The oldest Ohio State fraternity has a porker of a tradition
By Adam King
As far as unique Ohio State Homecoming traditions go, the Fijis might have everyone beat.
Mike Horn remembers the high-pitched squealing as his Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers led the piglet into the Columbus Athletic Club. In the 1970s, the fraternity’s rules a little too closely resembled the movie “Animal House” — anything goes — so borrowing a piglet from the OSU Farm was par for the course.
As the brothers broke into the traditional song “All Hail the Pig,” the oldest member of the oldest fraternity at Ohio State was brought forward to kiss the piglet’s snout. The youngest fraternity member then had to kiss … well, let’s just say you didn’t want to be the youngest fraternity member during the Fiji’s annual Pig Dinner.
The Friday feast, which dates back to 1893, has always heralded the Buckeyes’ Homecoming game, and it still continues to this day — minus the piglet, which was always returned to the farm unharmed.
The Fijis moved the dinner to the Ohio Union when it reopened in 2010 so their alumni could enjoy the new building, and now when they break into song, a cooked pig is brought in for the traditional kissing.
The pig is carved and then shared at Horn’s Fiji tailgate the next day along with subs and sandwiches to between 50 and 75 attendees.
Horn and his brothers weren’t always sure the tradition would continue. Nov. 24, 1997, marked the fraternity’s lowest point, when it was forced to close the house because members weren’t paying their dues. Around that time, fraternities in general were declining at Ohio State.
“There was a lot of disappointment when it closed because we were the oldest fraternity on campus,” Horn said.
Phi Gamma Delta was first chartered at Ohio State on March 25, 1878, just eight years after the university opened. And there have been some notable Fijis come through Ohio State, including golfer Jack Nicklaus (1961); a pair of Rhodes Scholars in Shirley Wing (1907) and Ferdinand Stone (1930); Edward Orton Jr. (1884), for whom Orton Hall was named; Robert Eichelberger (1907), who was superintendent at West Point from 1940-42; Jack Creighton (1954), the former CEO of Weyerhaeuser Co. and former interim chair and CEO of United Airlines; and football players Charles “Chic” Harley (1919), a member of the first class in the College Football Hall of Fame, and Thomas Matte (1961), who was a member of the Super Bowl V champion Baltimore Colts.
When the Fiji house was shuttered and later sold, Horn’s tailgate became the fraternity’s lone mainstay event at OSU. The brothers chatted over beer and food, lamenting the Fijis’ fate. But that chatter soon became a call to action to find a way to revive the fraternity’s charter.
The Phi Gamma Delta alumni pulled together to fund a new Fiji house on 15th Avenue. And a new management agreement with Ohio State meant the university would take care of the house upkeep in return for the fraternity members paying their dues directly to Ohio State.
As a result, the cost to live in the house increased, but Horn, who has been on the Phi Gamma Delta’s Board of Chapter Advisors since he graduated in 1981, and other alumni created funds that provide $20,000 a year in scholarships to current Fiji members to help defray the increased living costs. After nearly 10 years, Phi Gamma Delta reestablished its charter at Ohio State on March 5, 2005.
“We have a new house, and it’s exciting for our alumni to see a house they’ve never seen,” Horn said. “They’re happy to see the way things have changed for the better over the years. Today there’s no drinking in the house, and the students are so smart and so active. It’s really impressive to see.”
Because of his and others’ success in what Horn calls “recolonizing” the Fiji house, the tailgates, which can be found with the purple Fiji flag flying in the St. Johns Arena parking lot, will always hold a special place in Phi Gamma Delta lore at Ohio State. Horn figures he has a few more years in him as host, but then he would like to pass the duties on to another willing Fiji.
“The tailgates weren’t set up to be a fundraiser, but to get a new house up and running and to have Phi Gamma Delta come back to campus was incredible,” Horn said. “The motto of the house is ‘Not for college days alone,’ and that’s what being a fraternity member means, constantly reacquainting yourself with members and friends long after graduation.
“We have so many guys from all over the country come back and reminisce about their old fraternity days. And that’s what Homecoming should be about.”