Founders' Day 2021 - James Hickey, Ph.D., Grand Prytanis

January 10, 2021

My Fellow Fraters,

As the Grand Prytanis of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, I am only a temporary occupant of the Office I was elected to hold.  I am mindful of the solemn responsibility entrusted to me—the current occupant—to safeguard the legacy and the future of TKE.  One year ago, no one could have anticipated that my tenure as Grand Prytanis would coincide with the challenges of a global pandemic.

Some of my predecessors were faced with significant threats to the survival of Tau Kappa Epsilon.  When Frater R.C. Williams became Grand Prytanis in 1944 following a series of unexpected resignations on the Grand Council during the Second World War, there were only 11 chapters and about 100 collegiate members of Tau Kappa Epsilon at that time.  It was a monumental threat to overcome and TKE emerged stronger than ever.  Although we have experienced significant growth since 1944, the global pandemic has upended higher education on America’s college campuses and Tau Kappa Epsilon is once again facing an existential threat.

In my 2020 Founders’ Day message, I underscored the importance of TKE’s mission because our mission—to aid men in their mental, moral, and social development for life—is enduring.  It has withstood the test of time since 1899.  Over the last 122 years, Tau Kappa Epsilon has faithfully lived its mission.  Paradoxically at this moment in time, Tau Kappa Epsilon needs the aid of its men.  Unsurprisingly, many Fraters immediately heeded the call to help TKE confront the Covid-19 headwinds and advance the cause of social justice that rang out across America.

Thousands of Fraters have engaged with the Fraternity for Life in new ways.  Using virtual platforms, alumni have reconnected for the first time in decades.  Collegiate chapters broke recruitment records despite social distancing.  Significantly, more than one thousand Tekes since June made their first gift to the TKE Foundation through Life Loyal Teke (LLT).  More than 60 Fraters volunteered to serve on TKE’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

Alumni volunteers, professional staff, and collegiates have been more creative and more productive.  Virtual programming expanded without compromising the high quality our members expect.  In some ways, connecting with a chapter became easier to accomplish through virtual meetings.  The Grand Council, which typically convenes three or four times a year, met more frequently.  The voices of disenfranchised and marginalized Tekes inspired the Fraternity to deepen our commitment to justice and inclusion.

Our Founders would be proud.  Yet, despite all of what we have achieved in the past year, the existential threat to Tau Kappa Epsilon has not abated.  Thousands of collegiates struggle to pay their membership dues or are unemployed.  Many have lost a loved one to Covid-19.  Because of public health restrictions, many chapters are unable to recruit new members.  Social injustice continues.  These challenges have a deleterious impact on the Fraternity’s ability to sustain the momentum we have created over the last several years.

We have come too far to falter.  Failure is not part of the fabric of Tau Kappa Epsilon.  “Ingrained in the fiber of every member is the Teke spirit—a spirit typical of our fraternity—a spirit that does not shrink from sacrifice, that knows no defeat; a spirit indomitable.”  Those words, cited from Frater Wallace McCauley’s 1907 Opportunity Out of Defeat speech, are as relevant today as ever.

As Grand Prytanis on this Founders’ Day, I declare that now is the time for all hands on deck.  Tau Kappa Epsilon needs your “spirit indomitable.”  You represent the best of the Fraternity for Life.  I urge you to reengage with the Fraternity, to find new and creative ways to support Tau Kappa Epsilon with your time, talent, and treasure. 

If you are in a position to support TKE with a financial gift during this difficult time, a donation to Life Loyal Teke through the TKE Foundation will sustain educational programming for collegiate and alumni Fraters.  If you are unable to make a gift, share your time and your talent.  Can you mentor a fellow Frater?  Can you become a chapter volunteer?  Can you help find lost alumni?  Can you create a account so we know you are interested in reconnecting?  If you are already engaged, can you reach out and encourage other Fraters to do the same?

