Sorority in Alberni turns 60

Port Alberni's Beta Sigma Phi turns 60 and it's still going strong.

Beta Sigma Phi founding member Greta Hill

Beta Sigma Phi founding member Greta Hill

When the Beta Sigma Phi sorority celebrates its 60th anniversary with a pair of special events next week, Greta Hill will also be celebrating. She is  the only remaining charter member of Alpha Gamma still in the Alberni Valley.

Beta Sigma Phi is a non-academic sorority founded 80 years ago in the state of Kansas by Walter W. Ross. The organization is made up of chapters that receive their names from the letters of the Greek alphabet. Beta, sigma and phi are the first letters of the Greek words meaning life, learning and friendship, which is the sorority’s motto.

When Hill first signed up, she was 18 years old, working and looking for something to do in her spare time.

“At that time there weren’t a lot of things women could just join,” Hill said. “I wasn’t married so I couldn’t join Kinettes. It was the only singles club.”

“Beta Sigma Phi is not a service club,” she added, although many chapters do fundraise for various causes. Nor does education or attendance at university have anything to do with it.

“We are social, we are cultural and we do service. We are three-fold in purpose.”

Dorothy Larson hasn’t quite served 60 years; she was asked to join the original chapter, but declined until a few years later in 1956. She has stayed with it because she enjoys the company. “Some of us have been in the same chapter since we started,” she said.

“We’ve all become very good friends,” said Hill. “A lot of chapters have very strong friendships. There are very strong bonds that have been formed.”

Both of them now belong to Laureate Gamma Rho, comprised mainly of older women. The youngest chapter in Port Alberni is Alpha Omega, with eight to 16 members in their 30s.

The eight Beta Sigma Phi chapters will celebrate Founders Day on Wednesday, April 27 with  a banquet and rituals at Chances RimRock.

The sorority has different levels—ritual, preceptor, exemplar, laureate and master—as well as rituals and honours for people reaching various milestones. Ritual of Jewels is for those just joining, the Order of the Rose for those with 15 years in the organization, Silver Circle for 25 years and Golden Circle for 50 years of attendance. Four Alberni Valley women have achieved the latter milestone: Hill and Larson, Merilyn Coney and Phyllis Darby.

Many of the rituals throughout the years required formal wear—floor-length gowns, Larson said. Some of the cultural programs have evolved, but many still apply: personal grooming could be someone coming in to do makeup or going to a spa now.

Hill hasn’t missed many meetings in 60 years, even when she was living in Kamloops and Victoria. In fact, she was happy to be able to “transfer” to other chapters in those cities. “It gives you a circle of friends when you move to a new place,” she said.

On Saturday, April 30 the Beta Sigma Phi council will host a tea at the Alberni Valley Museum to celebrate its 60th anniversary. Any ex-members are welcome to attend the tea. Anyone looking for more information may contact council president Shannon Dore at 250-724-3136.

editor@albernivalleynews.com