"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the full staircase." 
- Martin Luther King Jr. 

Penn State Chapter's History

Just five years after 14 Master Masons at the University of Michigan founded ACACIA Fraternity the Penn State Chapter was installed on June 9, 1909.  Representatives of the Grand Council and members of the ACACIA Chapter at the University of Pennsylvania conducted the ceremonies that created the Shin Chapter of ACACIA with 22 members.  They included Harry M. Van Gorder, who had initiated the organization of the Penn State Chapter and acted as president of the group during its formative period, and William S. Dye, Jr., who would later become National President of ACACIA, as well as a professor of English at Penn State and the author of  ACACIA Fraternity: The First Half Century  and the first definitive history of The Pennsylvania State College (1955).

In the fall of 1909 the chapter secured a house on the east side of McAllister St. near Beaver Ave with Gilbert Morison elected as the President.  The mother of chapter member J. Warren Fortenbaugh, a widow from Harrisburg, came to act as housekeeper, cook and housemother for the fledgling chapter.  In the spring of 1912 the chapter moved to a house on West College Ave. near Barnard St., close to several other national fraternities in an area that was expected to become the fraternity section of town.  In 1911 a committee had been formed to plan for the building of a chapter house for ACACIA, and in 1913 the Square & Compass Association was formed for the purpose of assuring that the chapter would eventually have a house adequate to their needs and one which they could call their own. By 1918 practically every member of the fraternity was in the military service, the house was vacated, the furniture stored and the fraternity charter placed in the hands of one of the faculty alumni. For about a year the chapter ceased to exist. In early 1919 the remnants of the chapter moved into a house at 220 E. Nittany Ave.  By 1920 the fraternity was back on its feet and moved to 306 S. Allen St.

The Square and Compass Association became active again and on March 30, 1923 executed a deed for the property on the corner of Foster Avenue and Locust Lane for $5,000.  By the fall of 1925 the old barn that occupied the property was torn down and much of its materials were saved and used in the construction of a completely new house.  The total cost of this building was $41,046.86.

Around the time of World War II the number of men in the house was dismal and the house was offered to the Army to quarter units of the armed forces assigned to the College.  In the spring of 1946 members of Beta Theta Pi and Acacia occupied the house but by the fall Acacia again took control.  The house was fully paid off that fall and at Homecoming Acacia Executive Secretary Roy C. Clark burned the mortgage, a few years later an adjoining tract, 100 feet in width along Foster Ave., was purchased.

In 1953 an accounting professor by the name of G. Kenneth Nelson was initiated as an Honorary Member. Two years later Dr. Nelson became the Chapter Adviser and for the next four decades had a profound influence on the fraternity.  During 40 years as adviser, Ken Nelson received the Order of Pythagoras and the Acacia Award of Merit.  He served the national fraternity as Treasurer, was a guiding force at the biennial Conclaves, and in 1987 received the George F. Patterson, Jr. Award, the fraternity's highest individual honor, for tireless service and devotion to ACACIA and its ideals.

In the fall of 1963 ACACIA completed a $190,000 addition to the Chapter House that was designed by brother Phil Hallock and provided much needed sleeping and study room space.   Unfortunately, the yellow-brick construction and flat roof concessions to cost containment -- clashed with the beautiful high-peaked old stone house.  The Penn State Chapter of ACACIA had been a fraternity, but by the late 1960s the actives were finding it harder and harder to compete in rush and social activities with sororities and pressed for a rescinding of the no alcohol policy. After considerable debate among the actives and alumni, the Chapter became one of the last fraternities on campus to go in 1968.

Throughout the Seventies and Eighties the Acacia Chapter at Penn State continued to flourish.  The Chapter was a perennial winner of the Omega Epsilon Award as the top fraternity at Penn State (more often than any other fraternity at the University), and five times won the Malcolm Award as the top ACACIA chapter in the nation.  That Award, which is only given every two years at the biennial Conclave, was received by the Penn State Chapter in 1970, 1972, 1978, 1980 and 1986.

Another alumnus who provided dedicated and noteworthy service to the Chapter in addition to the guidance provided by Chapter Adviser Ken Nelson, was Tom Lechner, whose stern and steady hand helped the fraternity maintain a solid financial footing year after year. Brother Lechner served as Financial Adviser for a quarter of a century until 1993 and also received the Award of Merit from the national fraternity.

In the spring of 1993, alumni from across the country returned for a gala salute to Ken Nelson on the 40th anniversary of his induction into ACACIA and paid tribute to him for all that he had done for the fraternity. Chapter alumni contributed over $60,000 to establish the G. Kenneth Nelson Scholarship Fund, from which numerous scholarships have since been awarded to actives on the basis of outstanding academic performance, chapter leadership and need. The National Fraternity also established a scholarship in his honor. Dr. Nelson also was honored by the IFC. He had won Penn State Outstanding Chapter Adviser Award so often that the IFC named the award in his honor.

Tragically, Brother Nelson passed away in 1995 and with his passing many Acacias felt the house would lose its way.  However, many alumni stepped up to help guide the chapter.  Captain Kevin Cheesebrough, a former Venerable Dean, returned to Penn State as commander of the Naval ROTC unit and assumed the role of adviser, doing so well that he received the IFC Outstanding Adviser Award in 2001-02.

The Penn State ACACIA chapter is once again in the process of change and renovation. This fall marked the completion of a new main entrance to the club room of the house. With the possibility of more improvements this coming summer, alumni and active brothers alike await a promising new era of ACACIA at Penn State.

In the 102 years of its existence, 1800 young men have been molded at the Penn State Chapter of ACACIA.  Over 1200 of them are still alive and enjoying the benefits of the brotherhood formed in ACACIA.  The Chapter continues to win awards from IFC and National and prepare young men to take leadership roles in their communities and their professions. ACACIA continues to rank among the fraternity leaders at Penn State in scholarship, intramural activities, and service.

Chapter Awards

Malcolm Award

-1970, 1972, 1978, 1980, 1986, 2002, 2006

Omega Epsilon Award


Bischoff Award

-1986, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2016

Alumni of Note

Wiliam S. Dye Jr

-Nation President of Acacia

-Author of Acacia Fraternity: The First Half Century

-Award of Merit

G.K. Nelson

-Chapter Advisor for 40 years

-Order of Pythagoras

-Acacia Award of Merit

-National Treasure

-George F. Patterson, Jr. Award

-Penn States Outstanding Chapter Advisor Award named in his honor

George Jackson

-USG President

John Black

-Award of Merit

-Editor of The Daily Collegian as a student from 1960-1962

Tom Lechner

-Award of Merit

-Financial Advisor for a quarter century

Captain Kevin Cheesebrough

-IFC Outstanding Chapter Advisor Award

Doug Trumbower

-Award of Merit