In 1929 Catherine Berry, Sigma, went for a haircut in a downtown Houston barber shop where she saw a Sigma Kappa pin. Catherine had lost her pin, but introduced herself to Irma Vaudoit, Sigma, and there the Houston Chapter was born. Although it wasn't until June 17, 1930, that the chapter received its charter, the alumnae of the Houston area had already begun to meet regularly. At one of these get-togethers, on February 27, 1930, a poem was written in the guestbook: "Seven Sigmas sat at tea. Sipping, chatting, merrily. Such a sight is joy to see. Come and sip next time with me." The six charter members of the Houston Alumnae chapter are: Louise Blanton, Sigma (1920); Catherine Berry, Sigma (1921); Hazel Jax, Upsilon (1922); Theo Thompson, Sigma (1924); Edith Herbst, Omega (1925); and Lyndith Barkley, Xi (1926).
Theo Thompson recalled that the chapter won the outstanding alumnae chapter award in approximately their second year of organization. Soon after the chapter began, their community involvement began. In 1934, a bookshelf at San Jacinto High School was chosen and sponsored by the chapter. Each year, at least one book was purchased from a list of requests received by the school librarian and donated to the school. Each book had a bookplate etched by our charter member, Hazel Jax.
By the 1950s, the chapter was flourishing. The Alumnae Chapter activities included the installation ceremonies of the Gamma Iota chapter at Texas Tech University in Lubbock in March of 1955. The alumnae held annual rush parties during the summer months, some of which included plays portraying different aspects of our sorority. Sigma Kappas also played a big part in the Panhellenic group of Houston. The year 1955 was the 25th anniversary of the Panhellenic group in Houston, and it was also Sigma Kappa's year to hold the office of President. Jean Waugh Luckel, Upsilon, served during the silver anniversary year.
Also in 1955, the Houston alumnae initiated what was to become their largest philanthropic endeavor -- gerontology. The chapter began this project by taknig an extensive orientation course at the Veterans Administration hospital. The four-week course introduced the women to all phases of the hospital routine, equipping them for future volunteer work at the hospital and beyond. In 1961, the culmination of their effort in the VA Hospital came with the Conference on Medical Recreation, with emphasis on recreation for the geriatric, sponsored by the VA Hospital and the Houston Alumnae Chapter. Their work with the VA as well as numerous donations to the hospital eventually gained them an award from the Veterans Administration Voluntary Service on February 20, 1962. The Certificate of Award cites the chapter's "understanding of the importance and growing need in [the field of gerontology], their enlightened communication in this behalf, and their hearty effort and strong support so cheerfully and practically given."
The late 1950s saw the Houston Alumnae Chapter in the Society pages of the newspapers when a sister in Sigma Kappa came to town with the Metropolitan Opera. Laurel Hurley, a Sigma Kappa from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, came to town and captured the spotlight while performing in "Don Giovanni." During her stay in town, the alumnae chapter took the opportunity to hold a tea in her honor.
In 1958, the Houston Alumnae Chapter was the hostess chapter for the Gerontology Awards Dinner at National Convention in Biloxi, Mississippi. They made favors and Texas souvenirs for the dinner, and for the final dinner they brought favors with "Texaco" on them in honor of Texas. The following year, the group took part in the merging of the national sorority Pi Kappa Sigma with Sigma Kappa. The alumnae chapter initiated 15 members into the sorority and held a tea in their honor.
By 1959, the Alumnae Chapter membership had risen to 37 with Lois Scherer, Theta, named a Citation Member of Houston Alumnae Panhellenic Association for continuous, outstanding and unselfish service.
In the 1960s, one of the major fundraisers for the chapter was their "Hat Party." These parties were held annually and included make-up demonstrations and door prizes. Benefits from sales went to the chapter's gerontology efforts: the VA Hospital and later the Institute of Religion.
