The Formation Period
Chapter’s optimism for the future - and its determined dedication to
ideals of the fraternity‘s founders - is grounded in its history. Basing
our foundations upon brotherhood, we stand upon a firm foundation built by
three veterans of the Civil War who founded our fraternity back in 1865.
“No North, No South, No East, No West” was their hopes and dreams when
they gathered at the Virginia Military Institute to form the fraternity.
The young men responsible for obtaining the charter for the Zeta Beta
Chapter at the University of Southern California had a similar vision.
The earliest fraternity founded at USC was
Sigma Chi in 1889. After Dr.
Rufus B. von Klein Smid became president of USC in 1921, he encouraged
many other fraternities to charter chapters on campus to, among other
things, provide housing to students.
1921 and 1946, 17 new fraternities and 9 new sororities were founded at
USC. Immediately after World
War II, from 1947 to 1948, as a result of the GI Bill, which brought many
new students to campuses nationwide, seven new fraternities chartered
chapters at USC. After its
chartering in 1951, ATO was the last national fraternity to colonize at
USC until 1976 (Pi Kappa Phi) and 1985 (Sigma Pi).
Although the chapter received its charter on April 30, 1951, the story of
its founding began several years earlier. In the spring of 1947 a young
man by the name of Marv Lester enrolled at the University of Southern
California. He was a transfer from the University of Oregon, where he had
joined the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. Since there was no ATO chapter at
USC, he joined the Stray Greeks, an organization for students who had
belonged to fraternities at other schools but which had no chapter on the
Marv met many new friends in this organization but soon noted that
whenever two of any one national fraternity showed up, those two would
dash off, form a Colony and be well on their way to installing a chapter
of their fraternity on the USC campus. So, Marv was losing friends as
quickly as he was making them.
Finally, Marv asked, why can’t I do that? Unfortunately another ATO
never showed up so he decided to go hunt some down. The Counselor of Men,
Dr. Albert F. Zech, allowed Marv to search all the men’s registration
cards, which list any prior affiliation with a national fraternity. There
were thousands of cards to plow through, and it took days, if not weeks.
Marv ended up with several names, which he placed on 3x5 index cards
These students became the initial members of the Alpha Tau Club, the
precursor of the local chapter. Although
Marv attempted to get the group organized, it never got off the ground.
While there were a couple of dozen men on his list, he never was able to
get more than one or two together at any one time, as many were former GIs
with wives and families.
In the fall of 1947 Marv moved into Hall’s Hall, a rooming house on 28th
Street, right in the middle of Fraternity and Sorority Row. Among the
students he roomed with were Bob Kennedy, Lee Holcomb and George Burke.
Several of his new friends had formed The Phoenix Club, made up of
disenfranchised members of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity.
The members had resigned in protest over how the chapter was being managed
and formed the Phoenix Club so as to “rise again from the ashes and fly
again” in the greatest tradition of Greek Mythology. Other members of
the Phoenix Club were Pat Hillings, later to become a U.S. Congressman and
Paul Kennedy, later a president of the USC Alumni Association and a member
of USC’s Board of Trustees. All
these men, including Bob Kennedy, George Burke, Jerry Jones and Herb
Hynson were very active students on campus, having memberships in Trojan
Knights and Squires or involved in student government.
Over the next few months several ATO transfer students got together for
social events, among them Kipp O. Pritzlaff (Wisconsin ’46), Kenneth C.
Younger (Nebraska ’42) and Ed Beaumont (Illinois ’41). The Alpha Tau
Club struggled along, in the hope that one-day it would lead to the
installation of an ATO chapter on the USC campus.
By the fall of 1948 Marv had become friends with several members of the
Phoenix Club, which had a large and active membership. The Alpha Tau Club,
on the other hand, was quite small and not very active. During a meeting
of the Phoenix Club, held at a garage apartment on 36th Street, Marv made
a pitch that the two groups join forces. He convinced the members of the
Phoenix Club that although they had a strong group they had no real future
ahead of them. And he assured them that the Alpha Tau Club, while small in
membership at that time, had a definite future as an active chapter of the
Alpha Tau Omega National Fraternity. The group voted to merge with the
Alpha Tau Club, and the possibility of reaching Charter status was finally
a real possibility. The group’s first pledges were taken during the
Unfortunately and unbeknownst to the Alpha Tau Club members, there is a
strict rule that members of a national fraternity can never join another
fraternity at the time, except under some very special circumstances. The
decision had been confirmed by a ruling by the ATO headquarters, and
therefore Bob Kennedy, the president at the time and a former Phoenix Club
member, on September 26, 1949, withdrew the names of all of the former
Delta Sigma Phís on their behalf. These men were the original members of
the Phoenix Club, and after much hard work and assistance in building the
Alpha Tau Club, they were left with no chance of becoming a full member of
the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity. This selfless act allowed the formal
chartering process of the ATO chapter at USC to move forward.
The local alums were very much in support of allowing the Phoenix Club
members into ATO and there was intense lobbying on the part of Warren
Danforth, ATO Province Chief. In addition, the president of the Los
Angeles Alumni Association, Judge Evelle J. Younger (Nebraska ’37),
wrote an impassioned letter pleading that the national fraternity
reconsider their decision not to allow the Phoenix Club members to join
His letter stated that “our voice should be heard and our opinion given
serious consideration at the time the decision effecting the group at USC
is made. We have approximately 800 active dues paying members in our
organization. We love our Fraternity dearly. We are at the scene and we
have given the problem constant and serious attention. We feel that we
know better than any other ATO group, board, council, or association,
official or otherwise, outside of this area what is best for our
Fraternity in Southern California.” He went on, “The men of the Alpha
Tau Club at USC are outstanding men - we know them, we like them, we
respect them.” Alas, the efforts of the local alumni were not enough to
change the minds of the national fraternity. The ex-Delta Sigs were not
allowed to join the ATO fraternity no matter how deserving they were of
the privilege. Although Younger’s plea was unsuccessful, it is
heartening to know that the future California State Attorney General had
been such a strong advocate on behalf of these young men.
By the spring of 1950 Marv Lester had graduated from USC and the
responsibility of pursuing the ATO charter status fell to others. Lee
Holcomb, who had replaced Bob Kennedy as president when the old Delta Sigs
tendered their resignations in the fall of 1949, became the group’s new
leader. He had also been involved with the Phoenix Club, however, since he
was only a pledge at Delta Sigma Phi and not initiated into that
fraternity he was eligible to join ATO. Over the coming months he took
several steps that would help lead to the installation of the chapter in
the spring of 1951.
Bob Harvey became president of the group during the fall 1951 semester and
Lee Holcomb, although he had graduated in the spring, made it a point to
stay involved to be certain that the dream of so many would finally become
During the fall semester Richard Moore and John Perme were among the
approximate 14 young men who made up the pledge class. They knew they had
a good chance of receiving their charter within the coming year, so it was
an exciting time for all those involved in the organization. Both Dick
Moore and John Perme would become leaders on campus and in the fraternity,
eventually both serving as president of the ATO fraternity at USC.