History has shown that Tekes are undeterred and undaunted by threats to the Fraternity.  Within one year of World War II ending, several TKE chapters had restarted their operation, increasing our active chapters to nineteen.  A consequential factor in that growth was the Teke Loyalty Fund—a predecessor of today’s LLT Fund—to which TKE alumni were asked to contribute $3.  That effort raised nearly $30,000—which is more than $430,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.  With fewer than 1% of more than 240,000 living Fraters donating to the Fraternity, the promise of an equally inspiring moment in our Fraternity’s history is great.

The current pandemic presents a challenge to the future of Tau Kappa Epsilon, conceivably in ways we have not seen since World War II.  History will be the judge of that and of the decisions we make now to sustain Tau Kappa Epsilon for this and future generations.  Yet, I know that future generations of Tekes will read about this time in a future edition of The Teke Guide.

To safeguard the mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon, we need untiring and dedicated Tekes who will marshal the Fraternity toward greater financial sustainability and emerge from this crisis stronger than before.  The Grand Council and I look forward to continuing to support the philanthropic work of our Fraternity and expand our financial wellbeing—a key pathway to a more secure future. 

Organizations are founded only once, and the best ones renew themselves continually.  In the challenges that lie ahead, there undoubtedly will be opportunities for all of us to renew our commitment, improve our ways, and exemplify the ideals of Tau Kappa Epsilon that we pledged to uphold when we assumed the Bond.

With God’s grace, with faith in our heritage and a strong commitment to the “magnificent obsession,” with confidence in our future, with inspiration from the enduring wisdom of our Founders, and with the beacon of mission to light the way, the best days of Tau Kappa Epsilon are unquestionably ahead. 

Fraters, I love the Fraternity.

Yours in the Bond,

James Hickey, Ph.D.

Grand Prytanis


Founders' Day 2020 - James Hickey, Ph.D., Grand Prytanis

January 10, 2020

My Fellow Fraters,

When Joseph Settles, James McNutt, Clarence Mayer, Owen Truitt, and C. Roy Atkinson gathered at 504 Locust Street in Bloomington, Illinois on January 10, 1899, and formed the Knights of Classic Lore they created a society whose avowed purpose was to “aid men in their mental, moral and social development.” Our mission – “to aid men in their moral, mental and social development for life” – has been present since our founding and has prevailed for 121 years.

Since 1899, Tau Kappa Epsilon has been on an enduring journey that has appealed to the nearly 290,000 men who have joined our ranks. On the day each of us knelt at the triangle and recited the Bond, we joined Tau Kappa Epsilon. It takes a lifetime, however, to become Tau Kappa Epsilon, the Fraternity for Life.

Our Founders wanted an organization that would be different from other fraternities. They wanted to establish a fraternity of men whose primary requirement for membership would be based on “personal worth and character,” not the wealth he possessed, or the connections he had, or the lineage from which he came. That fundamental membership requirement of “personal worth and character” has withstood the test of time, and it’s as relevant today as ever.

While social norms and social mores continue to evolve at a rapid pace, our timeless values have been a steadfast mooring for those nearly 290,000 Fraters who have joined our Bond. And what inspires confidence in our brotherhood and emboldens strong leadership is the mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon and the values it promulgates. The mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon is not another thing on the plate. It is the plate. It’s not another thing written on paper. It is the very fiber of the paper upon which we write our history.

Mission will always illuminate the pathway of excellence. It’s the only pathway forward for Tau Kappa Epsilon as we continue to prepare leaders for the ever-changing educational, professional, ethical and social landscape of the 21st century and beyond.

Mission is the beacon that lights the way in our unrelenting pursuit of excellence. The mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon must be paramount in all we do. It must be the compass by which we chart our course.

If we truly live our mission, if we light ourselves on fire with passion for what we value, if we truly exemplify “personal worth and character” in the tenor of our daily lives, we will continue to inspire men and leave a trail they will follow.

On this anniversary of TKE’s founding, I ask you to join me in bringing to life more fully the mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon, to renew your commitment to the Fraternity for Life, and to honor our Founders by exemplifying “sterling character and staunch uprightness.”

