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Perspectives on Our Past

This headline appeared in the October 1937 issue of The Delta. The Fraternity requested readers to donate Sigma Nu memorabilia to the general offices in Indianapolis for preservation in the archives. Here I am, eighty years later, with the same request of my readers to help us preserve our Fraternity’s heritage.

We’re interested in donations of historical items like letters, minutes, photographs, programs, manuals, books, objects and memorabilia from chapters and predecessor locals. Don’t assume the Fraternity already has everything in the archives, because I can assure you it doesn’t. This plea is meant not only for alumni but also for chapters. Perhaps you’ve run out of space to store things and are loath to discard your Sigma Nu items. Send them in, and we can determine whether or not they're of value and something we already have in our historical collection.

To provide some idea of the types of items we’re looking for, I thought it would be helpful and interesting for me to talk about just a few of the acquisitions we’ve received over the last year.

My Fraternity Book

In the early 1900s, The Reilly and Britton Company of Chicago published a book for fraternity men titled, My Fraternity. It was a book used to record memories, photos, and other memorabilia of an individual’s time in his chapter.

Cover of "My Fraternity" memory book.

The one we recently added to the archives, belonged to Oscar Samuel Causey, initiated in 1912 as number 231 of our Iota Chapter at Samford University (formerly Howard College). The book contains wonderful photos of the men in the chapter as well as written memories of events that took place.

Causey later attended the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to receive a master’s degree and teach from 1926 to 1950. In 1950, he moved to TCU where he established one of the first reading clinics in the country. He was instrumental in starting the National Reading Conference.

Table of contents for the memory book.

The book we acquired contains individual and group photos as well as information on the classes of 1911-14. There is a detailed description with photographs of the chapter house. Also, there are write-ups on some of the parties and formals held by the chapter. Due to the age of the photos and the photographic process used at the time, some of the silver has migrated to the top and causes a mirror effect on some of the pictures.

Causey’s son, Oscar Milton Causey, was also initiated into the Iota Chapter as badge 491 in 1940.

Chapter Photos

We were fortunate to acquire two group photos of our Auburn Chapter as well as the 1941 edition of The Glomerate, the Auburn yearbook. One of the photos is from 1939-40, and the second has no date but must be around the same time frame. Both photos have the names of those pictured on the reverse.

Beta Theta (Auburn) Chapter group photo.

Photos of chapters are excellent additions to the archives and individuals can often be identified through their photos in yearbooks. Although far from perfect yet, identification is easier these days with face recognition software.

In addition to composites and photos of initiates and alumni, we are also interested in pictures of chapter and alumni events.

1978 Grand Chapter Memorabilia

The family of former Regent Gerald Sherratt, who passed away last year, kindly donated many photos and other memorabilia that he collected over the years. Among these items were mementos from the 1978 Grand Chapter that took place at the Camelot Inn in Little Rock, Arkansas. “Jerry” was Regent at the time and a real showman. He made sure the convention was entertaining as well as productive. At the time, it was the largest Sigma Nu conclave in history with more than 700 brothers in attendance.

One particular item caught my attention right away. The second evening of the Grand Chapter consisted of a special event called “An Evening with Sigma Nu.” One of the highlights of the show, held in the Music Hall of the convention center, was the master-of-ceremonies — Sigma Nu alumnus Bob Barker (Drury). Barker was a long-time television game-show host for shows like The Price is Right. That evening, Barker was given the Sigma Nu Distinguished Alumni Award by Regent Sherratt. The item that caught my attention was the program for the evening signed by Bob Barker to Jerry.

Bob Barker (Drury) autographed program.

We plan to display this signed program along with other memorabilia in our future renovated Hall of Fame museum wing at Headquarters.

Favors

We often receive interesting “favors” that brothers gave out at White Rose Formals or other significant chapter events. Recently we acquired a unique item from a White Rose Formal held in 1962. Unfortunately, the chapter is unknown. It is a full-size jewelry box in the shape of a treasure chest with divided compartments on two levels. It must have been quite a hit for those in attendance that year.

Jewelry box White Rose favor.

These items we’ve received are meant only as examples of what we’re interested in for the historical collection. If you have any doubt whether to send something in, I encourage you to ship it to Sigma Nu’s Headquarters, to my attention, or give us a call.

The Carmichaels of Lexington

One of the earliest initiates of Alpha Chapter at VMI was John C. Carmichael. The chapter initiated him as Alpha 15 in the very first year of the Legion of Honor’s existence. In The Story of Sigma Nu, John Scott indicates that Carmichael, along with two other early initiates, “are here considered next to the Founders because they were undoubtedly the most active with them in the organization of Sigma Nu Fraternity.” John Carmichael was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1847, the same year as Greenfield Quarles.

Those of you familiar with the traditions of VMI know that the Battle of New Market is held very dear to graduates of the Institute. The battle took place on May 15, 1864, and is the only time in U.S. history when a group of students fought in a war. Many people assume, since Sigma Nu was not founded until 1869 (almost five years after the Battle of New Market), that no initiate of the Legion of Honor was at VMI at the time of the battle. In actuality, John Carmichael is the sole exception.

