Like so many before them, the members William and Mary’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega are spending hundreds of hours of their time this semester tutoring, repairing houses and working with animals. But, somewhere amid all of that service, they are also celebrating.
The Nu Rho chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity, is celebrating its 50th anniversary of its founding this academic year.
The chapter, which is one of the largest student organizations on campus, has approximately 280 members, making it one of the largest chapters in the country.
With 17,000 members at 366 college campuses throughout the country, Alpha Phi Omega is the largest Greek letter fraternity in the country. It boasts numerous notable alumni, including William & Mary’s new chancellor, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ‘65.
William & Mary’s chapter of the organization is involved in multiple service projects, said Andy Monick ’13, Nu Rho president. The group’s members tutor at Matthew Whaley Elementary School, collect tabs for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, volunteer with Dream Catchers, spend time at the Boys and Girls Club of Williamsburg, work on Housing Partnerships projects, and socialize animals at Heritage Humane Society.
The chapter’s main service project, however, is Campus Escort, which provides safe transportation to students on campus nightly between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m.
During the fall 2011 semester, approximately 160 members of the chapter performed more than 4,000 hours of service, said Monick.
“Now that we've taken on an especially large pledge class, the sky's the limit,” he said, adding that as of the end of January, the chapter had already engaged in in 496 hours this semester.
“I am unbelievably proud of our brotherhood for its initiative to go out and help,” said Monick, a finance and psychology major. “Many of our brothers go above and beyond the 25 hour (per semester) requirement because they are truly passionate about service. People care about transporting others home safely on weekends equally much as they care about spending time over the weekend with one another -- that's the amazing thing about APO.”
Planning for the Nu Rho chapter of Alpha Phi Omega started in spring of 1961 under the leadership of Jim Savedge ‘63, David Greenfield ’63 and Sam Sadler ’64, M.Ed. ’71 who all worked hard to encourage their classmates to join. The chapter was chartered in December 1961.
Alpha Phi Omega, which began as an all-male organization, was an outgrowth of the Boy Scout movement, and all of its original members had once been involved in scouting, said Sadler, who served as the chapter’s chartering president.
“What attracted me to the organization was the fact it was to be a fraternity – a place where friendship and fellowship were emphasized but where service to campus and community was the primary objective,” said Sadler. “At the time I was not in a social fraternity. By combining service with brotherhood, APO was to be something different. That was its draw for me and I feel certain that is still a draw for the members of today.”
The chapter’s first service projects ran a wide gamut, said Sadler. The members worked on trails and repaired facilities at a scout camp in James City County and served as ushers during large campus events.
“But our most ambitious activity in the first year was providing the manpower needed to recreate an historical spring social weekend for the campus,” said Sadler. “In earlier times, William and Mary had a big spring social weekend, Spring Finals. It took place in the Sunken Garden on wooden platforms lighted by Japanese lanterns and featured prominent bands of the day such as the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. In the early 60’s there was no big spring social event at the College. A group of us wanted to revise the tradition. The student government took on the idea and APO provided the manpower to make it possible.”
The APO members did everything from moving and leveling platforms to create a 5,000 square-foot dance floor to stringing lights and convincing dining services to provide a giant ice sculpture for the event, said Sadler.
“It was a gigantic undertaking and a marvelous success,” said Sadler. “That event was an incredible bonding experience for us and its success the source of great pride. Today, of course, Spring Finals has become The President’s Ball.”
The original members of the Nu Rho chapter went on after college to various careers, but all continued to serve – whether through education, law, business, or local service opportunities, said Sadler.
As for him, Sadler ended up serving the College of William and Mary for more than four decades, lastly as its vice president for student affairs. Sadler said that his experience with APO helped to focus his attention on service.
“By challenging us to look at the needs in our community and on the campus, it opened our eyes and encouraged us to become involved,” he said. “From its beginning, APO was an organization of students who wanted to make a difference and who were willing to work hard together to accomplish that.”
The chapter also provided students opportunities for leadership, said Sadler.
“There were opportunities to lead projects, opportunities for leadership within the local chapter, and, immediately after the granting of the charter, we were offered opportunities to participate in the national organization in leadership roles,” he said. “Finally, the organization made good on its promise of brotherhood among a group of like-minded people. The experiences were wonderful building blocks for the course of my life after college, offering the clear example of the good students can accomplish when service becomes an ideal. My personal experience in APO was one of the reasons I became a strong advocate during my career in student affairs for development of the ethic of service as a component of the William and Mary experience.”
The Nu Rho chapter of Alpha Phi Omega celebrated its 50th anniversary quietly last semester during its general meeting.
“It was pretty low-key (pizza and cake), but it was fun spending time with each other nonetheless,” said Monick.
Sadler said he is proud of what APO has become in the time since its founding.
“None of us who were the charter members of Nu Rho Chapter could ever have imagined it would become what it is after five decades,” he said, adding that APO even went idle for a while but later “reestablished itself into an incredibly impressive organization.”
“With every student giving service hours on a weekly basis, the amount of good APO does now and has accomplished over the years is almost mind-boggling,” said Sadler. “It is not an overstatement to say that thousands of people have benefited from the work of the Nu Rho chapter. The campus has benefitted from its activities in numerous ways. And, along the way, the students who have become members have found friendship and community while experiencing the joy of giving to others.”
Along with its continued service work, the chapter is currently working on writing sustainable membership bylaws, said Monick. Additionally, it is looking for ways to accommodate its large new pledge class.
“Our executive board is looking forward to adjusting to the brotherhood's new size and finding activities that can accommodate all of us,” Monick said.
Looking forward, Monick hopes that the chapter continues its work for another 50 years and more.
“Ultimately, we hope that in another 50 years, APO will be as positive a force in students' lives as it is for all of us now,” he said.
Though Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center has some Alpha Phi Omega material, it is looking for more to be added to its collection. Former or current members who would like to possibly contribute items should contact University Archivist Amy Schindler at 757-221-3094 or firstname.lastname@example.org.