Men of wisdom and faith, Joseph Settles, James McNutt, Clarence Mayer, Owen Truitt, and C. Roy Atkinson had great confidence in the future of Tau Kappa Epsilon. All of us who have entered the Bond over the last 121 years is their legacy and, thanks to the vision of our Founders, we are well-positioned for continued success. With faith in our heritage, with confidence in our future, with unswerving commitment to the “magnificent obsession" and with fidelity to mission, the best days of Tau Kappa Epsilon are ahead. Fraters, on this Founders’ Day and all days, I love the Fraternity!

Yours in the Bond,

James Hickey, Ph.D.

Grand Prytanis


Founders' Day 2019 - Christopher T. Hanson, Grand Prytanis

January 10, 2019

My Fellow Fraters,

Today marks the 120th anniversary of the founding of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.  As we celebrate this milestone, we have an opportunity to reflect on the illustrious history of our Fraternity and to dream about our collective futures together this year.

We often recall the vision of our five founders to create a fraternity that was revolutionary in its progressive selection of members; valuing personal worth and character instead of the exclusionary requirements of our peers.  I am especially proud of their foresight and the vast membership that TKE has grown to achieve since that time.  TKE Nation now exceeds 285,000 lifetime members and continues to grow stronger every year.

As Grand Prytanis, I have experienced firsthand the amazing benefits our bond bestows upon those that choose to join.  Our programming and leadership development opportunities help to develop and expand upon the true potential contained within each of us.  Our philanthropic work for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and other charitable organizations has a profound effect on the lives of those around us.  Through these experiences and additional outreach efforts in our communities, we continue to foster next generation leadership among our collegiate and alumni members as the Fraternity for Life.

As the new year kicks off, our Fraternity is poised to capitalize on strategic growth opportunities that stem from our recent policy changes and internal accountability.  We are becoming a stronger and healthier organization by coupling our ever-present grit and determination with bold initiatives and an overarching commitment to excellence.  All of which are components of a championship culture.

In order to maximize our opportunities this year, we need to overcome the challenges and limitations that we all too often impose upon ourselves.  What new goal can we achieve?  Where will the road ahead take us?  How will we influence the next chapter in TKE’s history?

TKE ideals and values endure through generations and connect our past to our future.  The experiences that we share become the moments that unite us together as one TKE Nation.  Let’s commemorate and celebrate those that came before us, while preparing and leading for the generations yet to come.

If we look back to our Centennial Celebration, now twenty years ago, a multitude of corollaries and visions continue to ring true.  Past Grand Prytanis Gary LaBranche presided over the festivities and delivered remarks that touched on the legacy of success bequeathed to us: “a legacy of challenges met and overcome; of impossible goals made possible.”  He went on to speak about alumni associations and alumni engagement.  In fact, announcing a goal of having more active alumni than any other college fraternity by January 10, 2024, the date of our 125th anniversary.

As a young chapter Prytanis attending the festivities in Boston, I remember hearing those words and feeling a tremendous honor to be a part of TKE’s second century.  It was truly the day the past met the future.  Frater LaBranche further stated that “We cannot shelter our responsibility for the future of our Fraternity.”  Now, following in his footsteps as your Grand Prytanis, I cannot echo that sentiment strongly enough today.  This remains our call to action.  We can and we must do better.

Fraters, in celebration of 120 years of Tau Kappa Epsilon, I ask that you all join me in a cohesive effort to embrace our values, expand our engagement, and fulfill our desire to be Better Men for a Better World.  Let’s rekindle old bonds, make new ones, and embrace our opportunity to propel TKE forward in ways that no other organization has yet achieved.  Together, we can make this dream a reality and demonstrate the power of the Fraternity for Life.

Looking ahead to August 1-4, be sure to mark your calendars and make plans to join us in Orlando, FL for the 60th TKE Conclave.  It promises to be a magnificent celebration in the city where dreams do come true.

With utmost pride and enthusiasm, I say unto you all - Happy Founders’ Day.  I love the Fraternity!

Yours in the Bond,

Christopher T. Hanson

Grand Prytanis


Founders' Day 2018 - Christopher T. Hanson, Grand Prytanis

January 10, 2018

My Fellow Fraters,

As we celebrate the 119th anniversary of Tau Kappa Epsilon’s founding, we once again have an opportunity to recall our origins and use them as inspiration for continued excellence in our lives.

