In 1988, the Knox administration expressed concern about the condition of the TKE House. That concern prompted the formation of the “Save the TKE House Campaign”. A fundraising team of TKE alumni was formed. The historic campaign and renovation is recorded on a plaque on the front of the house.
At the start of the campaign, the team discussed options including a new house but, based on alumni input, decided saving and renovating the house at 160 was the best option going forward, the team pursued a major renovation process.
As the TKE House at Knox is the oldest TKE House in the TKE organization, there were strong alumni ties to the building.
160 W. South was built by Professor William F. Bentley, Knox Professor of Music and Director of the Knox Conservatory of Music. The Bentley’s moved into the new house in 1907.
In 1920, the Bentley’s sold the house to Knox and TKE. The TKE organization at Knox College was formed in 1912 and moved into 160 W. South in 1920.
2020 marks 100 years with 160 as the Knox College home of TKE.
In those 100 years, over 1200 TKE members have been part of the Knox TKE chapter with over 800 living TKEs having many memories of the house.
Until the early 1970’s when the college changed the policy on board, TKE members took all their meals in the house. TKE cooks were legendary for their recipes and personalities. They, like the housemothers, became an integral part of TKE.
In the mid 1950’s, a tragic accident involving members of another fraternity, prompted the college to require fraternities to have resident housemothers. TKE Housemothers became a large part of the culture of TKE.
Over the 100 years, the house has prided itself on a diverse membership. Knox TKE played a leadership role in recruiting and activating diverse fraternity membership at Knox.
The members have held the house in high esteem. House repairs and renovations have kept the priority of retention of the house history and architectural features high on the priority list. While the house has continually evolved to serve the members, attract new member and recognize alumni connection, it has been updated to serve the members with an eye on maintaining the rich history of the house..
The original hardwood oak, walnut flooring, walls, plaster, woodwork, and much of the interior and exterior historical and architectural elements remain intact.
Due the renovations, the gable interior area and attic was explored and finds included vintage cans, documents and sports programs. A dumb waiter was found buried in a wall. Pocket doors on the 1st floor were found. The 1st and 2nd floor hardwood floors were found to have been shimmed to be level with vintage baseball card and local newspapers from the 1906 timeframe. There were various woods used in different room including oak, maple, walnut and cherry.
Over the years the house has been landscaped, the exterior redone and painted, new gutters and roof as well as a fire escape. The original roof was slate.
The repairs and renovations have been done with a focus on maintaining the original characteristics and architectural features of the house. The front door is the original as are the hardwood floors. The window oak woodwork is the original. The 2 fireplaces and the mantles that heated the house are the originals. The pocket doors and dumbwaiter remain. The overhead wooden beams in the original library remain. The exterior paint colors are those the same or very similar to the original 1907 colors.
All items found in the house, or that were required to be removed, were donated to the Knox Archives.
The Knox Archives department and the Facility Services organization of the college have been great partners. The Knox administration has been cooperative and outstanding to work with.
A capital improvement fund is in place to address the next projects which will include an updated laundry room, a time capsule to commemorate 100 years at 160 , exterior repairs and more.
The house has served as much more than living quarters. Long a social center on the Knox Campus, the TKE house has hosted, formals, dances, dinners, Mothers Weekends, frat parties, concerts, speakers and more.
For decades, annually the members moved out of the house for a weekend, and the members mothers moved in for a weekend. The mothers club helped raise funds, raise “awareness” for cleaning and organization. When the members returned to the house on Sunday, it was “spic and span” clean.
Numerous historic events have occurred in and around the house. The Tri-Delt sorority original installation event was held and hosted in the TKE house.
The house has served and survived 100 year as a college fraternity. The house has had fires, floods, broken pipes and other challenges but it still proudly stands for the diverse brotherhood of TKE.
Numerous TKE Alumni have been part of the Knox administration and the Board of Trustees. TKE alums have, and continue to contribute time and other resources to TKE and Knox College.
TKE alumni members have excelled in their fields and careers. TKE alumni include an NFL referee, business leaders, military leaders, professors, labor, union and environmental activists, politicians, authors, teachers and countless charity volunteers. Some of the funds raised by TKE are earmarked for St. Jude’s Hospital organization. Nearly the entire chapter served in WWll and many served in other wars including Viet Nam. A number of TKE alumni made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States.
TKE looks forward to then next 100 years at 160 W. South Street on the Knox college campus.
John Gorski ’73 is president of the Knox College TKE Board of Advisors