In a banquet room full of hundreds of people at the 1995 Conclave, someone found Kelly Williams, Tennessee ’92, and handed him a note. It read:
You are now a member of the Board of Governors.
The note was from Jim Clayton, Tennessee ’57, and it outlined his plan to invest in Williams and place him on a path to give back to the Fraternity that had given him so much. Clayton would pay 90 percent of Williams’ Board of Governors membership the first year, and Williams’ share would grow over the years as he progressed in his career and was able to give more. The Board of Governors supports the Fraternity’s Annual Fund, which prepares our undergraduates for a lifetime of success by enabling chapter programs and regional and national leadership events.
Flash forward to 2020: Williams has been a generous supporter of the Fraternity and member of the Board of Governors for the past 25 years. In addition, he now serves on the SigEp National Advancement Council, which helps advise and plan the Fraternity’s fundraising efforts. The investment Clayton made in him, emphasizing the importance of giving back to the Fraternity that had shaped both their lives, created a ripple effect that has inspired decades of generosity.
“As a 25-year-old young man,” Williams said, “to be surrounded by all of these captains of industry, to hear their advice and stories of success, was really impactful for me.”
The ripple effect didn’t stop there. At the 2020 Chicago Carlson Leadership Academy, Williams told the story of Clayton’s generosity to a room full of alumni. Many were inspired to follow suit, and a new wave of sponsorships is the result. By the time the Southern California and Dallas Carlsons concluded, 25 brothers had sponsored young alumni and undergraduates as members of the Beacon Society, which enables brothers age 30 and younger to join the Board of Governors at a reduced cost of $600 per year.
Williams sponsored a new Beacon Society member himself, recent grad and Ruck and Quest Scholar Clark Williams, Tennessee ’20 (no relation to Kelly). “He represents all that is good in SigEp and was a natural selection when I thought about who I could sponsor,” Kelly said. “I invited him to dinner and told him I had a little graduation gift for him. I then took a BOG pin from my pocket and slid it over to him. The look on his face was priceless, and he appreciated it greatly. Just as much as I appreciated what Brother Clayton did for me some 25 years ago.”
Peter Varney, Davidson ’96, has sponsored several Beacon Society members over the years. After hearing Williams’ story, he was moved to do so again at Carlson.
“The people I sponsor are amazing people, and they’re going to have amazing futures. I want SigEp to be a part of that,” he said. Undergraduates and recent grads “think the Board of Governors is just for old people who have a lot of money. But as a younger member, if you’re not spending time at Conclave or SigEp events with members of the Board of Governors — from a networking and mentoring standpoint — you’re missing out.”
Regarding his habit of Beacon Society sponsorships, Varney explained, “If I get a lot of benefit from something, I owe something back.”
Chris Purdum, Wichita State ’07, also embraced the sponsorship effort. “As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to have met and been positively impacted by several volunteers and alumni locally and across the country,” he said. “One of the areas I saw their influence early on was in their generosity in supporting undergraduates.”
Purdum chose to sponsor Beacon Society membership for Max Yates, Montana State ’21. “Max Yates and I first met at the 2019 Ruck Leadership Institute, and he immediately struck me as a unique leader,” he said. “I’ve chosen to sponsor Max not only as a nod to his accomplishments, but also to honor those who have and continue to influence my decision to give to what I consider to be the greatest organization around.”
Yates was appreciative of Purdum’s commitment. “Being sponsored by Chris is a really incredible honor,” he said. “For me, it epitomizes the value of connections formed at the Ruck Leadership Institute. I really look up to Chris as a leader, brother and person. I’m hoping that what I have gained in my undergraduate years at Montana Beta will set me up to be in a position to give back through the Beacon Society for years to come and facilitate similar experiences for brothers across the country.”
Interested in honoring a brother under 30 with a Beacon Society sponsorship? Go here to learn more.