February 23, 2016

70 years of success at Purdue University

Written by Pat Kuhnle

In the 70 years it has been in existence, the Omega Chapter’s housing corporation has served more than 2,000 students at Purdue University and is still going strong.

While the Omega Chapter has existed since 1922, during the early years, members bounced around various rental locations. Then in 1926, Pi Kappa Phi took over a three-floor chapter house with a full basement. The facility has survived a World War, the turbulent ‘60s and a devastating fire and still fulfills the needs of its brothers.

The Omega Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi Housing Corporation Inc. was born when students and recent alumni purchased the 8,000 square foot house with a mortgage in 1926. The limestone exterior building supported by tile block and a steel frame has seen its share of renovations over the years, but none as significant as after a 1987 fire.

An overheated vacuum cleaner ignited after being used and stored in a second floor closet. The event caused extensive fire and smoke damage to the top two floors and significant water damage to the bottom two. No one was injured, but firefighters from three stations took nearly four hours to extinguish the fire.

After having to sit out the 1987-88 academic year for renovations and a 2,000 square foot expansion, 70+ chapter members moved into the house that’s called home yet today. The cost of the reconstruction project neared $1 million but thanks to $400,000+ in alumni fundraising, insurance proceeds and a new mortgage, Omega was back in business.

Today, the chapter stands at 140 strong and is arguably year-in and year-out the best chapter on campus. In fact, in each of the last nine years it has been a finalist for the campus fraternity of the year – winning it six times.

Recent statistics support the chapter’s claims, too. For example, in the 2015 fall semester, Omega was number one in philanthropic dollars fundraised–doubling the closest fraternity competitor. Number one in service hours–almost double others. Number four in size and number seven in grades on a campus out of 41 fraternities.

A core group of volunteers has been incredibly strong given that West Lafayette is not necessarily a destination city. Some of the housing corporation members drive 60+ miles to assist the chapter.

Since the corporation’s inception, a core group of up to 10 alumni and support of dozens more who assist on an ad hoc basis, has been fairly consistent.

“I have served on the housing corporation for more than 30 years, and there have been a few times when that has not been an easy task, but overall has been a good cooperative situation,” said corporation president Jay Seeger, a 1974 computer science graduate and local attorney. “I consider it a small way to pay back the fraternity for the benefits that I received as an Omega Chapter undergraduate. I have also enjoyed interacting with the undergraduate brothers and then later watching as they developed into active, involved alumni.”

Seeger, who has been president twice over three decades, cites three reasons for the corporation’s success: 1. Open communication. 2. A good mix of old and young alumni. 3. Diversity of professions and interests on the board. The corporation meets at least four times a year at the chapter house and meetings are open to the undergraduates. The corporation manages the property, funds annual house improvement projects and advises various chapter officers.

The group advises on financial, recruitment, standards, facilities, legal, collections and accounting issues. While we ask that brothers be out of school at least five years before joining the corporation, any alumnus is eligible.

Today, members include an attorney, the majority leader of the Indiana State Senate who manages farmland, a CPA, a newspaper manager, a retired steel mill manager, a construction engineer, a human resources recruiter and a special education teacher.

“I think the relationship between the two entities works so well because the diverse experience of the board not only in terms of profession but in terms of the time each spent in the house,” said Tyler Ochs, archon in 2015. “We have board members who were here in the ‘60s through relatively recent graduates,” he said. “This allows for understanding between the board and the undergraduate membership to evaluate problems and utilize experience to best handle situations with the house.”

Collaboration is the key despite the fact that undergraduates and alumni periodically have different perspectives or priorities. “I remember that my first view of the housing corporation was, like most undergraduates, from an ‘us vs. them’ perspective,” Seeger said, “but when I became chapter treasurer and began working more closely with the members of the housing corporation, I saw their concern and affection for the fraternity.”

The corporation is without debt, having paid off the 24-year mortgage after the 1987 fire years before its completion. In fact, despite spending more than $30,000 each summer on various maintenance/improvement projects, it has been able to establish a building fund for future major improvements. That fund now exceeds $100,000 from donations and money set aside from the annual corporation budget.

The chapter pays rent to the corporation and that money in turn pays for liability and casualty insurance, major repairs and maintenance and accounting services. Annual alumni donations also partially fund summer improvements including recent bathroom renovations, new kitchen equipment, boiler and window replacements, just to name a few.

The chapter’s room and board charges are very competitive, too. Those charges are more than 15 percent less then campus residence halls and other fraternities.

The strong alumni-undergraduate coalition that has achieved so much success allows the chapter to set high standards during recruitment as well. For example, each semester nearly half of all men going through all fraternity recruitment visit Pi Kappa Phi at some point (more than 400 went through recruitment last fall when the chapter had a 25-man new member class).

In the fall of 2015, the chapter initiated its 2,000th member, only the third Pi Kapp chapter to achieve that status. Others include Omicron (Alabama) and Alpha Epsilon (Florida).

While the undergraduates are what make the chapter among the best at Purdue, it’s the housing corporation that assists with providing quality, competitive housing through stability and diversity of its board. Collaboration, commitment and communication are traits that has made the Omega Housing corporation work well for seven decades.

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Last modified on February 23, 2016

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