Benjamin Piatt Runkle

"courageous in spirit and idealism"

Benjamin Runkle, a native Ohioan, was a mere 18 years old when he played such a momentous role in cementing his compatriots’ standagainst the conflicting values they witnessed at their Deke chapter. It took bold courage for him to openly defy the wishes of half of his chapter members and the dictates of Millikin, an older alumnus. Runkle must have known that throwing down his badge would mean certain exile from the chapter and from the larger Deke organization.

But that was not just a moment of impetuous bravery; Runkle was known throughout his life for his fearlessness, matched perhaps only by his idealism. Surely his display of courage inspired the other brothers at the standoff with Millikin and Whitelaw Reid to also symbolically throw down their own badges by walking out of the room.

Appropriately, Runkle helped design the new fraternity’s badge. The fraternity was called Sigma Phi, but later became known as Sigma Chi.

Runkle’s concept for the Sigma Phi emblem was a departure from the popular shield designs that had been adopted by other fraternities. He had been inspired by the story of the Emperor Constantine and his vision on the night before the historic battle to take Rome. Runkle thought Constantine was a heroic fi gure, and he persuaded the other founders that an interpretation of the warrior’s symbol, originally a crossed spear and sword, would suit the idealistic verve of the new order.

And it fit with Runkle’s own fire and verve, as well as his fierce pride. Once when a member of a rival fraternity sneered disrespectfully at his badge, Runkle took on the Beta Theta Pi with his fists—in chapel. It was an act for which he was suspended.

Runkle’s courage and spirit served him well during distinguished service in the Civil War. He was seriously wounded in the battle of Shiloh and left for dead on the battlefi eld. A schoolmate of Runkle’s from Miami of Ohio eulogized him in a glowing newspaper tribute. The author was Runkle’s former Deke nemesis, Whitelaw Reid. The reports of Colonel Runkle’s battlefield death turned out to be erroneous, and he actually outlived Reid.

After eventually retiring from the military as a major general, Runkle pursued an altogether different path and was ordained an Episcopalian priest. And 40 years after he helped found our Fraternity, Brother Runkle became the only founder to become Grand Consul.

He spent the last years of his life in Ohio, where he died on the Fraternity’s 61st birthday in 1916.