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Ohio Epsilon occupies an important place in the realm of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. We are one of the major chapters of the fraternity. Our traditions and house are landmarks brothers of other chapters take pride in and want to know more about. Knowing the history of our chapter is an important part of being an Ohio E.
The procedure used in the establishment of Ohio Epsilon was typical of the method employed by many fraternities until recent years. The present method incorporates a local organization or colony petitioning a national fraternity for membership.
Ohio Epsilon’s existence was not owing to the chapters that surround it, but to a son of Virginia Pi. Henry Dannenbaum, of the Emory and Henry chapter, was visiting friends in Cincinnati and there he met a student at the University of Cincinnati. When he found his new friend was not a fraternity man he proceeded to tell him of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and as he grew interested, pledged him to form a chapter.
Joseph B. Strauss was this young man. A civil engineer and later champion of the golden gate bridge, he soon introduced a number of his friends to Dannenbaum; finding them of excellent quality, proceeded to build the chapter. He wrote to the Eminent Supreme Archon about the men and their petition to join Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Thomas Mell, the first man to hold the title of Eminent Supreme Archon was impressed and put in place a plan to establish a charter.
The established chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon voted favorably to start a chapter at the University of Cincinnati. Before his work was done, however, Dannenbaum was called back to his Virginia home. The official charter, therefore, was sent to John Focht, a devout brother of Ohio Sigma at Mount Union College and he went to Cincinnati to install the chapter.
Focht went to Cincinnati where he initiated Strauss and Gilbert L. Bailey on November 22, 1889. These two later initiated Louis B. Fritch, Irving McAvoy, Charles A. Rubenstein, Paul A. Heinrichsdorf, and Charles M. Weil.
At the time of founding only Sigma Chi was active and recognized within the University community. Beta Theta Pi was re-organizing, but would not be recognized until 1890.
The university was still located downtown, and the early fraternity was located in an office at East Ninth Street, then at 48 Lincoln Inn Court, then closer to the McMicken homestead at 46 West Clifton Avenue from 1892-1895. The fraternity followed the university up the hill into Clifton, first settling at 9 Straight St. in 1895 near Deaconess Hospital, then to the Jackson Homestead where the Hanselmann Masonic Lodge now stands from 1896-1898. From 1898-1910 the fraternity rented Room L on the Bradford block at the Palace Hotel at Sixth and Vine downtown; pictures of this can be found in the lodge.
In the early years of the fraternity at UC, Ohio Epsilon brothers took the lead in the important endeavors of the young university; A. K. Nippert in athletics and the Cincinnatian and G. A. Ginter in the school’s first newspaper.
On November 22, 1909, at a special banquet to celebrate the 20th anniversary founding of the fraternity, it was announced that the chapter had purchased a house at 2210 Ohio Avenue. In January, 1910, Ohio Epsilon moved to 2210 Ohio Avenue through the efforts and generosity of chapter alumni. Coincident with this move, the DeVotie Hall Association, a non-profit corporation composed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon alumni, was formed and the title to the house was placed in its name. This was the first home owned by any fraternity at the University of Cincinnati. Its location was close to the streetcar barn at the top of the Ohio Avenue incline, earning the E’s the nickname “car barn boys.”
We had a brother in the chapter named Leonard K. Baehr, Ohio E. ’16, affectionately known as “Teddy Baehr.” Teddy was a big and talented football player. During a game with the Kentucky Wildcats, someone commented, “They may have Wildcats, but we have a ‘Baehr’-Cat.” Thus the name “Bearcats” was born and immortalized in cartoon from The News Record years later. Up until this time, the school was referred to as the Red and Black.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1923, James Gamble Nippert, star center for the Bearcats and legendary Ohio Epsilon brother, suffered a cleat wound in the game against rival Miami of Ohio at Oxford. UC would go on to win the game, 23-0. The injury would cause an uncontrollable infection and his untimely death on Christmas Day, 1923. As a memorial to him, his parents, Alfred Kuno and Maud Nippert, decided to build a house in his honor and chose a location of which Jimmy had been fond. In addition, his grandfather, James Gamble, promised to pay the completion costs of UC’s stadium and dedicate it in his honor. The stadium is called Nippert Stadium to this day.
The house was designed in an Old English or Tudor style by brother Clifford Stegner. The original design intent was to have everyone sleep in the west end of the dormitory, in the racks, and the remainder of the rooms were to be used for storage and study. This arrangement was used until the 1960s.
On January 6, 1935 Richard Youngblood was killed crossing Clifton Avenue. The large tree in the northwest corner of the yard was planted in his memory.
In 1938, brothers of Ohio Epsilon produced an internal pledge manual that was comprehensive and incorporated elements of the Paragraph History of Sigma Alpha Epsilon with the history of fraternal organizations and important rules for life. The manual predates The Phoenix pledge manual’s introduction by several decades.
The 1950s were a period of great success for Ohio Epsilon. Its members could be found throughout campus, particularly in sports and glee clubs. The chapter embarked on its first construction project since the completion of the lodge in 1925. The George H. Kress Memorial Library, named for the successful optician and Ohio Epsilon brother, was dedicated in 1956. The second-ever John O. Moseley Award for Fraternity Zeal was received by the chapter in 1958 and represented many years of strong leadership in the fraternity.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon remained at the forefront of the university throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The lodge was packed every year with nearly 50 men living in a house that now can only legally hold 33.
The late 1980s and 1990s were crazy times at college campuses and UC was no different. Typical years saw Ohio Epsilon active membership at over 100 men. In the mid-1990s, the house faced difficult paths ahead. Drug use and comfortable leadership signaled a need for dramatic change. After the suicide of Andrew Cupples in 1996, the chapter, along with many of its fellow UC fraternities, struggled with internal problems.
The turn of the century saw almost every fraternity at UC rebuild in some way. Ohio Epsilon of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was no different; responding to excessive behavior and major structural problems as well as a sea change in the way chapters were regulated and regarded on college campuses.
In response to the difficulty, the alumni of the chapter stepped in to help the chapter fix itself. It was a dramatic, painful process. The chapter was put under an Alumni Commission where carefully selected alumni developed a plan to help the house get back to a stable effective unit and were completely involved in the process of rebuilding with final say on all decisions. When it began in the middle of 2000, the chapter had 80 active members. After careful vetting and discussions, the number of active brothers was reduced to 13. After another painful lapse several months later, the number was further reduced to eight by the middle of 2001. Because the process was done through Alumni Commission, there were bitter feelings on both sides as some brothers remained active to help guide and build the chapter immediately after the house was trimmed. A security guard was posted for a long time in front of the house to avoid any repercussions. But Ohio Epsilon, because of the commission, remains one of the few chapters in the realm to have never been closed and therefore has had a constant line of undergraduate leadership through its entire existence.
After the influence of the Alumni Commission, the chapter has built itself back into a power. In 2004, former Eminent Archon of Ohio Epsilon and key figure in the post commission chapter, Chris Speelman, was named True Gentleman of the Year, the highest award the fraternity can bestow upon an undergraduate member. Since 2002, Ohio E. has placed five times in Greek Week and has been named a Silver and Gold chapter as recognized by the university’s Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development every year the distinction has been awarded. In 2007, Ohio Epsilon won the John O. Moseley Award for Fraternity Zeal, marking the second time, and first in forty-nine years, that Ohio Epsilon has been named the top chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
In 2010, we developed a new addition to the already existing structure of the James Gamble Nippert Memorial Lodge, thanks to our generous alumni base. The construction commenced in June 2009 and was completed in June of 2010.