Mention the words “Greek Life” to anyone with college experience, and you may receive conflicting responses. Some may wax nostalgic about the camaraderie they shared with fellow members of their fraternity or sorority; others may just shrug and say they never knew what all those funny-looking letters meant, anyway. Some may flinch and say that only the much maligned concept of “hazing” or “rushing” comes to mind. Thankfully, at Belmont Abbey College, we aim high, without any hazy approaches to clubs with those funny Greek letters attached to them. Being involved in community service, contributing to the college as a whole and establishing strongly-bonded friendships is what holds us together. And as several of our past alumni can attest to, the friendships that are formed through our Greek communities at the Abbey are the ultimate membership – once you’re in, you’re in.
Being a member of a group is a natural human desire, but to most college students, it can sometimes feel as imperative as food, rest and studying. There’s something about the bonding process that really sticks. For Phillip Maisano ’69, this rang true. “Like most people, college Freshmen want to be part of a ‘group’ so you look around and try to find an organization into which you comfortably fit; for me, Sigma Phi Epsilon was that organization,” says Maisano. “In those days, it was the top fraternity in academics carrying the highest GPA in the annual competition. The upper classmen were both anxious to help you and served as tough taskmasters to maintain the Academic Trophy. Many of those upper classmen are my good friends to this day.”
Another Sig Ep member, Paul Corbley ’72, remembers the social aspect of the group to be the initial draw, which culminated into lasting friendships. “It was both social and economic,” says Corbley. “Frat dues were small and I saw it as a good social extension. I have wonderful memories and I think what speaks the most is that after forty-four years after graduation, these brothers are still my good friends. To me, that’s a strong bond!”
So what was the bonding agent, if you will, that brought these guys together? Getting your hands dirty in the process of helping others, not to mention studying, says Corbley. “We painted and cleaned elderly people’s homes and helped out with the Heart Fund, building a float every year for the local Heart Fund parade. We also assisted in helping other schools join the fraternity at the national level.”
But all that work didn’t deter them from focusing on their ultimate goal: good grades. “You had to have a good GPA average in order to pledge,” he says. “Within the frat system at the Abbey, all were ranked based on this. There was a reward for being the best, so all of the frats were very competitive. We would do group study for tests and help each other do well. The main purpose was always education.”
Along with academics, charitable work was and is a prime focus for the Greek communities. Maisano recalls participating in the renovation of an old dairy barn that once stood on campus (a leftover from the former monk-operated farm) into the official Sig Ep house, and working with outside organizations: “Our annual fundraising efforts for the American Heart Association culminated in manually pulling a float on Wilkinson Blvd. from Belmont,” he says, which resulted in “special memories and significant contributions to the charity.”
Greek Life continued to hold strong into the 80’s and 90’s. A New Jersey transplant, Doug Ehmann ’85 recalls wanting to find a cure for his homesickness as the motivating factor for joining Phi Kappa Phi: “I had just left home and all my friends,” he says. “So having available the option of continued social interaction with others was important to me. The established groups of fraternities allowed me to seek out peers that I shared common interest with.” That homesickness eventually blossomed into a desire to participate in local charity events, such as the fraternity’s annual walk-a-thon for the handicapped and helping with the Gaston County Special Olympics.
Peter Keber ’90 served as President of Sigma Phi Epsilon during the late 80’s. The memories of taking breaks from studies and social activities to help mentally-challenged children was, he says, what stuck the most: “Twice a month, we had the kids from Holy Angels over and we would go swimming with them. The way those kids’ lives were changed just by coming swimming with us for an hour was unbelievable and seemed to have a significant influence on them; it changed my life as well.” Keber helped with a variety of other charitable works, including the Adopt-A-Highway program, which included cleaning up a two mile stretch of I-85 in Gastonia.
Many alumni share these experiences and are grateful that they had the chance to do so much good work. But what about today’s student population? Not surprisingly, that bonding agent of charity is still going stronger than ever. The Abbey currently has three sororities (Tau Kappa Delta, Epsilon Sigma Alpha and Alpha Sigma Pi) and two fraternities (Sigma Alpha and Kappa Sigma). All are actively engaged in wellknown local and national organizations that do serious work to help the lives of people in need – Habitat for HumanityMilitary Heroes and St. Jude’s Hospital,
to name only a few.
Senior Sydney Rick, President of Tau Kappa Delta, says that the sorority works with charities that drive home the importance of putting others before oneself. The sorority walked for ocular melanoma in Huntersville in September and is involved in Sharing With Shoes, a fundraiser that provides shoes to homeless children. “[These] organizations spread awareness to the sisters and me about people and children who are less fortunate than us,” she says. “I think Greek Life is extremely important on our campus. It provides a way for new students to get
involved, make friends and contribute to the community.”
Tom MacAlester, Director of Student Life, echoes Rick in his belief that these organizations provide more than just socialization: “Greek Life here at Belmont Abbey College has a rich history and the students involved right now are a part of that history,” he says. “They are asked to contribute to the Catholic identity of our college through building meaningful, life-long relationships. All of our students are challenged to grow and develop into the best versions of themselves and Greek Life has the potential to help our students do that in the midst of a tight community.”
As one can see, our college takes pride in its Greek organizations – helping others and building relationships remains the core of what they do. While some college activities may simply function as diversions, becoming a member of a fraternity or sorority at the Abbey offers lasting gifts that blossom as each year passes.
“When one is young, let’s say between 18-22, I don’t think it’s always apparent how important it is to give back or be charitable,” says Keber. “But being in Sigma Phi Epsilon certainly taught me what a difference it makes in other people’s lives when you give back and it has continued to shape me.”
As always, you can’t knock the benefits of meeting up with other people in real time – a definite plus in st 21 century life. “While much has changed, some things remain the same,” says Maisano, who still serves on Sigma Phi Epsilon’s National Board of Governors and investment committee. “The need for enduring friendships is not satisfied by Facebook, Twitter and the like, as most young people will discover.” He offers this sobering advice to incoming Freshmen: “Give face-to-face relationships a try – you might just like it!”