Fred Gottheil, Illinois Renaissance, was a popular and nationally respected economics professor at the University of Illinois, where he taught for more than 50 years. He enjoyed telling stories in class and frequently peppered his lectures with anecdotes to bring real-world significance to abstract economic concepts. Occasionally, he even talked about his late son, Josh, who died of cancer at the age of 19.
Many years after his son’s death, Gottheil accepted an invitation to have dinner with a group of young men who weren’t much older than Josh had been. A few SigEp brothers from the Illinois Chapter were enrolled in Gottheil’s Introduction to Economics course and invited him to their chapter house for dinner. That first evening went so well that more invitations quickly followed, and Gottheil eventually became the chapter’s faculty adviser.
A bond formed between Gottheil and the brothers that went beyond that of the typical teacher-student relationship. He wasn’t just passionate about helping students grow intellectually, he also wanted to make sure that when they graduated, they had the tools to succeed in life.
Although Gottheil hadn’t had the opportunity to help his own son navigate the years between adolescence and adulthood, he did everything he could to help the young SigEps at Illinois. He often encouraged the men to think about their goals and spoke with them about planning for the future. Brothers say Gottheil would always tell them that in order to figure out what they wanted in life, they had to connect with their dreams.
Gottheil’s wife, Diane, also played an active role in supporting the young men. They both attended chapter events and often took time to speak with individual brothers about their career aspirations. Many times, these conversations ended with one of the Gottheils connecting a brother with professionals in his field for more career advice or research opportunities.
A chapter unites behind a mentor and his charity
As the SigEps spent time with the Gottheils, they learned more about their late son. Josh had been a budding musician and entrepreneur. He played the drums throughout junior high and high school and learned the art of concert promotion at a young age. He brought bands from around the world to Champaign-Urbana and formed his own production company. In 1987, after graduating high school, Josh was diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. A year later, his life was cut short a few months before his 20th birthday.
To cope with their grief and express appreciation for the nurses who had cared for Josh when he was in the hospital, his parents and sister founded the Josh Gottheil Memorial Fund for Lymphoma Research. Since 1994, the nonprofit, better known as Josh’s Fund, has awarded grants to oncology nurses so they can pursue additional training.
After learning what the family had gone through, the chapter was inspired by the Gottheils’ resilience and efforts to comfort others fighting cancer. In 2000, the Illinois brothers organized a charity Monopoly tournament and donated the proceeds to Josh’s Fund. This modest event became the first of many held by the chapter to benefit the organization.
Since 2002, the Illinois Chapter has drawn support from the campus community by hosting a wide range of events each year, including pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners, and taking up collections at home football games. In addition to these campus-wide events, the brothers have planned a major fundraiser every year, often inviting other Greek organizations to participate as partners in order to bring even more awareness to the cause that has become the chapter’s sole philanthropy.
For 10 years, the chapter held a “Jog for Josh” 5K in partnership with various sororities. Most recently, the chapter established a charity hockey tournament in honor of Fred Gottheil’s favorite sport. The event, which pits Illinois Alpha against other fraternities in a friendly, but competitive tournament, was first held in 2015. In 2017, the third annual Gottheil Cup exceeded its fundraising goal, bringing the chapter’s total donations to Josh’s Fund to more than $51,000 since it began contributing.
The Gottheil legacy at Illinois
Shortly after Fred Gottheil became Illinois Alpha’s faculty adviser, SigEp’s Headquarters staff began working with chapters and their universities to establish the Fraternity’s first Residential Learning Communities. Gottheil’s input proved instrumental in launching the program at Illinois.
After receiving funding from the SigEp Educational Foundation, the Illinois Alpha Alumni and Volunteer Corporation constructed a classroom in the chapter house where Gottheil, now the chapter’s faculty fellow, became the first professor at Illinois to teach a university-accredited course in a fraternity house. Each spring for eight years, he taught a new economics course created specifically for the chapter.
The bond between Gottheil and the SigEp brothers grew stronger each year. In 2013, the chapter invited him to officially join their Fraternity, initiating him through the Renaissance of Brotherhood. When Gottheil lost his own brief battle with cancer in 2016, SigEp undergraduates and alumni were devastated.
Gottheil’s absence was profoundly felt after his death. It only seemed fitting that his wife would pick up the mantle and become a faculty fellow herself. Diane Gottheil, a retired professor and former associate director of Illinois’ Medical Scholars Program, now teaches in the SigEp chapter home. The classroom in which her late husband mentored so many young SigEps has been named Gottheil Hall in their honor.
At SigEp’s 2017 Orlando Conclave, the Illinois Chapter’s ongoing commitment to their late mentor, his family and their charity was recognized with the Honor of Philias. The biennial award celebrates preeminent expressions of the Fraternity’s cardinal principle of brotherly love.
Diane Gottheil traveled to the Orlando Conclave with the Illinois Chapter. Visibly moved by the award and the celebration of the enduring bond between her late husband and the young men she’s come to call family, she expressed admiration for the Fraternity and its brothers. “I’m so happy to be part of this amazing group of people. Meeting the young men of Sigma Phi Epsilon and Illinois Alpha makes me feel that we have great hope for the world, for our country, for our communities,” she said. “What an amazing, wonderful group of people you are, and I will sing your praises forever.”