Our founding fathers had a vision that was progressive and revolutionary back in 1899, creating an organization that would consider personal worth and character to be principle qualifications for membership. Not having an exclusionary clause for membership was groundbreaking and forward thinking. As we know, scores of other organizations had to amend their membership criteria and adapt to changing societal and federal laws as the years passed. However, from day one, TKE has lead the way as an organization focused on the benefits of diversity and inclusion.

With 275,000-plus lifetime members, TKE makes a difference in the lives of thousands of men, from all across the world, each and every day. Our philanthropic work has raised millions of dollars for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital along with other charitable organizations. Our service and outreach efforts have benefitted numerous communities in desperate need of help. Through these experiences and our educational programming, we are creating and fostering next generation leadership.

As we look forward in the new year, what does 2018 have in store for us? What challenges will we face and how will we rise up to meet them? Our membership is strong, our staff is top notch, and our volunteers give their heart and soul for the betterment of others. We are truly blessed. However, there is much more to do and the time has come for us to once again lead the way via important organizational changes.

The headlines in the news when fraternity life goes wrong have a negative, adverse effect on all of us. In the age of digital media, nothing is forgotten and no fraternity is immune from these societal pressures. State governments, university administrators, and our insurance carriers are all moving to impose significant changes upon us, or even seek to eliminate us, as these issues continue to persist.

I’d like to share a story of a chance encounter I had while travelling home from a Grand Council meeting this past fall semester. While waiting to board my flight, another person in line noticed my TKE polo shirt and initiated a conversation. In my tenure on the Grand Council, this has happened frequently. However, this time it was a mom mentioning her son had just joined TKE at a school in Ohio. She went on to explain how worried she was about his decision to join a fraternity and after not hearing from him for a period of time, she had thought he might be dead. She had read all the recent headlines in the news and had feared the worst.

Upon hearing this, I extended my hand, introduced myself, and commented that as the TKE International Board Chairman, I was equally concerned about her son as I am about all of our 11,000 collegiate members. I want them all to be safe from harm and to benefit from their TKE experiences. We had a nice discussion that continued while we waited for our bags after the conclusion of the flight. She thanked me for explaining all the positive opportunities awaiting her son and for taking the time to ease her fears. As a parent myself, I empathize with her and I know other parents must be feeling the same way too.

Fraters, perception is reality. The future of our great Fraternity is at a cross roads and we must act now to improve, to evolve, and to define our existence for a successful future. What will the next great chapter in our history entail? How are we going to rally together to ensure we become stronger? How are we going to prove that we are Better Men for a Better World?

The Grand Council and I are engaged with numerous stakeholders in strategic conversations about changes we can champion together to safeguard our future. Over the next few months, collegiates, alumni, volunteers, and our university partners will have the chance for continued input. Change, both significant and vital, will require concerted efforts and meaningful plans for implementation. Topics under review include new member education, substance-free housing, and alumni engagement opportunities. With utmost respect to our founders, we owe it to ourselves to be critical and thorough with our plans for improvements.

Fraters, grit and determination have been the cornerstones of TKE successes throughout our history. This remains true today, but innovation and accountability will determine how successful we can be moving forward. In order to fortify our existence and build a championship culture, we need to control our destiny through bold initiatives and progressive actions.

On this Founders’ Day, help me strengthen our Fraternity for the benefit of all current and future generations of TKE Fraters. And, stand with me as one TKE Nation to show the world that we truly are the Fraternity for Life!

Fraters, I believe our greatest days are within our reach if we choose to embrace our values and fulfill our desire to be Better Men for a Better World.

Happy Founders’ Day. I love the Fraternity!

Yours in the Bond,

Christopher T. Hanson
Grand Prytanis


Founders' Day 2017 - Rod Talbot, Grand Prytanis

In 1899, a group of men living together in Bloomington, IL and attending Illinois Wesleyan University got together to form a study group. They called themselves the Knights of Classic Lore. They created the name because our founders studied classic literature at their weekly meetings. As their membership size grew, they felt that they needed to affiliate with a larger fraternity. They applied to Phi Delta Theta and were rejected because they were not a conventional group of men. They were mostly men raised on farms in country towns in Central Illinois. Phi Delta Theta not only rejected them for not being conventional, but frowned on the name “Knights of Classic Lore” and suggested we start a new fraternity.

