The Missouri Zeta Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon has a rich and prominent history on the campus of Southeast Missouri State. The history of the chapter is really a story of two distinguished houses, one great fraternity. For the first 80 years of the university’s history, Greek Letter National Fraternities were not allowed to exist on campus; however the university did allow local fraternities to be formed as literary societies, which is how our chapter was started in the early history of the university. The local chapters had a great deal of influence and were strongly supported by the university. The following is a brief history of the chapter starting as a local fraternity and literary society, later becoming a chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon National Fraternity in the mid-20th century.
Our chapter is the oldest fraternity and oldest student organization of the campus of Southeast Missouri State University. We were founded on September 24, 1891 as the Webster Literary Society. The founding meeting took place at the Normal Building the first building on campus, which stood where Academic Hall is today. There were twenty eight chartering members present for the first meeting, which included the installation of the chapter, adoption of the first constitution, and the election of the first officers. Brother Charles E. Vesey, who later joined the faculty of the college, was elected the first chapter president and Brother Charles R. Pepper, who later became a successful superintendent, was elected the first Secretary. Brother A.H. Steinbeck of Union, Missouri, and later a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, made the motion that the fraternity to be named the “Webster” Literary Society in honor of Daniel Webster, the famous orator and statesman. Webster was Phi Beta Kappa and a Dartmouth alumnus and a fitting role model for the literary society. Another charter member of the local chapter was Brother Robert Sidney Douglas, who would later become the first Dean of Southeast Missouri State University. Brother Douglas is remembered as a gifted Teacher and Administrator in the early days of the university. He served as a faculty member and Dean of the University for 28 years. He would be followed by Brother Vest Myers, another alumnus of our chapter, as the second Dean of the Faculty for the college. Myers Hall on the campus of Southeast is named in honor of brother Vest Myers. Other buildings named in honor of alumni of our chapter are Carnahan Hall in honor of Brother A.S.J. Carnahan, Rhodes Hall, in honor of Brother Roger Rhodes, and the Scully Education Building, in honor of Brother Mark Scully past fraternity chapter president and the first alumnus to be named President of Southeast Missouri State University.
Over the years, our local fraternity, the Webster Society, was the leading fraternity on campus. As the founder of the fraternity system at Southeast, we have enjoyed the distinction of being the leading fraternity on campus for many years. By the early 1950s, the university made the decision to allow the local fraternities to associate with National Greek Lettered Fraternities. We were the first of the original fraternities to affiliate with a national organization. After 63 years as a top local fraternity, the chapter voted to become the 139th chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon National Fraternity. The installation took place on the weekend of December 5th and 6th of 1953. Our SigEp Founding President, Brother Robert Schaffner, accepted the charter from Brother J. R. Pratt, Sigma Phi Epsilon Grand Vice President at the installation banquet held on campus at Memorial Hall. Guest Speaker for the evening was W.W. Parker, President of Southeast Missouri State University.
The next half century, brought much success to our chapter. We were a dominate fraternity in the 1950s retiring the traveling trophy for dominance in Greek Week at the end of the decade. Throughout the 1960s, we were the dominate chapter on campus. We were champions of the All-State SigEp basketball Tournament, we consistently won Homecoming, at one time with three consecutive wins, we were the largest fraternity on campus with over a 100 man chapter for many years, and we held numerous leadership positions on campus including Student Body President, IFC President and the University Man of the Year. We also dominated in athletics and intramurals, often retiring the all-school intramurals trophy. In 1968, our football team went 10-0 and won the all school title 45-6. We set a number of U.S. Intramural records for track, shot put, bowling, and swimming. A number of our members were named to the national All-SigEp Football Teams of the decade. The 1970s were also a decade of success. We recruited a number of student athletes in the 1970s including at one time 14 out of the 22 college football team starters. Our ranks also included members of the baseball, track, swimming, wrestling, and soccer teams. The chapter also was a consistent winner in Greek Week and a perennial Greek Games champion. We were also consistently the largest fraternity on campus. The 1980s were no different. We consistently lead the Greek system. In 1981 for instance, a SigEp was elected Man of the Year, the chapter won All-Greek Intramurals, Greek Sing, Greek Games, brought home the Greek Week trophy, contributed over 4,000 hours of community service, were 1st in grades, and raised over $5,000 for charity. This tradition of excellence continued throughout the 1980s.
By the early 1990s the chapter suffered from development problems, which happened to a number of chapters at that time. We had lost our way and were forced to shut down briefly, to rebuild and reorganize. In September 1995, the chapter was recolonized and received its charter in April of 1999. Since then, the chapter has gone on to become a dominate chapter at Southeast and a top chapter in the Sigma Phi Epsilon National Fraternity. The chapter has won 3 out of the last 4 Greek Weeks, has twice been awarded the Presidents Award for Fraternal Excellence, the top award presented to a fraternity at Southeast Missouri State. Our chapter has also been awarded three consecutive Buchanan Cups, the top award presented by the national fraternity representing 6 years as a leader in all areas of chapter operations. The past two IFC Presidents have been SigEps. The chapter is again the leading fraternity at Southeast Missouri State University.
For many years, our chapter has produced some of the most noteworthy students to ever attend this university. From our chapter ranks, we have produced Senators, members of the United States House of Representatives, and United States Ambassadors. We have produced United States Military leaders, such as Brother Seth McKee, a Four Star General of the U.S. Air Force and past Commander and Chief of NORAD and Brother James T. Conway, Lieutenant General for the United States Marine Corp. Brother Conway recently led 50,000 soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom, as commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. General Conway now serves as the Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our alumni have also become prominent businessmen, including a number Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and leaders of various corporations in St. Louis, Southeast Missouri, and the Nation. We have also produced a number of prominent lawyers, doctors, educators, and humanitarians. Our chapter also boasts many recipients of the Southeast Missouri State Alumni Merit Award, the highest award of distinction presented to a former student of the university.