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Moscow Office

University of Idaho Alumni Office - Moscow
Physical location:
1212 Blake Ave.
Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3232
Moscow, ID 83844-3232
(208) 885-6154
(208) 885-6975 (fax)

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University of Idaho Alumni Office - Boise
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Greek History

Going Greek Since 1901

Campus' first national sorority and fraternity - then and now

By Alexiss Turner

Senior Kelsey Matthews comes from a family of Vandals - her father was a Sigma Nu, mother and grandma were Delta Gammas, and her aunt and cousin were Gamma Phis.

Even before high school graduation, Matthews' future was clear.

“If I was going to go Greek,” she said, “I was going to Idaho.”

Matthews took the route of her aunt and cousin and pledged Gamma Phi Beta in 2010. The national sorority founded in Syracuse, N.Y., was the first national Greek sorority on the University of Idaho campus. Originally organized as Alpha Delta Pi in the early 1900s, the UI campus location was established as the Xi chapter of Gamma Phi Beta in 1909.

The oldest national fraternity on campus is Kappa Sigma, organized as Sigma Delta Alpha in 1903 and installed as Kappa Sigma in 1905.

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Greek letter organizations started popping up in the late 1700s and early 1800s as societies often hidden away off-campus. As their popularity grew, many colleges recognized the recruitment benefits available and offered to lease or sell land to bring these organizations closer to campus.

Today, more than 44 percent of students living on-campus at UI choose to “go Greek.”

Kappa Sigma: 1903-present

Kappa Sigma called several houses in Moscow home before coming to campus, including a rental at 107 N. Almon St. The three-story building included a basement, and its first-floor dining room and kitchen was cozy enough to fit 28. Eight total bedrooms on the second and third floors held three to a room.

Construction on the current Kappa Sigma residence on Blake Avenue began in 1916. The classical Georgian building was designed by Kirtland Cutter, known for his work on Spokane’s Davenport Hotel. The house held 32 students in eight suites.

Modifications and expansions have been made over the years. Parlors were expanded and rooms combined to create more space. As the fraternity’s population rose to 60, the second and third floors were remodeled in the 1950s and converted to two- and three-man rooms.

Lawrence Knight ’55 said the sagging springs of the bunk bed in his two-man room provided the perfect place to hide from upperclassmen looking for participants for a house cleaning party.

“They wanted us to get up and scrub floors.” he said. “I’d just lie down on my stomach and pull the covers over my head. If they say saw me, they didn’t make any indication.”

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Knight also hailed from a Vandal family. His father spent several years supporting himself sharecropping, and working for the U.S. Forest Service and in the oil fields of southern California before moving to town in the late 1920s to marry and get an education. Greek life wasn't a given, Knight said, but going to Idaho was.

“It was taken for granted that I would go to the university and live in student housing,” he said.

Living near Pocatello, Idaho, he met some soon-to-be pledge brothers on the train to campus. By the time the train pulled into Moscow, he knew where he would live.

Kappa Sig Kappa Sigma - present
“It was a smaller group,” he said. “In residence halls it was like going into a mess hall surrounded by hundreds of faces. At Kappa Sigma, you could go in and drop in on people … oftentimes get a bridge game in … It was a much closer social relationship.”

Richard Roberge '58 lived in Kappa Sigma from 1954-1956. Because he grew up an only child in a small town, he said the fraternity provided a family of brothers he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“(Growing up,) I didn’t have contact with a lot of other guys,” he said. “This was a learning experience for someone that didn’t have a lot of close guy interactions.”

That sense of family is still alive and well for Jesus Iniguez. The senior first experienced Idaho while visiting campus during annual cheer clinics. It wasn’t until his sophomore year he met the brothers of Kappa Sigma.

Iniguez said his friend base in high school was comprised of other students in athletics, and he admits cliques were formed. It wasn’t until he entered the open doors of Kappa Sigma that he experienced the whole spectrum of the student body.

“You have cowboys, jocks, the guys who only want to study, the guys who don’t drink - it was awesome to be friends with all those people,” he said.

Like all Greek houses on campus, Kappa Sigma has a national philanthropy it donates to each year. Along with a fall volleyball tournament to benefit Serving Those Who Serve, a nonprofit that aids wounded veterans, the house participates in Relay for Life and keeps one of campus' oldest traditions alive.

In the early 1900s, the brothers at Kappa Sigma and sisters at Gamma Phi Beta were attending a function at the fraternity when rain washed out the Paradise Creek Bridge leading to the sorority’s house. The girls and their chaperones were forced to stay the night at Kappa Sigma. The resulting 12-hour party was dubbed the House Party, and the event is attended by members from all Greek houses annually still today.

Roberge invited a date to each of the house parties he attended during his three-year stay at the fraternity. He ended up marrying his third date, Rowena Hasbrouk, and the two have been together for 56 years.

Gamma Phi Beta: 1901-present

For Jo Kleffner ’56, summers spent life-guarding at a pool near her Boise home were twice as long as they needed to be. By July, the education major had her fill of vacation and was ready to get back to campus – and back to her sisters at Gamma Phi Beta.

“I loved it because those were my sisters,” she said, “At the end of the school year, it was always hard to say goodbye.”

The Gamma Phi Beta house had been through a few locations before winding up on Blake Avenue, when Kleffner set foot on campus. The sorority originally started in 1900 as a sewing group called Alpha Delta Pi. They held meetings at Moscow City Hall, and membership dues were 35 cents each to cover the cost of a secretary’s book and stationary.

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By 1905, a governing body had formed and began work to apply for the Gamma Phi Beta Charter. The first initiation of the Xi chapter was Feb. 3, 1910, and included 26 members.

The sorority’s Blake Avenue house, built in 1916, began to get cozy as the group’s population grew. The attic was converted into additional study rooms in 1923, a sun porch was built and a third floor was added years later.
Kleffner joined the small pledge class of 14 in 1952. She said her fondest memories are of simple moments getting acquainted with others in the house, sharing stories around the Christmas tree and singing songs at the kitchen table in harmony.

Between time spent at the study table and invites to events at other Greek houses, Kleffner said her sisters always found ways to have fun. She remembers sliding down the backyard hill on cookie sheets taken from the kitchen.

She said Gamma Phi Beta had a strong emphasis on student involvement, and that hasn't changed today. Kleffner - whose mother and mother-in-law were Gamma Phis, has three daughters who are also Gamma Phis, and three grand-daughters at UI - said the push has extended across campus.

“There is great pride,” she said. “They encourage grades, intramural stuff and everybody is supposed to be involved.”

Gamma Phi Gamma Phi Beta - present
Early records show Gamma Phi Beta’s emphasis on academic achievement. In 1917, a Gamma Phi was recognized for receiving the highest marks of any student to attend UI, and she held that record for 14 years. In 2012, the sorority's overall GPA of 3.3 surpassed almost all other Greek houses on campus.

The Gamma Phi Betas now live in a chapter house constructed in 1958 on the corner of Elm and Seventh streets. The house underwent a remodel in 1997 to bring it to its current state.

For Kelsey Matthews, the choice to stick to family history and join a Greek sorority was an easy one. Pledges are given a chance to meet and mingle with a variety of houses on campus before filling out bid cards to make an official attempt to enter a house. Once she met the sisters of Gamma Phi Beta, her decision was made.

 “I found the type of girls I wanted to turn into,” she said.