The Mu Chapter Educational Foundation was formed in 2007 thanks to the pro bono legal work and initial gift of Brother Steve Hobbs ’80. For some time it remained a foundation in name only until a brother came forward and asked some questions to ascertain if the goals of the Foundation were worthy of his support. That brother was G. Bert Harrop ’61. He and his late wife Val ’61, Chi Omega, stepped up with a significant contribution that continues to be the corpus of the Foundation. Mu Chapter wants to acknowledge the importance of Bert and Val’s gift to jump–start an organization that is now having a significant impact on the lives of the brothers of Sigma Pi and the Ithaca community. Its flagship activity is the College Mentors for Kids Program, the funds for which come mainly from the income from Bert and Val’s gift, and the David Harrop Scholarship, given in memory of Bert and Val’s son.
As a brother, you might ask why Bert and Val made such a gift. Was he approached and after a presentation agreed to make a gift? Was he very involved as an alum and encouraged by his fellow brothers to help out financially? The answer to those questions is no. He volunteered. Bert approached the Foundation and asked some questions. He and Val had decided to give away a large amount of money — they agreed that she would pick a recipient and he would pick one. They would split the money down the middle, half to her choice and half to his. They wanted the gift to be big enough to make a difference, and sizeable enough to have ongoing significance in that funding would be available from the income of the gift when well invested for the future. She picked the Unitarian Fellowship of Houston. Bert and Val together picked Mu Chapter of Sigma Pi Foundation, but with reservations.
Bert is no different from most of the brothers of Sigma Pi. He was raised in a small town in Kansas and came to school as a young man not really knowing what was ahead. In the work he did as a student at a local junior college, he met a Cornell trustee emeritus who saw something in him, and encouraged him to apply to Cornell. Bert did so and was accepted into the Hotel School — Bert is convinced his mentor was instrumental in his acceptance. Bert arrived in Ithaca with $3,500 and a $700 grant. The cost to attend Cornell at that time was about $10,000 a year. Bert worked as a range chef at the Statler, and served as steward at Mu Chapter, which took care of room and board.
He was influenced by Brother Joel VanWynen ’58 (deceased) to double register in the hotel school and the Johnson business school. This preparation gave Bert the tools to go into the world and achieve success as an entrepreneur — he was CEO of Harrop Construction Company — and a director of the Sterling Bank in Texas
Bert met his wife Val at Sigma Pi. His little brother had invited Val to be his date at a dance at the house. For some reason the little brother could not follow through on the date and asked Bert if he would pinch hit. Bert and Val continued to date and were married. One person who was instrumental in the relationship between Bert and Val was Dolly Hailstork — Dolly lent Bert the money to allow the marriage to happen.
Bert is grateful to Cornell and Sigma Pi for introducing him to a whole new world, and chose the large gift to the Educational Foundation as a way to pay back what the house and his brothers did for him.
However, as stated, Bert had reservations about contributing to Mu Chapter. His questions led me, then alumni president, to travel to Houston to answer them face–to– face. A dinner meeting with Bert and Val allowed the full merit of Mu Chapter to be discussed, including the hopes for the future of the Educational Foundation. It was not hard for me to point to the many merits Mu Chapter had (and has) of which alums can be proud. The biggest determining factor in evaluating the worthiness of Mu Chapter was not the list of good things related to Bert and Val, as it was taken for granted — it was the diversity of the chapter. Bert and Val felt very strongly about the importance of openness and diversity. They asked very pointed questions about the make–up of the chapter. I explained that Mu Chapter is diverse in race, religion, economic status, and any other way you might measure diversity. The brothers conduct a rush that results in bids being extended to those men they like well enough to want to have as brothers.
That is what Bert wanted to hear, and it was easy for me to exhibit that the diversity was long standing and genuine. Bert and Val committed to the gift at the end of the dinner, and asked that it be identified as a memorial to their son David, who they lost early in his adulthood.