The Epsilon Chapter of the Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity was installed on March 24, 1913 as the fifth chapter of the national fraternity. The chapter was given the namesake Epsilon, which is the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet.
The chapters’ origin dates back to the fall of 1912 and the beginning of the Kadona Club, which was formed by a group of agriculture students who desired closer fellowship and brotherhood among men of the college. The idea for the club began when Beta Chapter Brother, Sleeter Bull, wrote to the Alpha Mu Club to inquire about the members’ interest in petitioning to join Alpha Gamma Rho. The membership of Alpha Mu was not restricted to agriculture students, so joining Alpha Gamma Rho was not possible. With the help of Brother John H. Worst, president of the college, seven members from Alpha Mu organized the Kadona Club and were given permission to petition Alpha Gamma Rho. The name Kadona was derived from rearranging the abbreviations of the phrase “North Dakota Aggies” to form “Dak No A,” and then reversing the letters of
Brother Homer E. Dixon was sent to the Alpha Gamma Rho National Convention held in 1913 in Lafayette, Indiana with the petition for charter, which was presented and accepted during the afternoon session on February 7, 1913. The installation of Epsilon Chapter was held on March 24, 1913 at the Gardner Hotel in Fargo. Brothers Sleeter Bull (Beta Chapter), Arno H. Nehrling (Alpha), and Thomas D. Harman, Jr. (Gamma) conducted the ceremony and initiated the 18 charter members. Alpha Gamma Rho was the first national fraternity established at North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University).
For several years Epsilon Chapter rented various houses for meetings and for members to live in. This was not always a favorable situation; during the First World War the members had their rented house literally sold out from underneath them. In 1921, Epsilon purchased its first house, which was lived in until 1928. At that time the house was sold to Brother Omar Orlando Churchill, longtime staff member of the college, to be converted to apartments. He paid over market value for the house, and this provided the seed money for the construction of the current chapter house on University Drive. For the help he gave in building the chapter house as well as many other services to the fraternity, Brother Churchill is honored as the Grand Old Man of Epsilon Chapter. Churchill Hall on campus is named in his honor.
The house was built for an approximate cost then of $26,000, and was designed to house 40 men with dining facilities for 65. The fireplace was designed and donated by Brother Harlow L. Walster of Iota Chapter. Brother Walster was Dean of Agriculture at NDAC for 29 years, and Walster Hall is named in his honor. The fireplace contains stone from every state in the Union, from every county in North Dakota, and from 15 foreign countries. It also contains gold from South Dakota and iron ore and petrified wood from Minnesota. Fossils and Indian artifacts are dispersed among the stones. The grates are made of rails from the first Great Northern Railroad, which ran through the present site of the house. The screen and poker are made from mild steel and were created by Haile Chisholm, metalworking instructor and Master Artisan from the college who also created the ironwork for the main gate at the southeast corner of campus.
The chapter went inactive for a period during World War II. The house was rented to the Army, who used it as the headquarters for the Officer Candidate School, and later to the Catholic Welfare Bureau as housing for the elderly. Brother Churchill was the lead alumnus in caring for the house during this time. The chapter was reactivated when the war ended.
In 1950 Brother Harold Schafer, founder of the Gold Seal Company, paid the remaining $10,000 balance on the house mortgage. This gave Epsilon the distinction of being the only fraternity on campus to own its own house.
In the summer of 1969, the chapter house was renovated for a cost of about $120,000. The north stairway was added to bring the house up to current building codes. The residential floors of the house were changed from a barracks-style arrangement, with separate sleeping and study rooms, to a dormitory-style setup where two to four men shared a room that combined sleeping quarters with study space. The parlor area on the main floor was not significantly altered.
The 1970’s and ‘80’s were an important time for Epsilon Chapter. At the national and local level, a great deal of work was done to modernize and improve the experience of fraternity members. This work culminated in 1991 with the adoption of the Brotherhood Program by the national fraternity. One of the central tenets of this program was the elimination of a pledge period prior to membership in Alpha Gamma Rho. Today, young men who accept an invitation to join the fraternity are initiated as full members with all the rights and privileges of the older members, without any hazing.
In 1993, the chapter instituted the Epsilon Hall of Fame. This is the highest honor an alumnus can receive from the chapter, and is awarded every five years. Four men received it the first time it was awarded: Brother Omar Orlando Churchill for his help in building the chapter house and for caring for it during the war, and Brothers Stephen K. Bjornson, Gerald C. Puppe, and Allan R. Johnson, who are the three Epsilon alumni so far to have served the national fraternity as Grand President. Brother Harold Schafer was inducted in 1998 for paying off the mortgage on the house and for his success in business. The most recent recipient, Brother Keith Bjerke, was recognized in 2003 for his achievements at the state and national level, as well as his work for the university.
Epsilon Chapter is already looking forward to its centennial in 2013. Undergraduate members and alumni are actively working together on housing, recruitment, and quality programs to ensure that Epsilon’s second century is as successful as the first in fulfilling the fraternity’s purpose “To make better men…”