Last week some of us enjoyed chocolates, flowers, and romantic canoodling with our sweethearts for Valentine’s Day. But then others were celebrating “Singles Awareness Day,” an equally legitimate holiday where single people can choose to celebrate or commiserate their independent lives.
On today’s date in 1902, a group of ten “turned down, heart-pierced” young men at the University of North Dakota were celebrating just that kind of feeling. These passionate young men, led by William Lemke, founded the Varsity Bachelor Club. Lemke would go on to serve in the U.S. Congress and champion the Frazier-Lemke Act, which many believe would have helped North Dakota farmers. He would also be a prominent member of North Dakota’s experimentally socialist Non-Partisan League. But most important to this story, he would later become UND’s first Varsity Bachelor.
When the group first began, its proclaimed objective was to retain each member’s “status of bachelorhood.” But the members must have had a change of heart, because shortly thereafter their goal morphed into “promoting the matrimonial interests of the club.”
But whether or not they were chasing after spouses, the Varsity Bachelors wanted to better their campus, too. They were the first fraternal organization to be endorsed by the University administration, and club members were soon student leaders in both academics and extracurricular activities. In 1905, the VBC established the first annual prize to be awarded at the University of North Dakota: a scholarship for the student with the greatest all-around improvement.
In 1907, the Varsity Bachelors began construction on their clubhouse. The Varsity Bachelor Clubhouse was and is the only house to be built and owned by UND fraternity members. It was also the first and only building to be constructed on University property by an extra-curricular organization. During World War I, the clubhouse was used as a hospital, and the Varsity Bachelor Clubhouse is still in use today.
Members and alumni began campaigning to join a national fraternity in 1912. In 1913, the VBC was granted a charter by Phi Delta Theta. This branch existed for many years, known as North Dakota Alpha. They won the men’s all-campus intramural championship for 18 consecutive years leading up to 1970! North Dakota Alpha members held leadership roles in academic and athletic organizations. However, for the present, they are under a cloud. On November 8th, 2011, several members were caught with marijuana and the chapter was suspended.
We have no word on how they fared last Valentine’s Day.
Dakota Datebook written by Leewana Thomas (updated 2/23/12)
Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota, Varsity Bachelor Club Records.
Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota, Phi Delta Theta Fraternity Records.
Grand Forks Herald, 12/19/2011
Dakota Datebook Friday August 13, 2010, “William Lemke, Prairie Rebel”