REVISITED: Men of Honor: Arm of Honor Alumni Chapter rebuilding bridges at EMU through philanthropy

President Smith and others pose with a large ceremonial check from Arm of Honor.

This article appeared in the inaugural edition of 'Revisited,' a publication dedicated Eastern Michigan University's alumni

The Arm of Honor was once an iconic fraternal organization on the campus of Eastern Michigan University. The group has recruited future community leaders, educators and athletes many of whom are recognizable names on the marquees of buildings scattered around campus—Rynearson, Olds and Jones to name a few.

Starting around 2008, however, the Arm organization became unmoored from its traditions of academic scholarship, honor and integrity. The organization, and the group’s longtime home at 602 Emmet Street in Ypsilanti, quite publicly came to a crashing halt when the University revoked the group’s charter and the Alumni Chapter evicted current tenants due to a series of police calls and bad behavior.

But what could have been an embarrassing end for an EMU institution has turned into a story of rebirth and rejuvenation, thanks to the efforts of a few motivated alumni and a strong, collective desire to preserve 125 years of Arm history and tradition.

The heyday

The Arm of Honor chapter thrived throughout the 1940s and 1950s after American GI’s returned from WWII and used the GI Bill to enroll in college. Pledge classes were large and chapter membership routinely numbered 70 or more. It was around that time when alumnus Kirk Profit (BS75) enrolled at Eastern and decided to pledge the Arm of Honor.

There are few EMU alumni who can boast such an immersive and highly personal relationship with the University like Profit. The Profit family moved to the campus of Michigan State Normal College in 1954 (the name was changed to Eastern Michigan University a few years later) when Kirk was just 2-years-old. Kirk’s father, Lewis Profit, was hired as director of the McKenny Student Union and eventually moved on to University Controller and then Vice President for Business and Finance. So all told, Kirk has been hanging around EMU for roughly 64 years.

“I have just a lot of very good memories there,” says Kirk.

Profit, who now serves as a Trustee on the EMU Foundation Board of Directors, became interested as a student in the Arm chapter due to the group’s athletic focus.

“Athletics appealed to me, but I just wasn’t a college-caliber player. I just wasn’t at that level,” says Profit, who was a standout player on the intramural football and wrestling teams. “So being in the fraternity gave me an opportunity to compete, and the intramural sports at that time were extremely competitive. It was a big deal. So I wanted to be with a group that could really compete at that high level and bring home an (intramural) championship.”

Athletics was one of several organizational pillars that sustained the Arm chapter through the early 2000’s. Warning signs, however, started to creep in around 2008-2009, marked largely by an eroding membership. Then in 2010, membership dwindled to a point where it was no longer sustainable financially for the Arm brothers currently living in the home, so they started seeking outside help to keep the house afloat. ­­

Alumnus Patrick Barry (BS71, MA73) is not only a two-time graduate of EMU but has taught in the Communication, Media and Theatre Arts Program for nearly 15 years. He was also among the first Arm of Honor alumni brothers to catch wind of activities at 602 Emmet. He heard rumors of wild parties and police calls and decided to get his brothers involved and investigate. When they paid a visit the house in the spring of 2015, it was beyond what they expected.

“The house was in very bad condition,” says Barry. “The people who had lived there the last several years were not fraternity members and in a lot of instances were not even paying rent, and they were just taking advantage of the situation.

“It was very disappointing to everybody who had come back; very disappointing to see it had gotten to that point.”

Profit recalls there had been some signs but when the Alumni Chapter visited the house in early 2015 and saw the state of the house – reality quickly set in.  

“We thought it had been deteriorating for a while, but it put us over the top when we saw that the house was a total mess,” says Profit. “(The Alumni Chapter) made a decision that this isn’t who we are and we don’t want the (current residents) to carry our name. So we decided that day to boot them all out, sell the house and just be an alumni chapter.”

Rebuilding

Up until that time, the Arm of Honor Alumni Chapter had owned the house that sits at the corner of Emmet and Perrin streets – a well-trafficked area for EMU students just a block away from campus. When the chapter decided to sell, two of the brothers stepped up with a plan to buy the home, renovate and begin the process of repairing the Arm of Honor name in the eyes of the University and the community. Mike Beaugrand (BS94) and Bob Beaugrand (BS90) were in a perfect position to do that with each having construction backgrounds coupled with a strong desire to preserve Arm history and restore the group’s honor.

Mike Beaugrand says it was a “shock” to learn of the state of the house and the organization.

“The Alumni Association realized that we got consumed with family and professional life and had not properly supervised and mentored the active membership of the fraternal chapter,” says Mike Beaugrand. “We all know that young men need strong and constant mentors to be successful in life and the Arm of Honor Alumni Association made it a top priority to become very involved in the EMU community again…And hopefully re-establish an active (student) chapter that reflects our principles of integrity and honor.”

The Beaugrand brothers invested nearly $200,000 in renovations after the purchase of the home. Barry called the transition “seamless” and the alumni were thrilled to see positive change falling into place after a downward slide that lasted several years.

Giving Back

With the house now in good hands, the Alumni Chapter moved quickly to start rebuilding its estranged relationship with the University. Alumni brothers decided to use an endowed fund, which had been established to provide scholarships for Arms students, to support student funds and faculty programs. In 2016, the Arm Chapter kicked off its mission of philanthropy with a $5,000 challenge grant to help two EMU swimmers travel to time trials for the Summer Olympics. Then in 2017, they made sizable gifts to the EMU Forensics and Debate Teams, the nascent Fermentation Science Program and Swoop’s Food Pantry. More recently, Arms Alumni have made charitable gifts to the new athletics sports medicine facility and Road to Completion programs. In the spring of this year, the Chapter donated $3,000 to the BrotherHOOD and SisterHOOD Initiative – a University-wide collaborative support program focused on EMU students of color.

Profit says within the last several years Arm alumni have made great progress in restoring the group’s reputation, and their main goal is to continue to be a positive force for good in the campus community.

“What the Arm chapter had become in the eyes of the community was nothing that we ever wanted it to be,” says Profit. “So we had a choice to either burn our coats and all that kind of stuff or start fresh and restore who we are – and that’s what we chose to do. And we’re very grateful and thankful to the University for allowing us the opportunity to do that.”

As for restoring the student chapter, Barry says they are not necessarily working toward that at this time­ but want to keep all options on the table. Perhaps the biggest hurdle with restarting the fraternity chapter would largely be market-based as both Barry and Profit agree there would need to be a substantial interest first. Currently, members of the Alpha Sigma Tau Sorority live in the house. They signed a five-year lease in 2016 says Beaugrand.

“I don’t know if that’s where students are at right now,” says Profit. “If there were a group of students who wanted to embrace the traditions and history of what we have for the Arm of Honor…then we would explore it.”

In October of 2017, the EMU Alumni Association recognized the group as an official Alumni Chapter which marked another positive step in redeeming the organization. They are the first fraternal organization ever to have received chapter status.

No matter what happens, Barry says the No. 1 priority is to continue their philanthropic work in order to support and grow opportunities for EMU students and programs.

“I would like to­ see us continue to be a positive force on campus, as we were for more than 120 years,” says Barry, “and I’d like to see us continue to support students and programs. And if the will of the University and the Alumni Association and the students on campus would support it, perhaps we could see the fraternity come back at some point in the future.

“The key goal, however, whether that fraternity comes back or not, is to continue to connect with the University and support students and support programs. We feel very strongly about that.”

December 12, 2018

Written by:
Austen Smith

Contact:
Austen Smith
asmith6@emich.edu
734.487.6640