John Stafford McMillin
Remarkably, a Sigma Chi was involved in the establishment of the University of Puget Sound.
Born on October 28, 1855, in Sugar Grove, Indiana, John Stafford McMillin attended DePauw University where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1876 and a master’s degree in 1879. While studying at DePauw, he became a member of Sigma Chi Fraternity on November 21, 1871, and served as consul of the Xi Chapter.
Even as an undergraduate, McMillin had a keen interest in the affairs of the Fraternity at large. Like its contemporaries, the Fraternity since its founding in 1855 operated under the parent chapter governance model, where the parent chapter acted as headquarters and issued charters to new chapters. McMillin, recognizing the limitations of that governing structure, urged the Fraternity formally at the Grand Chapter meetings in 1874, 1876 and 1878, to adopt a new strong, centralized form of governance.
By 1882, the Fraternity had grown to 35 chapters. In the summer of that year, McMillin prepared a new constitution to give the Fraternity, through the abolition of the broad powers vested in the parent chapter, then at Ohio Wesleyan University, a centralized form of government with the same rights and privileges accorded each active chapter.
While he was unable to attend the Grand Chapter meeting in Chicago that year, the Fraternity adopted McMillin’s proposed constitution, the underlying tenets of which have been retained through the years that have followed. And, despite his absence, he was elected the first Grand Consul of the Fraternity, serving for a two-year term from 1882 – 1884.
After serving as Grand Consul, McMillin and his family followed his brother, William B., a pastor, and moved to Washington Territory in January 1884. He invested in and became the president and general manager of the Tacoma Lime Company, in Tacoma, Washington, and later the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company when he and his partners bought Roche Harbor, Washington, in 1886.
From 1884 – 1886, McMillin served on the committee appointed by the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Puget Sound Annual Conference to secure a charter and select a site for the proposed Puget Sound University. When the University was incorporated in 1888, McMillin served as one of its first trustees. His brother also served on the board of trustees in 1888 and 1890. On February 19, 1932, the College of Puget Sound (renamed in 1914), conferred the honorary degree of LL.D. upon him.
In the early 1900s, McMillin played a role in installing chapters at several universities in the Pacific Northwest. In Washington, Upsilon Upsilon, University of Washington, 1903; Beta Upsilon, Washington State College, 1919; and Gamma Epsilon, Whitman College, 1923. In Oregon, Beta Iota, University of Oregon, 1910; and Beta Pi, Oregon State College, 1916. In Idaho: Gamma Eta, University of Idaho, 1924. McMillin also donated the limestone for the Upsilon Upsilon chapter house, and presided at that chapter’s initiation of his son Paul in 1905.
A staunch supporter of the Life Membership plan adopted in 1925, he became Life Loyal Sig No. 11. McMillin passed away on November 3, 1936. He is buried at Afterglow Vista, a beautiful columbarium, in Friday Harbor, Washington. The mausoleum is cared for and monitored by the Sigma Chi Fraternity’s Monuments and Memorials Commission.
The Tacoma skyline and Mount Rainier in 1884. (Tacoma Public Library, TPL-2892)
Sigma Mu Chi Fraternity
Sigma Mu Chi Fraternity, the organization that preceded the Delta Phi Chapter, traces its origin to the founding of the Clionian Literary Society in 1893, which later grew into the Amphictyon Literary Society. These literary societies were the primary social outlets for many students at the time.
In the fall of 1921, in anticipation of fraternities and sororities being allowed on campus, a group of Amphictyon members began to organize a local fraternity. In the spring of 1922, the group obtained a charter from the college faculty, and adopted a constitution and bylaws: thus, Sigma Mu Chi was born.
Sigma Mu Chi flourished for many years on campus and operated very much like contemporary Greek Life organizations. The Mu Chis, for short, were involved in campus activities — student government, clubs and varsity and intramural sports — and were popular among their peers for their comradeship and friendship. They hosted social events, such as dances, and also enjoyed their brotherhood amongst members.
The Mu Chi’s chapter house from 1935 – 1940 was located at 3001 North 13th Street. The structure was originally built and owned by Lay and Anna Gardner in 1922. In 1947, Sigma Mu Chi bought the house at 1425 North Oakes Street.
