It’s been several weeks since ten of us converged on Washington to welcome more than 100 new Sisters into Phi Alpha Chapter of Chi Omega. Now it’s time to put pen to paper and see if I can give you an accurate account of the Phi Alpha Reinstallation weekend in Washington on January 23 and 24, 2009.
We ten were Susan Beneke, Ann Benfield, Pat Carney, Sue Einbinder, Sue Hillyard, Pat Jones, Linda Moore, Judy Naumann, Chris Young and me, Kelly Burn We arrived at the Washington, D.C., Marriott from various points: Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Illinois and one sister from about 10 blocks away. We had a wonderful time!.
The initial plan, albeit a vague one, was to meet in the hotel restaurant for dinner, then go to the reception for us to be given by Chi Omega National. All very nice and grown up. But what happened, of course, was that we reverted to our college days and piled into Ann and Sue E’s room for refreshments that Sue had brought from her restaurant in Accokeek. Ten of us in the room made for a tight squeeze, but we all managed to play musical chairs on the beds, exchanging stories and photos and remember-whens with everyone else and cranking up the volume -- but just a bit. . . . I don’t think we spilled anything, either!
At 8 p.m. we put our grown-up demeanor back on and went downstairs to the reception with the Chi Omega national president and vice president. But before I describe that, an update on the Phi Alpha “stuff” is in order.
You may remember that I put out a call for anything belonging to the chapter that alumnae had been conserving in anticipation of the return of Phi Alpha to GW (even though it took 40 years or so). The first things to materialize were two of the five brass candlesticks and a brass owl, safeguarded by Pat Carney. They arrived brightly polished and in great shape. About a week before I left, Sue Scholl, who lives close to me, called to say that she had two more of the candlesticks, which she spent hours polishing before delivering them to me to bring to D.C. I was thinking how great it was that we had at least those four and had just about given up on No. 5 when, on Thursday night (a few hours before I had to leave for the airport), I got an e-mail from Chris Young saying that she had the remaining candlestick and would bring it on Friday. All five would be reunited for use by the new Phi Alphas. On top of that, Judy also had a large oak shield with a brass Chi Omega crest on it, and somehow managed to get it in her suitcase. The charter is still at Judy’s house, however; it will be sent to the Executive Headquarters for restoration and presented to the Phi Alpha Chapter at the 2010 Convention, which is the custom for a new or reinstalled chapter.
So, into the reception we walked, clutching candlesticks and an owl and the crest and lots of scrapbooks – and not really knowing what to expect of the ladies from National, especially since we had parted ways in the late '60s. The first thing we saw was a table that the National staff had set up with a few Phi Alpha things from the Archives, including a huge blow-up of a photo from the very beginning of the chapter and the original roll book dating back to 1903. We of course all had to find our own names in the roll book, and there was one very special moment when we realized that the last signature, that of the very last initiate in 1970, was Chris Young’s. And there she was in person!
Letitia Fulkerson, the Chi Omega national president, and Shelley Potter, the vice president, as well as by several staff members welcomed us and I know it sounds trite, but I can’t think of a better expression: We could not have been welcomed more warmly. (These are fine women and you would all like them a lot.) After a lot of pleasant chatting among all of us, the way one does at these affairs, Letitia made some remarks. She talked about the process of reactivating Phi Alpha. (All of the representatives of National were very careful to use "re-" when referring to Phi Alpha – re-colonizing, re-activating, re-installing, which we re-ally appreciated.) She then brought us up to date on the state of the Fraternity, telling us that Chi Omega is not only the largest of the National Panhellenic Conference groups, but is the only one
that still requires a specific grade point average for initiation. All of the other NPC sororities have done away with the grades requirement, which I suspect they will come to regret.
The most meaningful part of Letitia’s remarks for us, however, was when she told us that the changes that have come about in Chi Omega during the past 40 years were due in large part to the efforts and actions of the Phi Alphas and several other chapters of the '60s, and that we can be proud of that history. There were tears in a few eyes when she acknowledged what Phi Alpha had believed in and acted upon.
After the reception, it was back to Ann and Sue’s room for a while, but not for too long because we were all going to the reinstallation ceremony and model initiation at 8:00 the next morning. Linda and I went back to our room and carefully set the alarm – which did not go off at all and we only woke up when I got a phone call at 7:47. Thirteen minutes to get downstairs and dressed for the ceremony! These arthritic bones haven’t moved so fast in years! We made it a mere five minutes late, just in time for the start of things.
The chapter was reinstalled and all but one of the pledges (now called “new members”) received cardinal-and-straw ribbons and badges, which a number from our group, including Ann and Judy, the last two Phi Alpha presidents from our era, plus Sue H. and Susan B. helped pin on. Then a page was turned and each of 107* new Phi Alphas signed the roll book, the same one that we had all signed, lo, these many years ago.
Then it was time for the model initiation of new Phi Alpha No. 108*, a young woman named Hayley Haldeman, a senior, president of the Phi Alpha colony, and the daughter and granddaughter of Chi Omegas. Both her mother and grandmother were there for the event and were beaming throughout. The initiation was conducted by Chi Kappa Chapter at George Mason University; they did a beautiful job.
I had brought 115 copies of the Symphony with me, hand-painted by my good friend and Chi O sister, Fran Kinney, Xi/Northwestern University, ’45, and we passed them out to the new Sisters. (If you were at our reunion in September, you got an identical one.) Then, in a break from tradition because it’s not usually done at an installation (“re-“ or otherwise!) or an initiation, we taught them the cheer (or "call" as it's termed in old publications) that Chi Omegas end each chapter meeting with.
