GSU’s former dean of students Kenneth M. England helped them begin to “Build Better Men”
In the late 1950s, Greek life dominated the social scene at what was then the Georgia State College of Business Administration. A handful of veterans wanted to start up a new fraternity at the downtown commuter campus, but national fraternities wanted to see the traditional signs of residential housing and athletic teams.
Those veterans found a critical ally in Dean of Students Kenneth M. England, a lifelong bachelor whose family became the people of Georgia State. He helped secure the charter of Sigma Nu at GSU, whose motto is “Build Better Men,” and acted as their advisor and father figure.
Twenty years after England’s death, his memory was honored by more than 150 fraternity members past and present and their guests. They raised $7,000 for the Kenneth M. England Greek Excellence Scholarship Fund at an April 14 benefit dinner hosted by GSU Sigma Nu brother Bill Gentry at his club, Wild Bill’s Concert Hall.
Donors included Ronald Hill (B.B.A., 1959), who after serving during the Korean War worked alongside England to establish Sigma Nu. Hill, a former editor of the GSU Signal, is writing a narrative of the fraternity’s roots at GSU.
He said the April event represented the fraternity’s philanthropic values.
“Dr. England and Sigma Nu taught us that one of the duties of being a man is helping others,” Hill said. “We always had fundraising for something. It is part of our responsibility to ‘Build Better Men.’ If you are not doing that, you are not fulfilling the purpose of Sigma Nu.”
Younger fraternity members acknowledged benefiting from England’s efforts.
Andrew Pace (B.B.A., 1987) said Sigma Nu brothers helped him stay on track academically and graduate.
“The leadership experience was profound for me,” said Pace, now the vice president of development for Hotel Equities.
“If not for Sigma Nu, I would not have had the role models that helped me understand acceptable life choices. You learn to respect the older guys and focus on getting a job and going onto the next step of life. When your friends all graduate that becomes an expectation of you and all the members.”
Pace assumed the role of commander, the highest position in a Sigma Nu chapter, and also served as Interfraternity Council (IFC) president. He chaired Sigma Nu’s annual sweepstakes fundraiser, which has raised more than $1 million for local charities.
After graduation, Pace was hired by a fraternity brother’s father. He got started in the hotel business through a loan from a founding member, the late J.D. Caswell (B.B.A., 1961), who became Pace’s mentor in real estate.
Today, Pace gives back to the fraternity and GSU by serving as a rush advisor. “It’s the lifeblood of the fraternity,” he said.
England remains part of rush, too. Candidates are “asked to learn about the importance of Dr. England to GSU, the Greek community, and Sigma Nu,” said Thomas H. Butler IV (B.B.A., 2006), who helped Pace and Gary Robinson (B.B.A., 1987) to put on the April event.
“I learned that Dr. England helped many Greek chapters charter at GSU and that he was always willing to help with anything he could. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but his legacy will forever be passed down within our Sigma Nu chapter.”
The same day as the benefit for the England Scholarship, the Sigma Nu chapter had raised $5,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through a “Smoke Out” barbecue and raffle on the GSU campus. “We are not complacent; we’re striving always to do better,” said Abraham Villaran-Faiz, the chapter commander at the time.
For 30 years, Hill recalled, England scheduled Christmas dinner for the three founding Sigma Nus at one of their homes. He was generous with loaning money to students; an index card with the amount borrowed served as an IOU.
He taught Southern literature, penned the lyrics to the GSU alma mater and set them to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” He loved to recite Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”
Through him, the Sigma Nus helped bring together all the Greeks to form GSU’s Interfraternity Council, and helped start Greek Week.
His care and spirit made him a beloved figure for the fraternity and others on campus.
“We were at his call,” Hill said. “We each wanted to be a man worthy of being a friend to Dr. England.”
“The way to live your life is so in your old age you’ll have fond recollections, good memories,” England told the fraternity, Hill recalled. Sigma Nus watched over him at the end of his life and three served as his pallbearers, and one handled his estate.
The Kenneth M. England Greek Excellence Scholarship is awarded to a student with a 3.0 GPA or higher, who is “an active member and in good standing within their respective organization and have demonstrated service and leadership to the Greek community, Georgia State University or metro Atlanta. Special consideration will be given to students who have promoted positive fraternal relations and inter-Greek harmony.”
Chosen independently of the fraternity, the most recent recipient of the scholarship is Chris Pena, a member of Sigma Nu.
“As a brother of the Sigma Nu Eta Gamma chapter, I know the legacy of Dr. England resonates with what each brother strives to achieve in his daily life,” Pena said. “Dr. England exemplified what it meant to be a leader, scholar and brother. To receive a scholarship named after such a prominent person in our chapter’s history is truly an honor and privilege.”
That connection especially pleased Hill and others in his generation. “We were tickled pink,” Hill said.
—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424