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At 75, AXE takes a look back

  Dee Ann Rexroat  

Alpha Chi Epsilon has reinvented itself several times during its 75 years. At one point it was Cornell’s version of the clean-cut Omegas in “Animal House," in appearance if not in spirit.

“AXEs in the ’50s tended to bel ieve in the value of careful dress, gentlemanly behavior, and all-around involvement in sports and academics. We probably also possessed the undeserved air of sophistication, confidence, and self-satisfaction that is often identified with preps," says Dan Kellams ’58, a writer and communications consultant in New York City.

“We AXEs were, on any given day, more likely than the Owls to wear a crisply ironed button-down shirt under a V-necked sweater, more likely than the Milts to use a napkin when eating, and more likely than the Delts to have taken a shower.

In the 1960s, AXEs “had the distinction of being known by the women on campus as the ‘gentleman fraternity, ' "says Doug Kirkpatrick ’65, an OB-GYN in the Denver area. “Whenever a girl was ‘pinned,’ all the AXE brothers would serenade that girl outside her dormitory after the curfew hours."

Serenading is an AXE tradition that came and left, along with AXE sticks (black umbrellas carried on rainy days) and dinners at the Amanas. Others, such as “biting the applle (an onion hung around pledges’ necks), have endured.

The lore of The Rock has been part of the AXE experience for more than 50 years. John Keck ’53, owner of Keck Inc. in Des Moines and a former NFL official, recalls his group digging up The Rock in front of College Hall and, with the help of a crane, setting it at the entrance to King Chapel. Garrett Knoth ’68, associate director of admissions at Hope College, says pledge classes alternately dug up The Rock or buried it. An informal survey of AXE alumni turned up one theory on the tradition of burning The Rock, which seems to have begun in the 1980s: “Burning it produced a nice black finish so the red crest would stand out nicely when painted on," says Matt Miller ’94, a Chicago multimedia artist.

AXEs plan to celebrate their milestone with a variety of homecoming activities, including a ceremony during which AXE alum William Parsons ’67, chief of staff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, will receive the Distinguished Achievement Award.

A future judge (the late Arthur Janssen ’29) and his roommate founded Apha Chi Epsilon in 1927 and gave it the motto “Brothers in Work and Play." It was considered an academically oriented group for its first three decades. In 1971, the group disbanded for two years because some members felt they had given up independence for homogeneity. In the early 1980s, the AXEs inaugurated their annual Toga Party and began to hold functions at the AXE farm.

By the 1990s approximately half of the wrestling team were AXEs. A charge against the group for a pledging activity in fall 1997 sent the group into probation for a year, and during that time the group lost its charter for a semester over two policy infractions during pledging. The AXEs today have 14 members that senior Shane Amundson describes as “fun loving and dedicated to each other."

“The AXE connection for me mirrored the Cornell experience, says Cornell trustee George Caldwell ’52, whose experience sums it up for many AXE alumni and Cornell social group members in general: “Beyond a good liberal education, we learned lessons of loyalty, friendship, working together, understanding individual fit in a group, the group fit in a larger community, and finally, friendships that endure."

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