A Reflection on the Founders’ Award

By Matt Smith (Valparaiso ’01)

As 2023 comes to a close and the new possibilities of 2024 rise before us, awash in opportunities for new and exciting things, it got me thinking about what truly stands the test of time. The easy answer, at least for Sigma Pi, is the brotherhood of our great Fraternity. We have been a fraternity since 1897 and will continue to thrive in 2097. I wonder, though, if this might be an oversimplification, as not everything related to Sigma Pi will persist until 2097.

As a young and active member—speaking from a perspective of just six months since initiation—I had the opportunity to attend the 2001 Sigma Pi University event held at Vincennes University. I didn’t know what to expect or what I was doing, but the chapter needed someone to go, so I volunteered. As anyone who has attended a national Sigma Pi event can attest, I quickly felt at home among brothers from around the country. I even had the pleasure of meeting those lively Canadians, Michael Hachey and Chris West. I don’t recall which one of you may or may not have brought good cigars across the border, but they were truly awesome! During breakfast, I had the chance to meet several of our then-Grand Council members, including then-Grand Sage John Williams (Widener ’85). We embarked on a pilgrimage of sorts to Shadowood, where I could see the impressive estate given to us by HGS Judge Curtis G. Shake (Vincennes 1903). At that time, I thought Shadowood would be one of those places you’d visit periodically for the rest of your life.

Several years later, I found myself once again serving as a delegate for my chapter, this time as the incoming Sage, attending the 2004 Convocation. Unlike my trip to Vincennes, this time I felt confident in my awareness and understanding of Sigma Pi. I had been working with the Constitution and Bylaws Committee for a few months leading up to Convocation, so I actually knew some of the things that were going on in the Fraternity. I was looking forward to seeing brothers and friends from other chapters. While I knew what, why, and when Sigma Pi operated, during Convocation, I learned that the “where” was changing. Shadowwood was no longer meeting the needs of the staff and was going to be sold so that a new headquarters could be established in a less remote area. It felt like someone was selling off my boyhood home (that I had only ever visited that one time).

I later discovered that Shadowwood had not, in fact, always been the headquarters of Sigma Pi. Our stately headquarters wasn’t dedicated until the 1962 Convocation, which was held in neighboring French Lick, Indiana. To quote from the 1962 Winter Emerald:

The 1962 Convocation will be a memorable one because of the fact that a pilgrimage will be made to Vincennes for ceremonies dedicating the memorial headquarters which will house the Executive Office. The move from Elizabeth, New Jersey, will not take place until sometime after the school year 1962-63. A dinner and dance at Vincennes University will follow the dedication ceremonies. 

The custom of concluding a Convocation with a banquet will be followed again this year. In addition to the usual awards which are presented, the Fraternity will honor several alumni who have rendered outstanding services to Sigma Pi, or whose contributions and prominence in some particular field is deserving of special recognition. The Founders’ Awards to alumni will be given only at biennial convocations. This year will be the inauguration of such awards. The names of recipients will not be announced until the convention banquet.

Mind blown. We hadn’t always been an Indiana-centric organization, much to the chagrin of this lifelong Hoosier. Even the awards could change and evolve over time.

Change, as they say, is inevitable, but progress, as we all know, is man’s distinctive mark alone. As such, I transitioned from my final Convocation as an undergraduate into the realm of the alumni. There were still many similarities between active life and alumni life. I continued to enjoy the camaraderie of my brothers whenever possible. I had the opportunity to take on leadership roles as a Chapter Director, MYLC presenter, and Province Archon. I continued to make new friends as I met more brothers and deepened the appreciation and respect I had for those brothers who exemplified Sigma Pi to me. However, getting married, having kids, and building my career all took a piece of my brotherhood time, and my attendance at Convocations and other national events became intermittent. I wasn’t even in attendance at the 2010 Convocation in Danvers when I was awarded the Lyle Smith Chapter Advisor Award.

In 2018, there was another Convocation that I initially expected to miss. It didn’t quite fit into my work and family schedule, and I couldn’t justify the trip. Then, a short time before Convocation, I heard that PGS Williams, affectionately referred to as “JDubs,” was going to be awarded our Founders’ Award. JDubs was the first Grand Sage I had ever met and, to some degree, became the de facto standard for how I viewed the Grand Sage role. While our journeys in Sigma Pi, our ages, and our places in life were all quite different, JDubs had become one of those faces I was delighted to run into. He was a brother whom I knew would answer any question and take time for any chat if needed.

To be honest, I couldn’t name the previous ten years of Founders’ Award winners or even all of them who had come since, but at that moment, I knew that something important was happening. There was an opportunity for me to hop on a midnight (12:05 am technically) train from South Bend to Buffalo to help recognize a brother, a mentor, and a friend for the outstanding work he had done in his life. So, with no hotel booked, and a plan for how I would get back home, I boarded that train with my one-way ticket, the suit on my back, and an owl full of whiskey to take that Midnight Train to Convo.

What stands the test of time? The impact that one brother can make on another. The influence and legacy that one leader can imprint on the Fraternity. The effect that one man can have on the world around him. It’s written that from dust we come and from dust we shall return, but the impact we make by embodying the ideals and values of Sigma Pi will endure. Sigma Pi is a Who and a How. It’s about who we choose to be when joining this great Fraternity and how we choose to live our lives. May we all strive to actualize the Fraternity’s ideals in our daily lives and to recognize and thank those brothers who have done so in a way that serves as praiseworthy examples of Sigma Pi Brothers.

Often, there are great deeds and individuals of tremendous character that the Grand Chapter may not be aware of. To ensure that we recognize our strongest brothers, we invite you to nominate a Sigma Pi member for the Founders’ Award. For the nominee to be considered, the nominator must complete the following nomination application as thoroughly as possible. Providing the requested background information offers the committee members a clear understanding of the nominee’s qualifications, leveling the playing field for all those under consideration. While you may be familiar with the nominee, many on the committee may have little or no knowledge of them or their qualifications.

Nominations can be submitted online at THIS LINK and will be accepted through March 31, 2024.