With a 100-year history as a social club on the Ferris State University campus, time and space are enough for a few name changes and eventual assumption of a key location in Big Rapids for the Zeta Kappa chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha.
The fraternity celebrates its centennial at Ferris’ 95th Homecoming, Saturday, Sept. 25, though its official inception date was Thursday, Sept. 1, 1921.
Dan Turner, a retired commercial pilot, pledged Pi Kappa Alpha in 1972 and graduated in 1976 from Ferris State College with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Sales from the College of Business. As the Treasurer of the Zeta Kappa chapter alumni association, he researched the fraternity’s history, a concept given life by Ferris’ founder, Woodbridge N. Ferris.
“The purpose was to provide those students that traveled far by train to attend school a social structure outside of class, for a rounded life experience,” Turner said. “The social life had to be nurtured around a principled organization to provide a positive relationship and help turn young students into socialized, contributing adults.”
The first response to Ferris’ proposal was the Stags at Bay social club, which preceded the September 1921 establishment and registration of Sigma Alpha Beta fraternity. That group received national registration as Sigma Alpha Delta two years later, continuing under that name on campus until 1964.
“In 1958, Ferris Institute’s 10th president, Victor Spathelf, sold the president’s house, located at 607 South Michigan Avenue, to Sigma Alpha Delta,” Turner said. “That fraternity became a colony of the Pi Kappa Alpha international fraternity in 1964 with designation as the Zeta Kappa chapter, its 154th member, in 1966.”
A centennial plaque with the history and detail of these achievements will be installed at the home on South Michigan Avenue. Turner said it was an enjoyable exercise looking into their history and university records.
“I found a written guide for students in the 1890s where a choice could be made between having kerosene lamps or electricity as a source of light,” Turner said. “The fraternity life was an important part of collegiate social structure then and now. In my time with Zeta Kappa, we had formal dinners at our home with Wilma, our cook, being very particular about proper dining etiquette and handling of utensils. We are proud there have been over 2,500 brothers of Pi Kappa Alpha since our inception.”
Pi Kappa Alpha is planning to hold its centennial celebration at the Zeta Kappa house in Big Rapids. Other significant reunions include the golden anniversary celebration for the national Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, where the university’s Zeta Upsilon chapter earned its charter in 2012, along with the 50th anniversary of Ferris’ Social Work department. The full roster of gatherings on Reunion Row as part of “Bulldogs, Back to Campus” is available on the Alumni Homecoming page.