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Knapheide siblings make $1.2 million gift for Pi Phi house

Barry McNamara
Mary MacDill Knapheide '35
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In honor of their late mother, Mary MacDill Knapheide, siblings Harold “Knap” Knapheide III of Quincy, Ill., and Vicki Knapheide Wood of The Woodlands, Texas, have made a gift of $1.2 million to Monmouth College. Their gift will cover the majority of the cost of a new chapter house for the Pi Beta Phi women’s fraternity.
The $2 million facility will be constructed on the northwest corner of Ninth St. and Euclid Ave. Groundbreaking is scheduled for next spring, and the 15-bed house will be available for Pi Phi members in the fall of 2015. It is being designed in the Greek Revival and Italianate styles to reflect the architecture of Monmouth’s historic Holt House, where two of the founders boarded and planned the organization.
Neither Knapheide sibling attended Monmouth, but their mother was in the Class of 1935. She grew up in Monmouth and followed her parents to the college, where her grandfather served as a philosophy professor.
“Vicki and I both feel connected to Monmouth through our mother,” said Knap. “She took a lot of pride in the college. This gift for the house is good for the college and is a way for us to honor our mother.”
With a strong connection to Pi Phi, Mary Knapheide serves as a link from the organization’s very beginnings to this recent announcement. Founded in 1867 as I.C. Sorosis, it was the first women’s fraternity in the United States. Mary was initiated in 1932, and during her 2-1/2 years as a Monmouth student, she met four of the 12 founding members – Margaret Campbell, Clara Brownlee Hutchinson, Fannie Whitenack Libbey and Inez Smith Soule.
Due to the Depression, Mary left Monmouth midway through her junior year to take a teaching job. Ensuring that Monmouth students are able to afford the cost of college for all four years was the reason behind a previous gift the Knapheide family made to Monmouth, creating the Mary MacDill Knapheide Scholarship.
Mary’s grandmother, Lessie Buck McDill, was not far behind the founders at Monmouth, being the 44th woman initiated. She eventually transferred to another college in Illinois when Monmouth banned secret societies from campus, forcing them to go underground, or “sub rosa,” and not display their pins, which the women wore in their hair.
“I have the pin that Lessie wore,” said Vicki. “My mother gave it to me, and I wore it when I was initiated. Not many people have those pins from that time.”
Lessie would go on to serve as a national officer with I.C. Sorosis, even signing a charter for Knox College when the school was in the process of adding a national chapter.
Knap is president and CEO of Knapheide Manufacturing, the nation’s premier producer of steel service truck bodies. It dates to 1848, when it got its start as a wagon company. He began working there as a high school student in 1962 and has served as president since 1978.
Influenced by his mother’s strong family ties to Monmouth and the college, Knap joined MC’s board of trustees in 1975, serving through 1996. He later took on another term from 2002 to 2005. Knap graduated from the University of Kansas, while Vicki majored in elementary education at the University of Arkansas.
“It’s very exciting to continue our connection with Pi Phi from all those years ago to today, being a part of this new house,” said Vicki.
The gift fulfills part of a $5 million initiative to enhance civic engagement in the college’s current $75 million capital campaign. As of June 30, the campaign had booked $64.6 million in gifts and pledges.
A project to raise the additional $800,000 for the Pi Phi house is ongoing. More information is available from associate development officer Jeri Candor by phone at 309-457-2151 or by e-mail at