Joseph Settles took their advice and ran with it. Frater Settles wanted a fraternity that developed men to cope with the world when their school days were over and as he put it, “be forced against the stern realities of life.”

Today, there may be no other time in our history where fraternities may be more relevant. In Frater Settle’s vision of TKE, and the “stern realities of life,” there were no safe spaces or anything else developed from our over politically correct world.

Our Declaration of Principles outlines that our purpose is to aid our men in their mental, moral, and social development. What better place can an undergraduate Frater learn life’s lessons than in our fraternity? In our fraternity, we get real life learning opportunities not found in the classroom. In our world, you become leaders. In our world, you don’t only learn but you live diversity and inclusion. In our world, you learn service above self. In our world, we live by high standards and exceptional values.

As I travel TKE Nation, I consistently see the positive impact of our chapters, our alumni, our headquarters staff and our Foundation. There is a commitment to make our Fraternity great. Even though we were founded as an undergraduate organization, our fraternity lives long beyond the undergraduate years. If TKE is truly the “Fraternity for Life”, then the undergraduate years are merely a launching pad for life. Lessons you learn from the Fraternity can make us better fathers, neighbors, community leaders and influence how we excel in our careers. Frater Settles and I shared another bond besides TKE. He was, as am I, a member of Rotary and it’s amazing how many civic leaders are members of a fraternity or sorority. Being a TKE for Life means acting on our values to make a better life for you and those around you.

Today, we celebrate our birthday. We were born a small fraternity at a small school in Illinois and have grown into a great international organization. As our creed highlights: TKE’s have always been a Brotherhood of gentlemen in perpetual quest of excellence as a way of life. Let’s expand on that quest and chart an even greater future.

Happy Founders' Day Fraters. I love the Fraternity.

Yours in the Bond,

Rod Talbot
Grand Prytanis

Founders' Day 2016 - Rod Talbot, Grand Prytanis

Founders Day is always a significant day and I join you in paying tribute to those persons who through their own dedication and their tireless efforts brought this fraternity into being. In a real sense, you and I are the legacy of goodwill and sacrifice on the part of the founders of Tau Kappa Epsilon.

So who better than to convey these efforts than the words of our Founders themselves? In 1924, at the Silver Jubilee Conclave, our founders addressed the Grand Chapter and clearly set forth the inspiration which led to their founding of our fraternity. It was the first Conclave since our founding that all five of them had been able to attend. In their address to the Grand Chapter, they wanted to reiterate the original ideas and purposes that brought our fraternity into existence. This is what they said:

First, we remember the bond of sympathy and cooperation which made it possible for us to organize. Common ambitions and ideals were necessary. We were not in harmony with many of the popular ideals of that time. But as men of courage we insisted in remaining true to our best convictions. It was easier for us to do this by effecting an organization of a brotherly character for mutual helpfulness. Such an organization is none other than a fraternity in its truest sense. We would urge, therefore, as a fraternity dealing with up-to-date problems, that we should never forget the principles of true fraternalism as involved in the mutual helpfulness and the common ambition that are necessary in carrying this out. Hence the importance that each chapter take the greatest care in selecting men who are entirely in sympathy with the original high moral, social, and scholastic standing in which Tau Kappa Epsilon had its beginning.

Second, snobbiness was a thing which we, the Founders, disdained. We looked beyond mere outward appearances that we might see the man; and finding one of real quality and sterling worth, we regarded him as fit material to be associated with us in a fraternal way regardless of outward appearance. Knowing full well that the mission of college training is to develop such traits, we were fully convinced that in the end-developing character, enriched life and enlarged personality-would justify any risk that might be taken in selecting such a man. Our fraternity has been made by the early initiates and this in itself was sufficient vindication of the policy we made use of in securing our first new members. We fear that the loss of scholastic achievement may be traced to the artificial tendency of making social qualities the only test of membership-rather than the essentials of a strong, vigorous, aggressive manhood that stands for the highest and best things in life.

