Original, and Small by Choice
On a crisp November night in 1827, nine young men huddled closely against the evening chill underneath an old, covered bridge. Students at Union College, they spoke in low voices about starting a group for friendship and study with ties that would bind them through life. Those men formed The Delta Phi Fraternity.
Delta Phi is one of the three original fraternities founded in the United States, and it is the nation’s oldest continuously active social fraternity. Unlike most fraternities, Delta Phi is small by choice and maintains intimate chapters at only a dozen or so top-tier universities.
From Humble Beginnings to Llenroc
Pi Chapter was founded at Cornell in 1891. Our charter class included the President of the senior class, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Sun, and University record-holders in the pole vault and half-mile. A history of our first year states that our founders were motivated by their “dissatisfaction with existing chapters” at Cornell and “a desire to perpetuate friendship".
The chapter spent its first decade in modest rental houses. In 1901, it purchased 515 Stewart Avenue, an impressive house that could easily have served as the chapter’s permanent home.
But fate had other plans. In 1911, the chapter had the good fortune to purchase Llenroc from the Cornell family. After moving in, the chapter quickly adopted as its maxim the phrase "True And Firm", which Ezra Cornell had engraved above the house’s front door.
Now our home for well over a century, the house and the chapter are deeply intertwined: indeed, for generations the Cornell community has known the chapter as “Llenroc” as much as Delta Phi.
A History of Excellence
But we are far more than just a one-of-a kind physical structure.
We have initiated more than 1,600 brothers over the past 130 years. We are one of only a handful of Cornell fraternities that owns its own home. An evening at the chapter is the setting for a scene in H. Allen Smith’s comedic novel Lo, The Former Egyptian! The chapter is the subject of the 2011 documentary film A Century At Llenroc, and the forthcoming book True And Firm. Guests of the chapter have included a Governor, two U.S. Senators, a U.S. Attorney General, multiple University presidents, several nationally known bands, and a who’s who of leading Cornell professors.
Many brothers credit the chapter for setting the stage for their achievements in life after college. Our alumni are leaders in corporations, professional firms, government, non-profits, and their communities. They are entrepreneurs and professors, businessmen and scientists, soldiers and artists. Brothers of our chapter have authored over 100 books, ranging from fiction to memoirs to academic works. Several of our brothers who have distinguished themselves in various arenas are the subjects of biographies and other books about their accomplishments.
Our engaged alumni base has long provided financial and other support to the chapter.
A History of Service to Cornell
Brothers of our chapter are also loyal to Cornell. Many of them have sat on various Cornell boards and have donated meaningful amounts of time and money to the University. One of our brothers currently sits on the board of the Johnson Museum of Art. Another sits on the Advisory Council of the Veterinary College.
The Newton C. Farr Professorship in the Arts College, the Geoffrey S.M. Hedrick Professorship in the Engineering College, the Laura B. and Frederick B. Scott Scholarship in the Engineering College, the William McRoberts Professorship in the Law School, the Gensler Family NYC Center in the Architecture College, the David R. Bean Prize in Fine Arts, Bean Plaza outside Milstein Hall, and the Keith R. Johnson Cornell Daily Sun Archive were all endowed by our brothers and their families.
Our brothers have served on the faculty of the Engineering, Landscape Architecture, and English departments, the Medical School, and the Veterinary College. One of our brothers currently serves on the faculty of the department of Molecular Biology and Genetics.
The life-sized sculpture Feeding The Birds, which sits in Minns Garden next to the Plant Science Building, was created by our brother Bo Adlerbert ’35.
The stunning mosaic mural in the apse of Sage Chapel, considered the jewel of the chapel’s ornate interior, was created by artist Ella Condie Lamb, grandmother of our brothers Robin Tait ’51 and Colin Tait ’54. A stained-glass window in the chapel memorializes our brother Professor Lane Cooper, a member of our Rutgers chapter, who served on the Cornell faculty for five decades and was our chapter’s long-time advisor.
Over 130 Years of Brotherhood
Our chapter has lived through Prohibition, the Great Depression, the World Wars, the massive societal changes of the 1960s and 1970s, the digital revolution, and the dynamic environment for Cornell fraternities during the modern era. While much has changed, the most important things remain the same.
The chapter continues to maintain a culture that creates friendships at a depth not otherwise available in the ordinary course of college life.
Llenroc remains a home away from home, and the chapter remains an intimate and familial community, in the midst of a large and impersonal University. Brothers continue to relax in the music and living rooms, study in the house library, play poker in the card room, and make full use of our picturesque grounds.
Brothers continue to enjoy active social lives including parties, formals, date nights, and sorority mixers; participating in intramurals; and working together to better the chapter.
The chapter continues to provide opportunities for leadership, learning and growing outside of the classroom, and better understanding oneself in relation to other people. For many brothers, membership in the chapter remains an important part of their identity as they move forward through life’s milestones. Numerous brothers have met their spouses at Llenroc, and several have held all or part of their wedding ceremonies at the house. Countless brothers have served as best men and groomsmen at one another’s weddings, and many have married into the families of other brothers. Brothers have served as godfathers for other brothers’ children and have given the eulogies at other brothers’ funerals.
Over the last year, brothers from seven decades have attended alumni gatherings held in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Our 2016 gala to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the chapter’s founding, and our 2011 gala to celebrate a century of ownership of Llenroc, drew brothers from eight decades to Ithaca.
A Fraternity for Today
While our chapter is steeped in tradition, it is not constrained by it.
Over the past few years, our alumni leadership spent countless hours re-imagining what our chapter could and should be going forward. Our Mission Statement and Principles were articulated. A strategic plan was created. New member orientation was re-vamped. The overall undergraduate brother program was re-evaluated. A major fundraising campaign was launched.
While we take pride in our rich past, we are more focused on our exciting present: better, stronger, and prepared to set the standard for what a modern Ivy League fraternity can be.