In the 1940s, the College of Puget Sound’s board of trustees overturned its rule that prohibited national fraternities on its campus. Following this, in November 1948, the members of Sigma Mu Chi submitted a formal petition to Sigma Chi Fraternity for a charter. The Fraternity responded by appointing two undergraduate and one alumni investigating officers. These officers and their delegates were tasked to visit and learn more about all aspects of Sigma Mu Chi and the College. The investigating officers wrote positive reports, which were published in the March 1949 issue of the Sigma Chi Bulletin, shown below.
By vote of the Sigma Chi membership, the Mu Chi’s petition was accepted and a charter was granted.
Petition and Reports of Investigating Officers
The petition from and the undergraduate and alumni investigative reports about the Sigma Mu Chi Fraternity were published for the Sigma Chi Fraternity membership’s review in the Sigma Chi Bulletin for March 1949, Vol. 62, No. 1, Pages 9 – 12. (From the Archives of the Sigma Chi Fraternity.)
Delta Phi Chapter
On Saturday, February 4, 1950, Delta Phi Chapter was officially installed as Sigma Chi’s 119th undergraduate chapter overall and ninth chapter in the Northwest Province.
For this occasion, a three-man committee planned a two-day schedule of events and enlisted the wholehearted support of dozens of brothers from the Upsilon Upsilon Chapter at University of Washington at Seattle and the Tacoma Alumni Chapter to execute each phase properly. All told, over the course of that weekend, 96 men (73 undergraduate and charter members and 23 alumni) were initiated in to the Fraternity and over 100 Sigs had helped with this effort.
On Saturday evening, nearly 300 men gathered for the installation banquet in the Fellowship Hall of the Tacoma Masonic Temple. While the majority of guests were undergraduate and alumni members, Fraternity officers and staff members and University officials including President Dr. R. Franklin Thompson attended the fête.
The brotherhood has centered around several houses in the North End community of Tacoma, Washington.
The Oakes House
1425 North Oakes Street
In the spring of 1947, the Sigma Mu Chi membership determined that they needed a chapter house in order to compete with the other fraternities on campus. The two challenges they faced were the low inventory of suitable homes near campus and the high price of real estate in the post-World War II boom. However, that summer, through the effort of all the Mu Chis, they were able to raise enough money to buy the Oakes House at the corner of North 14th and North Oakes Streets.
The Oakes House was originally built in 1904 and owned by Miles L. Clifford, Esq., a Beta Theta Pi, who served as the first judge of the Superior Court of Pierce County, Department #4, from the court’s establishment in 1907 – 1925. The house featured eight rooms, a full basement and a two-car garage. The property comprised four contiguous lots totaling 10,000 square feet. Both Sigma Mu Chi and later the Delta Phi Chapter occupied this house.
The house still stands today as a privately-owned residence.
3614 North 14th Street
In 1960, University of Puget Sound President R. Franklin Thompson applied for and received a federal grant to build a group housing system for the fraternities comprising five individually styled houses connected by underground passageways to a centrally located common kitchen. Once prepared, meals from the kitchen would be delivered through the tunnels to each individual chapter house’s dining room.
The group housing system was a unique solution to mutual housing problems. Under the arrangement, the University provided the property, financing and project coordination, while the fraternities provided their individual exterior and interior designs, certain furnishings and certain services. The Sigma Chis chose to build their house in the shape of a cross in homage to the Fraternity’s symbol, the White Cross.
Construction on these Union Avenue houses started in 1961; they would open in 1962. The Sigs moved out of this house in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
The house, located at corner of North 14th and North Washington Streets, still stands today and serves as the home of the Gamma Zeta Chapter of the Alpha Phi International Fraternity.
3601 North 14th Street
In 1965, the University constructed three more Union Avenue houses, including Unit F at the corner of North 14th and North Union Avenue. Unit F was originally occupied by the Theta Chi Fraternity.
After Theta Chi moved off campus, the Sigma Chis moved into Unit F in the late 1970s. For a variety of reasons, Sigma Chi lost the use of Unit F in spring of 1979. The Chi Omega Sorority would use the house from 1979 – 1982.
In 1982, Sigma Chi moved back into Unit F. All Union Avenue houses were renovated in 1999.