Early History

New York SEC, Columbia University, came into existence on Wednesday, September 11, 1996 when eighteen brothers were initiated into the Sigma rite of passage. Their names were:

Demetrios “Jimmy” Agriantonis ‘00
Chase Lubbock ‘00*
Jimmy Ahn ‘00*
Mike Lui ‘99
Jon Bae ‘98*
Matthew Matlack ‘00
Dan Beliavsky ‘00
Tom Russell ‘99
Ray Castle ‘00*
Brian Wallace ‘00
Jason Choi ‘00*
E.J. Weldon ‘00*
Geoff Colby ‘98
Eric Welsch ‘98
Fred Konstand ‘00**
Thomas Wong ‘99
John “Johnny-5” Lee ‘00*
Jon-Claude Zucconi ‘00*

* = Resigned from Sigma Phi Epsilon during the Fall 1996
** = Resigned from Sigma Phi Epsilon at a later date

Within several weeks, almost half the chapter resigned, unwilling to cope with the difficulties facing a new Sigma Epsilon colony on campus. Those ten who remained became determined to make Sigma Phi Epsilon into Columbia’s greatest fraternity. Many of the brothers came from the Balanced Man Scholarship, which was first established in 1996 at Columbia by SigEp alumni. The first meeting of SigEp convened in Hamilton Hall, the main classroom building on campus. Without knowing each other, the brothers spent time greeting each other, learning the others’ interests, and preparing a plan of action with the help of alumni, notably Rob Cross, who organized the active recruitment of SigEps during orientation week on campus. Elections were held and the first ever-executive board of SigEp was formed:

President: Eric Welsch ‘98
VP Programming: Brian Wallace ‘00
VP Finance: Matt Matlack ‘00
VP Development: Fred Konstand ‘00
VP Recruitment: Dan Beliavsky ‘00
Chaplain: Tom Russell ‘99
Secretary: Jimmy Agriantonis ‘00

The executive board consisted entirely of freshmen with the exception of Eric Welsch, a junior. (Tom Russell was a freshman with sophomore standing.) Eric’s leadership and experience in campus matters would prove crucial during the hectic and unorganized early days of our chapter’s operations. Dues were set at a paltry $150 a semester to keep more brothers from quitting. Preparations were made for our chapter’s first events, which included The David Letterman Show, The Ricki Lake Show, Monday Night Football, Sports Night, and chapter dinners. Morale was low with neither a proper vision nor interesting events to increase recruitment. President Welsch was instrumental in maintaining chapter interest and slowly growing the fraternity with his positive attitude and excitement about the possibilities of SigEp. Kraig Odabashian ‘00 and Elliott Han ‘98 became our first recruits to join after the founding. SigEp sought out to differentiate itself on campus, focusing on community service, campus leadership, and a positive foundation of brotherhood. Most if not all of the other fraternities had bad reputations and SigEp wanted to portray itself as good guys who like to have a good time. Weekly meetings were held in the German House on campus, as President Welsch was a member of the German Club. We closed the Fall 1996 semester with 12 brothers and a goal to increase ourselves by 50% in the coming semester.

SigEp returned to campus in January 1997 ready to make an impact. President Welsch had accepted an offer to study abroad in Germany, necessitating the need for new exec board elections. The second executive board of Sigma Phi Epsilon was as follows:

President: Matt Matlack ‘00
VP Programming: Brian Wallace ‘00
VP Finance: Geoff Colby ‘98
VP Development: Tom Russell ‘99
VP Recruitment: Andrew Ricci ‘00
Chaplain: Dan Beliavsky ‘00
Secretary: Jimmy Agriantonis ‘00

Having a freshman President worried some, and the election between Tom Russell and Matt Matlack was very competitive, but in the end the brothers were pleased with the new executive board. Eric Welsch remained active in the chapter until he left for Germany in February. SigEp’s first party in February 1997 at the German House was a success, attracting recruits and giving better name recognition to SigEp on campus. Harry Jaber ‘01 (fifth year graduate) and Andrew Ricci ‘00 were the first brothers to join in the Spring 1997, increasing manpower to 14. Pool Night, an event where brothers and recruits go to a local pool hall, was first established during this time and became SigEp’s most well-known and popular event on campus (excluding parties), often at times consisting of dozens of participants. Our first retreat took place at the home of an alumnus, district governor Pat Farrell. It was an important bonding event, greatly helping to increase brotherhood. This semester began the serious beginning of the Balanced Man Project, which had been lacking during the Fall semester. VP Development Tom Russell and Chaplain Dan Beliavsky started the first rites of passage beyond Sigma, and the challenges were set in motion. We began to use the city more than the first semester, going to the David Letterman Show and Comic Strip Live among other places. Not having a house or common meeting place caused some problems, but effective programming still occurred using campus resources and those of New York City. The executive board attended the Carlson Leadership Academy for the first time in February 1997, an important step toward building the quality of leadership within the chapter. Several new men joined the chapter toward the end of the semester in April 1997, including Vernon Gibbs ‘00, Greg Lembrich ‘00, James Schmid ‘00, and Allan Ng ‘99. President Matlack was also actively involved in the Inter-Greek Council, getting SigEp’s name out across campus. Primarily due to his efforts, the university awarded us with a six-person suite in the East Campus Residential Facility, Columbia’s nicest dorm. It was an important step in gaining necessary recognition on campus and having a common meeting place for the brothers. We left campus in May 1997 with eighteen determined men and a vision for the upcoming our year. Overall, our first year at Columbia as filled with difficulties but we survived.

