Barry McNamara  |   Published April 27, 2016

Pi Phi house dedicated

Founders Day ceremony celebrates ‘quite spectacular’ addition to campus
  • Flanked by family members, college officials and construction supervisors, principal donors Vicki Knapheide Wood and Harold “Knap” Knapheide (4th and 5th, respectively from front right) pose after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
When Pi Beta Phi observes the 150th anniversary of its founding at Monmouth College one year from now, there figures to be a large celebration, but the 149th anniversary will be a hard act to follow. After all, it’s not every day that the founding home of the nation’s first fraternity for women formally dedicates a new $2 million chapter house.

“This has been a very exciting project that we’ve worked on for a long time,” said Vicki Knapheide Wood of The Woodlands, Texas, who, along with her brother, Harold “Knap” Knapheide III of Quincy, Ill., provided the lead gift for the house in honor of their mother Mary MacDill Knapheide ’35. “We finally get to celebrate.”

And celebrate they did, with a crowd of approximately 250 attending the dedication ceremony in the parking lot of the elegant modified Greek Revival structure, which is located on the northeast corner of campus.

Monmouth College president Clarence R. Wyatt paid tribute to Mary Knapheide in his dedication remarks.

“Her spirit is truly with us today,” he said. “She was an extraordinary woman who embodies all that we celebrate today.”

While she was a Monmouth student campus in the 1930s, Knapheide met four of the original 12 founders of Pi Beta Phi, which began as I.C. Sorosis on April 28, 1867. Her grandmother, Lessie Buck MacDill, was not far behind the founders, being the 44th woman initiated. Three of the founders – Clara Brownlee Hutchinson, Fannie Whitenack Libbey and Jennie Horne Turnbull – were represented at the dedication ceremony by descendants – Jean Hutchinson Randolph ’68, Barbara Wheeler Byrne ’77 and her daughter, Megan Byrne ’16, and John Turnbull.

“The women who started Pi Phi were pretty determined,” said Knap. “It’s quite a story of what was done in women’s education at that time. It’s important to tell the story of these pioneering women.”

The 12 founders had the vision to form the first secret society for women patterned after men’s groups at a time when only five state universities admitted women. Inside the house, there are displays which chronicle the rich history of Pi Phi, which led the way as one of the first of seven founding members of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). Pi Phi was also the first to organize a national philanthropic project, form an alumnae department and establish an Alumnae Advisory Committee (AAC) for each collegiate chapter.

Both President Wyatt and dean of students Jacquelyn Condon touched on the house’s connection to Mary Knapheide.

“This house is a meaningful tribute to their mother,” said Condon. “We cannot think of a better place for friendship and happiness to flourish than this beautiful house.”
“We thank Knap and Vicki for their time, talent and resources,” said Wyatt. “This house symbolizes their love for their mother and their commitment to excellence.”

That commitment to excellence included many updates to the original plans by Wood and her designer, Harold Tolsma, working in conjunction with the architectural firm of Klingner & Associates and with Russell Construction.

Senior project manager Scott Illingsworth of Russell Construction said the commitment paid off.

“They turned this house from a very nice house into something very grand,” he said.

“Vicki and Harold did a wonderful job,” agreed Knap. “It’s quite spectacular.”

The women of Monmouth’s Illinois Alpha chapter are deeply appreciative of the 15-bed house.

“I would like to thank all of the donors who have supported this endeavor and the crews who have made this day possible,” said chapter president Kallie DiTusa ’17 of Johnsburg, Ill. “I would like to give an extra special thanks to Knap, (his wife) Ann, Vicki and Harold for all of their generosity in making this a one-of-a-kind experience that we will cherish for a lifetime.”

The morning ceremony, held under overcast skies but in dry conditions, concluded with a rousing rendition of the century-old Pi Phi song Ring Ching Ching, led by Joyce Patterson, president of the Monmouth Alumnae Club. She was joined on the platform by DiTusa, past chapter president Amber Berge ’16 of Port Byron, Ill., and Karen Bowman Angotti ’63, as well as Wood and her two daughters, Amy Wood Wills and Molly Wood, who were inducted into Monmouth’s alumnae chapter the night before.

Singing along in the crowd were several members of the Monmouth Alumnae Club, as well as Quincy-area Pi Phi’s, representing Mary Knapheide’s alumnae chapter.   A photo gallery from the dedication ceremony and celebration is available here.
The guest list and a copy of the official program are available here and here.   More information about Pi Beta Phi is available at the Pi Beta Phi website.
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