At the Arete Luncheon, SigEp recognizes the excellence among us — those who have succeeded in their professional careers and strengthened the SigEp chapter experience, as well as Alumni and Volunteer Corporations (AVCs) that have excelled at creating ideal living-learning environments for undergraduate brothers.
“Arete entails excellence in all things,” said emcee Jay Hurt, Davidson ’88. “To the Greeks, arete represented the highest way of living. To practice arete was to strive to achieve your highest human potential, to be the best soldier, scholar, politician or craftsman you could possibly be.”
THE SIGEP CITATION
Each Conclave, SigEp recognizes arete with our Citation — given for outstanding professional success to less than 0.1 percent of SigEp alumni. Recipients are giants in their industries, compassionate leaders and central members of their communities.
Thomas Bené, Kansas ’84, was introduced by newly-elected Student Director Keaton Dornath, Kansas ’20.
In 2013, Bené joined Sysco Corporation, the world leader in food distribution, as executive vice president and chief merchandising officer. In the years that followed, he continued to advance within the company and assume additional responsibilities. Since 2018, Bené has served as Sysco’s president and chief operating officer and was also named chairman of the board later that year.
Dornath said, “It is truly inspiring to our brothers that while you lead a Fortune 500 company, you still maintain a strong connection with our chapter and return regularly to Kansas Gamma to spend time with us. It’s evident that your devotion to SigEp was fostered long ago.”
Bené is also involved in a variety of professional, community and philanthropic organizations. He sits on the board of the Greater Houston Partnership, recently concluded a five-year term on the board of the Women’s Foodservice Forum and raises funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society by participating in its annual charity bike ride.
“SigEp brought me discipline and structure,” Bené said, “and created an environment where I could have the support I needed through friendship.”
The next Citation was presented to General Billy Boles, North Carolina State ’60, by Rear Admiral Chuck Kubic, Lehigh, ’72, a 2013 Citation recipient and president of Kubic Engineering Group.
Boles is a retired United States Air Force four-star general. After serving in the ROTC during college, Boles became an active duty member of the Air Force. Within a few years, he landed his first big assignment, working with the commander of the military personnel center at Randolph Air Force Base. Due to his ability to work well with people and bring out the best in them, more promotions followed. His rise through the ranks culminated in being named commander of the Air Education and Training Command — the 70,000-person organization responsible for recruiting, educating and training Air Force personnel.
Boles credited his SigEp experience for much of his success, and offered this advice for a life well-lived: “The thing that’s so important is the value of relationships. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”
Among the awards and decorations Boles earned during his 35 years in the Air Force, are the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster and the Bronze Star Medal.
The next Citation was presented to Gary Dudley, Sam Houston State ’69, by Philip J. Pfeiffer, Sam Houston State ’69.
Pfeiffer, Dudley’s childhood friend and chapter brother, said of Dudley, “When asked about your experience in the chapter, you shared, ‘When I pledged Sigma Phi Epsilon, I had no idea how it would affect my life. I made life-long friends that I keep in touch with to this day.’”
As co-founder and president of SWBC, Dudley oversees the financial services giant’s technology, administration, delivery systems and product strategies. Dudley and his business partner, Charlie Amato (2015 Citation recipient and National Board member), were working together in insurance when they launched their company more than 40 years ago. Dudley sought to build a company that made customer service a priority and treated employees well. The partners modeled the company’s culture on their experience in the undergraduate chapter, citing it as an environment where everyone shown mutual respect. Clearly, the strategy worked: SWBC now has is an international company with more than 2,700 employees. And today, Dudley is well regarded in the business community for building strong relationships with his company’s customers and partners.
In addition to his business, Dudley is committed to giving back to his alma mater and his local community. He serves on Sam Houston State’s College of Business Administration Advisory Board, is an investor in the San Antonio Spurs basketball team and sits on the board of the team’s nonprofit organization.
Dudley was impressed with the state of SigEp today, saying, “When I saw that the national SigEp GPA was 3.2, I couldn’t believe it. I came to Conclave, and now I see why.”
“When I became a SigEp,” he went on, “it was one of the proudest moments of my whole life.”
