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On the first weekend of March of 2019, over 370 brothers of the Epsilon Beta (Drury) Chapter convened at their old stomping grounds in Springfield, Mo. With spouses, guests, and friends to celebrate the Chapter’s 100th Anniversary. It was a celebration for the ages and a testament to the long and distinguished history of one of Sigma Nu’s oldest chapters. The Delta managed to snag some time from alumni Jon Sprenger, Randy Wilson, and Bob Feuerbacher to find out more about Epsilon Beta’s unique history and how an alumni group coordinates one of the largest milestones in their chapter’s history.

The Delta: Let’s first discuss some of the history of Epsilon Beta Chapter, because the chapter has a pretty unique story to tell in that regard.

Bob Feuerbacher: It does. What eventually became Epsilon Beta Chapter started in 1895 when seven students met in secret to a form a fraternity. On March 1, 1911, that fraternity held a banquet at the Colonial Hotel in Springfield and announced themselves’ as a new local fraternity called Obelisk. One of their original badges is displayed currently in the museum at Sigma Nu’s Headquarters.

The Delta: So similar to many of our chapters, Epsilon Beta was a local organization first which is also similar to the prevalence of these local fraternal groups forming around the turn of the century. I imagine with already having an established group that affiliating with Sigma Nu was easy.

Bob Feuerbacher: -Laughs- Not so easy it seems. Obelisk did choose Sigma Nu among several national fraternities to affiliate with, and I think that speaks to Obelisk’s founders having a very similar vision as to what fraternity is as Sigma Nu’s Founders had. But becoming a chartered chapter wasn’t easy by any means and it ultimately took eight years, from 1911 to 1918, for Obelisk to receive its charter.

The Delta: Eight years? That sounds like a ridiculous amount of time.

Bob Feuerbacher: I think the men at the time might agree with you. But there were valid, although ultimately wrong, concerns nationally. At the time, Sigma Nu already had five other chapters in Missouri, and they were at larger and more well-known schools than what was then called Drury College. Recruitment was different back then and there were concerns that adding a sixth chapter to the state would lower manpower for the others or even if a little college on 40 acres could even support a Sigma Nu chapter at the level of excellence that was expected. On top of that, The Law at the time required each chapter in your region to vote on your petition and a single “No” would mean your petition was denied. This all added up for a longer-than-normal waiting period for us.

The Delta: So, what was the tipping point?

Bob Feuerbacher: Persistence and commitment likely. Obelisk petitioned Sigma Nu three times before they were finally accepted in 1919 to become the Epsilon Beta Chapter of Sigma Nu Fraternity. That final petition was more than 45-pages long. It listed the school’s endowment, a breakdown of number of students by class, every achievement by the men of Obelisk, and their numerous involvement activities like athletic teams or student government. They added in letters of support from all of the other Sigma Nu chapters in Missouri and a letter of support from what was then basically a Division Commander.

The Delta: That’s an incredible eight years of working and waiting. Epsilon Beta has also had some impressive alumni pass through its halls.

Randy Wilson: Absolutely, and the first among them is none other than Flavius B. Freemen. He was called Doc by his friends and was a four-year all-conference basketball player and team captain. He also lettered in football and golf and was on the baseball team too. As if that wasn’t enough, he was also on the chapter’s Executive Committee. Doc went on to become a lawyer and he stayed involved with Sigma Nu as an alumnus in Springfield. He was a Chapter Advisor, Division Commander, and Alumni Chapter Commander. He’s the reason the alumni ended up purchasing the old chapter house at 1207 Benton which today is the Drury Alumni Center. Doc was then appointed Grand Marshal and Vice Regent before becoming Regent in 1966.

The Delta: And eventually a Hall of Honor inductee.

Randy Wilson: Yep. And not the only either. Mike Long would later become the second Epsilon Beta Regent and Hall of Honor inductee.

The Delta: That’s a significant legacy when you think of the distribution of the 66 Regents over 150 years. It certainly speaks to the alumni of the chapter.

