2024 Founders' Day Address
January 10, 2024
My Fellow Fraters,
In August 2019, at the 60th Conclave in my hometown of Orlando, Florida, I shared the quote, "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots." So, every January 10th, we come together to celebrate our beloved Tau Kappa Epsilon and, in doing so, reflect on not only the founding of our Fraternity but the promises we have made and our focus on the future direction.
Those of us fortunate enough to call ourselves Fraters know the story of Settles, McNutt, Mayer, Truitt, and Atkinson wanting to create something better than what was available for themselves and other college men to follow. Like many of us first-generation college students, I exemplified this Teke spirit before we ever learned of the Fraternity, which would forever become a part of our lives. As I've shared before, my journey was only one of wanting better than living in a double-wide trailer and wondering how to provide for my family.
My adventure in Tau Kappa Epsilon provided a family to me in a place where I was all alone, in an environment that was not part of my family's origin story or culture. At the University of South Carolina, and later the University of Central Florida, I drew off the history of my chapters and Fraters to develop those roots.
This past year's reflection and focus on my history and origin have taken on a deeper and special meaning. In the early years of childhood, I was not aware that my young father was ill until 1989 when I was 10 years old, and my then 31-year-old father underwent his first kidney transplant. Forced to help support my family at a young age, I was especially driven, as the Knights of Classic Lore had been, to develop my personal worth and character.
The Fraternity gives us the opportunity to make lifelong connections that better our lives. For those of you who have joined the Fraternity for Life, you have learned that these deep connections often occur after our collegiate days. For me, one of the deepest connections in the Fraternity started in 2013 with meeting Past Grand Prytanis Ted Bereswill, who entered the chapter eternal on August 13, 2023. Ted and I both had humble backgrounds and embraced the opportunity to find something better for our lives. Ted, who initiated at the Gamma-Upsilon chapter on the University of Texas campus before I was born, utilized the relationships and experiences in his collegiate chapter to reach some of the highest echelons of business. Ted's success changed the trajectory of his life and the lives of his wife Kim, daughters Alison and Becky, and his first grandson and future Frater Bennett. Ted loved to mention "hope is not a strategy", that we can be fortunate in our defeats, and to exemplify a spirit that does not shrink from sacrifice, that knows no defeat, a spirit indomitable. Despite facing challenging personal and professional circumstances, my life was enhanced due to my relationship with Ted.
Ted's family invited me, along with Ted's fellow Gamma-Upsilon Fraters and best friends Past Grand Officer Brian Montgomery and Jack Bobbitt, to speak at his celebration of life in Houston. The invitation has been one of the greatest honors I have had as Grand Prytanis and reminded me that Teke brings people together with different histories, origins, and cultures for the good of our Fraternity, for the good of our fellow Fraters, and for our own good, allowing us to live in the spirit of true brotherhood in our Fraternity for Life.
A part of my history came full circle in early October while facing an ongoing serious illness. My father was ill most of his life and passed away in 2003, a few days before his 44th birthday. On October 3rd of this year, I became older than my father when he passed. Since I last spoke with you in my 2023 Founders Day Address, I have faced several serious issues requiring me to draw on my faith, family, and Fraternity. Without the support of my wife Heather, my children, and my Fraternal relationships, I don't know how I would be here to speak with you today.
I know many of you have similar circumstances in your lives, and you have both survived and thrived due in part to TKE and the common bond that gives us strength and resolve. As we celebrate this 125th anniversary, I ask that you consider sharing with each other and the Fraternity what TKE has given you in your lives. You can share these with your chapter, alumni association, our social media channels, and me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These past 125 years, we have grown deep roots of love, charity, and esteem, with a focus on our mission to aid men in their mental, moral, and social development for life. In doing so, we recommit to our purpose of contributing to the advancement of society through the personal growth of our members and service to others.
