The History of Sigma Delta Phi

The Founding and Early Years (1919-1939)

On February 28th 1919, five men who had met at Otterbein and became friends held a meeting. Paul Sprout, Herman Lehman, Lowell Gibson, David W. Bartlebaugh, and Leslie Dano (not an Otterbein student) were all active members of the various athletic and literary societies that dominated Otterbein at that time. This meeting, however, didn’t concern the school’s latest basketball victory or the deeper meaning of classic literature of the day. At this meeting, five young men established a secret society; a new bond that linked them together as brothers, not just as friends.

The new group chose the letters Delta Sigma Phi to represent their underground fraternity. Delta Sigma Phi was the third male Greek organization on campus, preceded only by Pi Beta Sigma and Pi Kappa Phi, both founded in 1908. All Greek organizations were strictly forbidden by the Otterbein administration, so all activities, meetings, and even rushing new students, had to be discreet.

As the years passed, the administration grew increasingly lenient, and in 1922, Otterbein College finally welcomed Greek honorary societies on campus. Just one year later, social Greek organizations were recognized, but with a catch; no Greek letters were permitted! In 1923, Delta Sigma Phi became a legitimate Otterbein “social group” under its English nickname, Sphinx. The new “Sphinx Club” elected Wilbur Franklin as their first semester president, and Lowell Gibson as the second. Sphinx officially had a residence located somewhere on State Street in the Roaring 20s. Though not much information is known about this place – including an official address – it should be noted that this residence serves as the second longest residence inhabited by Sphinx.

Sphinx quickly garnered a name for itself by attracting the leaders of campus into its ranks. Class presidents, editors or the school’s publications, athletes and other campus figures made Sphinx synonymous with “excellence”. Even the fraternity’s first advisor, Professor Glenn Grant Grabill was destined to leave a distinctive mark at Otterbein as composer of the “Otterbein Love Song” and “Cardinal Fite.”

Another trademark of Sphinx became the fraternity’s social events. From country themes to glamorous dances held in downtown Columbus, Sphinx threw some of the most unique parties on campus. This distinction led to several of the fraternity’s parties being highlighted in College Humor, a national magazine. Unfortunately, the notoriety of widespread recognition came with a price. In 1930, a national Greek organization also known as Delta Sigma Phi contacted the local chapter with a clear message: “Join, or cease using the letters.” Naturally, there was some resistance both to tampering with the letters chosen by the founders, and assimilation with a national group with a completely different background than Sphinx. The group quickly decided that changing the letters would be a better alternative than completely changing the ideals of which their brotherhood was based. So, on April 1st, 1930, Sphinx changed its letters to Sigma Delta Phi. In the early 1930s when a gallon of gas cost $0.10, and the average home cost a little over $7,000, Sphinx moved to the 115 University Street. The fraternity lasted in this house for roughly five years which is the average length for Sphinx in a residence. This home on University Street would later be made into Otterbein’s presidential residence for then president Rev. Walter G. Clippinger. Rev. Clippinger was the institutions 14th president serving from 1909 to 1939. At the time, Otterbein had eight recognized fraternities. Another group, Alpha Beta Sigma (Alps), was in a different situation than Sphinx, but one that was just as serious. The Alps were losing members faster than they could recruit. Instead of watching their fraternity slowly die off, the members approached Sphinx. A series of meetings took place between the two groups and it was decided that any advantage that may be garnered by joining the national Delta Sigma Phi would overshadow the traditions and history that Sphinx and Alps had established. In 1933, Alpha Beta Sigma deactivated its chapter and merged with Sphinx.

The War Years (1939-1954)

Sigma Delta Phi continued to enjoy a vigorous active chapter until 1939, when many groups experienced low membership due to the looming threat of war. During World War II, most college-age men were fighting, and Otterbein men were no exception. In 1939, many colleges and specifically fraternities were taking a hit in membership, with dwindling membership, Sphinxmen moved into a home on the first block of West College Street (81 W. College ST). This home would last only two years as the fraternity would leave this residence for another home on 40 East Winter Street. By 1941 membership in Sphinx had rapidly declined. And in 1943, all members of Sphinx had been enlisted and fighting in World War II. Warren Earnsberger ’43 remembers meeting Leo Jamison ’46 in the most unlikely of places. “We were on a refueling trip between Frankfort, Germany and France. We stopped to refuel and here I see Leo Jamison leading a command of ten other guys. I haven’t seen him since then,” said Earnsberger.

