Knowing that many privileges are to be realized from a brotherhood
of individuals of common interests, and appreciating that closer communion
of kindred hearts is provocative to honorable demeanor, and seeking the
development of the higher qualities of the mind and nobler impulses of
the heart, the alumni of Calvin College on the [University of] Michigan
campus have organized a fraternity which the Inter-Fraternity Council
recognizes as Phi Alpha Kappa.
In the fall of 1929, 18 young men — all Calvin graduates, all enrolled at University of Michigan for graduate study — crowded into a five-bedroom frame house at 204 N. Ingalls St. in Ann Arbor. Three slept in bunk beds in the kitchen-dining room and two in the attic. The one small bathroom was taxed to the limit. In the spring the group had to borrow $80 for a down payment on the rent. But enthusiasm for their new fraternity ran as high and loud through the house as the strains of “Doing the Raccoon.” There was a constitution and by-laws to draw up — house rules, too, covering study hours, room maintenance and privileges for female guests.
Though intended to be a “fraternity of alumni of Calvin College,” members early agreed to admit “desirable” graduates of Hope, GR Junior and other colleges — if they were of Dutch ancestry and Reformed religious background. Thus, the fraternity became informally known as “The Dutch House.”
Another early order of business for Phi Alpha Kappa (PAK) was to arrange Sunday worship services by Christian Reformed clergy. This effort would grow into University Chapel, a Christian Reformed church serving not only students but the surrounding Ann Arbor community as well.
Phi Alpha Kappa was and is the only Christian fraternity on the Michigan campus. The members begin meals and house meetings with prayer, hold regular Bible studies and give time to service projects in Ann Arbor and other locations.
For 75 years Christian commitment at The Dutch House has remained constant. Nearly everything else has changed. For starters, none of the present 25 members is a Calvin graduate. Dutch ancestry? Only 12 members can claim some.
Dave Slopsema ’81, a member of PAK’s alumni board, explained that the number of fraternity brothers with a Calvin background fell off drastically after 1985, when engineering majors no longer had to transfer to Michigan or other schools to complete their degrees. Recruited through word of mouth, house residents do, however, still tend to have some West Michigan connection.
Of course, costs, house rules and membership requirements have changed in seven-and-a-half decades. Even the location of The Dutch House has changed; the fraternity’s present home at 1010 Ann St., its third, has been designated a historic site, and a tax-exempt fund has been established to preserve it.
Much greater diversity among members has changed the nature of PAK brotherhood, too. Acting President Godwin Sathianathan says that differences in background and theology create, in the house, “strong disagreement about some very important issues.” But, he added, the disagreement can be a “refining fire. The depth of commitment we have to each other, when our relationship to Jesus Christ is strong, gets us past those differences.”
Godwin would agree with Slopsema that commitment to Christ and to each other is forging Dutch House friendships that will last a lifetime. That’s as true in 2004 as it was in 1929.
A 75th anniversary celebration will take place on Nov. 6, 2004, at the University Club in Grand Rapids. For more details, call Dave Slopsema at 248-431-9937, or e-mail him: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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