At Conclave, SigEp brothers and friends committed to create and fund the Phillip A. Cox Volunteer Institute. The institute was named after and inspired by outgoing Grand President Phillip A. Cox, Indiana ’84. National Director Garry Kief, Southern California ’70, announced the plan to Cox at a Conclave fund-raising gala in downtown Nashville: “Your brothers and SigEp friends are here tonight to honor you and commit to you that we intend to continue your work with volunteers and complete a $1 million endowment to support volunteer education.”
Alumni, volunteers and guests had gathered at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to support SigEp’s new volunteer institute. Many in attendance were in on the real surprise of the evening: that the institute would be named in Cox’s honor. “Phil, we’re going to make this happen because we love you, because this program matters,” said an emotional Kief.
Cox, who was elected Grand President at the 2013 Dallas Conclave, battled cancer throughout his term. “Eager to keep the focus on your SigEp experience, he’s fought this fight quietly, never letting his health keep him from his duties as Grand President,” said outgoing Student Director Sawyer Hicks, Davidson ’14, to the Conclave assembly. Those supporting the institute were excited to celebrate Cox and his life’s work with him in Nashville.
Following the emotional reveal, Kief and Grand Treasurer Chris Bittman, Colorado ’85, presented Cox and his wife, Jane, with a framed proclamation establishing the Phillip A. Cox Volunteer Institute.
Over the course of the evening, guests contributed enthusiastically to the endowment through a live auction that included packages like grandstand seating at the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, donated by Terry Lundgren, Arizona ’74, and a collection of SigEp Journal covers signed by Lundgren and other prominent alumni, including: Jim Clayton, Tennessee ’57; Bob Eckert, Arizona ’76; Ed Haldeman, Dartmouth ’70; Rick Marini, New Hampshire ’94; Ryan Mathews, Fresno State ’11; and Ron Olson, Drake ’63. By the auction’s close, $450,000 had been committed toward the endowment.
The auction’s energy and momentum continued into the following day, when plans for the Cox Institute were made public at the Alumni Awards Dinner. Once more at the podium, Kief announced that proceeds from the 2015 Conclave banner auction would support the new initiative.
Each Conclave, the ceremonial banner hung in the grand ballroom throughout the week is auctioned off in support of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation. Late Citation Recipient and Life Trustee Bill Schreyer, Pennsylvania State ’48, famously set the previous record at $100,000 at SigEp’s Centennial Celebration in 2001.
Not long after bidding began, a table of Cox’s Indiana Chapter brothers took the microphone. “I sit with the 10 undergraduates that are here for Indiana University, and they wouldn’t be sitting at the table here tonight without Phil Cox,” said Chris Foster, Indiana ’84.
As the microphone circled the table, alumni-volunteers who had worked alongside Cox for many decades spoke of the important role he plays in the life of the chapter. “He’s the most generous person I know. … He’s generous with his time, his money and mostly his heart. And [he’s] the thread that holds us together at Indiana Beta,” said Ty McDaniel, Indiana ’85.
Finally, the microphone was handed to Alumni and Volunteer Corporation President Steve Bishop, Indiana ’76, who announced, “To honor the legacy of all the great leaders in this room, we have to invest in the future. Indiana Beta will pay $200,000.” As an enthusiastic crowd stood in applause, Cox, in awe of the news, wrapped each of his Indiana Chapter brothers in his arms.
Indiana’s winning bid shattered the previous auction record and ushered in a new stream of gifts as brothers and friends learned about the campaign. More than $850,000 of the $1 million goal was raised in the days and weeks that followed.
A focus on volunteers
Throughout his term as Grand President, Cox reminded others that a group of dedicated volunteers are found behind every great chapter and SigEp success story. He communicated the overarching importance of strong alumni-volunteer involvement and worked to expand the scope and quality of volunteer education at Carlson Leadership Academies and Grand Chapter Conclaves. He also grew the national Fraternity’s volunteer services staff in Richmond and piloted a Drive-In program that brought volunteer education to alumni around the country.
“Phil was one of the first people to recognize there’s a direct correlation between how good our chapters are and how good our volunteers are,” said Brad Nahrstadt, Monmouth ’89. “Today’s student is craving interaction with successful, engaged alumni.”
Cox’s initiatives also came in response to increased demand from volunteers for additional training and support from the national Fraternity. A growing number were seeking education to prepare them to mentor students in a college environment different from the ones they experienced themselves.
Recognizing the limitations of the annual Carlson Leadership Academy and biennial Conclave for volunteers with demanding careers and busy family lives led to the creation of Drive-Ins, which brought in-person education to cities across the country in 2014. The Drive-Ins were an immediate success, and the concept became the foundation for the Cox Institute.
A dream realized
On September 20, 2015, volunteers from Indiana, Ohio and Illinois joined Cox at his alma mater in Bloomington, Ind., for the inaugural Phillip A. Cox Volunteer Institute. They participated in sessions on the Balanced Man Program, corporate health, new volunteer resources, Conclave legislation and the state of the national Fraternity.
An additional strength of the Cox Institute was evident to those present. “The greatest benefit to a meeting like this is the facilitated discussions between volunteers of different chapters, the sharing of ideas and the ability to receive feedback,” said Indiana Tech Chapter Counselor John Sims, Indiana Tech ’94. Cox Institute curriculum is tailored to the specific needs of attendees at each program, and volunteers are encouraged to explore rabbit holes and in-the-weeds scenarios that can’t always be accommodated at other SigEp programs.
Even longtime volunteers found unique opportunities at the inaugural institute. “The Phillip A. Cox Volunteer Institute session is content rich and time efficient, much to my liking,” said Order of the Golden Heart Recipient John Abraham, Cincinnati ’77. “After all these years, if I can take notes on ideas and updates to bring back to our AVC in Cincinnati, you know there is something to gain in one day.”
The inaugural institute was followed by programs in Washington, D.C.; Tampa, Fla.; San Diego; and Kansas City, Mo., this fall. In order to expand the reach of volunteer education, the Cox Institute will be held in cities that do not typically host Carlson Leadership Academies. And a one-day format makes the institute more accessible for volunteers unable to attend the weekend-long Carlson program.
When the $1 million endowment is complete, the institute will reach 400-500 volunteers in 8-10 cities with crucial education every year. Based on its early success and acclaim, the program promises to make a transformational impact on SigEp and the lives of its brothers, just as Cox has throughout his many years of service. The Phillip A. Cox Volunteer Institute will continue his work in perpetuity by providing consistent and quality education to SigEp’s volunteers.