Dr. Ed Hammond, Emporia State ’66, president emeritus of Fort Hays State University and 2001 Citation recipient, introduced the next recipient, a colleague in higher education, John Thrasher, Florida State ’65.
Thrasher currently serves as the 15th president of his alma mater and, from 2001 to 2005, was the first chair of the university’s board of trustees. He not only attended Florida State as an undergraduate, but also earned his law degree from the school. Since being named president of Florida State in 2014, he has presided over a $1 billion fundraising campaign, advanced Florida State’s academic and research missions, and championed diversity and inclusion.
Of Thrasher, Hammond said: “Most importantly to everyone here today, you’ve been a leading voice among higher ed officials in calling for reforms to make Greek life safer. You’ve called for a new normal for fraternities and sororities — a safer culture focused on personal growth — and encouraged students to take the lead in their communities. Across your campus and across the country, you have inspired positive change.”
Thrasher has been vocal about the need for reforms to make Greek life safer and has worked with other university presidents on this issue.
Thrasher credits SigEp for some of his boldness. “Sigma Phi Epsilon opened my eyes to the kind of man I could be,” he said. “SigEp gave me the motivation, confidence and experience to pursue leadership opportunities throughout my career.”
Bryson Ridgway, Florida ’05, presented the final Citation to his friend and chapter brother, Mike Watford, Florida ’75.
Watford credits the roots of his success to SigEp. “In this organization I found a sense of community, a place to be, and a healthy, caring culture,” he said. “SigEp helped me lay a solid foundation for my life’s journey.”
Watford retired from Ultra Petroleum Corp. in 2018, where he served as chairman, CEO and president. Over the course of a career spanning more than 40 years, Watford has held management positions in natural gas, exploration and production, finance, and marketing at a number of energy companies, including Superior Oil, Meridian Oil (formerly Burlington Resources) and Torch Energy.
He drew on this wide range of experience when he was appointed CEO of Nuevo Energy in 1994. In just a few years, he took the company from a valuation of $200 million to over $1 billion. Then in 1999, Watford was tapped to helm natural gas company Ultra Petroleum, which he led until his retirement. Due to his expertise, Watford has been highly sought after as a director by energy companies and industry associations. He’s served on the boards of Southern Minerals, Bellwether Exploration Company and others.
Ridgway said: “Brother Watford, you are leading a great life, and many others live better lives because of you.”
Six Alumni and Volunteer Corporations were recognized with the Cornerstone Award for their commitment to providing our undergraduate chapters with facilities that position them for ongoing success. Each of the projects, which ranged from renovations to completely new builds, was completed since the 2017 Conclave. Recipients have demonstrated excellence in creating ideal living-learning environments for their undergraduate chapters.
Below are some highlights of each of the homes.
The home, which sleeps 34 brothers, features two multi-use spaces that can be used to host classes or seminars through the university, student ID readers for secure entry, and an alumni room. After a 10,000 square foot addition, the AVC is well-equipped to support chapter brothers in their home and focus on mentorship.
A renovation created a new academic center with two classrooms and a library, as well as a suite for a resident scholar. Eight years in the making, nearly 300 donors contributed almost $3 million to the project, including a lead gift from Citation recipient Mike Watford.
An 8,000-square-foot expansion added study spaces, offices for the chapter’s faculty fellow and resident scholar, and a classroom for the chapter’s accredited SigEp Learning Community courses. Brothers from the past six decades served as campaign trustees, securing support for a campaign that raised more than $4 million from 250 donors.
North Carolina State
The chapter’s new 19,000-square foot facility includes a house director suite and multipurpose rooms. The library, for example, has whiteboards and a large conference table and can be used for studying or holding meetings. Completing a capital campaign of $1.6 million, the chapter home opened in fall 2018.
In 2012, the AVC launched a capital campaign to replace their 44 year-old home with a facility that would reflect their chapter’s success. The new chapter home houses 80 men and includes two study rooms with wall-to-wall whiteboards, as well as formal and informal living rooms that can be used for studying or socializing.
With sound financial management while conducting a capital campaign, the AVC was able to begin construction in 2017, finishing the new facility in time for the 2018-2019 academic year. The 7,000-square-foot new build sleeps 19 brothers, and includes a classroom and study rooms.