The much-anticipated Order of the Golden Heart presentation was just one of many memorable moments from the Alumni Awards Dinner Saturday night. Five alumni were inducted into the Order in recognition of their lifetime of contribution to SigEp.
Recipients did not know they were being selected, making for five emotional and powerful surprises.
The Order of the Golden Heart is the Fraternity’s highest honor, reserved for alumni who, with great personal sacrifice, have served Sigma Phi Epsilon for 30 years or more.
2019 ORDER OF THE GOLDEN HEART RECIPIENTS
Ted Behnken, Toledo ’82
Behnken has been a constant source of support and leadership to the Toledo chapter, ever since he began volunteering right after graduation more than three decades ago. Soon after Behnken began working with the chapter, Ohio Iota won the first of its 13 Buchanan Cups.
A nominator said of Behnken, “He never wanted the spotlight and accolades; he was content to work behind the scenes, always working for and enriching our chapter. He became its greatest cheerleader in good times, savior in times of trouble, and ambassador always.”
The chapter’s newfound success led to Benhken’s next role: coordinating a new housing opportunity on campus. In addition to leading this project, he demonstrated great perception by combining the housing and alumni initiatives to create an alumni and volunteer corporation, making it much more efficient and effective.
When Behnken later became chapter counselor, his commitment to getting to know the undergraduate brothers individually made him a trusted advisor. He also personally devoted himself to ensuring the success of the chapter’s first Balanced Man Scholarship by interviewing hundreds of the candidates. As he came to realize that the chapter and AVC lacked funds to provide scholarships and host events, Behnken got to work, raising more than $50,000 in contributions from alumni. Thanks to his continued efforts, the AVC now has an endowment totaling six figures that supports six different scholarships and is able to publish two chapter newsletters a year and host a senior/alumni awards banquet.
From 2012 to 2018, Behnken served as AVC president. During this time, the chapter grew from 88 to 138 members and received three gold Buc Cups.
Bryce Giesler, Tennessee ’82
Giesler has served as AVC president and balanced man steward with the University of Houston chapter and as chapter counselor for his home chapter. His wisdom and leadership have inspired not only the brothers in these chapters, but SigEps everywhere.
When he assumed the role of chapter counselor with Tennessee Alpha, it was near closure. Despite the situation, he remained focused, guiding the chapter through the turbulent time with his ever-present patience, kindness and brotherly love.
Giesler is also an innovator whose devotion extends far beyond our chapter homes. Before most Greek organizations even thought about how to utilize the untapped potential of the Internet, he’d already established SigEp’s first blog, creating a space where brothers from around the world could come together. And the social media breakfast he launched at Conclave in 2005 provided chapters much-needed tools to manage their social media presence long before ongoing training and support were widely available.
One nominator said: “He is exactly that SigEp nerd that has driven the Fraternity forward, the kind of guy who would hang out in the lobby at Carlson and Conclave until 2 a.m. until that last undergrad who wanted to chat finally wore himself out. Then and only then would he go to sleep.”
Years ago, Giesler launched another program for brothers struggling with alcoholism to provide them community and support while at Conclave. It’s yet another example of what makes him a true SigEp innovator.
Jay Hurt, Davidson ’88
SigEp belongs to a legacy of men who dared to create a vision for the future and then had the courage to make it happen. From Uncle Billy to Frank Ruck to Phil Cox, these men confidently led SigEp into new eras with great success. Hurt is one of those men.
A gifted leader since his undergraduate days, Hurt served as a student member on SigEp’s National Board of Directors. Immediately after graduation, he started volunteering, helping the Fraternity’s Houston, Texas-Arlington and Southern Methodist chapters conduct successful fundraising campaigns.
The Ruck Leadership Institute will be one of Hurt’s most enduring impacts. He helped conceive the program and make it into a transformational experience that teaches brothers the leadership skills needed to create positive change on their campuses and in their communities. He has served as a Ruck facilitator and mentor numerous times and returned to do so again in 2019 for the program’s 20th anniversary.
“You have accomplished a lot,” Garry Kief, Southern California ’70 said. “But I want to be certain that everyone knows that it hasn’t always been easy. There have been some speed bumps along the way. You have been faced with dissension, disagreement and disappointment. Now, some brothers would have taken their ball and gone home. Not you. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And you, my brother, are tough.”
His ability to manage these large projects quickly led to larger roles. In the early 1990s, Hurt was one of the leaders whose input helped shape the Balanced Man Project, the precursor to the Balanced Man Program. Hurt became the first brother to serve as both a student and an alumni director. He later served as a director of SigEp National Housing, a trustee of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation and Educational Foundation president.
As an additional token of the Fraternity’s appreciation, dozens of brothers rose earlier in the dinner to honor Hurt with gifts to Ruck, with at least $61,000 already raised.
Joe Langella, Connecticut ’83
After graduation, Langella became a regional director. Following an impactful year on the road, he remained on the Headquarters staff for several years. During this time, he made an enduring impact on undergraduates and volunteers across the country as he oversaw alumni services, served as editor of the SigEp Journal and led the planning and execution of Conclaves. After concluding his time on staff, he relocated and became a chapter counselor.
“He was a confident and determined leader who set the bar high for all of us in the chapter,” one nomination read. “He demanded the best from himself and the same from the rest of us.”
A few years later, he accepted the position of district governor, a role he’s served in for nearly 20 years. Throughout his tenure, Langella has led national events, local workshops and tough conversations — all the while, inspiring generations of SigEp brothers with his commitment to our brotherhood.
In addition to making a lasting impact as a district governor, Langella played a major role in building the support needed to restart his home chapter. The chapter is now more than 100 members strong and after going 30 years since its last Buchanan Cup, earned another one here in Houston.
It’s not an achievement he takes credit for, though. Throughout his years of service, Langella has maintained a humble, servant’s attitude. He is quick to praise others and reluctant to accept credit for what he sees as his duty to give back to our brotherhood.
Chuck White, Western Michigan ’62
The SigEp we know today likely wouldn’t exist without White’s clear-headed leadership. For nearly 50 years, he guided the Fraternity through challenges and laid the groundwork for innovative services and programming. Like Uncle Billy Phillips, serving the Fraternity is White’s passion and his vocation.
Following graduation, White traveled as a regional director and then briefly worked at SigEp Headquarters before joining the Army. After completing his military service, White was recruited to return to Headquarters and spent the next five years as chapter services director. Growing student activism had led to decreased membership in Greek organizations across the country, and White’s work to expand chapter services support was instrumental in helping SigEp weather this period.
In 1972, White was named executive director. The next year, SigEp launched a series of regional academies, today known as the Carlson Leadership Academy. The regional director program as we know it today was launched under White’s leadership. For the last 45 years, regional directors have visited SigEp chapters with the passion White instilled in those first RDs.
“Even today, at age 80,” Garry Kief said, “your Tuesday afternoons include a trip to Zollinger House to ensure the history of the Fraternity is preserved and stories of Virtue, Diligence and Brotherly Love will inspire brothers for years to come.”
The ’80s brought renewed interest in fraternities and increased membership, along with a new crisis: increased drinking on campuses. Once again, White met the challenge head-on, developing risk management guidelines that helped all fraternities lower insurance rates and keep members safe. In 1987, White became president of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation and turned his attention to SigEp’s long-term financial needs. He retired in 2005, leaving SigEp well-positioned to face new challenges in its second century.