The initiation was followed by a banquet in the grand ballroom of the Marriott, which was packed with people from GW and Chi O Executive Headquarters, our group of alumnae plus a few from the 1950s, the new Phi Alpha advisory and house corporation boards, and 111 new Sisters, many of whom had family and friends there as well. During Letitia’s remarks this time, she again told the new initiates that they could be thankful for the alumnae, who had held in safekeeping not only a number of the items from the 1960s that the new Phi Alphas would be able to use, but much of our proud history as well.
After her remarks and several other speakers, I said a few words on behalf of our group, telling this incredible assembly of beautiful young women of every race, religion, ethnicity, you-name-it that they could not possibly imagine how happy we were to see each and every one of them. (And while that expression also sounded trite, it was quite true: they could not possibly imagine
…) Then I presented Letitia with a check made out to the Chi Omega Foundation for $1000, collected from our group at the reunion in September, and specified that it was to be put into a scholarship fund for women from Phi Alpha Chapter (about which more later.) We finished the afternoon by forming a huge circle and singing “Shades” – which brought a few more tears for some.
One more fun bit to come: talking to some of the new initiates in the lobby and as they left the hotel – and hearing them thank us! Another handful of special moments from the weekend.
So there you have it. Phi Alpha is back and our vision for our chapter and our Sisterhood has been realized.
Some comments from a few of us who were in DC for the reinstallation:
Linda: “I was impressed that Letitia had that little coffee just for us. I wish more of the September Phi Alphas had joined us then. I think they would have appreciated the effort and the gesture of the new powers-that-be at Executive Headquarters toward us.”
Judy: “…the weekend [was filled] with hope and optimism. As it should be. I for one cried many tears that weekend but felt an incredible sense of closure. I also felt incredible pride at who my Sisters had become. It is quite a group and I will look forward to the next time we are together.”
Sue H.: “I think that seeing the new initiates and knowing that Chi Omega will now thrive on the GWU campus would have helped to heal some of the old wounds. It is amazing that after 40 years, because we shared the Chi Omega experience, we can all reunite and pick up where we left off so many years ago. Hope that we can keep in touch -- perhaps meet again (if not before) at the 2010 convention for the presentation of the charter to Phi Alpha. . . . As for the weekend, the initiation was a wonderful experience that I enjoyed sharing with the new women of Phi Alpha but I have to say, that I enjoyed seeing my generation of Phi Alpha Sisters just as much.
Pat J. : "What really stands out for me is the flawless initiation ceremony conducted by the young women of Chi Kappa Chapter. They obviously took it very seriously, and it was like watching a well-rehearsed play. I was also impressed with the sincerity of the women who gave remarks at the luncheon, but I was especially impressed with Letitia Fulkerson, who showed true joy on this occasion. I felt proud to be associated with such women, if only in name."
Chris:" How often do you walk into a room (in Washington) where people are smiling and laughing? It was surprising to me that I could pick most people out: Their mannerisms, their laugh, their smile. There was something life-affirming about recognition after 40 years. It was also fun to rediscover why you liked this person or that. Finally ending an extraordinary Inaugural week in Washington it was especially poignant that we could honorably re-stitch the fabric of Sisterhood."
One final note on Phi Alpha “stuff.” If anyone has any idea where the three-handled silver loving cup is, it would be a wonderful thing to give it back to the chapter. Letitia pointed out during the initiation that the loving cup was originally a scholarship cup and the first recipients were Phi Alpha Chapter in, I believe, 1909. All others are replicas of the first one and are engraved with Phi Alpha as the first name on the cups. In a bit of a coincidence, when I was looking for something else about Chi Omega on the web this evening, I came across an Eleusis that makes reference to the fraternity’s “fourteenth birthday,” which would make it the 1909 issue I was curious to see what was going on with Phi Alpha at the time, and found this in the account submitted by the Chapter:
On Founder’s Day we were together, practically, from nine in the morning until nine in the evening. We lunched together in our room and at two-thirty went over to the Congressional Cemetery and held our beautiful service over the grave of Alice Carey Simonds Smith. We went, then, to the quaint house in Rock Creek Park where we had so many good times, and while some prepared dinner, the others strolled around arm in arm in the soft evening air, watching the sunset, or sat by the open fire inside. After dinner – to which, after our day in the open air, we did full justice – we had the presentation of a beautiful silver loving-cup, the gift of Vesta Lockwood Watson, from which we all drank
“A toast to the Frat
That we honor and love”.
You may remember that Allie Simonds was one of the Founders and that Phi Alpha Chapter were the “custodians” of her grave in the Congressional Cemetery. I wish I knew more about the “quaint little house in Rock Creek Park where we had so many good times”! It sounds liked the Phi Alphas rocked even then!
As for the scholarship fund, if anyone wants to make a donation to Chi Omega come tax time (or any other time), make your check payable to the Chi Omega Foundation and mark the memo line “Phi Alpha Scholarship Fund.” You should also make this clear in your cover letter. And, all donations to the Foundation are completely tax-deductible. The address for the Foundation at National headquarters is: 3395 Players Club Parkway, Memphis, TN 38125
So that’s it, folks And last, here’s a photo of the 10 of us with Letitia and Shelley. You’ll note that we haven’t aged a bit… Standing: Shelley Potter, Pat Carney, Susan Beneke, Linda Moore, Pat Jones, Letitia Fulkerson, Sue Einbinder, Ann Benfield, Sue Hillyard. Seated: Judy Naumann, Kelly Burn. (Chris Young had to leave before the photo was taken.)
Hugs to you all,
Kelly*Several women could not make it to the ceremony and were initiated later that week making the class 111 new Sisters strong.