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WWII Plunges Fraternities Into A Downward Spiral


World War II and the post-war recovery was a dark time for the world and for fraternities. Here's how Acacia survived.

While Americans fought for the survival of freedom, fraternities were plunged into a downward spiral. College men were drafted and many fraternities were forced to close, rent out houses as barracks, or band together with other fraternities. Acacia was no different.

America was coming off The Great Depression of the 1930s. At first, an overseas war was just what the country needed to jump-start the economy. Production of war material initially seemed a boon, but even the most optimistic person could see that this was not going to be a temporary war.

Acacia, meanwhile, was trying to conduct business as usual. The Council met at the Drake Hotel in 1940 and focused on expanding the fraternity. They also planned for the 1941 Conclave in Sun Valley, Idaho. Triad issues from 1940 continued to promote the Conclave. By March 1941, the venue was changed from Sun Valley to Chicago.

Even though tension was mounting, the 23rd Conclave was eventually held August 25-29 at Purdue University. Much of the time was devoted to officer training. Despite the rumblings of war, this Conclave passed far-reaching legislation. The adoption of a compulsory life subscription plan for The Triad, an idea that had been around since 1920, would be a major force in the financial future of the fraternity. It was also passed that membership in the fraternity could only be terminated by death or expulsion. Finally, a resolution to establish a central office was adopted. The positions of Executive Secretary and Field Secretary were also created.

In the same issue as the report on the Conclave was the first appearance of Acacians in military service. A total of 70 Acacians from nine chapters were listed, truly only a fraction of Acacians in service. In the December 1941 issue of The Triad an article entitled "I Saw It Happen," written by a recent graduate, gives an account of the war, including the German's occupation of Paris. The number of Acacians in the military listed in The Triad subsequently jumped to 159 from 14 chapters.

The March 1942 Triad featured a story entitled "Exodus From the Campus" that described how California had an 18 percent drop in students, the University of Texas, 15 percent; Chicago, 15 percent; Temple, 12 percent; Minnesota, 12 percent; and Southern California, 10 percent. As the draft began, not only students, but also many teachers, left to fight for America. The effects of the war began to show. In fact, news of the first Acacian killed in battle was reported in this issue.

By the end of 1942, only 19 out of 25 chapters sent letters to The Triad. In the October 1942 Triad the Kansas Chapter reported on their efforts and failure to remain an active chapter; Missouri reported they were sharing a house with Delta Upsilon for the remainder of the war; and Oklahoma reported that theUniversity Interfraternity Council banned all summer rush parties.

In August of 1942, a War Council was formed. This group, made up of officers (including the newly created Executive Secretary and Field Secretary), would be the driving force behind Acacia and its future after the war was over.

The 1943 Conclave was cancelled due to the war. The Council continued to operate with the help of the central office to administer the affairs of the fraternity. The Triad increasingly focused on the war and letters and updates poured in from Acacians.

The October-December 1943 Triad contained a story entitled, "Exodus From the West Coast" by Thomas Uragami, an American-born Japanese College student in Los Angeles, CA. It dealt with America's reaction after Pearl Harbor and the internment that Uragami faced. Clearly the central office, under the guidance of Editor and Executive Secretary Jack Erwin was not afraid to cover controversial subjects, even during wartime.

The 40th anniversary of the founding of Acacia passed by in May 1944. It was held at a gathering of the Chicago Alumni Association members. National President Walter W. Kolbe, Major John L. Griffith and Dr. A.R. Gilliland were guest speakers. Naturally, they all spoke of the war and its effects.

Only eight chapters wrote into The Triad for the May 1944 issue. Colorado reported that the house was being used as a barracks for the Navy, and that all rushing had been suspended; George Washington reported being down to six members and sans house; and Northwestern reported having less than a dozen men.

The 1944-45 issues of The Triad were almost exclusively war stories, letters from servicemen, deaths and honors, and related material from Acacians in battle. The list of Acacians in service was now nine pages long and included over 1,200 names. Many more were never reported, including those chapters disbanded at Yale, North Carolina, Iowa, Stanford, Chicago, Oregon and Oregon State. This was by far the largest section in the publication during this time.

By the Spring of 1946, fraternity men were headed home. In the end, 1,589 Acacians had been listed as serving in the military. Of these, 48 were killed in action, missing or had died in prison camps. All were compiled in the Honor Roll of Acacia in the 1946 issues of The Triad.

Acacia National President Walter Kolbe announced that the 24th Conclave, the first since 1941, would be held at Northwestern University. Kolbe asked that each fraternity send five representatives instead of the usual two in order to get chapters back on their feet.

Many chapters that were inactive during the war — Illinois, Iowa State, Kansas State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Franklin, Michigan, Oklahoma and Washington — all showed renewed signs of life in 1945-46. Lloyd H. Ruppenthal would be elected the next National President (replacing Kolbe), and Jack Erwin, who had done a fine job with The Triad during the war years, would retire.

The reactivation and rebirth of chapters was the next step in Acacia's history. In 1947, Acacia would install a new chapter at Southern California, the first since 1935. A chapter in Wyoming would come a month later.

Another seminal event occurred in 1947. Roy C. Clark became Acacia's executive secretary. Clark's career would be a major influence in the revitalization of the fraternity, so much so that he would forever be known as "Mr. Acacia."

Many chapters were reactivated soon after the war. Oklahoma State was reactivated in 1946; Syracuse, Washington and Washington State all showed signs of growth; Texas reactivated in 1946; Oregon State in 1948; Kansas in '48; and Denver in '48. In fact, in only three years after the war officially ended, Acacia was pronounced back to its pre-war strength.

The 25th Conclave assembled at Northwestern in August 1948, where Roy C. Clark had some very good news. During the two preceding years Acacia had achieved remarkable growth — from seven chapters and 133 active members, to 27 chapters with 851 actives, including 445 new initiates.

Thanks to the compulsory Triad subscription fund, Acacia was also doing well financially. To cap off 1948, the University of California at Los Angeles was installed as the 28th chapter of Acacia.

The end of this stormy decade saw more growth for Acacia: installation of chapters at Ohio University, Miami (Ohio), Rensselaer and New Hampshire, plus the reactivation of the Nebraska Chapter in 1949. Acacia had started in 1940 with 25 chapters; the war had whittled this down to seven. By 1950 Acacia was 33 chapters strong, and growing.

Acacia had not only survived WWII, but had emerged stronger.