By Tori Pough, Upsilon Beta/Rollins
Until Jan Blackwell, former National Archivist, set a goal to locate all of the Founders’ gravesites, no one could locate the gravesite of Ina May Boles. S.K.A. Gena Runnion, then a National Consultant, was asked to travel to cemeteries in Arkansas in full pursuit. The only clue she had was that the Morton Family lived in Dardanelle. Expecting a difficult and lengthy task, she and her best friend set out.
“Once we arrived, we stopped at a convenience store and asked someone if he knew of the Morton Family Cemetery. He pointed up the road. We pulled over, separated, and within five minutes had located a footstone reading ‘Christina Boles Morton.’ Arkansas is indeed a ‘small town.’ As a result of our detective work, Ina May now has a beautiful headstone marking her as a Founder of Chi Omega,” says Gena.
After Ina’s gravesite was found, the goal to clean and properly mark all sites of the Founders was completed in preparation of the Centennial Convention in 1995.
Membership in the Omega Chapter
The Omega chapter was established to hold dear our departed Sisters in one united chapter, including our beloved Founders. Chi Omega was the first sorority to designate a Greek letter as a ‘chapter’ for those deceased. Many sororities referred to it as The Chapter Eternal, which is most common. There are other sororities that have since taken on the Omega designation. While there are no specific records as to why “Omega” was chosen, it is the last letter of the Greek Alphabet and referred to as “the end” in the Bible and other publications, so indeed it is the final Chapter.
Early records indicate that the “charter member” of the Omega chapter was Nannie “Nan” Meek, who passed only months after she was initiated as a Sister in Tau Chapter.
Nan, aged 20, died in March 1900 and was noted in The Eleusis Memoriam with, “Her short life work was done well, for she was lovable, gentile, a devoted daughter, an affectionate Sister, and a faithful friend… Her gentle manner and sweet disposition made her a favorite everywhere.”
Another early member of the Omega chapter was our Founder, Allie Simonds. She was 27 when she passed in October 1900 due to complications following surgery for appendicitis.
Founder Jobelle Holcombe noted, “Allie (led) a sweet, brave life – a life that was true to the best of Chi Omega ideals, simple and unselfish and ever striving for the things worthwhile…”
With these wonderful Sisters to greet all those who have passed to the Omega chapter, it is surely a place of great joy and friendship.
And it is quite a chapter! Numbering over 50,000, it includes such notable women as To Kill a Mockingbird author, Harper Lee; Former Miss America, Mary Ann Mobley; Shirley Hufstedler, first US Secretary of Education; Elizabeth Garrett, first female President of Cornell; Tennessee Basketball Coach Pat Summit and many others.
Inside the Omega Chapter
Can you imagine what an Omega chapter meeting would be like? Who would be the G.H.? A Founder, Mary Love Collins, or perhaps our dear Roselyn Dabbs? Would there be one enormous chapter house filled with dormers to house everyone or separate quarters? Who would you want as your roommate?
We asked a couple members of the Governing Council who they would choose to be roommates within our grandest chapter house of all…
Shelley Potter, S.H., would love to have a “quad room” so she could share memories with her Xi Kappa New Member Educator, Cathy Conway Jackson, Sigma Theta, and with former S.T.B. and Xi Kappa Advisor Mary Evelyn Merritt White, Iota.
As she notes, “Cathy and Mary Evelyn modeled The Symphony, especially ‘to be womanly always; to be discouraged never.’ They taught me to love the cardinal and straw, and all along my Chi Omega journey, they inspired, encouraged and guided me.”
To round out the group, Shelley says her little Sister in Xi Kappa Donna Danklefs Kent, who followed in her footsteps as G.H. would be there too.
S.T.B. Laura Miller says, “I look forward to a big sleeping porch of my Chi Omega heroines and friends!”
The Memorial Service
The first Memorial Service, as recorded in The Eleusis, was held at the gravesite of Founder Allie Simonds on June 30th, 1906 at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C. Founders, Ina May Boles and Jobelle Holcombe, attended along with a small group of other Sisters. Jobelle spoke of Allie’s short life and laid sheaves of white carnations upon the grave and recalled, upon leaving, the “mysterious power of the bonds of Chi Omega.”
The Memorial Service has been a part of the biennium Convention since those early days and holds great significance to those in attendance. It has evolved to include the full Convention body along with invited family members of those Omega Sisters who are noted in the overarching eulogy to honor all Sisters who passed during the two-year span. These Sisters range from those who served in leadership roles to those who were notable in how they lived purposeful lives in the path of Chi Omega and influenced the lives of many others.
As the words of our beloved song Shades attests, “Chi O ever after, we’ll remember you.”