said.

The beginning

Gawronski's quest to bring back the Mu Delta chapter of TKE began last spring.

The $88 pledge charge and the $230 initiation fee was, and still is, a deterrent for many, though he managed to recruit some friends. Until the chapter is more established, there's little incentive for men to join because special events and a fraternity house require money and manpower — two things the chapter still does not have a lot of, he said.

Current recruits make up a diverse group, ranging in age from 21 to 45. Some work full-time jobs or own their own businesses. Many live off campus.

Bran Skipper, president of the fraternity, admits the fraternity seems like just a lot of work right now because fraternity members have been busy raising funds for their required $2,000 per year insurance policy.

They've organized a pancake breakfast, sold secret-recipe "TKE burgers" and are now selling magazine subscriptions. But their dedication will pay off in the end, he said.

"If you put your mind to it, you can attempt anything," he said.

Many recruits also have high hopes.

"I can see this fraternity getting really big," said Josh Parandi, an electrical engineering major at Calhoun.

Benefits of a fraternity

The fraternity will bring a lot of good to the campus and help get ASU's name out around town in a positive way, the men said. The men volunteered to edge the grounds of the college for last year's graduation and recently began upkeep on a former ASU president's gravesite.

Fraternities are designed to build character, leadership skills and create lifetime friends, Fitzsimmons said.

"When I was in it, there were a couple of guys who were really shy and by the end of it, by serving different officer positions, they learned how to be a little more outgoing," he said.

But now, it's back to square one and trying to bring back the glory that once was. Members hope to have 35 members soon and open up a fraternity office near campus.

"It's a new road, you know?" said member Steve Lee. "Trying to have something that for whatever reason, didn't exist for awhile."

A unique TKE chapter

Athens State is the only two-year school in the nation that has a Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. While the fraternity is usually not permitted on two-year universities, an exception was made for ASU because it had a TKE chapter when it was a four-year college, said fraternity treasurer Ken Gawronski Jr.

Today, fraternity members can come from other nearby colleges that do not have TKE chapters, such as Calhoun Community College or J.F. Drake State Technical College. That way, the fraternity can build a younger member base that can stay in the fraternity for four years, rather than only two.

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