Gilk Gilkeson '14
With the possible exception of the 1891 founders of New York Alpha,
the young alumni who purchased the original Hillcrest
in 1902, and those who led the effort to rebuild after the 1911
fire, no other person has been as important to the success of
the chapter as Fairbairn Gilk Gilkeson '14. He was
chapter advisor from 1941 to 1967 and held key NY Alpha, Province
Beta, and Province Nu offices from 1938 until the 1960s. In 1961,
Gilk was awarded the Distinguished Service Award, the highest
honor bestowed by Sigma Alpha Epsilon national on any individual
Many brothers fondly recall his frequent weekend visits to the
house-driving from Philadelphia in a series of VW Beetles, wearing
a tweed sports coat (usually brown) with a pipe in hand. He was
loved and respected by all and knew the names of all of the actives.
His strong hand on the tiller and exemplary financial management
were vital to the success of the fraternity. Besides serving the
house as advisor, he was liaison between the actives and the alumni
as secretary and treasurer of the New York Alpha Alumni Association.
Moreover, he assisted the brothers of SAE in maintaining orderly
records by using his accounting skills.
Some comments from two of the many eminent treasurers with whom
he worked: Brian Elmer '58 comments:Gilk was a rock. When,
as ET, I took umbrage at paying money every month to something
called the NY Alpha Association (an entity I thought must be a
front for the Mafia), he patiently and competently explained where
the money went and how necessary it was. He could relate to an
ever-changing band of brothers and the real world.
plaque presented in honor of Fairbairn Gilkeson '14
on June 11, 2005, at Hillcrest ceremony.
Harris Palmer '62 comments: I was ET for a year. Gilk, great accountant
that he was, always paid a lot of attention and was a great tutor. When
my books were not up to date for a review, he would very politely urge
me to get on the stick. All was done on great ledgers, of course. No
QuickBooks to help. It must have been a good start, as I have been treasurer
of many extracurricular and work-related entities. In his quiet way,
Gilk always seemed to enjoy his visits with us. (Harris Palmer
Gilk graduated in 1914 and greatly enjoyed his fraternity experience
at SAE. After returning to his hometown of Philadelphia to start his
accounting career and his family, he continued his interest in fraternity
work helping the University of Pennsylvania SAE chapter and being elected
to the Province Council in 1938. A year later, the older of his two
sons, Robert, graduated from Cornell after becoming a second-generation
SAE. His other son, Jack, a Bucknell SAE, was lost when his US Navy
submarine was sunk in the waters off Japan early in the war.
In 1941, Gilk became chapter advisor to New York Alpha, and, along with
several dedicated war veterans, supervised the rebuilding of the chapter
after WWII. In 1942, Gilk became province archon, conducting extensive
visitation and leadership seminar programs, and counseling the chapters
in the Province. He retired from his post as chapter advisor in 1967
when his grandson, Dick, also an SAE, graduated from Cornell.
His tenure as chapter advisor spanned over 25 years between his older
son's graduation and that of his grandson. His two other grandsons,
Tom and Dave, also graduated from Cornell as SAE brothers. A fourth
generation of Cornell SAE Gilks is still a possibility,
as Dave has a 2-year-old son and is already saving for the youngster's
Cornell education. Gilk also worked with an enthusiastic group of brothers
to formulate the plans that resulted in the wing added to the house
in the 1960s.
Throughout his term of service to the chapter, Gilk maintained his basic
philosophy regarding his advisory position and always attempted to live
up to that belief. He felt that his position was that of a counselor
to whom the brothers could go for suggestions and ideas when needed,
but who would not try to run the house himself. He stressed the importance
of the brothers working out their own problems with as little interference
as possible. This was the only way, he believed, that the fraternity
could prepare the members for later life. The successful careers of
so many Hillcrest leaders-EAs, EDAs, ETs, and rush and social chairs-have
proven him correct. In 1984, at 93, Gilk answered a holiday greeting
from a brother as follows: It was swell to get your note and always
a pleasure to hear from alumni since I no longer get to Hillcrest. I
look back at many weekends I spent there with fond memories. I put my
last VW to rest last spring, as it was no longer a pleasure to drive.
I am in pretty good shape for an old codger. Wishing you a very Merry
Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year. Fraternally yours, Gilk.
Loyalty, service, and zeal defined this humble servant who remembered
and loved to put aside his ever-present pipe and sing Violets
and the other fraternity and Cornell songs until his death at the age
Gilk inspired many to service for SAE. He was certainly a True
--Dick Gilkeson '67 and Ron Demer '59