In last June’s blistering heat, while most WSU Pullman students were away and the Palouse was quiet, Sigma Chi broke ground on a new chapter house. It was the biggest construction project on Greek row and the first entirely new fraternity home in a generation.
The original 1900s-era house stood for almost 90 years until it was torn down in 2003. Now, as Sigma Chi celebrates a century at WSU, a new $6.2 million house will take its place on California Street.
No one has constructed a new fraternity home at WSU for decades. An executive committee appointed Sigma Chi alumnus Jeff Burnside (’89 Comm.) as project director, to use his fundraising, communication, and strategy skills on the campaign.
One of the largest hurdles was finding a bank to support the project, since there was nothing comparable.
Burnside says Spokane Teachers Credit Union believed enough in Sigma Chi and in WSU that “they did not require a signature to secure the loan for the construction.”
Sigma Chi is the first fraternity at WSU and the largest fraternity in the country, committed to create men of good character, Burnside says. “Every fraternity man says their fraternity is different, but in the case of Sigma Chi, it is measurable and demonstrably different.”
Many Sigma Chi men say the new home is long overdue, particularly Val Jensen (’52 Poli. Sci.), 1952 chapter president.
Jensen recalls living in the old house at Washington State College. Adorned with majestic columns, the vintage building housed World War II veterans and recent high school graduates. The veterans’ maturity gave a special character to the fraternity back then, Jensen says.
The cook could use four-letter words like no other and “was held in near reverence by all us—I picture her yet with a cigarette in her mouth dropping ashes into the pancakes on the stove,” Jensen says.
Jensen remembers the third-floor bedrooms, where snow greeted them on their sleeping bags through open windows. The constant need for plumbing, flooring, and wiring fixes spoke to the condition of the old building.
The men of Sigma Chi have a lot to be thankful for, and it doesn’t just include the construction project, current Sigma Chi member Jacob LaRoque says.
“This year, we celebrate 100 years at WSU. We are the oldest active chapter here at WSU–we’ve never been shut down or suspended,” he says. “We intend to keep it that way.”
On the web
WSU Sigma Chi – Video tour and photos of the new chapter house