Witnessed through our profiles of 125 influential Tekes this year, our Fraternity has impacted all aspects of our world. Ambassadors Donald Tapia, Ryan Crocker, Senator Richard Stone, Daniel Levinson, and Gary Doer have represented their respective countries around the world. Nobel Prize winners Paul Greengard, Dr. William Fowler, Daniel McFadden, and Ken Brockman led innovation to change our world. Entrepreneurs Mark Benioff, Conrad Hilton, Paul Oreffice, Dan Mead, and Charles Walgreen formed and led companies that have impacted our world. Fraters Dr. Scott Cowen, Edward and William DeVry, Dr. Fred Carter, Earle Harbison, Jr., and Elmer Smith have contributed to, led, and innovated at higher learning institutions across the country. Philanthropists like current TKE Foundation Chairman James Crockard, Thomas Koehn, and Raymond Chambers have changed their communities through the giving of their time, talent, and treasure. Fraters General Earl Edward Anderson, Major General and current Grand Council member, Chuck Whittington, Jr., and retired Navy Captain, POW, and former Executive Vice President of TKE Bill Metzger have dedicated their lives to protecting the freedoms that make America the beacon of hope, prosperity, and safety for those worldwide. Not only have these influential Fraters served their countries and industries, but they have also served our Fraternity. Frater "Spike" Kratchovil served the Epsilon chapter for over 37 years, during which he advised over 900 Fraters. Frater and Past Order of the Golden Eagle recipient Harry Donnelly served at varying levels of the Fraternity for forty years and helped establish the TKE Foundation.
While it is important to celebrate our past, we look towards the future. TKE has been a leader throughout our existence in doing and being more for our members, campuses, and communities. And over these next 125 years, this will not change. To accomplish this, allow me to share the vision of the Grand Council on how we will continue to do so in the future.
Through the challenge established over 50 years ago by Frater Danny Thomas, Tekes have committed to supporting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to further Frater Thomas' goal of ending childhood cancer. Since 2009, we have raised over $8.5 million for the hospital. I am proud to announce that we continue to grow our relationship with St. Jude, and in the coming year, we will have exciting announcements related to strengthening this partnership. Several years ago, TKE left the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) so that we could directly control our direction for the future within the Fraternal world. Over the past few years, TKE has championed a more educated Grand Chapter in best practices of Risk Management and a safer experience for our members and guests. We were the first fraternal organization to have a Certified Title IX Investigator, Chief Risk Officer Frater Gregory Roskopf, on staff to help establish, monitor, and enforce top standards and practices in Risk Management. Frater Roskopf and Director of Health and Education Joey Krzywonos have not only reduced risk management incidents year after year but also introduced resources focused on health, safety, and welfare to enhance the safety of our collegiate members.
Over the past several years, we've established strategic collaborations with other male fraternities, leveraging our collective experiences to redefine the role of male fraternities in the 21st century. Working together over the next several years, a range of new initiatives will be introduced, spanning areas such as education, marketing, and apparel. The execution of these innovative measures are the result of our dedicated TKE Professional Staff led by Chief Executive Officer Donnie Aldrich, Chief Financial Officer Brett Widner, Director of Fraternal Services Mike Peck, Director of Expansion PJ Malafronte, Foundation Chief Development Officer Eric Chamberlin, Director of Alumni and Advancement Chris Niles, and Chief Communications Officer Tom McAninch.
We will continue to grow the Fraternity at a substantial pace, not only returning to historic chapters but also looking to establish chapters at new institutions. A great example of the commitment of our Fraternity to grow is here at the Beta-Lambada Chapter at Auburn University. Like our five founders, five men here at Auburn embraced excellence to create a brighter tomorrow through resurrecting the chapter. Their work has led to building the largest current chapter in TKE Nation with a total of 192 collegiate Fraters strengthened with the recent initiation of 67 new Fraters this fall.
Periodically, I have the honor of interacting and seeking guidance from our 14 living Past Grand Prytani. These men, who have a continuing love for the Fraternity, are invested deeply in the continuing success of our Fraternity. A lifelong commitment to TKE is also exemplified by our outstanding volunteer army. On this Founders Day, I want to recognize Fraters John Hester, Bob Kellam, Steve Jones, Rich Kurtyka, Tuppy Tupper, Jack Serigne, and T.J. Smith for having given over 40 years of volunteer experience to the Fraternity.
