Its chapter at Beloit may be gone now, but the connection and sense of loyalty Beta Theta Pi fraternity instilled in its brothers lives on, especially in its eldest member, William Corlis’37.
“I think the benefits for me personally were unbelievable,” Corlis says of his membership. “I was an only son—without question, my closest ties outside my father, mother, and grandfather were the Beta family. I think it was a great institution, one of the best things about the college. I really can’t separate my college affection from Beta Theta Pi.”
I met Bill in Dearborn, Mich., this fall, and we spent an afternoon talking about his long connection to the college. Now in his 90s, he recalled his days at Beloit fondly. He still wears his Beta fraternity ring, which matches a crest displayed prominently on his living room wall.
“That crest is older than I am,” he says. “In our home, that was the first thing you saw when you walked in. In 1913, the guys in the (Beta) house gave it to my mom and dad as a wedding gift.”
Throughout his childhood, Corlis heard his father’s stories about the college and Beta. From an early age, he knew he would also attend Beloit.
“Beloit was my dad’s school, which he dearly loved,” he says. “I never really thought of going anyplace else. We were both history majors, and we both studied under Dickie Richardson.”
Beloved Professor of History Robert “Dickie” Richardson taught at Beloit from 1901-1947. He was a graduate of Yale, where the head of the history department at the time was George Burton Adams, another Beloit graduate.
“There was a strong connection between the Beloit and Yale history departments,” Corlis says, “and in the course I had with Dickie Richardson, George Burton Adams had written the text.”
Although students had great respect for faculty and administrators in his day, Corlis says there was a distance between college presidents and students.
“There was a big gulf between the president of the college and the student body,” he recalls. “Perhaps less so than when my dad was in school. He hardly saw President Eaton at all. He lived in a realm of his own, more or less. And to a degree, President Maurer did, too.”
While he may have felt distant from the college leadership as a student, Corlis is probably one of the few alumni—if not the only one—who can say he’s met a succession of eight Beloit College presidents in person, starting with Irving Maurer, who led Beloit from 1924-1942.
A generous and longstanding Beloit supporter, Corlis has kept up an ongoing correspondence with Beloit’s presidents for decades. Some of the letters are concerned with honoring Corlis’ father, which he did in 1993 by establishing the George Russell Corlis Chair in History. Professor Linda Sturtz holds the chair today.
“There is no question that the quality of the faculty is important to preserve,” he says. “That’s what makes a school. Beloit has to be able to pay them well.”
At the end of our conversation, Corlis offered his long perspective on what sets Beloit apart. He paused, and recited Beloit’s motto. “Scientia vera cum fide pura: True knowledge with pure faith,” he said, reflecting that Christians from New England may have founded Beloit, but the school grew to welcome students from many backgrounds and to support many disciplines from the beginning.
He ended with a wish: “I hope Beloit continues to be a fine school that turns out its share of scholars and good alumni.”