Jon Sprenger: It does. Bob Barker goes on to be one of the most famous TV hosts ever, Bill Harding becomes one of the greatest basketball coaches in southwest Missouri, Larry and David O’Reilly lead the expansion and growth of O’Reilly Automotive, and Johnny Morris becomes the founder of Bass Pro Shops. And those are just the alumni most noninitiates would know. We’re very proud of what our alumni have achieved.

The Delta: What do you think has led to Epsilon Beta enduring at Drury for 100 years?

Bob Feuerbacher: The strength of the alumni in and around Springfield has made all the difference in Epsilon Beta’s 100 years. Many leaders from southwest Missouri attended Drury University and are Sigma Nu Brothers. This has to be the number one reason the chapter has done so well over the years. The support from the alumni has been tremendous financially, but all the money donated cannot fix all the problems. I think the biggest factor is that many local alumni have donated their time to help the chapter. Hands-on mentoring makes a huge difference in the trajectory of a chapter.

Randy Wilson: And for the alumni, that’s not just a commitment to your chapter but a commitment to Sigma Nu and whatever chapter you’re closest to. In this area we have alumni from a lot of different schools and we’ve always invited them in to assist and help out by giving their time that Bob referred to.

Jon Sprenger: I’ll also add University and Headquarters support. Without the support of the University the chapter wouldn’t be in the great facility it calls home today. And the ongoing direct support from the Headquarters staff is amazing. It’s really a three-legged stool. If your relationships with your alumni, your university, and Headquarters are strong then you’ll be alright. But when just one of those relationships is weakened, the whole thing can come down abruptly.

The Delta: Celebrating a Centennial is a monumental undertaking. Describe for me how you went about planning and executing this event? What are some best practices that other chapters can use or some lessons you learned for others to avoid?

Jon Sprenger: Plan early! We put our committee together fifteen months before the event, we sent save-the-dates out six months before, and formal invitations sixty days in advance. We relied heavily on social media for promotion, but we also had a great website to share information on. Our committee included brothers from across the age spectrum because we wanted to have a direct touchpoint to each era in the chapter’s history. I’d also suggest that others budget high. There is always costs associated with events like these that you never consider, and for something like your 100th Anniversary you don’t want to have to pinch pennies if you don’t have to.

The Delta: What was your favorite moment from the weekend?

Bob Feuerbacher: For me it’s the photo taken of all the collegians and alumni that attended. At the front of the group are some of us holding our 100-year-old Charter and behind are all the alumni that attended the banquet. I think this picture sums up what being a Sigma Nu means to the men of the Epsilon Beta Chapter. We are a chapter in a very small school that has thrived for 100 years without a lapse!

Jon Sprenger: As emcee, I had the honor to introduce the oldest initiate in attendance with us at the banquet, Brother Jack Hamlin. He’s a World War II veteran with an incredible story and it just really brought the whole weekend into perspective. He and I are separated by multiple generations but ultimately, we’re brothers from the same chapter and took the same oaths.

The Delta: Other chapters sometimes struggle with keeping their alumni engaged/ informed. What would be your advice to them? What’s your preferred medium to stay connected to what’s going on?

Jon Sprenger: The collegiate experience makes people either want to stay involved or simply move on. It is clear the men of Epsilon Beta, by and large, have had a tremendous collegiate experience, making them want to give back and remain involved. That to me is where it all starts. I think an event like this, when planned and executed well, can catapult that engagement moving forward. We were very strategic to regularly share the attendee list to try to prompt others to come. I heard from several attendees that when they saw brother so-and-so was coming, they really wanted to be there to see that brother as well!

The Delta: Any parting thoughts?

Bob Feuerbacher: I think Brother Flavius “Doc” Freemen said it best when he said, “Much of my life has been devoted to fraternity work, because I feel that a fraternity, such as Sigma Nu, has a great potential for doing good and for bringing out the best qualities in a young man. Qualities that make fine citizens and better leaders for the community and the nation. I feel an obligation to do what I can to bring this about.”

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