John Hibbs, Passionate About Making Fraternity Houses Great

A chief purpose of this post is to add to the bathtubs of intellectual sweat found at a stone-age blog  ben300.com/greek   Written either when I was House Dad @ Sigma Chi or @ Theta Chi.  {NOTE: In the process of trying to move the “best” of those posts from Ben330.com to OregonHibbs.com I managed to wreck large portions of it. However, for those gluttons seeking to fill large appetites about how to improve the Collegiate Fraternity System, find large plates here  ben300.com/greeks.}

The second purpose is to provide additional granularity to how I have become convinced that Fraternities are in deep, deep trouble; that they are on a downward and deadly spiral. That what I have to say is designed to help the pilots to avoid a crash. And, if they want me, to sit with them in the cockpits. Fraternities have been around for a very long time and millions have had enjoyed rare benefits from them. Later, in subsequent posts, I will be more specific and more brief. What follows is thus the long of it. To include how I got here –starting in 1960 when I pledged Sigma Chi @ Oregon, one of the best and luckiest things I ever did in my life. Here goes.

BACKGROUND AS A HOUSE DAD, EUGENE OREGON

TEN YEARS AGO, next month, I came to Eugene and accepted the job of House Dad for the Sigma Chi Fraternity.  It sounded like an interesting challenge. I’m a Duck, a Sigma Chi, recently divorced and was still trying to find something to do with myself having (a) sold my company to United Artists and (b) getting fired by the owners, including my best friend, best customer and the guy who engineered merger between our two companies –the late, great Jon Daugherty, President, United Artists Theater Amusements.)

In a ‘worst-case’ situation I could “bail” and return to San Diego after football season. In a “best case” circumstance, I could “manage” one whole school year inside a wee apartment inside a raucous House. What the heck. They would pay me $200 a month and I got, as we would say in the Army, ‘thee hots and a cot.”  (except the ‘hots’ were a LOT worse than in the Army!)

How was I to know I would grow to love it so much? How was I to know that I would learn some of the best lessons of my life as House Dad for Sigma Chi and for Theta Chi?

How could these lessons possibly compare to what I had learned student at the London School of Economics? a Green Beret? selling black market cars in Turkey? being first in my MBA class? the eleven years I spent in Asia working for the greatest company on earth (the biggest American trading company on earth)? the years I spent building my own business? and the prospects that seemed to Jon Daugherty and me “easy pickings” once we could tell the Bosses at United Artists what to do. Ha!

So, here I was, inside a House which Bob Warr (the most loved man in Sigma Chi history at Oregon) would call – then and now — “An old folks home for the dreadfully poor.”  What on earth would cause me to become as embroiled in all of this as I have come to be?

THE GREATEST PAIN

WATCHING A WRECKING BALL DESTROY A GREAT HOUSE (1963)

Part of it, I think, was because I watched, in 1963 — 50 years ago this summer —  a wrecking ball destroy what was not only one of the most magnificent Chapter Houses in the whole country, but was also brim full of some of the best men that ever walked the campus of the University of Oregon. (Write Bob Warr if you really want to know more — gotowarr AT yahoo DOT com…and I mean a LOT more! Bob will also confirm that the reason for the wrecking ball was two fold:  (1) a corrupt Alumni President/Real Estate Agent , who made a bundle on the transaction) and (2) an apathetic Alumni who were all “too busy” to be involved. Yuck!

HIBBS BULLET POINTS RE: HOUSE/FRATERNITY MANAGEMENT

In summary, what are the most important lessons I learned during the eight years I lived inside the Theta Chi and Sigma Chi Houses? Here they are, roughly in order of importance.

n a minute I’m going to list some of the most important beliefs that I came to about the management of a Fraternity House, but let me start with these two:

