Giving back has always been in my DNA. As a youth, my mom was her “Class Agent” for her graduation class at Brown University, coordinating annual alumni donations. My dad had a similar role for his class at Bryant University. So, when I went to grad school, I too gave back to my undergraduate school, the University of Rhode Island, albeit starting small. After graduation, I expanded that to include my graduate program at the University of Georgia and to the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation.
Giving back to AEPi was important to me. Being a founding father during my freshman year, the experience helped mold me and provided me with leadership and teamwork skills that served me well during my subsequent career. Equally important were the friends I made along the way, several of whom are still my closest friends many years later. But, as I focused on my career and moving up in management, I eventually realized just writing a check once a year really wasn’t enough. The thing was, I still did not know what more I could do. But as they say, fate intervenes.
After graduation, Rho Chapter’s success, like many chapters was cyclical. There were great years, good years, and not so good years. Unfortunately, the chapter was closed in the mid 2000s. It was a sad day for many of my founding brothers, especially after the decision was made to sell the fraternity house after a fire. It was at that point, while living in St. Louis, that Past Supreme Master Gary Anderson (z”l) after assuring me that Rho Chapter would be reactivated, asked for me to help start a St. Louis alumni club but which resulted in limited success at the time. Fate again intervened. In 2009 Rho Chapter was being re-colonized.
Although I missed the initial chartering, I did reach out to the new master on one of my monthly trips back to Rhode Island to visit my father. We chatted and explained that he is going through a unique experience that only a few of us can share – starting up a new chapter. I assured him that he was not alone and I will always be there for the group, though the good and the bad. I did not want the new group to feel like they did not have alumni support. Each subsequent visit to my dad included a visit to the chapter and before I knew it was their alumni advisor, despite the distance. Each month, the chapter knew I would be there. And in between, they knew where to find me. We embraced what true brotherhood is and how it transcends generations. When I had to clean out my dad’s house after he went into assisted living, the undergraduates of Rho Chapter came to the rescue, coming over to put clothes in boxes, throw things out, etc. For that I will be forever grateful.
After moving back to New Jersey, I also was asked to become the alumni advisor for the Rho Upsilon chapter at Rutgers University. The two chapters are very different in many ways including brotherhood size, campus environment, and Greek Life involvement to name just a few things. I truly enjoy being able to spend time with both chapters. Being an advisor to both schools has given me an experience that I will always cherish. There is great satisfaction in being able to give back by mentoring college students and watching how they grow individually and collectively from pledge to graduation. A lot has changed since the mid 70s, especially in terms of health and safety including hazing and alcohol abuse. Helping students navigate all the ways of operating successful in today’s college and Greek environment takes a partnership between the students, the international staff and those of us who are alumni volunteers.
I found my special way to give back to AEPi! I’ve participated in conclaves and conventions the last couple of years and can attest to how much this fraternity has changed from my undergraduate days back in the late 70s. From a small office staff in St. Louis and just a couple of “field secretaries” and maybe 60 chapters to a staff today that provides support to 185+ chapters globally in areas of leadership, Jewish programming, philanthropy, and an ELC staff that support chapters on a regional basis. What will really show how the fraternity has grown is attending international convention. The number of students committed to our fraternity’s values and heritage is absolutely amazing. Everyone cares and wants success. And being able to help in that success is very gratifying.
As I named this piece there is more than one way to give back to AEPi. Volunteer. Not all chapters have advisors, and many are looking to expand to an advisory committee that can provide support in very specific areas. Whether you are an alumnus, recent graduate, or an undergraduate, think of ways you too can give back to the fraternity. Our undergraduates will be very appreciative.
More About Brother Rick Wilkes
Richard “Rick” Wilkes was a founding father and Master at Rho Chapter at the University of Rhode Island graduating in 1979. He currently serves as the alumni advisor for chapters at Rutgers University and the University of Rhode Island. He is a resident of Bergen County, New Jersey.