As we celebrate the service of outgoing Grand President Rick Bennet, Central Missouri ’74, we highlight a unique way his home chapter honored Brother Bennet during his two-year term.
Last year, the Missouri Theta Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon had the opportunity of a lifetime. Grand President Rick Bennet visited the University of Central Missouri campus, where he graduated 40 years prior.
The main event of the evening was a surprise dinner honoring Rick. Several members of Missouri Theta, along with a few dozen alumni from many different generations, were able to be a part of this dinner and make it a truly special occasion. A proclamation was presented to Rick announcing a named scholarship — the Richard W. Bennet III Sigma Phi Epsilon Missouri Theta Chapter Alumni Scholarship.
Having a Missouri Theta as the Grand President has re-energized our undergraduate members. The current chapter is working to elevate its performance and bring home another Buchanan Cup. Missouri Theta has received 11 Buchanan Cups throughout its history, but hasn’t received any since 2001. We are now inspired by seeing one of our own lead the Fraternity and hope to channel that honor into a resurgence for our chapter.
BONDS OF FRIENDSHIP STAND THE TEST OF TIME
It was roughly 45 years ago that most of us had first come together as members of the same Fraternity on a midsize college campus in the Midwest. And it was probably 40 years ago since some of us had laid eyes on each other. Some of us were exceptionally close and some so incredibly different and distant from one another that using the term “brother” had often felt uncomfortably fake.
The occasion for this gathering? One of our very own — a Fraternity member who during college just naturally seemed to get along with everyone — had gone on to a very distinguished business career but managed to stay involved at the national Fraternity level long after most of us had forgotten the upsides and downsides of the close living relationships you experience in a fraternity house.
This brother’s national involvement over the past few decades had culminated in his position as Grand President of one of the largest, oldest and most respected fraternities in the nation. Even those of us whose memories of those days had begun to fade recognized that becoming the leader of our national Fraternity — and from our own chapter no less — was a very big deal.
So we planned a surprise event to honor him, a celebration with his Missouri Theta brothers, those of us who lived, and in many ways grew up, with him during our time together four decades ago.
A CELEBRATION — OR A TRAIN WRECK?
As a few of us started to organize the event, the first question was basically, “Would this be a celebration or a train wreck?”
To my relief, we had a good turnout and the bonds of brotherhood withstood the test of time. Even more to my amazement, everyone seemed to have matured well beyond the quirky categories into which they fell during our college years. Those from whom I would have least expected it had become wildly successful in their fields. We had grown into serial entrepreneurs and influential teachers and business executives and military officers.
But mostly, we had captured or kept that sense of brotherly love that was for many just a word 40 years ago. It now had morphed into a genuine feeling of connection, a bridge that seemed to have grown stronger, not weaker, over time. There was a sense of appreciation for one another that I didn’t recall from our college years.
We honored our brother Grand President by being there and by reminding him where his Fraternity journey began — and with whom. We told funny and heartwarming stories about him and had a few laughs at his expense. A celebration I thought might last a couple of painful hours turned out to be an enjoyable event that went long into the night.
To commemorate our brother Rick’s accomplishment, we endowed a scholarship fund designed explicitly to be a resource for current and future members of our local campus chapter who might need a helping hand to bridge the financial gap to finish college. And, not surprisingly for Rick, a guy who arrived on campus 46 years ago with only $500 in his pocket and a willingness to work his way through to a degree, that scholarship seemed to be the most touching tribute of the evening.
At a time when the value of fraternities is being questioned — and when the actions of some across the country deserve serious scrutiny — it dawned on me that we were the lucky ones. We came together at a time when guys wanted to connect, when having someone to lean on mattered and when leaning on someone was precisely what we needed, when underneath all the antics and chaos was a sense of belonging that we hoped would stand the test of time.
For us, it has. And I think we’re all just a little better for it and for taking a moment to let it sink in as we celebrated our friend and reignited our sense of brotherhood.
A version of this story originally appeared on thedokedispatch.com.