The chapter’s work for the Fall 1997 semester began in the summer, with preparations for the Balanced Man Scholarship. Jimmy Agriantonis ‘00 was responsible for out first administration of the scholarship independent of the alumni, and he did an excellent job, soliciting over 100 applications for the scholarship. Many quality men applied some of who eventually joined the chapter later in the semester. The awards banquet was held at Faculty House, a high-class dinner-party building located just off campus. Six brothers lived in the East Campus suite to start, home for many of our smaller events during the semester. New elections were held soon after our return to campus at our retreat. The third Sigma Phi Epsilon executive board was as follows:

President: Greg Lembrich ‘00
VP Programming: Vernon Gibbs ‘00
VP Finance: Allan Ng ‘99
VP Development: Dave Parker ‘01
VP Recruitment: Eric Welsch ‘98
VP Communications: Dan Haders ‘01
Chaplain: Dan Beliavsky ‘00

Recruitment went very well at the start of the semester, largely due to the return of Eric Welsch to the chapter from Germany. The following brothers joined us during the Fall:

Dave Parker ‘01
Dan Haders ‘01
Zarial Toolan ‘01
Lou Hellebusch ‘01
Travil Jewell ‘00
Aaron Johnson ‘01
Benjamin Lowe ‘01
Jeremy Mangion ‘01
Greg Stanton ‘01
Yuhei Goto ‘01
Tim Huang ‘01
Andy Tran ‘01
Krishnan Venkatesan ‘01
Rich Serton ‘01

Fred Konstand ‘00 left the chapter after going to study in Israel for a year, leaving the chapter with 31 brothers. In little over a year, we were already above the all campus average for fraternities and doing very well. At our retreat, we decided to create a new executive position, the VP of Communications, to act as a “super-secretary”, as there was much confusion about events and priorities in the chapter. Greg Lembrich became President after having been in the chapter only a short time, doing an excellent job in leading the chapter. He remained President until January 1999 when he stepped down to let the next generation of brothers lead the chapter. Having a freshman in charge of brotherhood development didn’t impede the chapter, as the Balanced Man Project continued to grow and gain strength under Parker’s leadership. Dues were increased to $250 to fund an increased range of activities. Furthermore, our larger size required a bigger meeting place, and our meetings were subsequently held at the Law School in a classroom large enough to accommodate our chapter. Matt Matlack, the chapter’s second President, was elected as President of the Inter-Greek Council, a major step in becoming a strong fraternity on campus. We were quickly transformed into a major player in the campus fraternity scene. Several new events became possible with our housing and increased campus visibility, including parties, mixers with sororities, and participation in intramural sports such as basketball and softball. Our community service greatly improved with a major food drive for Project America and a fund-raiser to buy toys for kids at a children’s hospital. The end of the semester proved to be an exciting time, as the possibility of a house became available. Delta Phi, a co-ed “society” on campus had been evicted from their university-owned house due to various violations. Troy Queen, an alumnus attending graduate school at Columbia and Matt Matlack, President of the Inter-Greek Council worked overtime in making our dream of our own fraternity house a reality. The house was trashed beyond recognition and was severely flooded, but we were able to convince the university to perform major repairs on the house at their cost. We left for Winter Break with grand ambitions and the possibility of a house in the Spring.

