Greek Row: Greeks maintain traditions

By By Clayton Norlen

By Clayton Norlen

Greek life on campus has changed since the first fraternity started on campus in 1908, but a strong sense of tradition has kept parts of greek life the same over the years.

Many chapters have come and gone for a variety of reasons, including alcohol and hazing violations, low membership and, in one instance in 1943, all of the fraternity members were drafted to serve in World War II. Despite these disappearances and a decline in the number of fraternities and sororities on campus, the greeks have maintained traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation of incoming pledges.

Maryann Gardner, a U alumna, was a member of the Pi Phi Sorority in 1943, when the U felt like an all women’s campus, she said. The majority of men on campus had been drafted to serve in the war, so fraternities on campus were mostly empty. The only remaining male students were those enrolled in medical school and others who couldn’t pass the Army’s physical examination because of health problems.

“While the men were gone, we got very good grades,” Gardner said. “When the (fraternity) men returned from the war, they were anxious to get married and to get an education so they could earn money — they took school very seriously then.”

During the war, she said, the social life on campus was dry, making it easier for the women to receive good grades. At the time, students were allowed three gallons of gasoline a week, so there weren’t a lot of social options even around the city for the sorority women. To pass the time, the women would knit socks and go to dances whenever soldiers returned on leave from the bases.

The Gardner family has had a tradition of greek involvement. Both the men and the women have been members in various greek organizations on campus. Maryann Gardner’s daughter-in-law, Lori Gardner, was a member of Delta Gamma between 1977 and 1980.

“(In the 1970s) Greek Row was a lot more vibrant, because every group had a house and there were less rules and restraints on what members could do,” Lori Gardner said. “Unfortunately, being a greek in the ’70s was like being in ‘Animal House’ — not that bad, of course, but it was still a party.”

When Lori Gardner was active in the greek community, students were less focused on philanthropy than the greeks seem to be now, she said. Service learning has become a bigger part of the greek experience, and students are taking that philosophy into their everyday lives, Lori Gardner said. When she was on campus, students joined up with Greek Row to experience life outside of what they had been exposed to previously in other areas of Utah, Lori Gardner said.

“One of the things I’ve been able to see from a generational view is just that greek fraternities and sororities give students the opportunity to develop leadership skills and long-lasting friendships,” Lori Gardner said.

The Gardner family’s tradition of greek participation extends down to Katie Gardner, Lori’s daughter, who is the president of the PanhellenicCouncil for sororities at the U and a senior in psychology. Katie Gardner is active in many of the same traditions that both her grandmother and mother were involved in when they were on Greek Row.

Still today, like in the 1940s and 1970s, the greeks hold Greek Week and celebrate Homecoming every year. While the practice of these traditions has evolved over the years to accommodate the changing atmosphere surrounding Greek Row, the events are still celebrated predominately by greeks.

“We have always decorated the houses and held competitions between the houses for homecoming,” Katie Gardner said. “And Songfest has always been a part of Greek Week.”

Both Maryann Gardner and Lori Gardner recall participating in Songfest, a night where greek chapters compete in a song and dance competition, as well as the Homecoming house decorating contest and inter-greek competitions.

Sigma Chi, the U’s oldest greek chapter, will soon celebrate its 100-year anniversary at the U. The fraternity was established in 1908. The first sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, was established in 1940.

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