Carmichael entered VMI on April 23, 1864, just three weeks before the battle. He was only sixteen years old. Since Carmichael was one of the youngest cadets when they marched off to New Market, he was one of those designated to stay behind and guard VMI along with seventeen other cadets. Thus, he did not participate in the actual battle.

VMI was later burned down in retaliation and classes suspended. However, Carmichael returned in 1866 and entered VMI along with our three Founders. All of them were members of the Class of 1870.

Carmichael lived for many years in Lexington, Virginia, and was extremely helpful as an adviser to Lambda Chapter (Washington & Lee) in its early years. While in Lexington, he married Virginia Brooke Tucker, and they had four children. The second son, John Carmichael, Sr., entered Washington & Lee and was initiated in 1890 as Lambda 35. He was the first son of a Sigma Nu member initiated and thus our very first fraternity “legacy.”

In addition to being the first legacy, John Carmichael Sr. has another historical note beside his name. Before the 1892 Grand Chapter, he urged the Fraternity to adopt an official flower. At that Grand Chapter, the Fraternity accepted his recommendation of a white rose. Many years later, when asked why he recommended a white rose, he said the idea came from growing up in Lexington and playing in his grandfather’s yard. The Sigma Nu Rose is an English floribunda whose five petals resemble the badge of Sigma Nu — a sight John Sr. was familiar with from observing his father’s badge.

In 1923, the Carmichael legacy tradition would continue even further when Delta Pi Chapter (George Washington) initiated John Carmichael, Jr., as badge number 159. He was the grandson of John C. Carmichael and the son of John Carmichael, Sr. — a double legacy!

The Mills Brothers

Many initiates in Sigma Nu have familial brothers also initiated into Sigma Nu. One family that immediately comes to mind is that of Ed Mills. Ed was one of five brothers initiated by our Epsilon Omicron Chapter at the University of Southern California. His four initiated brothers are Wilbur J. Mills, Henry J. Mills, Thomas W. Mills, and Martin Mills.

Rose Arbor plaque honoring the five Mills brothers.

Ed Mills made a significant contribution to the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation that entirely retired the mortgage on the Ethical Leadership Center property at Headquarters. In recognition of his generous gift, the Foundation erected a bronze plaque at the Rose Arbor's entrance inscribed with the names of the five Mills brothers. Indicated on the plaque is a gentle request by the Mills family: "Consideration for this gift is One White Rose, yearly, for each, forever."

Also, beautiful bronze-sculpted roses adorn the wrought iron wickets that form the Rose Arbor, one for each of the deceased Mills brothers. Ed Mills later served as a Director of the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation and was involved with Sigma Nu until his death. The legacy of the Mills family “legacies” to Sigma Nu is not only generous but also inspiring. 

Greenfield Quarles Monument Dedication

Those of you who read my column in the fall 2016 issue of The Delta know that the Fraternity designated the 2017-18 academic year as the “Year of Greenfield Quarles.” Part of the lead-up to Sigma Nu’s 150th anniversary in 2019 is honoring each one of the founders during the prior three years.

Founder Quarles' monument before.

In the context of the tribute to Founder Quarles, a special dedication will take place this fall in Helena, Arkansas, where he lived most of his life and died.

At the 2006 Grand Chapter, the delegates passed a resolution instructing the Fraternity to appoint a committee to study the replacement of Quarles’ existing gravestone. The resolution stated that the gravestone was “disappointing at best, and a disgrace at worst” compared to those erected by the Fraternity over the other two founders.

A committee was appointed consisting of Kyle Bryant (Central Arkansas), Jason Campbell (Northwestern State, Louisiana) and Chris Graham (Lamar/Stephen F. Austin).

The committee reported back at the 2008 Grand Chapter and recommended the Fraternity replace the existing monument, and the delegates approved that recommendation. Of course, there was work to do before that could happen. We had to obtain approval from the Quarles family and the cemetery, agree on a design, and find the money to erect it.

Fortunately, Jason Campbell’s family owns a monument company (Campbell Monument Company) in Natchitoches, Louisiana, about 300 miles from Helena, Arkansas. The company has been in operation for many years; Jason offered to help with the project and indicated the company would do it at their cost.

Once the family and cemetery provided their approval, the High Council agreed on the design. We located the funding source, and erection of the monument began in earnest in early 2016. Jason Campbell’s company completed the granite stone and placed it in the cemetery just before the 2016 Grand Chapter in San Diego.

Founder Quarles' monument after.

As part of the “Year of Greenfield Quarles,” Sigma Nu will have an official dedication of the monument this fall on October 22, 2017. The dedication will start at 2:00 pm in the Maple Hill Cemetery, and a reception will follow at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Helena. Greenfield Quarles was a long-time vestryman for the church and was involved in the rebuilding of St. John’s after a fire destroyed it in 1914. The congregation dedicated the newly rebuilt church in 1916.

We hope Sigma Nus in Arkansas, Mississippi and western Tennessee will join us for the event. Members of the Quarles family will be in attendance as well.


In closing, I want to thank you for reading my columns and encourage any of you with ideas for future columns to send your thoughts to me at bob_mccully@comcast.net. I'm always looking for ideas for future columns.

© 2015-2017 Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc.
9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: 540.463.1869 | Fax: 540.463.1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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