When we returned after Winter Break in the Spring 1998, little work had been done by the university. However, they promised to do major renovations and formally agreed to let us have the house. They would own the house and we would pay a room charge similar to a dorm charge. It was a great deal for us, as it would be many years before we could possibly buy a brownstone in New York City. Our last major event before entering the house was a Super Bowl party held in the East Campus Residential Facility, one co-sponsored by the university itself. It was an astounding success, attracting hundreds of people and propelling SigEp into a fabulous Spring. The first-ever SigEp Bowl was held in January, with the freshmen defeating the upperclassmen 9-6. It was one of many proud traditions inaugurated during our second year of existence. Ten brothers moved into the half-completed house in February 1998 as we vacated our previous dormitory housing. Many things such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and furniture were added during the course of the semester. To better prepare the next exec board for their responsibilities, we held moved elections up to February, and they were held at our first retreat away from New York City, at Lake Surprise sleep-away camp in upstate New York. The fourth executive board of Sigma Phi Epsilon was as follows:

President: Greg Lembrich ‘00
VP Programming: Dave Parker ‘01
VP Finance: Tom Russell ‘99
VP Development: Allan Ng ‘99
VP Recruitment: Zariel Toolan ‘01
VP Communications: Daniel Haders ‘01
Chaplain: Dan Beliavsky ‘00

Greg ran unopposed and easily gained re-election as President. Greg Lemmons ‘00 joined the chapter during the retreat. Dave Parker brought some new events to the SigEp calendar including Yankees games and themed house parties, including semi-formal events. The creation of a new position, House Manager, was necessitated by our move and was filled by outgoing senior Eric Welsch ‘98. We also chose Andrew Ricci ‘00 as the house manager for the following academic year. The rest of the semester progressed smoothly, with several new brothers joining close to the end of the semester: Nick Dierman ‘00, Steve Hofstetter ‘01, and Jared Schultz ‘01. This brought our total manpower to 33 as we left for the year (Krishnan Venkatesan ‘01 and Gregory Lemmons ‘00 had left the chapter.) Our last meeting of the semester was our first that saw graduating seniors leave the chapter, as brothers Eric Welsch ‘98, Geoff Colby ‘98, and Elliot Han ‘98 became SigEp’s first alumni. It was a moving moment for many, and a significant step for the chapter as a whole. Vernon Gibbs ‘00 coordinated the Balanced Man Scholarship over the summer, despite major hassles resulting from an uncooperative administration which saw our scholarship as not need-based. We therefore changed the name of the BMS to the Balanced Man Award to conform to university policy.

Our first BMA banquet was held in Low Library, a magnificent architectural masterpiece and the center of campus, immediately upon our return to Columbia in September 1998. Initial recruitment was successful during September, utilizing the house as a resource and the positive reputation we had acquired during our previous two years at Columbia. The following brothers joined SigEp during the first few weeks of Fall 1998:

Gordon Christopher ‘02
Paul Gerecht ‘02
David Horne ‘00
Nigel Pretty ‘02
Christian Wiederholz ‘01
Brian Webster ‘01

At this point, manpower was at 36 and we were amongst the largest fraternities on campus. Dues were increased to $300 a semester to fund our bigger events and items for our house. The house finally became a “home”, with it filled to capacity at fourteen brothers. A large TV, VCR, and pool table were added, giving a tremendous boost to the entertainment value of the house, all arranged by the hard-working efforts of the House Manager, Andrew Ricci ‘00. Preparations for the charter petition began in earnest, with Tom Russell ‘99 leading the effort. However, a major setback occurred when five brothers decided to leave the chapter: Andy Tran ‘01, Yuhei Goto ‘01, Tim Huang ‘01, and Brian Webster ‘01. This all occurred shortly after our mini-retreat in October, and left the remaining 32 of us disheartened. We pressed on, determined to make the chapter better and fulfill our obligations for the charter petition. We held a retreat within the city in early November, a great bonding event for the brothers. Programming continued to be solid, with our usual events such as parties, mixers, pool nights, comedy clubs, Yankees games, and our newest event, Friday night barbecues. Recruitment continued aggressively, culminating in SigEp Week ‘98, with seven events, a seven-day bonanza focused on getting quality men to join Sigma Phi Epsilon. The following brothers joined during the latter half of the semester:

Tucker Bohm ‘02
John D’Angelo ‘00
Chris Fidyk ‘02
Joe Moreno ‘02
Lou Horowitz ‘00
Daryl Ng ‘02
Ricky Thompson ‘02
Karim Nour ‘01
Dan Abelon ‘02
John Morris ‘02

Lou Horowitz proved to be our most interesting recruit, a thirty-five year old junior and a former owner of a car dealership. The coordination of many brothers proved to be taxing, but the charter petition was finally completed in December 1998. We had a manpower of 42, largest on campus and sufficient for chartering requirements. The exec board then decided to change the term of members to that of calendar years. Elections were held at the last meeting of the semester. The fifth exec board of Sigma Phi Epsilon was as follows:

President: Steve Hofstetter ‘01
VP Programming: Dave Parker ‘01
VP Finance: Andrew Ricci ‘00
VP Development: Zariel Toolan ‘01
VP Recruitment: Dan Haders ‘01
VP Communications: Aaron Johnson ‘01
Chaplain: Nigel Pretty ‘02

The new officers took their positions after the winter break in January 1999. Having completed the requirements for the charter, SigEp now looked forward to new goals and challenges for the future.