The 1960s also brought much collegiate involvement to the chapter with coordination of the installation of the Gamma Chi Chapter at Stephen F. Austin State University in November of 1960. Also during the 60s, Jean Luckel Makoski and Marian Frutiger, Gamma Gamma, joined Lois Scherer as Panhellenic Citation members.
The Houston Alumnae Chapter was recognized nationally for their work in gerontology at the 1962 National Convention with Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Alpha, presenting the award. The chapter received the highest commendation for their "most outstanding work in the field of gerontology of any alumnae chapter in the United States."
A Houston Mother's Club was begun March 8, 1968. This club's purpose was "to get acquainted with their daughters' sorority and its activities; to help the Texas collegiate chapters in whatever way they could; and to cooperate with the Houston Alumnae." The club supported the collegiate chapters with monetary donations as well as donations of silver, crystal, etc.
In the late 1970s, some of the members of the chapter realized that the transition from a collegiate active to an alumna was a somewhat ambiguous event. In order to define that moment and give it more meaning, the Order of the Triangle Ceremony was conceived and written by our own Houston Alumnae Chapter members: Marian Frutiger, Helen Manlove, Sheryl Miller, Nell Jean Muehlbrad, Glenna Pierpont and Sharon Wilson. By performing this ceremony, each active moves on to her alumna status and pledges her further devotion to Sigma Kappa and her intention to be an active alumna. The Order of the Triangle Ceremony was adopted at the 1978 National Convention where the Houston Alumnae Chapter also won six national awards.
The Houston Sigma Kappa Foundation, an outgrowth of the alumnae chapter, was formed in 1980 as a tax-exempt foundation dedicated to providing scholarships and research awards to people studying gerontology. Our Honor Initiate, Elizabeth Smith, Epsilon Omicron, and Martha Lewis, Gamma Iota, helped to set up the foundation. Elizabeth still serves as president. It is the second local foundation to be created by a Sigma Kappa alumnae chapter. The Northridge, Los Angeles, alumnae chapter was the first to create a foundation and assisted the Houston chapter with its project.
Helping with the annual Golden Age Manor Olympics was part of the chapter's gerontology effort of the early 1980s, and at the 1982 National Convention, the chapter received the Elizabeth Gorham Hoag Award as well as the honorable mention for the Outstanding Newsletter Award and the Alumnae Panhellenic Award.
Toward the late 1980s, the gerontology program sifted again, this time toward the Project FANtastic and a hearing aid program for the elderly. Project FANtastic was a way of providing the elderly and poor with floor fans to help them stay cool in the hot Houston summers. A local Target store offered large floor fans at cost and the Houston Sigma Kappa Foundation, along with Shell Oil Co., Shell Foundation and Southwestern Bell, donated the money to buy them. Approximately 2,400 fans were bought and donated.
In 1988, the Houston Alumnae Chapter began collecting hearing aids to be reconditioned and sold to the elderly for the cost of reconditioning. In certain cases where the elderly could not afford the reconditioning cost, the Foundation absorbed the cost. The chapter began collecting old eyeglasses, as well, in 1991. The eyeglasses were sent to Southwestern Bell's Telephone Pioneers, a group of retirees.
Into the 1990's, the chapter consistently received recognition at national convention for our outstanding philanthropic service and fundraising efforts.
During the 1990's philanthropic events have included working with the Village Health Care Center in Spring Branch, providing them with seasonal decorations, cosmetics and items for their occupational therapy group, and holding an annual Christmas party for them. Likewise, we have helped with the Mission of Yahweh Easter Egg Hunt, participated in the annual Alzheimer's Walk, and held a Book Wrap at Christmastime each year to raise money for Alzheimer's research.
The money-raiser for the Houston Sigma Kappa Foundation through the 90's consisted of selling tickets for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Each year, the Foundation has been able to acquire excellent tickets for the opening night of the rodeo and then sell each ticket for a profit of $2.50/ticket.
In the 2000's, we shifted our fundraising efforts for the Foundation to working a beverage cart at the Shell Houston Open. We continue this effort now.
Carol Beth Ivory
Evie Jo Wilson