Our chapters and emerging chapters are embracing the spirit of living our Past Grand Prytani who have led our Fraternity to greatness. Past Grand Prytanis, Executive Director, Order of the Golden Eagle Recipient, and Expansion Leader Bruce C. Melchert, who at 89 years young still is actively involved in leadership in TKE, was responsible for the opening of hundreds of chapters through a steadfast and unapologetic focus on recruitment and growth. This past year, we have seen a dedication to Frater Melchert's spirit through explosive recruitment at chapters such as San Diego State, the University of Southern California, James Madison, Louisiana State, and Louisiana Tech.
Auburn University has a special place in the heart of Past Grand Prytanis and Order of the Golden Eagle Recipient Dr. William V. Muse. Frater Muse, a former Chancellor here at Auburn, based his Doctoral Dissertation on the relationship between the success of a social fraternity and its adherence to business management practices and principles. A focus on these principles has led our Fraternity to survive the COVID pandemic and grow each subsequent year. On both the collegiate and international levels, sound business practices and financial responsibility will continue to make our Fraternity stronger. Following the example of these Fraters allows us to extend the honor of membership to the next generation of Fraters who will influence our Fraternity and the world while allowing us to reconnect with Alumni Fraters across the TKE nation.
The TKE Foundation, under the leadership of Chairman James Crockard and Chief Executive Officer Donald Aldrich, is reaching new heights in achieving fundraising success for the Fraternity. We need additional financial resources to do everything we want and provide the Fraternal experience that our current and future collegiate Fraters deserve. Today, Fraters who either paused giving or who have never previously given, are approaching the Fraternity and wanting to help. I ask you to consider joining this effort and expand our mission demonstrating how we make Better Men for a Better World.
I want to thank those who have consistently contributed to the TKE Foundation. Our Foundation Board of Directors stewards every dollar that you give to support our collegiate Fraters through scholarship awards, the education of our chapters through the allocation of Special Projects Funds, and financial assistance to the Fraternity for leadership programming such as Regional Leadership Conferences and Conclave. If you are a Frater who has never given, let today be the day you protect and provide for our future by visiting tke.org/donate. Fraters Crockard, Aldrich, and I are always here to discuss how you can support our continuing efforts to be an innovative and impactful organization for years to come.
Finally, it is our goal to commit to the most fundamental aspects of our common bond. At their initiations, hundreds of thousands of Fraters have made the same promises to develop their individual abilities and contribute them to each other with respect and understanding. In 1899, our Founders lived in a world of war with the Philippine-American War, which led to the death of over 4,200 Americans, a Cholera Pandemic, economic recovery from the Depressions of 1893 and 1897, which led to unemployment rates of over 14 Percent, and the soul-searching for basic values related to race, gender, and nationalization.
Today, we face similar issues that call on us to examine our place in this world and how we can contribute our skills and values to make our world safer and more prosperous for our families and future Fraters. The principles of Love, Charity, and Esteem that nearly 300,000 Fraters have committed to since those five extraordinary men met in a small room in Bloomington, Illinois, 125 years ago tonight serve as the most fitting blueprint for this mission. As we mark this momentous occasion, I pray that your life becomes a garden of opportunities for happiness. When you make a mistake, start all over again, for only then will you be in love with life. Use your losses to train patience. Use your mistakes to sculpt serenity. Use pain to plaster pleasure. Use obstacles to open windows of intelligence.
Never give up on your faith, family, Fraternity, and the people who love you. Never give up on the pursuit of happiness, for life, and our beloved Tau Kappa Epsilon.
Happy Founders' Day, TKE Nation!
Fraters, I love the Fraternity.
Yours in the Bond,
Ryan J. Vescio, Esq.
For more information, please contact:Tom M. McAninch
Chief Communications Officer
317-872-6533 ext. 228