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In the early years of this century, Hope College drew most of its students from its now defunct Prep School. As a result, the freshmen classes were cohesive groups when they arrived on campus. The freshmen class of 1909 (the class of 1913) was especially close-knit, and it was their custom to meet in the northwest corner of Van Vleck Hall (at that time it was a men's dorm) for long bull sessions.
At this time the Fraternal and Cosmopolitan Societies were the only fraternities at Hope College. And while both fraternities "rushed" various members of the freshmen class of 1909, the frosh decided to stick together and create their own identity. With a loyalty that has become synonymous with Knickerbocker, a new fraternity was formed.
Known as the Founding Fathers of the Knickerbocker Society, the twelve men who founded the fraternity were: Dr. Clarence Dame, Rev. Aleck VonBronkhorst, Frank Klienheksel, Martin Verburg, William J. Leenhouts, Dr. Richard Vandenberg, Harry C. Kremers, Rev. Berend T. Vanderwoude, John Vruink, Gerret DeMotts, Rev. Cornelius DeYoung, and Harry D. Tellman who took ill and died of tuberculosis before his senior year.
Under the direction of this dynamic group of twelve men, the Knickerbocker Fraternity soon became a driving force at Hope College. From the beginning, Kappa Eta Nu drew men of the highest ability. Yet these men were not just success-conscious. A look at the early minutes of the fraternity will show that the Knicks have probably never let the Dean of Men sleep peacefully. Then, as now, the ideal Knick had a multi-faceted personality.
When World War I came along, many of the Knicks enlisted together. Only seven remained at the college throughout the war years. But seven was enough to preserve the spirit of Knickerbocker, and the end of the war brought a resurgence of Kappa Eta Nu.
During the 1920s, the Knicks began renting what was hoped would be a permanent home. This huge house on the corner of 12th and Central Ave (formerly the Holland City Hospital) was the scene of many a lively literary debate with either the Fraternal or Cosmopolitan Societies. This location was also the scene of the famous Knickerbocker Banquets.
Shortly before the Second World War the fraternity left the house at the request of the city (who wanted to convert it into the Netherlands Museum) and moved to the Temple Building, located across from Centennial Park on Tenth Street. The stay there was short; however, for a few days after Pearl Harbor the Knicks met and decided to suspend all activity until the end of the war.
True to their high ideals, the men of Knickerbocker served their nation well and because of those ideals, it is not so strange that perhaps the most famous Chaplain of the war was a Knick named Clark V. Poling. The heroic action of Rev. Poling, who along with a Jewish Rabbi, a Catholic Priest, and a Protestant minister, gave up their life preservers to other sailors when their ship, the U.S.S. Dorchester was torpedoed in the North Atlantic, has been commemorated in the issuance of a United States postage stamp. This heroic act earned the Four Chaplains the respect and gratitude of an entire nation.
Following the war, the Knicks returned to Hope College to show the same determination that its members had shown before. Due to the rapid growth of the college during these years, the Fraternity (which had averaged nearly fifty members during this period) was shifted from one house to another on the campus. After the war, as before, the Knicks continued their long tradition of service. In the late 1940s, the men of the Fraternity provided for the support of a Greek war orphan knick-named “Butch.” In the fall of 1952, Dave DeForest, an active brother, was killed in an automobile accident by a Mack truck carrying steel on his way back to college. In his memory, the Fraternity built the Dave DeForest Memorial Trophy Case.
Several years later the Fraternity donated radios to the college health clinic. Besides these projects, the Fraternity has taken pride in its annual charitable events which continue to this day including: the Red Cross Blood Drive; fundraising for the Muscular Dystrophy Association through an annual bottle and can collection; the American Cancer Society “Great American Smokeout” fundraiser, and the AIDS Reality forum on the subject of AIDS.
But all was not work. Much fun and fellowship resulted as the Fraternity worked together in inter-fraternity sports, winning the All Sports Trophy in 1960 and 1963, the All College sing, homecoming and a host of plain ‘ole fraternity parties, which the Knicks are perhaps most renowned for. The Enterprise Lodge out side of Holland was a favorite location in the late 60’s and early 70’s for Knick events.
In 1963 the present Lichty Hall (originally Knickerbocker Hall) was completed and occupied. A decline in membership forced the fraternity to move into Columbia Hall in 1972. Columbia Hall aka Columbia Cottage was actually a huge three story, turn of the century house adjacent to Phelps Hall in the center of campus. During the summer of 1976 the Knicks lost Columbia Cottage and in the spring of 1977 they managed to get a house at 166 E. 14th which was subsequently torn down as part of the construction of the Dow Center. Kappa Eta Nu relocated into another on campus house at 47 E. 13th. For several years the fraternity tried to get permission to live in Columbia Hall and finally in the fall of 1979, they were able to move back in again. During the summer of 1981 Columbia Cottage was torn down and the Maas Center was built. In the spring of 1981 the fraternity moved off campus to the Black and Red House on 13th St. which was later torn down and replaced with Vennema Apartments.
