Knowing there’s an Alumnae Chapter of @(NPCgroup) where I’m moving to makes everything so much better. (From my twitter feed)
Although I have not met the woman who wrote that tweet, I share her sentiments wholeheartedly.
I’ve been a member of four Pi Beta Phi alumnae clubs since graduating from Syracuse. Each one has been special. The New Haven Alumnae Club welcomed me with open arms. I still remember the first meeting I went to; I was so discombobulated that I could have easily never attended another one. I was new to the area and knew no one except my husband’s family. It was the Monmouth Duo meeting held at a Kappa’s house. The hostess was a Kappa from Syracuse, who graduated several years before I did, and her nickname was the same as a motherless Disney deer. I entered the meeting, after going to her neighbor’s home (the house numbers weren’t visible and there were lights on and cars at both houses). I had not met any of them before and didn’t know who was a Kappa or a Pi Phi. These days, it wouldn’t much matter, but back then I felt a little out of place. Despite my uneasiness at that first meeting, I made it to another, and another, and when it was time to move from the area and head to Michigan where my husband was starting graduate school, the club quickly scheduled a farewell luncheon for me at the New Haven Lawn Club. They gave me a little pewter trinket box with a carnation on top. Thinking about the club’s loving gesture still brings tears to my eyes.
In Ann Arbor, I became a member of the club there. I joined the Alumnae Advisory Committee at the Michigan Beta chapter. When we left Ann Arbor, the chapter gave me flowers and a diamond and sapphire badge. The president remembered a conversation we had about my regret in not buying a jeweled badge and how it wasn’t a prudent thing to purchase on a graduate student’s salary with three little mouths to feed. About twenty-five years later that badge was pinned on the daughter who delighted in going to the Pi Phi house with me for meetings. A Mount Holyoke graduate, at the 2011 Pi Beta Phi Convention, she became an alumna initiate of the Michigan Beta chapter.
When my husband did a post-doc at the University of Massachusetts, I joined the Springfield Alumnae Club. At that point, I wasn’t aware of the depth of the Grace Goodhue Coolidge connection. The First Lady, as the wife of a young Northampton lawyer, Phi Gamma Delta Calvin Coolidge, was the founder and first president of the Western Massachusetts Alumnae Club. I wish I would have known then what I know now about Grace and Northampton. I remember trying to visit the Calvin Coolidge room at the Forbes Library in Northampton, where the President’s items are displayed. I can’t remember if I toured it alone or with three pre-schoolers in tow. I remember that it was just too much of a hassle to visit the room even though we used the library’s children’s room on a regular basis.
When we moved to southern Illinois it was the summer before the Pi Beta Phi convention was held in St. Louis. I told my husband that in exchange for moving to the middle of nowhere, I was going to save my pennies and attend the Pi Phi convention. That would give me something to look forward to as I tried to make a life for us in a strange place. Wonderful man that he is, he agreed. When we drove a U-Haul out to Illinois, we left our only car and our three kids with my in-laws. We unloaded the van, painted the rooms of our new-to-us house and then I drove him to St. Louis in a rental car so that he could fly east and drive out to Illinois with the kids and his mother.
After I dropped him off at the airport, I tried to make my way to the Pi Beta Phi Central Office. Armed with maps, in those pre-GPS days, I got myself lost in the Carondelet section of St. Louis which is not really near Carondelet Avenue, where Central Office was located. Somehow I ended up finding it. I met Ginny Fry, the Executive Director, at the reinstallation of my chapter two years before. She remembered me and welcomed me with open arms. She gave me a tour of the office. It was such a special treat to be in a place to which I sent countless reports as a chapter officer. I think she suggested I try to start an alumnae club in southern Illinois since it was the first place we moved that didn’t have one.
I remember the first gathering of Pi Phis in Southern Illinois. It was at my dining room table. Three Pi Phis who had never met each other answered my invitation and came to my home. A few sent regrets but said they were interested in becoming members of the club. We needed ten members to become a club and there were about 30 Pi Phis in all of Southern Illinois. We were able to get more than a dozen of them to pay dues. When I went to that 1991 Pi Phi convention, I went as an alumnae club delegate for the newly chartered Southern Illinois Alumnae Club.
Last Saturday, our club had a luncheon to celebrate Founders’ Day. About two-thirds of the dues paying members were there. We’ve lost some of the charter members to Chapter Eternal. One moved to be nearer her daughter. She now lives in the town where she went to college and became a Pi Phi. Shes tell the undergraduates stories of what it was like when she was in the chapter in the late 1940s.
The historical program at our alumnae club meetings is always me telling a story. This time, I told the story of the Cookie Shine. We talked and caught up on things Pi Phi. I told them about my visit to Kansas State and my recent visits to the Student Life Archives at the University of Illinois. Two of the women who were at the meeting are loyal Illinis. One of them has her picture on a banner inside the archives. She has often told the story that when she received my first letter about the club, she said to herself that she didn’t need one more activity in her life, but that she said yes anyway. And she said that she is so happy she did. I, too, am grateful for our little alumnae club. It’s hard to function as a bona fide alumnae club with only a dozen members, but the fun we have and the instant connection we feel when new friends join us is priceless.
I encourage graduating seniors to find the alumnae club of of their organization in whatever city they’ll be living and make that connection. It might seem a bit awkward at first as one of the youngest women there, but believe me and the women in my alumnae club when I say that it will be so worth it. If I had left the Kappa’s house after my first alumnae club meeting with the intention of never attending another alumnae club event, my life would be so different today. I would have lost out on the opportunity of meeting so many wonderful alumnae, of serving my organization, and of writing about it on this blog.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/