Sorority celebrates 25 years of service

The local Beta Sigma Phi recently turned 25, and the social/community outreach club just keeps getting better with age.
While it is a sorority, Beta Sigma Phi isn’t affiliated with any institute of higher learning, and the members don’t have to be students.

According to sorority sister Linda Willey, of Millville, the original purpose was simply to bring women together. “It started as a place for women to socialize, but then evolved into a service organization,” Willey pointed out.

Founded in 1931, during the Great Depression (by a man, oddly enough), Beta Sigma Phi became a great place for women to find friendship and support — and support others.

Not long thereafter, the membership worked to raise $22 million in World War II war bonds.

Now, Beta Sigma Phi supports causes like health research and the fight against world hunger.

Some chapters support International Loan, Scholarship and Disaster Funds, but the local Preceptor Omega chapter mainly focuses on local needs.

“We prefer to do service within the community,” Willey said. “We reach out at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and throughout the wintertime.”

Activities can include taking homemade bread and soup to the elders, or helping folks who’ve had a fire or need emergency assistance with bills, she said.

The mood at the Feb. 10 Valentine’s gift exchange was lighthearted, with sorority members receiving gifts from “secret sisters,” and sharing romantic stories (mainly about wedding days). However, there were also requests to keep ailing locals in prayer, and updates on the outreach missions.

Preceptor Omega’s biggest fundraiser of the year involves 700 ostrich-sized chocolate Easter eggs. The sorority sisters put in a long day filling orders for the butter, coconut or peanut butter cream-filled delights, which sell for $5 apiece.

Those funds support the Howard Grise scholarship, named in memory of sorority sister Debbie Grise’s late husband.

According to this year’s sorority president, Carol Hurley, Preceptor Omega has been giving out the scholarships for 10 years now. They go to high school students who exhibit the volunteer spirit.

Hurley credited Pam Bullis for starting the local chapter (in 1979), and she said Bullis remained a member of the sorority to this day.

Some of the sisters joined with Beta Sigma Phi as far back as the 1950s and 1960s, before Preceptor Omega ever formed up, but even for the newcomers, 25 years is a goodly stretch.

“We’ve been together a long time,” Hurley said. “At times, I think maybe this is not for me, but then something happens — happy or sad — and everyone’s there,” she pointed out.

According to Grise, “The relationship between us has developed over years, and it’s unique. We’ve been through births and deaths together, and that’s made the bonds stronger.”

Hurley said there were still nearly 10 original members.

Sometimes sisters take a sabbatical, but they often return to Beta Sigma Phi.

Sorority sister Janet Thomas said it was when her sisters kept asking when she was coming back that she realized she was part of something bigger as a sorority sister.

One of the members, Lee Guarna, said the sorority had started as a nice break from stay-at-home mom duties, but had eventually changed her entire outlook.

“It really became a springboard for me, and gave me the confidence to get involved in community and church activities,” Guarna said.

The Preceptor Omega chapter has spun off three new chapters over the past 25 years, mainly formed by the daughters and daughters-in-law of sorority sisters.

“Almost every one of our daughters is part of a new group,” Hurley pointed out. “They’d watched us in meetings and activities since the time they were born, and I think they decided it was meaningful enough that they wanted to take part.”

The Alpha Eta chapter formed up just last year, and is now working on a charity golf tournament to support the Russell White Memorial Scholarship.