2018-09-14 / Community

Look back: Gamma Chi fraternity of South Portland

By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo
South Portland Historical Society

We recently received the donation of a book from 1932 that covers the history of an apparently now-defunct national fraternity, Kappa Alpha Pi. What is particularly interesting is that this was a high school fraternity, not something that we would see today. The fraternity was originally formed in Chicago to foster sports in school.

Among the list of Kappa Alpha Pi fraternity chapters was the “Gammi Chi of South Portland, Maine” chapter. According to the history, on Jan. 19, 1925, a group of 10 young men met and formed a local fraternity, Tau Epsilon, with Clifford Sterling (of 185 Pickett St.) as its president. After nearly a year of operation, the South Portland fraternity petitioned for admittance to Kappa Alpha Pi. They were accepted and officially became known as the Gamma Chi chapter of the fraternity on Dec. 28, 1925. The first officers were: Albert Cassevant, master; Edwin Innes (59 Broadway), vice master; Edward Greely (96th Street), secretary; and Lowell Smith, treasurer. Other charter members included: Clifford Sterling; Louis Carey (44 Ridgeland Ave.); Kenneth Dunton (58 Broadway); Edwin Grant; John Henley (86 Preble St.); James Tomlinson (33 Summit St.); Lester Wilson (Mitchell Road); Fred Godfrey (Main Street); L. Smith; Benjamin Roach (337 Highland Ave.); Albert Willard Jr.; Clayton Fickett (15 Mitchell Road); and Eugene Hanson (1238 Broadway).

The first major event that Gamma Chi held was a minstrel show, titled “The Jolly Buccaneers.” The success of the show led the chapter to present an annual show of some kind, often in conjunction with an unnamed local sorority.

Gamma Chi was reportedly a leading fraternity and many members were star athletes. In fact, the 1932 roster included Bill Curran and Ellsworth Davis – both of whom played on the semi-pro Portland Sagamores football team.

In the 1931-1932 school year, the fraternity held numerous activities: a football dance in honor of the South Portland High School football team; a formal dance at Ricker Gardens in Portland; a Father and Son Banquet and Smoker at Woodbine Lodge; the Founders’ Day formal party held at Portland nightclub, Napoli; and several other springtime events including a Miss Sorority Contest. Gamma Chi also had its own baseball team, captained by Mel Burnett.

If you recognize a family name in the roster of fraternity members, or if you have any knowledge of the fraternity, we hope you will contact us at South Portland Historical Society, 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, by phone at 767-7299, or by email at sphistory04106@gmail.com.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of South Portland Historical Society.

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