102 - Friends of the Fraternity

By S.H. Shelley Potter, with a note from Jeff Potter

Throughout Chi Omega’s 125-year history, Sisters have led the Fraternity fearlessly through ever-changing times. Along the way, several men have played a supporting role as our Sisters have made purposeful decisions in advancing the Fraternity, the first being Dr. Charles Richardson as he assisted four young women at the University of Arkansas in our Founding.

Since 1895, many husbands of our Governing Council members have stepped up to support Chi Omega in their own ways. My personal support system is my husband, Jeff Potter, who knew from the start that loving the cardinal and straw was always going to be part of the deal with me. He didn’t hesitate and now, 45 years later, he remains one of Chi Omega’s most loyal friends.

From the Outside

by Jeff Potter, husband of current S.H. Shelley Potter

On a cold January day in 1975, I arrived for the first day of design studio in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University. As a second-semester freshman, I was certain that by now, I was a wily veteran of college life.

I was not at all prepared to encounter a love-at-first-sight situation, but sitting in the back of the lab was a freckle-faced beauty who immediately took over at my controls. I had always been the guy who sat in the corner and kept to myself; Shelley Eubanks introduced me to worlds of scholarship, leadership, and stewardship.

I finally got up the nerve to ask her out, and it’s been 45 years this Valentine’s Day since that date. Texas A&M, formerly a military school, did not have a developed Greek system, and I was not in a men’s group. Shelley’s constant chatter and enthusiasm in the founding of something called “a Chapter of Chi Omega” at A&M was hard to understand. What soon became patently apparent was how it nurtured something inside of her.

Realization set in that if she was to be part of my life, the cardinal and straw would be as well. As many of her Sisters know, Shelley is pragmatic and committed (a rule follower to a fault) – and proves that the “office seeks the woman.” Forty-five years of Chi Omega volunteerism has brought us many highs and a few lows. She takes the sublime and the disappointment on an even keel as she works to make Chi Omega more meaningful for her Sisters, today and tomorrow. The commitment she has demonstrated to the values of Chi Omega and the sense of place she has received from the Fraternity is a gravity field that has inextricably pulled me toward its center. It’s a center that obviously, I can never reach. Heck, I don’t even know what S.H. stands for!

I do know that, as always, we have a tendency to form tribes. Time and time again, I’ve watched Shelley weigh her decisions against the elegant Chi Omega values, stand up for the majority or minority report, and I’ve watched the freckles joined by wrinkles in a comfortable skin. The values of the group have a timeless meaning that is her campfire.

Shelley and I still live like we did in 1975, spontaneous (no kids) and focused on our interests. From our college days, I’ve known that I wanted to support Shelley in her passion for Chi Omega and that in doing so, we would both flourish. That’s what friends do, right?

The Chi Omega Friendship Pin  

As Governing Council members devote our lives to the Sisterhood and advancing the sorority experience, our families often come along for the ride much like Jeff did with me. They grow to love Chi Omega, even without knowing our deepest secrets, because they can feel the impact and the purpose behind our Sisterhood.

At Convention 1996, Jeff was recognized with Chi Omega’s Friendship Pin, which is given to spouses of members serving on the Governing Council as well as other non-members who have made extraordinary impact on the national Fraternity. Generally bestowed at Conventions, this tradition began when Eric Dawson and David Lindley were named with the honor in 1933.

The next year, the tangible pin was designed and created. Mostly known as a “Friendship Pin,” as we know it today, in its earlier years it was also sometimes referred to as an “Appreciation Pin.”

Former S.H. Mary Love Collins described the purpose of the pin in 1935 as being awarded “for long and faithful service or distinguished service to Chi Omega.”

No complete list of recipients exist, but the distinguished circle includes Governing Council husbands as well as long-time Chi Omega Attorney, the late Robert Manley, current outside General Counsel Tim Burke, Architect Batey Gresham, who served as Executive Architect for the design and construction of the Executive Headquarters in Memphis, philanthropists Will Konneker, Bob Connor, Dr. Jim Bradshaw, Jason Pilalas, and most recently Bob Olmstead.

The pin itself is a gold rectangle bearing the letters Chi and Omega. Though small, the pin delivers a strong message about loyalty and service while celebrating a point of pride for the unique recipients.  Along the top of the pin are Greek letters spelling out the word friend. It is unknown what the significance of the stones is at this time.

The Friendship Pin of Chi Omega

The pin also represents friendship in its broadest sense. The camaraderie forged among this special circle has endured for decades, just like the Sisterhood, through interactions at Conventions and other gatherings.

One such example is Jeff Potter’s 2011 inauguration as the 88th National President of the American Institute of Architects at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C with former S.H.s and their spouses in attendance.

From left, Don Frugé, Mary Ann Frugé, Tau/Ole Miss, Letitia Fulkerson, Zeta Alpha/Ohio State, Mike Fulkerson, Shelley Potter, Xi Kappa/Texas A&M, Jeff Potter, John Shain, Melanie Shain, Chi Delta/Millsaps, gather in support of Jeff’s special recognition, further illustrating the strength of our Chi Omega friendships beyond just initiated Sisters

The Last Straw  

Certainly, Governing Council husbands understand the commitment of extensive travel, weekends away and hours spent on the phone and online. There is also an appreciation of and desire to support the goals and vision of the Fraternity. So it’s no surprise that John Shain, husband of Chi Omega Foundation Treasurer and former S.H. Melanie Shain, came up with the idea to raise funds to name the last remaining bedroom suite of the newly built Executive Headquarters in Memphis in honor of the Chi Omega men.

According to John, who has attended Conventions for 40 years, in the early 1990s husbands were encouraged to participate, sharing their time, talent, and resources in support of the Fraternity. As the completion of the Executive Headquarters neared, cheered on by Don Frugé, and with specially designed stationery, John sent a letter to a group of husbands, asking them to help fund the Last Straw Suite, which they did by raising over $20,000. A plaque hangs on the wall of the suite to commemorate these special donors.

The Last Straw Suite, located on the south end of the Executive Headquarters, commemorates the gracious donations made by supportive husbands.

Paralleling the name of the suite, The Last Straw Column, located on the exterior south veranda of the Executive Headquarters, is named in honor of the various other generous gifts from Chi Omega husbands and friends.

As another nod in the Headquarters to the men beneath the cardinal and straw, a sign from the Business Meeting at the 2014 Convention that was signed by the men in attendance hangs in the men’s restroom at the Executive Headquarters!

Sign from the Business Meeting at the 2014 Convention that was signed by the men in attendance hangs in the men’s restroom at the Executive Headquarters

As Dr. Charles Richardson set the example in 1895, men that have come after him like John Shain, Jeff Potter, and others agree that it is a testimony to impact and ripple effects of Chi Omega that men have been called to contribute to her success in such unique ways!