- Published on Thursday, 18 July 2013 19:59
By Victor Garcia
UTEP News Service
Most UTEP students and alumni are familiar with the two-story adobe building next to Leech Grove that houses the UTEP Alumni Association. What many people may not know is that the University’s oldest sorority once resided there.
Now called the Peter and Margaret de Wetter Center, the building’s fireplace still shows the names of the original 45 members of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. One of the names etched in the stone fireplace is Mardee, or Margaret de Wetter, whose father helped build the house in 1941.
“My father said ‘You know, we’ve got to build a wall around the garden because, after all, these are young girls and we have to protect them,’” recalled Margaret de Wetter, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English and history and a master’s degree in history from the College of Mines and Metallurgy, now UTEP. In Mexico, it was common to put glass on top of the walls to protect the people inside. Because the Zeta Tau Alpha color was bright blue, de Wetter’s father bought blue medicine bottles, broke them into pieces and put the shards on top of the walls around the house.
The glass is still there and the building is the only remaining fraternity or sorority house from that time.
Zeta Tau Alpha celebrates its 75th anniversary at UTEP in 2013.
The national sorority started Oct. 15, 1898, at the State Female Normal School (now Longwood University) in Farmville, Va. The Zeta Tau Alpha International fraternity granted a charter to Pi Epsilon Pi sorority on the College of Mines and Metallurgy campus, now UTEP, in 1938. The chapter is known as Gamma Gamma.
Although they no longer reside there, the history of the Zeta Tau Alpha revolves around the Peter and Margaret de Wetter Center. The building was designed by Mabel Clair Vanderburg Welch, one of the first female architects in El Paso.
“The betterment of Texas Western College has been one of my favorite projects through the years,” Welch wrote in 1966, according to a 2008 issue of the El Paso County Historical Society’s Password. “In the 1930s, I was instrumental in obtaining the site of the lodge of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, of which I am a patroness. The land was donated by J. W. Peak, and I designed the lodge and supervised its construction.”
Since their founding, the bond between the Zeta sisters has remained strong. Many alumnae stay involved with the sorority after graduation.
“We became close with many of the girls in the sorority,” said Marilyn Cromeans, member of the Zetas from 1955-58 who earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1958. “It gives you more of a sense of college life to belong to an organization. When you go away to school, so many of the kids live on campus that they connect with the university, but at UTEP to so many of them it continues to be like high school – you go to school, you go home, but you don’t get involved on the campus. I think being in a sorority gives you more of a chance to be involved with campus activities.”
The sorority also places a strong focus on community service. In the 1950s, the Zetas contributed to what was then called the Association for Retarded Citizens. Now, the sorority’s main charity is the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
“We are heavily involved in the Race for the Cure and any of the other activities that Susan G. Komen does here in El Paso,” said Corina Favela, a Zeta alumnae who earned her bachelor’s degree in communication in 1996. “That’s been our national philanthropy for the last 20 years.”
Lauren Falco, current Zeta president, said the group is involved in many service events outside of breast cancer awareness.
“We work with a lot of fraternities, and they have their own specific philanthropies,” she said. The sisters have worked on the North American Food Drive with Lambda Chi Alpha and the Iron Turkey 5K run with Phi Delta Theta. They also have recently worked with the humane society, helped at a foster home, and helped raise money for muscular dystrophy for Sam’s Club.
“We donate most of our time to other philanthropies,” Falco said.
Engineering major and Zeta sister Melissa Sanchez is proud of her sorority’s history and excited for the future.
“We’ve been here for 75 years and all of us are eager to be alumnae, we’re eager to help our organization, and we’re eager to help UTEP,” she said.
Margaret de Wetter still thinks fondly of her experience as a Zeta.
“I think that being a member of that sorority so long ago gave me the opportunity to feel comfortable with my fellow students,” de Wetter said. “I found that I really liked everybody and it became a way of life, and I think that’s what often sororities do for people.”