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Alumni Share Legacy of Service and Dedication

The new Sigma Chi house served as the site for the chapter's 10th anniversary.

By Patty Snelling
The college years should be a time when young people develop a philosophy to live by and find balance in their lives through academic and social experiences," says Jonathan Bennett, B.A., English, '96. During his college years, Bennett chose to look for those experiences as a Sigma Chi fraternity brother. He became president of the George Mason chapter, Iota Xi, and later served as president of the university's Interfraternity Council, the campus governing body for fraternal Greek organizations.

Along the way, he met fellow students and brothers Gregory Simmons, B.S. Public Administration, '97, and Matthew Adams, B.S. Economics, '96. Simmons also served a term as chapter president, and Adams was secretary-treasurer. As students, the men found a friend and mentor in Harvey Silverman, J.D., '78, Grand Praetor (regional governor) of the Eastern Province for Sigma Chi International, active member of the Sigma Chi alumni chapter in Northern Virginia, and alumnus of George Mason's School of Law. Together, the four of them forged a friendship based on commitment and loyalty to a common goal--to live according to the Sigma Chi philosophies of service and dedication--that leaves a legacy and a challenge for future generations.

Earlier this year, the George Mason chapter opened Sigma Chi's first alcohol- and tobacco-free fraternity house in Virginia. The house, located a few miles west of the university's Fairfax Campus, is home to four fraternity brothers and is used for chapter meetings and social gatherings. This dream was realized through the leadership of Bennett, Silverman, Simmons, and Adams, along with the dedication and hard work of all the Sigma Chi brothers.

The story begins in the early 1990s when Bennett, Simmons, and Adams, as new students and eager Sigma Chi pledges, quickly bought into the dreams of their brothers for a fraternity house to call their own. They took their cause to university administrators and Fairfax City officials, but the answer was always the same--there were no plans, funds, or interest for fraternity housing at George Mason. So these young men continued to believe in their abilities to effect change, however, while channeling their interests and energies into service projects and other fraternity activities.

After graduation, they became involved in their individual career goals and finding places in the real world. But the fraternal bond remained strong, and it was time to share the lessons in commitment, service, and leadership with new Sigma Chi pledges. Bennett, Simmons, and Adams joined Silverman as active members of the Sigma Chi alumni chapter, serving as advisors to the active Iota Xi chapter at George Mason. Silverman explains the Sigma Chi tradition of helping others. "We encourage our undergrads to grow personally while forming an attachment with their fraternity brothers. We want to give them the formative help we had."

Now able to access more knowledge and expertise, Bennett, Simmons, and Adams decided to revisit the idea of a fraternity house for their undergraduate brothers at George Mason. This time, they could tap into the resources offered by Sigma Chi alumni--legal, real estate, and financial expertise. In early 1998, they set out with an ambitious plan for obtaining land and building a house. They solicited support from other Sigma Chi brothers, held fund-raisers, and accepted cash and in-kind donations from alumni. They formed an independent housing corporation and, within a year, their plan was a reality.

"From my work with undergraduate chapters over the past 20 years, I knew firsthand about alcohol problems within fraternities and how deeply embedded that social culture is in some chapters. Unfortunately, it also translates into property damage and disrepair of fraternity-owned houses," says Silverman. "We felt we needed a clean slate in order to make the project work and to further the ideals of Sigma Chi and other Greek organizations, not only at George Mason, but all over the country," Bennett says. Although he admits the idea of a substance-free house was no easy sell to the undergrads, "they soon realized the advantages and actively supported our plans."

The house serves as a focal point for Sigma Chi activities at George Mason while offering fraternity members a learning center, a meeting center, and a quiet study place. But it also offers fraternity hospitality to out-of-town brothers. House residents tell about the visits and phone calls they get from distant brothers who are interested in the operation of the house or who want to stop by just to show support for their brothers.

Alumni support has been overwhelming, says Bennett. "We recently held the chapter's tenth anniversary party at the house, and it was well attended by alumni. Many had been involved in the project along the way, and it was extremely gratifying to see that kind of support and encouragement."

Although Bennett, Silverman, Simmons, and Adams were instrumental in making this dream happen, they are quick to credit the many other alumni and undergraduates who unselfishly gave of their time and resources to work on the project. Other key players include Jon Lowder, B.A. Communication '92; John Hall, B.S. Accounting '92; David Hardin, B.A. Government and Politics '99 (also 1998-99 chapter president); Michael Kirk, 1999-2000 chapter president; and Daniel Duenkel, David Brooks, and Daniel Glass.

The success of this project goes deeper than an operational, substance-free house for fraternity brothers. The success is a measure of the commitment and loyalty these men show to their beliefs and the ideals they formed as young students looking for an identity. Simmons relates how his "real life" training started as an undergraduate, how Sigma Chi taught him to "deal with people in real life and overcome challenges." Bennett explains how his fraternity experience has and continues to be an "avenue for training and for life that makes me want to participate." All the men feel their obligation to Sigma Chi and to George Mason is never finished.

Although their friends and families are sometimes puzzled by their continued participation in fraternity activities, Simmons sums it up. "This house exemplifies our belief in Sigma Chi. The emphasis is on practicing what we preach, and we preach good citizenship. And you can't do that when you're only engrossed in the social aspect so common to fraternities."

The Iota Xi chapter of Sigma Chi at George Mason is an active and growing element of the Sigma Chi organization. With 40 current members, it captured the Peterson Significant Chapter Award in 1997-98, national recognition based on a criteria for excellence, and the Province Chapter Award in 1998-99, a regional award of merit and distinction, and five members were recently awarded scholarships to participate in the international leadership enclave held annually. Nationally, Sigma Chi comprises 225 undergraduate chapters, 116 active alumni chapters, and about 40 alumni associations.

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