Chapter Alumnus: Rockin’ and Rollin’ with the Florida Chi Alumni Association
By Ruth Goodman
“What can I use for my last PowerPoint slide to update the Florida Chi Alumni Association board on our progress?” wondered Mark Turner (Tampa ’83). “It has to be something with a little pizzazz, something that will make you guys chuckle, something more than “Thank you. Any questions?”
Since the association’s founding in 2014, Turner, who is the board’s chairman, has been working tirelessly to make sure brothers have a way to reconnect, renew friendships, and re-engage with the Fraternity. The association is also readying itself for Florida Chi’s return to the University of Tampa, where Sigma Alpha Epsilon operated a chapter from 1980-1991.
Turner continued to ponder his presentation’s closing. Lyrics from the song “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin floated into his head as gently as a breeze off the Tampa Bay.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll
“’If you listen very hard’ is listening to what it felt like to be a brother all those years ago,” Turner says. “’The tune will come to you at last’ is the feeling of community – a brotherhood working together for a common goal, which is reached ‘when all are one and one is all.’ ‘To be a rock and not to roll’ is to be tough and not roll over when adversity is faced,” he says.
The Florida Chi Alumni Association has 45 members, most of whom are Founding Fathers of Florida Chi. “We are optimistic that our association’s presence on campus, as well as our strong fundraising efforts, will help put Sigma Alpha Epsilon in a positive position for a phoenix chapter ro rise at the University of Tampa,” Turner says.
The last two years have been busy ones for the association board. By-laws and an operating agreement have been drafted, 501(c)(3) status and incorporation in the state of Florida have been secured and a strong online and Facebook presence has been established at www.saetampa.com, Welcome True Gentlemen.
“We’re trying to run the association like a business, to be practical-minded about it,” he says. “It took our 30th anniversary reunion in 2014 for everyone to feel that fraternity feeling again. We all had gotten too far away from it for way too long. But now we’re back, and as an association, we’re trying very hard to bring some of those positive feelings of brotherhood back.”
“Mark has rallied the troops to bring the alumni association together,” says fellow board member John Lowth (’82). “People get scattered over 30 years so for me, joining the association is a continuation of what we started on campus. There’s a depth to those friendships.”
Alumni brothers have raised $5,300 for the University of Tampa Scholarship Fund and $17,400 from a four-tier member-dues program and association fundraisers. Should Florida Chi return to UT, the association’s funds will be used to send four brothers to the John O. Moseley Leadership School and provide five $1,000 academic scholarships to undergraduate brothers each year.
“Things can get off track if undergraduate brothers don’t have a strong alumni association to look to for leadership guidance,” Turner says. “Alumni are not going to run the chapter, of course, but if you can structure a line of accountability, then generally, with guidance, chapter members are going to take the ball and run with it.”
The Florida Chi Alumni Association holds events throughout the year grow their membership and finances, such as a Founders Day celebration, a golf outing, and a Gasparilla Pirate Fest weekend get-together. (Gasparilla is an annual Mardi Gras-type event hosted by the city of Tampa in late January or early February.) The association is also contemplating a large-scale event that they can host each year, such as a golf tournament, with proceeds to be used for undergraduate leadership and scholarship awards.
“The majority of Florida Chi Alumni are between the ages of 45 and 54. The next-largest age range is 35 to 44,” Turner says. “Our group is getting older, so we need to get the chapter back sooner rather than later. Then we have another four years before brothers graduate, and we can start filling the pipeline with younger alumni so they can get involved with the association and continue its legacy.”
“Association membership has helped me foster relationships with Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s from my years in the chapter and with those coming to Tampa for events,” said John Kaufman (’88). “I’m really glad I joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon and would like to have other young men become members and help them with personal development.”
During the past two years, Turner has found that weekend events often work best for alumni brothers. “A lot of brothers can’t get away from the office at 5:00, so holding a Saturday morning breakfast meeting, for example, works great. You have to know what you’re going to talk about and get them out the door in an hour. If you’re just slinging ideas around, members are not going to be engaged enough to come back. Keep on track and honor the time limit.”
Turner also notes that an alumni association doesn’t have to be highly structured to be effective. “Maybe it’s just getting together for happy hour once a month or every three months – whatever works for your group. You’d be surprised how many Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s will come out of the woodwork, as long as you give them a way to get involved. If they see 15 brothers at an event who they haven’t seen in five years and they start exchanging business cards, all of a sudden they’re plugged in.”
The next time you hear “Stairway to Heaven,” think of what it means to be a brother of Sigma Alpha Epsilon: If you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last. When all are one and one are all. To be a rock and not to roll. Thank you, Brother Turner, for making that connection for all of us.