The Great Lakes Region

It can be said that the Great Lakes Region is the “heart” of all Zetadom. It was in this region that founders Myrtle Tyler (Faithful) and Viola Tyler (Goings) were born and raised on a farm near Flushing, Ohio. They both entered Howard University in Washington, D.C. and in 1920 founded Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. with three others. Alpha Chapter was chartered on that campus, and another Ohio soror, Gladys Warrington, was one of the first initiates.

Myrtle Tyler Faithful served as Grand Basileus from 1921-22. In 1923, the sorority was incorporated in the District of Columbia, and Gladys Warrington was one of the signers of the Article of Incorporation. Myrtle and Viola returned to Ohio to raise their families after graduating from Howard and were active in chapter activities at the college in Wilberforce, Ohio, and throughout that region. They were frequent attendees at chapter charterings, state and regional meetings and Boule’s held in the region. They set the pace for exemplary leadership, service, and sisterhood.

Indeed, many sorors from the region followed their example. Fannie R. Givens, a police officer from Louisville, Kentucky, and former national Executive Committee chairman, served as seventh Grand Basileus from 1930 to 1933. Under her tenure, the Western Region, which included Illinois and Indiana, was established. R. Lillian Carpenter was appointed the first Regional Director.

From 1933 to 1937, Violette N. Anderson of Chicago, Illinois, served as the eighth Grand Basileus. A member of Zeta Zeta Chapter, she was the first female assistant prosecutor in Chicago and the first black woman admitted to practice law in the state of Illinois and before the United States Supreme Court. During her tenure, the sorority’s national constitution was revised and was adopted at the Boule’ held in Chicago in December 1933.

In 1934, the Western Region-comprised of Illinois, Indiana and Missouri-became the West Central Region. That same year, following the 13th anniversary Boule’ in Chicago, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority began naming national honorary members. To date, the Great Lakes Region has had five members so distinguished: U.S. Representative Julia Carson and Mamie Townsend of Indianapolis; Abbie Clement (Jackson) and Dorcas Ruthenburg of Louisville, and Judge Edith Sampson of Chicago.

Violette is also credited with promoting the first national service program, the Coatesville Project, which aided children of coal miners in Pennsylvania, and editing the national handbook. Violette died just before the Boule’ in Houston, Texas, in 1937. In her will, she bequeathed her summer resort cottage, Birch Haven in Idlewild, Michigan, to the sorority. April 15 is the annual day set aside for chapter to honor her memory.

In 1941, Michigan joined the region with the chartering of Omega Alpha Chapter at Wayne State University in Detroit. In 1947 the sorority’s regions were reorganized and renamed. The Great Lakes Region was created and included Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Kentucky. Later three (3) additional states joined the ranks – Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. By 1947, six Boule’s had been held in cities comprising the new Great Lakes Region. Since then, the Great Lakes Region has hosted four (4) Boule’s.

From 1933 to 1937, Violette N. Anderson of Chicago, Illinois, served as the eighth Grand Basileus. A member of Zeta Zeta Chapter, she was the first female assistant prosecutor in Chicago and the first black woman admitted to practice law in the state of Illinois and before the United States Supreme Court. During her tenure, the sorority’s national constitution was revised and was adopted at the Boule’ held in Chicago in December 1933.

In 1958, Evelyn J. Robinson who was the State Director of Ohio and Margaret Irby who was the current Great Lakes Regional Director, held the first state meeting in the region. Also in 1958, founder Myrtle Tyler Faithful was present as her daughter, Frances, became a charter member of Zeta Beta Zeta Chapter in Flint, Michigan.

At the 1967 regional conference, under the Great Lakes Region Directorship of Ione H. Gibson, she instituted the first regional Amicae breakfast and Life Member Luncheon and established a committee to draft a regional constitution. The region’s first constitution was adopted April 26, 1969, and the bylaws on October 25, 1969.

Under the leadership of Effie Burford (1969-1974) the Great Lakes region continued to grow. Under Effie’s administration 25 chapters were chartered, and Effie as named Regional Director of the Year. Effie Burford sponsored the region’s first undergraduate retreat at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb in 1971.

On Sunday, September 4, 1977, an impressive dedication ceremony was held for the refurbished Birch Haven, Grand Basileus Janice G. Kissner led the delegation of approximately 50 Zetas from all over the United States.

In 1980, Ida B. King of Gary, Indiana received the ‘Soror of the Century’ award from Grand Basileus Janice Kissner. This was but one milestone of her meteoric career in the sorority. She was national Executive Board chairman emeritus and Historian until her death in 1989.

The accomplishments the region celebrated from 1986 to 1990 included chartering nine chapters and four Amicae groups. From 1988 to 1990, the region won many awards and accolades for membership growth, programs, and scholarship, was under the leadership of Vera M. Paul (1986-1990). Vera Paul established a regional Hall of Fame at the 1988 regional conference.

In September 2005, Ione Hartley Gibson who served as the Great Lakes Regional Director from 1962-1969 was honored with a room dedicated to her memory at Birch Haven. Soror Gibson served Zeta Phi Beta Sorority in multiple capacities, including resident agent to Birch Haven. It reads in the Litany of the Dedication:

“As a guardian of the cottage, her dedication will not soon be equaled. We honor her commitment to this property…”.

Ione’s service to Zeta has been commendable. She has built a legacy which continues to serve. In addition to the office of Grand Basileus, a number of sorors from the Great Lakes Region have held or currently hold national elected offices including, National Trustees, Nominating Committee Chair, and National Education Foundation Board members.

There is no ending to this beginning. As the Great Lakes Region settles into its seventh decade, it continues to grow. Close to a hundred chapters, many of which are undergraduate, are active to date and there is room for continued growth. Its members have a legacy of involvement and lasting commitment to the sorority through their personal and professional lives. Each of the 21 Regional Directors has approached her responsibilities with “Zeta Zeal” – and has endeavored to lead the region into high levels of relevance within Zetadom.

The legacy, which had its beginning with the Tyler sisters and blossomed with the election of Violette Anderson as the region’s first soror elected Grand Basileus in 1933, has given the region a rapid growth, enthusiastic leadership, and unlimited promise for the millenium and beyond. It continues to set a commendable pace for other regions to follow.

Source: Torchbearers of a Legacy: A History of Zeta Phi Beta 1920-1997; National Archon articles; and Zeta Phi Beta historical files.