The Second Refounding (1963-1997)

In 1946, the fraternity was re-founded by seven men; President Jerry Stockdale, Ed Ardnt, Waren Bale, Dean DeLong, Bob Wilcox, Max Phillians, and Dean Kuhn. Since G.I.s were returning home, every fraternity on campus was full. 1948 was heralded as a record year for the chapter; Sphinx alumni purchased 36 West Home Street for active chapter use. Always known for their lavish parties, Sphinx had 72 prospective pledges attend the rush party in 1948 meaning that Sphinx was well on its way to becoming one of the most active fraternities on campus.

In the Sigma Delta Phi oath that each member takes, we vow to hold the fraternity above everything, save God, Country, and Otterbein. In 1951, the country called its men to fight, this time in Korea. All but six members were called into duty by the 38th Infantry Division, and thus Sphinx was not able to survive membership and disbanded. Citing declining membership, the alumni sold the house in 1953. The fraternity remained silent for nine years, until seven men reactivated Sphinx in 1963. William Bennett, Bill Hankison, Perry Doran, Larry Ishida, Mace Ishida, Bob Kintigh, and Ed Henn re-founded Sphinx for a second time. Led by President Henn, the men revitalized the fraternity crest and also changed the fraternity colors from Blue and Red to Kelly Green and White, undergoing a second refounding, members of Sphinx moved into 167 West Park Street. The fraternity would live in the 100 block of West Home Street for five years before making the move to what many members consider the official Sphinx house. The late ‘60s and early ’70s were landmark years for Sigma Delta Phi. In 1968, the fraternity moved into 70 West Home Street, which would serve as the chapter house for the next twenty-five years. In fact, 341 Sphinxmen called this location home. That’s roughly 68 percent of the alumni having either lived in, pledged during, or been associated with Sphinx while the fraternity called the residence home. 1968 also began the eight-year term of housemother, Gertrude Specker, whom many members thought of as a second mother; or, at the very least, a special friend.

In 1970, Sigma Delta Phi accepted thirty-seven men into the chapter as pledges, a fraternity record that remains unbroken. From that optimistic beginning, Sphinx established several records. In 1971, Sphinx garnered first place in the Harmony Night competition during Greek Week, and has won that competition more than any other Greek organization! Another record held by Sphinx is receiving first place for the Homecoming Float competition. Since 1963, Sphinx has placed first more than twenty-two times, and has failed to place only three years. The intramural sports records of this time were also impressive.

There is more to Sphinx, however, than trophies, ribbons, and accolades. In 1977 and 1978, record blizzards covered Columbus and surrounding areas, forcing many businesses and schools to close and cancel activities. The annual Razzmatazz rush party was cancelled, and the members of Sphinx helped feed emergency crews and evacuees at the Westerville Armory during the bitter cold. Emphasis on service continued in the early 1980’s when Sigma Delta Phi lost member Darrin Barnett to cancer on Thanksgiving of 1984. Following the loss, Sphinx organized the first of many successful “Run for Life” campaigns under current president Jerry Thaman that benefited the American Cancer Society. Sphinx also branched out to help residents of the Mann Nursing Home and the Westerville Senior Center. Other charitable causes included Auction 34 and working with Church of the Master. As the fraternity developed a strong identification with service, it didn’t neglect the “social” side of things. 1984 marked the first “Long Island Iced Tea Party”, an event that gathered attention and a fallout for four weeks after it was concluded abruptly by the arrival of college official, Robert Gatti.

1984 also marked another “first” in Sphinx history. Since the merging of Delta Sigma Phi and Alpha Beta Sigma created Sigma Delta Phi, it is only appropriate that they were responsible for the reactivation of another. Mike Maxwell, a Sphinxman, decided to de-activate in order to reintroduce the Lambda Gamma Epsilon (Kings) fraternity to campus.

This period also marked many of the most successful Razzmatazz parties the fraternity has ever held. With Casino Nights, a Live Auction, and the one and only experience known as the “Razz Band”, Sigma Delta Phi has had one of the most distinctive rush parties on campus. The late 1980’s introduced many challenges for the fraternity. Although the fraternity was strong internally, the house at 70 West Home was literally falling apart. Even as Sphinx captured the Greek Week title in 1989, the looming threat from the college to demolish the house was growing stronger.

