Northern Illinois University officials probably didn’t know there was a fraternity formed 55 years ago on campus called the Tri-Swine-Omega, whose members were known as “Swine.” But about 35 TSO alumni came together during homecoming last month to celebrate its founding and to reminisce about the good old days raising Cain and agitating the administration.
The cadre of student journalists – all staff members of the Northern Star, WNIU radio and The Norther yearbook – formed this group as an antithesis to fraternities and sororities. They had a certain disdain for the Greek contingent on campus, who were considered the elites among the student body.
This was a part of campus life in the turbulent 1960s, wrote one of the frat’s early inductees, Tom Wartowski. Many of those alums from the ’60s and ’70s have gone on to successes in journalism and other careers – ranging from newspaper editors, publishers and broadcast journalists to lawyers, authors and elected officials. But they all have retained their love of the craft of journalism, he said.
Another early Swine, Mike Korcek, said the group was spawned in the “radioactive crucible called Kishwaukee Hall,” where the student publications and broadcasting were based, originally known as Jimmie’s Tea Room, on the shore of the Kishwaukee River. Despite efforts by historical preservationists a decade ago, the building was demolished.
The only artifact remaining from the early TSO days is a 5-foot-long hand-carved wooden paddle now on display at the Northern Star offices. Korcek said there was a charter drawn up by the three founders – Barry Stark, Bill Hetland and Bob Richardson. Even though all three still are around, only Stark was able to attend the reunion. The charter includes the fraternity’s logo – two pig heads and the backside of a swine, Stark’s creation.
In addition to tweaking the Greeks, the group found enjoyment in “pignics” and even a touch-football game, with faculty member Roy Campbell as referee. Campbell was known for hosting beer parties at his home at Five Points, where it was rumored underage drinking took place. That would get a fraternity suspended nowadays, and who knows what punishment the faculty member would receive. I can attest to the parties, as I attended one there. But my memory is foggy about any drinking that might have taken place.
DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith, himself a TSO alum, prepared a tongue-in-cheek proclamation for the 55th reunion, declaring it “Tri-Swine-Omega Month at NIU and the city of DeKalb.” That has got to be the weirdest proclamation ever entered into the City Council minutes – if it ever was.