Shawn McKenna, Maine ’77, was a successful entrepreneur, lifelong SigEp volunteer and devoted family man. After earning a degree in business administration from the University of Maine, he joined SigEp’s professional staff in Richmond. From 1977 to 1982, McKenna served in a series of staff roles, including regional director, director of chapter services and managing director of SigEp National Housing, then known as the National Housing Corporation.
After leaving the Fraternity’s staff, he went to work for Procter & Gamble and authored a book on marketing. McKenna was an avid motorcycle enthusiast whose penchant for adventure led to him to relocate his family to Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union. He was among the first western entrepreneurs to bring new businesses to Russia and found success in ventures such as the Moscow Beach Club, a western-style gym and health club, and Uncle Guilly’s, an American-style steak house. One of his most successful businesses was a series of 1950s-style diners with locations throughout Moscow and other emerging markets like Cypress and South Africa.
Though McKenna left the Fraternity’s professional staff in 1982, he continued to serve in volunteer roles throughout his life. He volunteered with several chapters and served as a mentor for undergraduate leaders and fellow volunteers. He was a director on the board of SigEp National Housing for over 30 years and served as its president from 1988 to 1990. In 2007, he received SigEp’s highest honor, the Order of the Golden Heart. In 2009, he was elected to the Fraternity’s National Board of Directors.
McKenna was a fervent supporter of his alma mater. He was a member of the Maine Foundation Board and the business school’s board of advisors. He also taught students as an adjunct professor, lecturer and executive-in-residence. McKenna’s leadership curriculum became the basis of Maine’s first minor in leadership.
McKenna leaves behind his wife, Debra, their three children and two grandchildren. His sons Ryan, ’03, and Riley, ’09, both joined SigEp at Purdue, leading Shawn to remark, “I am touched to be able to call my sons my brothers — in the best fraternity on the planet, Sigma Phi Epsilon.”
Below are some words from the friends and brothers who knew him best.
“Shawn was a superb friend, brother and family man. He was a true man of sterling character who mastered himself to live a life well-lived. Even in dying, we could observe the lessons of strength, grace, humor, humility and love. He was always willing to lend a hand and help. I will surely miss him.” — Col. Bob Lanham, Indiana ’77
“Shawn had the unique ability to see over the horizon to the destination our Fraternity should strive for. His passion was SigEp National Housing. When Shawn was on staff, he established the Equity Management Fund, which is now used by 49 chapters with an investment of $3,100,023. With his leadership, our housing loan portfolio grew from a couple million to nearly $30 million. He helped develop and implement our Residential Learning Communities to make our houses safer and more consistent with the universities we support.” — Bert Harris, Florida ’74
“Shawn was the core of our staff. He was always bigger than life. He was intense, but loving. He embraced Jack Wheeler’s notion of brotherly love. If you loved him, you loved him deeply.”— Doug Nabhan, Purdue ’77
“Shawn was the consummate businessman, executive, leader, friend and brother. His presence came with a combination of keen intellectual analysis and puckish wit. … Shawn was a standout among other exceptional volunteers, and he will be dearly missed.”— Jon Kucera, Virginia ’69
“Shawn was the type of husband, father, role model and friend we all strive to be. He had a true gift for making everyone he knew feel better about themselves. I would be remiss if I did not share what a blue collar fighter he was. He fought off two bouts of cancer before succumbing to the third. When my family visited with him on Sunday, he had a Muhammad Ali poster hanging over his bed to remind himself not to give up and to keep on fighting.”— Tim Bryant, Massachusetts ’89