In 1990, Sigma Delta Phi lost Dwight “Smokey” Ballenger, a prominent alumni member, to cancer. Within weeks, the chapter mobilized and renamed the annual pledge walk in Mr. Ballenger’s honor. In addition, a new tradition was created. Each year as pledges began their trek toward activation, they also were required to collect money for the American Cancer Society in his name. In honor of Mr. Ballenger, Otterbein dedicated its new football stadium in his name, and in the fall of 2007, a black metal fence was built around the stadium. The fence was dedicated to Sphinxman Kenneth Paul ‘42 by his wife.

The house situation, as serious as it was, also produced a positive reaction from the chapter. A group of alumni members began to meet on a regular basis to study the housing problem. Their dedication renewed enthusiasm within the chapter, which started to rebuild the active-alumni relationship. Tom and Mary Andrian, parents of Sphinxman David Andrian ‘93, also expressed strong interest in helping the members begin a fund for the purpose of building a new house. In 1992, the rumors became official: the lease at 70 West Home Street would not be renewed. The Alumni Council had received a number of pledges and was on its way to establishing a viable house fund, but one year was simply not enough time to amass the funds needed in order to buy or build a new house. Otterbein offered a solution in the form of 166 West Main Street. With most other options out of reach, the chapter and alumni agreed the house on Main Street would be the next home of the fraternity.

Even as the living and social quarters grew smaller, Sphinx continued to grow, accepting thirteen pledges in 1993. They redefined themselves as campus leaders by hosting the All Campus Wing-Ding and Campus Unity Day, and a successful street fair that brought students and faculty together with the Westerville business community. The fraternity also continued an on-going service project called Adopt-a-Highway, which required chapter members to clean a two-mile stretch of State Street four times a year.

For years, as is evident in its history, Sigma Delta Phi has given its resources to the community and has asked for nothing in return. In the fall of 1993, however, the fraternity received a gift. Tom and Mary Andrian purchased a house at 76 West Main Street for the sole purpose of allowing the fraternity to occupy and take care of the property. The Alumni council shifted its focus from building a new house on the Home Street site to buying the house from the Andrians and making it the permanent home of Sigma Delta Phi.

In the fall of 1994, Sphinx moved into the new home at 76 West Main Street. The first official event in the new house was an Open House celebration on September 17. During the festivities, Sigma Delta Phi gave monetary donations to the American Cancer Society, the Columbus Open Shelter, and Amnesty International. In addition, Mr. and Mrs. Andrian joined Otterbein College President C. Brent DeVore, former faculty advisor Dr. George Phinney, and the late Dwight Ballenger as “Honorary Alumni” members of the fraternity.

As time went on, Sigma Delta Phi had a falling out. At the time, pledging and rushing had both become steadily lenient, until it eventually allowed anyone to join relatively easily. This created a crippling dissention within the fraternity as members lost the values that they once pledged to forever uphold. As more and more members de-activated, the group lost the meaning of what it is to be a Sphinxman, and that led to Sphinx’s untimely demise. Eventually, the chapter disbanded in 1998 and Kappa Phi Omega took over the house on Main Street that the Sphinxmen once had.

The Current Chapter (1999-present)

For two years, Sigma Delta Phi remained a memory on campus. During the 2000 rush season, nine young men discovered the dormant fraternity and decided to revitalize it. Nate Jones, Dave Green, Ryan “Red” Davis, Joe Dallacqua, Ryan “Blue” Parrish, Jared Trubee, Dave Kline, Scott Von Almen, and Mark Harvey took it upon themselves to reintroduce Sphinx to the Otterbein community. Following were Eric Gladden and Josh Grimm, who pledged alongside them. The men contacted a number of alumni members, But, Scott “Humpy” Humphrey responded to their message and assisted in organizing other alumni to assist in putting the entire group through the pledging process, as well as helped retain some of Sphinx’s former glory. Scott Humphrey was appointed the official fraternity advisor, and has held the position until the spring of 2014. Sigma Delta Phi elected Nate Jones as their president, and began a new chapter in history. With its membership on the rise, Sigma Delta Phi earned the title of being one of Otterbein’s “interest groups”. Finally, persistence and hard work paid off during the winter quarter of 2001 when Sphinx was awarded Associate Membership with the Interfraternal Council and became an active fraternity once again.

