Before Social Distancing
By Catherine Brown
Greek organizations and the businesses that provide support services comprise a tight-knit community, connected by lasting relationships and memories. So, when we have opportunities to get together in person, it’s an enjoyable occasion for comparing notes, learning new things, and renewing friendships.
One of our favorite events of the year is the MJ Housing Conference, hosted by MJ Insurance. Krittenbrink Architecture has been a sponsor for years, and we return to Indianapolis each February, this year with a color-by-number presentation board that appealed to the artist in all of us.
As sponsors, we enjoy giving a presentation on architectural design in Greek housing, which is always evolving. It’s rare to have so much knowledge about Greek life on campus in the same place, so we like hearing the sorority executives’ perspectives, as well as information from other vendor partners.
This year, I facilitated a panel discussion with three women who were in sororities and are now Greek industry professionals: Cindy Stellhorn and Estacia Brandenburg from MJ Insurance, as well as Cassie Sherry from ADPi. I asked them to discuss the impact of house design on their experiences as sorority members.
My first question was, “When you think of the Greek houses you’ve lived in, what was your favorite room, and why?”
The consensus was clear. Everyone agreed the living room was where the best memories were created, gathering with friends, watching “The Bachelor” on TV, and eating popcorn. Our panelists’ feelings were so strong, you could still see the joy in their eyes as they told stories!
Next, we asked, “What was the least effective room, in your opinion?”
For the most part, the group pointed to libraries, heritage rooms, and other formal spaces, saying it was a shame to have space that could only be used on special occasions. This was an interesting point because our panelists’ preferences for large, more relaxed rooms reflects current preferences for a “great room” as an all-purpose living space in residential architecture.
We shared that large, expansive entryways can also be underutilized space. Mark Krittenbrink gave an example from a project at the University of Wisconsin, where we remodeled a large entry space, opening a wall to blend with an adjacent living space to create more room for members.
Finally, my last question was, “What was the most impactful renovation for the least amount of money?”
That question led to a discussion of a renovation project where Krittenbrink’s team took a house with an interior courtyard and created a whole new room on the house’s existing roof. We were able to add significant space at a relatively low cost.
When we talk about big renovation projects or new builds, one of the challenges is to set a realistic budget and then stay within financial parameters and avoid “scope creep.” There are always creative solutions to get to what clients want with their design and ways to deliver value within the budget.
I enjoyed this year’s conference, as I always do. I realize now that none of us knew while we were in Indianapolis that we would soon be working from home and social distancing. In-person conferences are currently being suspended. So, I’m grateful we got the “face-to-face time” with our industry friends and clients when we did. And I have great anticipation that we’ll enjoy it even more than usual when we meet together again!
Ask the Expert
Dr. Kristen Gwinn-Becker, is aware of history’s importance, and she’s dedicated her career to preserving it. Her focus, however, is not on capturing and preserving the big, consequential events that define our lives. She’s more ambitious than that. Her aim is centered on the nooks and crannies of the past, the painstaking, hard-to-get-to details of individuals and communities.
Gwinn-Becker focuses on historical societies, city halls, and churches, for example. To her, letters, journals, deeds, newspapers, and photos are pathways into the hearts and souls of the people and events that help shape the world.
She established her Portland, Maine-based company, HistoryIT, in 2011, and her mission is to chronicle and preserve priceless bits of history in digital archives, custom-designed to be easily accessible to her clients and even the world at large. In 2017, Gwinn-Becker began serving Greek organizations, capturing and preserving precious history stored away for years on fading photos and documents stored in chapter houses or in the crowded archives of national organizations.
For three years, she and her team of about 30 historians, archivists, and technologists have been bringing them back to life through digital technology, making them truly accessible to members, alumni, and others.
“We offer a range of services, as well as software and hardware to accomplish our mission,” she says.
She works with their fraternal partners to build strategies for achieving comprehensive digital preservation, providing all the necessary imaging, cataloging, and tagging. When finished, her team rehouses archival materials in appropriate containers for long-term storage.
“We also create digital history sites online so members and alumni can interact with their materials and learn stories about the organization.
Gwinn-Becker has worked with several Greek organizations, such as Kappa Kappa Gamma, Alpha Chi Omega, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and Phi Mu. This is important to them, she says, because digital preservation is the best option for being a good steward of their organization’s history.
“Beyond that, digital archives provide a massive repository of content that can be used to engage, recruit, retain and educate members as well as communicate with alumni and inform the public about services,” she says. “But, don’t go it alone. Help is out there.”
“Most people are overwhelmed with, ‘what do I do with all of this old stuff?’ and they pushed it off to deal with another time. Materials only get worse over time if they aren’t dealt with properly,” she says.
History is a reflection of a Greek organization’s identity; an affirmation of its tradition and it recognizes past generations and their achievements. History is a foundation that organizations build from, grow from, and celebrate.
“Call us,” Gwinn-Becker says. “We can help preserve it.”
For more information about our work specifically with chapters, please visit: https://historyit.com/chapter-packages/