  1. The Chapter is only as good as the ADULT leadership! Absolute proof of how terribly weak and unacceptable is the typical adult leadership found at virtually every Fraternal Chapter House and to compare that to almost every Sorority House in the country.  Ours are filthy, stink, and we have to rope in just about every male that shows slight interest. Ours are  in shameful physical and financial condition with a deeply held perception defined as this:  frat house. frat rats. PARTY, PARTY, PARTY.   Theirs are bright, beautiful, full to the brim, solvent and very nearly universally conceived as splendid residential homes for motivated, upward bound collegiate women  There is only one clear, absolute, truthful, evidence-based reason to account for this: Leadership.  They have it. We don’t. Why? Because they manage with the firmness of a tight drum (the House Corporation) and the discipline of a Marine First Sergeant (The House Mom).  Arguably, the single most important component is the House Mom; but without hawk-like supervision by a half dozen active and enthusiastic Board Members even Superman couldn’t keep good order over (mostly) terribly spoiled “boys”  — Not just “because boys will be boys’ — but because these boys came with the idea that residence in a frat house meant PARTY, PARTY, PARTY.
  • Lesson One -(B): The Crucial Importance of Summer Revenues and the need to cement an entrepreneurial spirit inside the House, and with the Alumni Board with the same depth and vigor as is the quest for Brotherhood.

{NOTE:  Later, I will post specific remarks regarding each of the LessonsI will add links to each of these Lessons, above and below, within the next few days.}

MORE HIBBS BLARNEY

When I accepted the job of House Dad I had no idea I would spend wonderful years in the position. I would not have guessed I would be awarded “Best House Parent Award” (out of 223 Chapters). I didn’t have a clue how proud I would be to spearhead the fielding of a Sigma Chi Baseball Team (16-19 years). Or how rewarding it was to gather multitudes of letters that led to Brother Bob Warr being granted Sigma Chi’s highest honor – The Constantine.

I could never have imagined how much I would grow to love the kids. How much it meant to live with, eat with, travel with, laugh with. cry with, share intimate thoughts, be with them body and soul, heart and mind, as only the attendance of hundreds of Monday night Chapter Meetings can provide. Nor could I imagine that every now and then, as recently as a few days ago, I would come by chance on one of them — always greeted with a big grin, the grip and a booming HI HIBBSY!  How, for someone now past 70 come away from such embraces as a junior high school kid just kissed by his ‘only true love’?

BIG GRAND FRATERNITY  HOUSES VS

An Old Folks Home Built For The Dreadfully Poor

What did not change, and I am now sure will never will be changed is that the “new” Sigma Chi House — now much older than the four story brick beauty torn down (so a corrupt Alumni President could get his $300,000 commission) – would never be replaced.

Way back in 1965, Bob Warr, advertising guru, the Chapter’s Greatest Alumnus, and winner of Sigma Chi’s highest award, the Constantine,  tagged the “new” House exactly right. “An old folks home for the dreadfully poor.” That it was then. That it remains now.

For various reasons, the largest of which was the physical property itself, was the opportunity to become House Dad for the Theta Chi House. This was “just up the street” from the “new” Sig House:  1125 East 19th Avenue to be exact. While that House could not compare to the “old” Sigma Chi House, it was a beauty. One, below,  says more than a 10,000 words:

THETA CHI HOUSE, EUGENE, OREGON

ThetaChiPhot

When I moved in what I did not know was the incredible difference between the “men” that House and the men of Sigma Chi. The short of is that in the Fall of 2009, on my watch I must admit, both the Alumni and the University had “had enough”. Every single occupant, member or pledge, was banished from the House. From January to Se I was left with an empty House. If I could find a way to earn revenues sufficient to make my $400 per month paycheck good, well — “have at it”.

OREGON SIGMA CHI HOUSE IMAGES

REAR VIEW OF SIGMA CHI HOUSE @ OREGON

FRONT (19th AVENUE) VIEW OF SIGMA CHI @ OREGON

That period of time, when the House was completely empty, turned out the out to be one of the most instructive periods of my life. The short of it is that I fell deeply in love with the House itself. From basement to attic, from the elevated front lawn to the basketball court and BBQ area in the backyard.

The second most important lesson I learned was the value of “trading unoccupied rooms for those willing to paint, polish, scrub, plaster, cement, wallpaper, provide lawn care, internet wiring, fix door locks, patch holes, and on and on and on. I encourage all readers of this post to view this photos — but most especially I encourage adults with official responsibilities for all Greek Houses.

But the most important lesson was to being to understand the full value of the property all 365 years of it.

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About oregonhibbs

Just past 70 I'm passionate about improving access to education, worldwide, sailing, Duck football (I live in the shadow of the University of Oregon in Eugene) and connecting with people with ideas and work that "can change the world".

Posted on June 24, 2013, in Flipped Fraternities & Restoration, Lighthouse Project. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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