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Sigma Phi Gamma sisters share a love of service

And the sorority sisters have a lot of fun at the same time


by: BARBARA SHERMAN - LAUGHTER THROUGH THE YEARS - Standing behind Elsie Battaglia are (from left) Joyce Saari, Ruth Lehman, Claudia Carlson, Char Heinrich, Hylda Rust and Alice Furey, with Georgia Meshke sitting in front of her. Women who haven't heard of Sigma Phi Gamma International Sorority don't know what they're missing.

The organization is a friendship and service sorority originally founded in 1920 in Indiana, and while the members care about each other like sisters, they also roll up their sleeves and work to raise money for a variety of worthy causes while having fun at the same time.

Recently, a group of King City and Summerfield sorority members got together at the King City home of Elsie Battaglia to talk about what the organization means to them and look at scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and photos of members over the years.

Elsie started the first Oregon chapter of Sigma Phi Gamma in December 1940 called the Gamma chapter, and she is now in the Iota Delta chapter, whose members have a combined total of more than 300 years of service.

But Elsie started that first chapter almost by accident: "I went to California with Marge Dasse, and we met her aunt who knew these two gals who were in the sorority," she said. "They were so enthusiastic about it that I came back to Oregon, found 13 gals, and we started the first chapter together.

"It saved my life. I was widowed at 23, and no one wanted a young widow around their husbands. I got into the sorority and made new friends who were loving and caring, and we could do projects together. I jumped in it with both feet and eventually became the international president."

One of the requirements was to learn the Greek alphabet and the names of the five founders - Edith Bocock, Phyllis Langsta Royce, Ferne Palmer Shick, Violet Pettit Tindall, and Irene Waters Worley - and Elsie recalled that her 7-year-old son Jerry would drill her on the names.

Later, while Elsie lived in Long Beach, Wash., she started the Lambda Nu chapter.

Elsie has attended 72 out of the 73 annual conventions that have been held since she started her first chapter, and she remembers exactly why she missed one convention, which was held in Gross Point, Mich., on an island, where no autos were allowed.

"We were young and frisky and decided not to go because there were no cars on the island," she said. "How can you go have fun if you can't go anywhere?"

One of the conventions that Elsie did attend was memorable because her luggage never arrived. The year was 1955, and all Battaglia had to wear was the dress she traveled in.

"I had to wash it out every night and wear it every day," she said.

Those in the Lambda Nu chapter recalled a convention they hosted in Portland in 1980 or '81 where the theme was "Here Come the Clowns," and they all wore clown suits.

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - LET THEM EAT CAKE -  Claudia Carlson shows a violet-covered ice-cream cake to Joyce Saari (left), Hylda Rust and Ruth Lehman before the sorority sisters each got a big piece to enjoy at their get-together.Because one of the national founders was named Violet, the group has adopted violets as its flower, and for the April 27 get-together, Claudia, who joined in 2008, ordered an ice cream cake with five violets on it for the original founders and a sixth violet for Elsie.

For the occasion, Elsie wore a blouse with a violet pattern that she picked up at a gift shop in a hotel at a convention 50 years ago when she was shopping with Violet Pettit Tindall, one of the sorority founders.

Hylda Rust of Summerfield, who joined the original Oregon chapter, Gamma, in 1949, said, "Like Elsie, I like the friendships and going different places for the conventions - I went to a lot."

Other longtime members include Alice Furey of Summerfield, who joined the Xi Iota chapter in 1964; Ruth Lehman, a Summerfield resident who joined Lambda Nu in the early 1980s; and Georgia Meshke of Summerfield, who joined another chapter, Gamma Zeta, in 1991.

"This sorority was designed to do charity work - that's why I love it," Alice said.

Other members include Joyce Saari of King City, who joined Iota Delta in 1967, and Char Heinrich of Summerfield, who joined Iota Delta in 2012 after getting to know some of the ladies while working at Curves for 6 ½ years.

Some of the charities that the Iota Delta chapter contributes to include Loaves & Fishes, Doernbecher Children's Hospital, Madonna's Center that serves pregnant teens, City Team Ministries, Albertina Kerr Foundation, Soles 4 Souls, Crohn's Disease Foundation and the Alsea House.

There are now more than 3,577 active members in 131 chapters in the United States and Canada, with 13 chapters in Oregon and Washington.