The History of Pi Beta Phi Headquarters Offices
Pi Beta Phi has had its Headquarters, also called “Central Record and Supply Office,” “Central Office,” or “CO,” located in several cities and three states. Each of these physical transitions was made with the intention of continuing and supporting the growth of Pi Beta Phi, and the naming transition from “Central Office” to “Headquarters” demonstrated Fraternity growth by its ownership of a building.
After legislation passed at the 1925 Convention, the Central Record and Supply office was set to be located at 60 Woodrow Street in West Hartford, Connecticut. This location was the home of cataloguer Mabel Scott Brown, D.C. Alpha. Mabel soon became Director of the Central Office, and a proper office was found. Located at 175 Broad Street in Hartford, Connecticut, this location consisted of two large offices on the third floor of this building; the structure was owned by the Hartford Women’s Club, and rent was $50 per month. On June 1, 1931, Central Office moved to the American Industrial Building, located at 983 Main Street in Hartford, Connecticut.
In January of 1933 Illinois Zeta Beatrice Stephenson was named Director of Central Office. Central Office was moved to the Durley Building Bloomington, Illinois, to make it more centrally located to the east and west coasts. This was especially efficient in regards to the national mailings that were sent on a regular basis. Another move of Central Office was made after Beatrice married Carson Mayer Purdunn on October 21, 1933. This time, it moved to three rooms in the National-Dixie Building in Marshall, Illinois.
In September of 1943, Central Office was relocated to Decatur, Illinois. Illinois Zeta Adele Murphy became the new Director of Central Office. The address was 206 National Bank Building located in Decatur, Illinois. Adele served as Director until 1944, when Illinois Zeta Louise Bresee Shappert became Director in 1944 and held the office for one year. She was followed by Beatrice Stephenson Purdunn, who served her second term until 1947 when Oklahoma Alpha Gladys Scivally was named to the position.
The May 1944 Arrow included an “Anecdotes from Central Office” section. These anecdotes included:
- an alumna questioning what the Central Office could possibly be busy with before having to spend a day working there;
- testing new addresses by sending out two cards — one to the old, one to the new — asking for a return to be sent and receiving a message saying, “I don’t see why you need my address. Please make sure I get the May issue.”;
- the challenges of trying to ship 50 songbooks 500 miles in three days;
- and an ex-husband of a Pi Beta Phi who still received The Arrow, but his new wife was a member of a different sorority. He wrote the Central Office saying, “so in the name of conjugal felicity, will you please cease mailing The Arrow to my house? The correct address is — unknown.”
In September of 1948, the Central Office moved to 410 Standard Office Building in Decatur, Illinois. The CO contained a Graphotype and an Addressograph, which were used in the making of address labels for The Arrow. The Addressograph could take up to two and a half days to run the updated labels. These machines were also used for general mailings. There was a membership records department, a bookkeeping and jewelry department, mailing department, duplicating, supply, chapter and club order and a Magazine Agency. Illinois Eta Janet Patton took over the role of Director in May of 1952 and served until 1957, when she resigned and was followed by Illinois Zeta Margaret Dick.
On January 1, 1958, Central Office was moved to Room 264 of the Citizens Building, located at 250 North Water Street in Decatur, Illinois. By spring of 1961, Illinois Eta Dorothy Allen Burns was named Director. Ohio Beta Margaret LeSur Head then served as Director from 1963 until 1965.
On April 3, 1964, Central Office opened in the new Midvale Building at 112 South Hanley Road in St. Louis, Missouri. At that time, St. Louis was one of the largest cities in the middle of the United States and had a major international airport. It was centrally located, with a large alumnae base for potential employees, and was home to the Grand President at the time, Missouri Beta Alice Weber Johnson. In 1965, Missouri Beta Ruth Ann Bandy Edwards served as Director. Arkansas Beta Sally Perry Schuelenberg took over Director of Central Office in August 1967. There were eight full-time employees in 1964. The Fraternity records, various Pi Phi supplies, jewelry, the archives, the historical room and regular Pi Phi mailings were all housed or took place at Central Office. There was also a Magazine Agency Corner, an accounting department and a stock room at this location. The Grand Opening of the office featured a candlelighting ceremony, luncheon and tea and included an Arrowmont® display. Special guests were Grand President Alice Weber Johnson, Missouri Beta, Grand Treasurer Olivia Smith Moore, Missouri Alpha, Director of Membership Edythe Mulveyhill Brack, Kansas Alpha, Arrow Editor Dorothy Davis Stuck, Arkansas Alpha, Lambda Province President Madeline Closs Lafon, Missouri Beta, and first lady of Missouri, Geraldine Hall Dalton, Missouri Alpha.
On April 1, 1974, after outgrowing its Hanley location, Central Office moved around the corner to Suite 333 at 7730 Carondelet. This office started at 5,675 square feet, and housed nine full-time and six part-time employees. Over the years, more and more office space was rented until the Fraternity and the newly created Foundation took up most of the floor. In 1981, Tennessee Beta Virginia Bland Fry became the Director of Central Office. When Virginia retired in 1996, Iowa Zeta Renee Ross Mercer took on her duties.
Strategic planning and a needs assessment facilitated the purchase of a plot of land in Town and Country Commons office park. The land was purchased in January 2000. Construction began November 2001. The Headquarters at 1154 Town and Country Commons Drive in Town and Country, Missouri, was designed to house the Fraternity and the Foundation, staff offices and support rooms, a board room for Grand Council and other formal meetings, a training room and larger archives for Pi Phi history. The trees planted around the building are known as “Founders Grove.” The walkway has bricks with inscriptions purchased and written by individual Pi Phis, chapters, clubs and friends of Pi Beta Phi. Construction was completed in 2002, and the Grand Opening took place on November 3, 2002. Led by Grand President Sis Mullis, South Carolina Alpha, the opening included a ribbon cutting, a welcome, facility tours and a reception. At the beginning, there were 24 employees, and today there are about 50. Headquarters Task Force Chairman Lou Ann Montgomery Carter, Oklahoma Alpha, wrote about this new space that the “... goal was to have a building that our membership would be proud of and that would also be an efficient, functional office for all our employees and visiting officers. We wanted the style to be classic and timeless. I believe we accomplished that.”
In 2006, Iowa Beta Juli Willeman became Executive Director of Pi Phi Headquarters. An addition of 4,200 square feet was completed August 2016, and retired Executive Director Renee Ross Mercer headed up the Renovation Task Force. This renovation was approved by Grand Council in order to fulfill the ever evolving needs of the membership, to accommodate the increasing size of staff over time and to help sustain Pi Beta Phi as a premier organization for women. Construction began in October 2015. This renovation included additional office spaces, new meeting spaces and a larger shipping and receiving room. The size of the historical archives doubled and the kitchen grew as well. The Fraternity, Foundation and Fraternity Housing Corporation continued to serve the membership throughout the process.