The Knickerbocker actives moved back on campus into Graves Place in the spring of 1982. In the spring of 1983 Graves Place caught fire due to faulty electrical wires and much of the Knickerbocker archives suffered smoke and water damage, Graves Place was condemned and ultimately became the Peale Science Center parking lot. The fraternity lived spread out for a year with no official house until moving in 1984 into 54 E. 13th St. which the college had just purchased.
The Knicks expanded in 1988 and maintained both an on-campus cottage and an off campus house on E. 15th St. called “Broke Down Palace.” In the spring of 1989 the majority of the members were upper-classmen (several of whom were participating in off-campus semesters in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Israel) therefore the fraternity decided to forego the on campus house and moved off campus into 110 E. 15th St. which it retained for many years.
Throughout the 80’s the Knicks were extremely active on Hope’s Campus participating in many campus activities including intra-mural football and basketball, All College Sing, Greek Week, and May Day. Individual members worked on The Anchor Newspaper staff, played varsity football, anchored the Pull, and worked as DJs on WTHS. Varsity swimmer Steve Smant became the first All-American Knick in several generations and held several records in the fly for many years at Hope. True to their progressive nature, the Knicks raised eyebrows and stirred debate in October of 1988 by distributing condoms from their homecoming float in support of safe sex practices. Half the college community wanted the Knicks reprimanded for their actions while the other half (including Hope’s Campus Nurse) came to the Knicks defense and thought the Knicks should be praised for their actions. As a penalty, the Knicks were required to perform community service in the form of promoting awareness of the aids epidemic. From this seed, ultimately came the Aids Reality Series that the Knicks sponsored throughout the mid and late 90’s.
In the spring of 1990 Rush and Pledging started extremely well with ten rushees accepting bids, however, after the first week six pledges dropped out finding the challenge too difficult and the fraternity lost its charter due to hazing violations. There was no New Member Education for two and a half years. With the help of many Alumni the fraternity restructured and the charter was reinstated in 1992 holding Rush and NME programs that fall. In the fall of 1993 Kappa Eta Nu moved into the on campus cottage located at 116 E. 13th St. while also maintaining the off campus house at 110 E. 15th St. which had remained a vibrant part of the campus life throughout the two year suspension.
The Knickerbocker Fraternity was strong throughout the remainder of the 1990’s maintaining many on and off campus houses simultaneously; including the off campus house at 110 E. 15th St. which was occupied until 1997.
In 1999, the Knicks moved to 51 W. 15th St and continued their traditional social events such as Knick-or-Treat, watching the Pull from their raft on the Black River, the Spring Canoe Trip, and they even started a fall joint canoe trip with the Alpha Gamma Phi sorority. The Knicks also continued their tradition of service to the community through AIDS Walk; their fundraising can drive for Jerry's Kids and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Dance Marathon, The Great American Smokeout fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, and, in conjunction with their AIDS Reality Series, distributed free condoms to promote a safe-sex environment on Hope's campus. Condoms were distributed from dorm rooms as sponsored by the Ottawa County Health Department as Student Council threatened to have AIDS Reality cancelled if any form of contraceptive were distributed as part of the sanctioned event.
During this time, the Knicks also maintained their positions as leaders of the campus community: with Craig Tommola '00 serving as editor of OPUS; Patrick Glaub '02 directed “Twelfth Night” the first student produced play since the 1950’s to turn a profit for the college; cellist Nick Toben '03 led a Hope College classical trio on a tour of Europe which was met with critical acclaim; Andy Buchner '03 served on the OPUS editorial board and headed up Salon, an intellectual discussion group; and other members of the fraternity were involved with WTHS, Gospel Choir, Pep Band, and the Hope College Orchestra.The fall of 2000 saw the Knicks secure their first on-campus house, Mast Cottage, in several years with Matthew Parker '02 serving as RA. During the same period, the Knicks also kept their off-campus house at 51 W 15th St. Things were looking good for the organization the summer of 2001 when employees of Hope’s maintenance department searched the then vacant on campus house basement. Student Development representatives took possession of materials that did not reflect well on the college. As a result, the Knickerbocker charter was suspended for 5 years. The then current members and several alumni nonetheless took great pains to preserve the Knickerbocker trophy case, archives and memorabilia in anticipation for the day that Knickerbocker would return.
The Ad-Hoc Committee spent hundreds of man hours preparing a fall Rush and NME program working with the Student Development and Greek Life Director. The alumni of the Ad-Hoc Committee also put together the first alumni homecoming tailgater at the football game, and subsequent reception party at New Holland Brewery, in many years which was attended by over forty alumni and their spouses.
Through great sacrifices of their time and extreme effort, the Ad-Hoc Committee along with many other alumni who contributed their time and money, held a successful Rush that gave out 13 bids of which 11 were accepted. Alumnus Luke Webster ’00 graciously provided his residence for New Member Education which was completed with four strong individuals comprising the Class of 2009 - the first Knickerbocker NME class in 5 years: Jacob Wingate; Matthew Diepenhorst; Steve Barbachyn; and Christopher Erickson.