Third, we desire especially to emphasize the fact that, as a fraternity, we cannot afford to depart from the original plan of electing men of small means to membership whenever otherwise they have Teke qualifications. They need us and as a fraternity we have a need of them. Undoubtedly, Abraham Lincoln would not have met some of the modern fraternity tests in polished appearance, bank and bond holdings, but he did possess what is better still, that wealth of character which has ever been the standard of Tau Kappa Epsilon. We are bound to recognize that such qualities are often found in men of wealth also, and we are happy when it’s possible to secure such members. Yet the expense of membership should be kept sufficiently within the means of the average man that he may not be denied the prestige of belonging to a great national fraternity because of his limited means, nor Tau Kappa Epsilon deprived of the splendid assets that members of strong character, sterling worth and high scholastic standing will become to our fraternity, however they may be in material wealth.

Fraters, those were the words of Fraters Settles, Mayer, Atkinson, Truitt, and McNutt about why our fraternity was founded. They are as true today as they were in 1899 or in 1924. To know where we are going, we need to remember where we have been.

Happy Founders' Day, Fraters. I love the Fraternity.

Yours in the Bond,

Rod Talbot
Grand Prytanis

Founders' Day 2015 - Bob Barr, PGP

Fellow Fraters,

This Founders' Day, as I join all of you in reflecting on the history of our beloved Fraternity, now 116 years young, I continue to be awed by the innumerable accomplishments of Tau Kappa Epsilon. From local chapters performing valuable services for and in their communities to distinguished alumni changing the world in virtually all fields of endeavor, Fraters in the Bond have strived to reach our goal of Better Men for a Better World.

In so many ways, we've done just that. We have indeed built a better world through building better men. On behalf of all Tekes everywhere, I thank you for your part in that magnificent effort.

In 1899, when TKE was born, our Founders started the Fraternity with the purpose of preparing men for the challenges of society, certainly a noble endeavor. It was our very first Grand Prytanis, Lester H. Martin, recalling his time with Founder Settles, who stated, "The idea, as it struck brother Settles, was not a Fraternity in the usual acceptation, but an organization for the development of men to fit them to cope with the world when their school days were over and they would be forced up against the stern realities of life."

Much as America's founding fathers before them, our Fraternity's Founders were pioneers filled with the spirit of building a new and better enterprise—not just for them, and not just for their time, but for all brothers for all time.

These men laid the foundation for joining collegiate men together not based on wealth, rank or honor but on something more important and timeless—personal worth and character—in a bond that provided equal opportunity for all college men to join in a worthy endeavor.

In TKE, the term fraternity man took on a new and positive meaning, something that has endured to this day 116 years later.

Yes, our Founders truly were visionaries. It's up to each of us, as their progeny, to not only continue to live that vision and that experience in the real world but to pass it on to those who follow us, to ensure it lives and guides, not only our own lives, but the lives of the Fraters whom we touch and all men, women and children we come in contact with throughout our own lives.

As I reflect back on the impact of our great Fraternity, I'm encouraged by the progress we've made just in this past year. For the first time in a generation since 1992, our chapters and colonies initiated more than 4,000 new men. Our charitable giving has reached new heights; collegiate and alumni Tekes raised more than $300,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

TKE has continued to expand to new colleges and universities, with our new colony at University of Alaska Anchorage and charter issued to Upsilon-Omega Chapter at Santa Clara University. These accomplishments and so many more are a very real and proud tribute to the hard work and dedication of our active members and of the alumni volunteer teams who educate and support our mission. In celebrating our 116th birthday, we know our TKE work is not done nor should it be. In fact, it is and will never be completely done. Tekes never just sit back and rest on their laurels. As responsible Fraters, we know we must constantly strive for excellence in our daily actions and demand the same from our fellow Fraters. Better Men for a Better World is a commitment we make each and every day to each other and our beloved Fraternity.

It's a challenge I proudly accept without hesitation as I know all of you do as well.

Fraters, I love the Fraternity.

Yours in the Bond,

Bob Barr
Grand Prytanis