Since 1929, a red brick building in the middle of Greek row has been a staple of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and home to the Nebraska Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. Over the past 89 years, the chapter has counted among its membership Husker football players, student government presidents and leaders of a wide range of campus organizations. Its alumni have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, CEOs, university regents, political leaders and titans of some of the country’s most successful companies. And almost every one of these individuals can point to their time at the SigEp house at 601 North 16th Street as the launchpad for their success.
But in recent years, it had become apparent that the quality of the chapter home was no longer meeting the standard of excellence established by the chapter and alumni. A committee was formed to oversee fundraising as the local Alumni and Volunteer Corporation (AVC) began discussing plans to build a premier chapter facility for one of the Fraternity’s premier chapters.
“In every conceivable area, the chapter was meeting and exceeding expectations — every area except our facility,” said steering committee member Brad Knuth, ’84. “The programming that the chapter offers its members is unparalleled, and we realized the time was right for a major investment in the house that made all of those great things possible.”
The foundation of that investment was made by Glenn Korff, ’65, who was a partner with Goldman Sachs. At the chapter’s centennial celebration back in 2011, Korff learned about the chapter’s vision to become the leading student development organization at Nebraska-Lincoln. Inspired by what the chapter was already doing to make that vision a reality, Korff, a former two-term chapter president, pledged his support toward that future with a $1.5 million estate gift to Nebraska Alpha. This generous gift would be split between the renovation and expansion of the chapter house and the continuation of the programming and resources he felt were essential to the chapter’s future.
Korff’s gift launched the Second Century Campaign, a $3 million project that has created a living-learning environment where the chapter can promote and showcase innovative educational programs that aren’t found anywhere else on campus. Upon completion in August of 2018, the construction added almost 8,000 square feet to the facility, bringing the house to a total of 19,000 square feet with new spaces for the 140-man chapter to hold its weekly formal dinner and chapter meetings.
The most significant impact can be seen in the home’s academic spaces. The project has expanded the facility’s original library and study areas and added more study spaces, provided a classroom for the chapter’s accredited SigEp Learning Community courses, and added offices for the chapter’s faculty fellow and resident scholar.
The Second Century Campaign was headed by a steering committee of five alumni (Knuth; Jeff Schumacher, ’79; Matt Nyberg, ’85; Kyle Arganbright, ’04; and Ryan Mendlik, ’06). The brothers knew that the success of the campaign relied on engaging all generations of Nebraska Alpha alumni to give back to the chapter. To do this, they recruited trustees from almost every era, from Mitch Rodgers, ’07, to Order of the Golden Heart recipient Ross Hecht, ’54. These trustees were tasked with reconnecting brothers with Nebraska Alpha and helping build support for the fundraising effort.
Some of the largest gifts to the campaign were made thanks to Nebraska Alpha’s strong history of legacy members. Gifts from the Adams, Holzfaster and Schumacher families were truly multi-generational commitments to help make a lasting impact on the Fraternity that has done so much for their families. Familial brothers Clete Pillen, ’76, and Jim Pillen, ’79, both made significant contributions so that future Fraternity brothers would have the same great experience they did.
Other major commitments came from brothers like Tom Cabela, ’75, and Mark Davis, ’90, who credit much of their professional success to the lessons and values they learned while at Nebraska Alpha.
Excellent programming propels campaign success
Early on in the campaign, the steering committee realized that fundraising success often came by simply sitting down with an alumnus and sharing the incredible achievements of the undergraduate chapter. The members felt that even if alumni weren’t familiar with the SigEp of today, the chapter’s accomplishments would speak for themselves.
“We tried to position any major gift to the campaign as both a gift back to SigEp for an incredible experience and an investment in that experience for future young men,” said Arganbright, who serves as AVC president. “Most the alumni we were talking to haven’t been connected to SigEp for quite some time, so we wanted to reassure them that the Fraternity was still changing the lives of young men, just like it did when they were in school. And when they hear what the chapter is doing now, they’re blown away.”
Much of the programming that leaves those alumni awestruck was developed by the chapter’s longtime faculty fellow, Dr. Deb Mullen. Mullen is the associate dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences and a member of the educational administration faculty. She’s served as Nebraska Alpha’s faculty fellow since 2005.
During that time, Mullen has taught several for-credit classes that help members transition into college and introduce them to the challenges facing society today. Her commitment and impact also extends beyond the classroom. In recent years, Mullen has helped organize Nebraska Alpha trips to Colorado, Washington, D.C., the Amazon rainforests of Ecuador and the savannahs of Uganda. These trips expose brothers to different experiences and cultures they can’t find inside a classroom in Lincoln. She’s remained so committed to Nebraska Alpha because of the relationships she forms with the brothers and the chapter’s dedication to being a different type of Fraternity.
“I can’t imagine a fraternity that defies the stereotypes more, that provides more added value to the campus, to the community and to the lives of its members than SigEp,” Mullen stated. “The campaign has helped us have a truly comprehensive, four-year program that is developmentally sound and rich with activities. It’s probably one of the best investments a person can make in the future of our leaders, fathers, citizens, teachers and employers.”
That investment was recognized and celebrated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on Oct. 17, 2018, before the Nebraska-Minnesota football game. Around 250 brothers, alumni and friends came together to commemorate the completion of the new Nebraska Alpha facility and a successful capital campaign. With the generous help of so many donors, the second century at Nebraska Alpha looks brighter than ever.