Bert Harris, Florida ’74, has mentored countless SigEps and led multiple housing projects as a chapter volunteer, including a $3 million capital campaign. As a member and president of two SigEp boards with national reach, he’s guided housing projects for several dozen other chapters and was behind the recent resurgence of SigEp’s Balanced Man Program.
Harris started volunteering with his University of Florida Chapter immediately after graduation. When he relocated to Tallahassee for law school, he enlisted as a chapter counselor with the Florida State Chapter too. As a young attorney, he continued to mentor SigEps from both chapters and even served as president of Florida’s Alumni and Volunteer Corporation, endearing himself to fellow volunteers because of his dedication and positive attitude.
When the Florida State brothers outgrew their chapter home in the 1970s, Harris worked with SigEp National Housing Trustee Shawn McKenna, Maine ’77, to sell the home and purchase a new one. Harris impressed McKenna and the other trustees and was asked to serve with them on the board in 1993. Just two years later, he was elected president and continued in that role for the next 15 years.
At the helm of the Fraternity’s national housing board, Harris oversaw a significant expansion in the services SigEp provided to local chapters. When he joined the board, the best financing options for chapters hoping to purchase, build or remodel homes were local bank loans. However, favorable lending terms were rare, as many banks weren’t used to working with fraternities.
To provide chapters with better loans, Harris and the board established a large line of credit through SigEp National Housing. This new lending program significantly increased the Fraternity’s ability to fund local housing projects and allowed the housing board and its staff to play a larger consulting role in the financing, design, construction and operation of chapter homes.
Harris also wanted to help volunteers spend more time mentoring and less time managing properties. He helped launch a property management program through which SigEp’s professional staff would manage the accounting, rent collection, repairs and maintenance of chapter homes. Today, the program has grown to include 30 properties across the country.
In 2003, undergraduates interviewing alumni for SigEp’s National Board of Directors asked Harris to serve the Grand Chapter in an even larger capacity. He was elected to the National Board at that year’s Conclave and was later named Grand Secretary before being elected Grand President in 2011.
As Grand President, Harris set out to refocus support and resources to SigEp’s Balanced Man Program. He formed a focus group of undergraduates to evaluate the program and later established a task force to rethink and reinvigorate SigEp’s member development process. He oversaw the launch of new resources to help chapters implement the Balanced Man Program, and the momentum continued to build through 2015 when the Grand Chapter voted to make it SigEp’s only member development program.
During his final year as Grand President, Harris helped alumni and volunteers from his home chapter navigate a difficult period in their history and ultimately rebuild as a stronger organization. When cultural decline within the undergraduate chapter forced a closure in 2013, he responded by communicating constantly with alumni to keep them involved and excited about the chapter’s 2015 return.
After concluding his term as Grand President, Harris immediately returned to his chapter’s volunteer ranks. He assumed leadership of the Florida Alpha Educational Foundation and oversaw its $3 million capital campaign. In August 2017, the chapter completed a full renovation of its living-learning community. The new facility can house 46 brothers and has meeting space for a chapter of 100 or more. Since the chapter’s return to campus, Harris has mentored young brothers on how to create a culture built on the principles of the Balanced Man Program.
Upon being inducted into the Order of the Golden Heart, Harris acknowledged the many close friendships he has enjoyed over the years and mentioned two late brothers in particular who had deeply influenced him, David Hendon, Florida ’50, and Shawn McKenna. He concluded, “The entire journey has been absolutely wonderful. And I am so grateful for the men that have helped along the way. In the words of Brother Maddox (Ken, Oregon State ’75), ‘At the end of the day, it is all about friendship.’”
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