Women & Sig Tau

Published on May 11, 2020 in News, Foundation, WPN Housing

There have been many female trailblazers who have walked the halls of HQ, commanded stages at programs, led thoughtfully from Board tables, and compassionately guided and enlightened members through education. As we celebrate 100 years of Brotherhood, we remember the women who have played an integral part in the history of Sig Tau – from Maurine Achauer to the Chief Executive Officer. Female representation in Sigma Tau Gamma has been historical, essential, and ever-present.

When considering great women of Sigma Tau Gamma, one without a doubt, and rightfully so, remembers the likes of Maurine Achauer. Born five years and three days prior to the birth of Sigma Tau Gamma, Maurine Achauer was a powerful force, a mentor to the masses, a tactful professor, a careful listener, and a pillar of the community.

But to Sig Tau, she was so much more. She was “a backbone” for the Fraternity and the Foundation, and she was “a woman with strength and wisdom, intelligence, and compassion”.  And to some, like the late W.T. “Bill” Hembree, Maurine “was really more of a Sig Tau than many of our members.”

Maurine was a business owner, a wife, a mother, a Doctor of Educational Psychology, a 52-year member of Delta Zeta Sorority, and a Sigma Tau Gamma Foundation Trustee. Although Maurine was the first woman to be elected to a Board of a men’s national fraternity, what made her an unparalleled and unprecedented Trustee of the Foundation was not simply being a woman. Warren Barberg, 10th National President said of his nomination in 1973, “While Sigma Tau Gamma was proud to set a precedent in naming a woman to a Fraternity’s Board of Trustees, their choice of Mrs. Achauer was made because of the high respect and regard members have for her.”

Maurine’s legacy did not start and end with her election to the Board in 1973. The scene of her continued dedication and allegiance to the Fraternity was 314 South Holden Street, Maurine’s home. Jeff Russo, Carnegie Mellon, noted that it was here, in her kitchen, where he “…first saw the phenomenon of fraternity leadership crossing generational lines.”

When John Heiman, Central Missouri, remembers Maurine, he recalls the pervasiveness of Maurine’s eloquence and stature at her table, “When considering famous tables where legendary conversations have taken place one might think of… King Arthur and his Round Table.  Then there’s Maurine’s kitchen table,” Heiman expressed. “While Maurine’s table was not round, there was no doubt that it was her kitchen and she held court over the sessions. She controlled the cadence, balance, participation level, and always with a heavy foot on the accelerator. It was as if she oversaw a great orchestra of conversation.”

Maurine was a woman who didn’t miss a beat, and a woman who cared deeply about the men of the Fraternity that made Sigma Tau Gamma.  

As one remembers the impact of Maurine, one cannot help but also look to the faithful dedication of Leona Sue Kay.

At the age of 22, in 1974, Sue Kay began her time serving the Fraternity as the Office Manager of the Fraternity Headquarters; a role she held for 37 years. To the community and to men of Sigma Tau Gamma, Sue Kay was a dear friend to the Fraternity and a vital team member.

Sue was dedicated to the improvement of the Fraternity and cared about the men of Sig Tau. In her nearly 40 years on staff, she handled every membership application, every phone call, and any request from alumni and undergraduates. She attended more than 35 national conferences including the inaugural Webb Academy in 1985. Sue Kay was present to witness dynamic changes of leadership, the evolution of educational programming, and even the introduction of new technology to Headquarters.

CEO Emeritus, Bill Bernier who hired Sue Kay said “She was smart, hardworking, and caring. There was a mutual love between Sue and the brothers of Sigma Tau Gamma, for which we will always cherish.”

In 2011, as word of Sue’s passing began to spread, brothers from around the country shared their memories of her.  Drew Curran, Edinboro, and past staff said, “Sue always looked out for us and always had a wry story to tell about various brothers to keep us smiling through all the traveling.”

Maurine and Sue Kay paved the way for many more women to join the ranks of Board Members and dedicated staff. One of these prominent women is Cathy Heiman. Cathy was introduced to Sig Tau through her husband, 32nd National President, John Heiman, Central Missouri. Although heavily involved nationally for many years prior, Cathy served as a Foundation Trustee beginning in 2014; only the second woman to ever serve on a Sigma Tau Gamma Board.  

Cathy has said that even though she is not a brother, “I believe in what [the Fraternity] is doing.” The brotherhood has always been a part of Cathy and John’s lives. “There were members in our wedding,” Cathy said. “I think of them as family, I see them as my brothers. I cannot imagine life without them. They have been an influential part of my life.”

To many of the women who have served the organization in a staff capacity, their passion for working for an all-male organization comes from the visible impact that the Fraternity can have on the young men of society; their personal connection to the Purpose and Vision of Sig Tau; and using their skills, experience, and knowledge to do their part in building noble generations of men.

HQ Staff that are non-members find themselves at Sig Tau for several reasons. For some, it was an interaction with a chapter during their collegiate years that gave them an affinity for the organization. For others, it was a career in higher education that led them to Sig Tau, and or it was the opportunity to work with positive, caring individuals who cared about the brotherhood. The catalyst behind why each individual ended up at Sig Tau may vary, but the love for the organization and its Principles connects each to the Fraternity.

As Associate Director of Collegiate Services, Kassi Ward, stated, “I feel that now, more than ever, young men need to have those unique connections with one another while being challenged to think critically and work on their own personal development as leaders both on and off-campus.” Sig Tau allows for that guidance and inspires the young men of Sig Tau through resources, education, and connection.

Similarly, for Angie Sanders, Director of Finance & Human Resources, her passion for the students motivates her work. “We are all making a monumental difference that sometimes can’t be measured in metrics, it is personal. Seeing men become young leaders brings joy to the work I do every day,” Angie stated.

The hard work and dedication of all the HQ Staff is also a reflection of its leader.  In 2018, Sigma Tau Gamma once again made history as Vanessa Ryan was named Chief Executive Officer. Ryan is only the second woman to lead an all-male national fraternity.

When announced, National President Jim Johnston, Carnegie Mellon, stated “Vanessa’s commitment to our members, volunteers, and staff is unwavering. Vanessa is uniquely qualified to execute our strategic plan and advance our vision to build noble generations of men.”

Throughout the 100 years of Sigma Tau Gamma, many women have played an integral part in the history of the organization. Whether serving as members of Headquarters Staff, assisting as program facilitators, or leading on the Board; it is clear that female representation in Sigma Tau Gamma is historical, essential, and ever-present.

Founded at the University of Central Missouri on June 28, 1920, the organization will commemorate its 100th Anniversary in 2020. With a presence on 81 campuses in 29 states, our membership includes more than 2,700 undergraduate men and 63,000 living alumni. The Headquarters, which is home to the Fraternity, Foundation, and WPN Housing Company, is located in Indianapolis, Indiana, 12 miles from the center of downtown. Visit https://sigtau.org for additional information.