Despite Sigma Delta Phi’s late addition to Otterbein’s fraternity roster, the members braved uncertainty and threw a luau rush party, “The Big Kahuna”, in Roush Hall. Worries slowly dissipated as a number of quality perspectives attended. Less than two months later, the fraternity added many new members to the fraternity. A spring pledge class was taken in the spring of 2001, and with momentum on its side, the fraternity plowed ahead. With a solid foundation in place, the 2002 winter quarter rolled around and Sphinx was looking to continue to build upon its chapter numbers, but also attract young men who would be able to uphold Sigma Delta Phi’s principles. In 2002, a winter pledge class came and went, and the fraternity found itself doubled in size! In the spring, four more active members were added, making Sphinx the second largest fraternity on campus. The following year, Sphinx recruited eleven men and was the only chapter to retain 100% of its pledge class. Spring quarter brought on Greek Week, where Sphinx took first place in both Harmony Night and Lip Sync. Sigma Delta Phi also continued to participate in various community service projects such as serving food at the Faith Mission Men’s Shelter, volunteering and participating in the Columbus AIDS Walk, and ushering at various fine arts events on campus.

Since the last official home in 1997, Sphinxmen continue to live in apartments, dorm rooms and non-official Sphinx homes around campus with the hope that one day there will be an official, college-sanctioned house for Sphinxmen to again call home. As of 2004 Sphinx has had two houses to call home that are not college sanctioned houses. For two years the men Sphinx call 58 West Lincoln St. home, then relocation in the fall of 2006 to 101 South Grove St. for one year. Sphinxmen have called 58 W. Lincoln St. home since the fall of 2007, and if affectionately known on campus as “58”. As the 2008 an academic school year approached, Sphinx continued to gain momentum. Once again, the Fraternity was the winner of the Homecoming Float Building contest w ith a Kelly green and White replica of Towers Hall. In the winter of 2009, they welcomed a pledge class of 13 men. The success only continued when the Fraternity earned the Greek Week title for 2009. In the process, they racked up first place in Harmony Night, Lip Sync, and Banner. Furthermore, Sphinx was awarded with the Interfraternal Council’s Chapter of the Year Award for the third straight year, ranging from 2007-2009. Sphinx remains the only chapter to have ever attained that record.

In the winter of 2010 Sigma Delta Phi welcomed a pledge class of 10 men making Sphinx the largest active fraternity on campus once again. The Fraternity’s success continued in the 2010 Greek week by taking Second place in Harmony Night, Lip Sync, winning the Banner Competition, and Second Place overall. 2010 also brought alumnus Matthew D’Oyly back to campus to lead as the Fraternities Faculty/Staff Advisor. In the winter of 2011 twelve men were welcomed into the active chapter. The winter class of 2011 was the first class in over five years that retained 100% of its pledge class. The spring of 2011 welcomed many changes for Sigma Delta Phi. In addition to winning Greek Week by winning first place in Lip sync and second in Ultimate Frisbee, and harmony night, Sphinx was also honored as the Interfaternal Council’s Chapter of the Year, and Outstanding Contribution to the Otterbein community. Both are awards in which Sigma Delta Phi is known for winning. The real changes came when Otterbein announced that Sigma Delta Phi would be returning to campus in the fall by moving into 188 W. Main Street, a former theme house. For the first time in thirteen years Sigma Delta Phi would have an on campus house. Otterbein’s transition to semesters also brought change for Sigma Delta Phi. For the first time in history Sphinx hosted the Big Kahuna in the fall, and also held IFC sponsored fall pledging. The Fraternity continues to thrive and bring in successful new member classes. In 2014, Sigma Delta Phi was awarded Chapter of the Year and Excellence in Community Service. Additionally in 2014, Sigma Delta Phi recognized Scott "Humpy" Humphrey for his dedicated service by naming the chapter room in the house in his honor.

For more than 100 years, Sigma Delta Phi has given members the opportunity to develop leadership skills and self-confidence. Sphinx had also provided a social outlet and a means to get involved in community service for its members during their years at Otterbein University. The passage of time has produced many changes on campus, but one thing is clear, Sigma Delta Phi continues to thrive because we define ourselves by the principles on which the fraternity was founded: Brotherhood, Scholarship, Self-Control, Devotion, Fidelity, and Service.

Veritas Ad Nos Super Omnia. “Truth to Us Above All.”

Written by Jeff C. Goins 1993. Revised by Kyle Yaggi 2002 and Thomas Martin 2011.