Fast Friends: Oklahoma high school fraternity still meets 50 years after chapter’s closing

Great State
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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) -- They come filing in, some may be a little hungry for lunch, but all of them searching old faces for the familiar, that little bit of remembered, wild youth that hangs on between the smile creases and love handles.

"We were very close friends," says Phi Lam member Kent Carlin.

These are all still the young men of Phi Lamda Epsilon, a high school fraternity that started in 1909 and endured for more than 60 years, first at Central High School, then at Classen and Northwest Classen, Harding, and John Marshall High.

Another member, Tom Been, says, "It was just a very unique group of people."

Been, Harding Class of 1958, drove down from Tahlequah for the annual Founders Day banquet.

"Some of those friends," he continues, "have been my dearest friends then and even now."

The Oklahoma City chapter sprang from Phi Lam's beginnings in Clinton, Missouri in 1892.

There were other active high school fraternities in those days, like Alpha Omega and Delta Sigma, but the Phi Lams had clout.

Been says, "A lot of us were in athletics together."

Children of prominent fathers joined. They, in turn, later became attorneys, judges and city leaders themselves.

Kent Carlin says those traditions passed through several generations.

"We'd have a lot of dances and parties together. We were together almost constantly."

Robert Haggard had three older brothers who were Phi Lams.

"I became a member in 1962," he recalls. "I lived to be in the Phi Lams."

But starting as early as the 1940s, a movement began to abolish these so-called 'secret societies.'

For good or bad, the last recognized Phi Lam class graduated in 1955.

By 1967, the Oklahoma City Phi Lams stopped their regular meetings, but that didn't mean they stopped meeting altogether.

Haggard claims, "I don't know of another fraternity that stayed this close this long."

Their exploits and accomplishments are chronicled in two large scrapbooks that sit among the Oklahoma History Collection at the downtown library.

The pictures and headlines, even the pledge song, and all these close friends are still around to remember.

The national Phi Lamda Epsilon organization established an endowment that still awards a substantial scholarship to a senior boy each year in Clinton, Missouri where the first Phi Lam chapter formed.

'Is This a Great State or What?' is sponsored by WEOKIE.


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