Barry McNamara  |  Published April 24, 2023

Changed Men

Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter 75th anniversary celebration organizers sing praises of their fraternity experience.

CUPS RUNNETH OVER: Fourteen times, Monmouth's Illinois Gamma chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon has... CUPS RUNNETH OVER: Fourteen times, Monmouth's Illinois Gamma chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon has earned a prestigious Buchanan Cup from the national organization. Pictured with the cups are, from left, Cullen Marshall '22, Eli Kelly '24, Wendell Shauman '67 and Tom Sargent '85.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College’s Illinois Gamma chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon is preparing to celebrate 75 years on campus May 26-28, and one of the significant events in the fraternity’s history occurred roughly in the middle of that time span.

Three decades ago, Sigma Phi Epsilon nationally unveiled its “Balanced Man Program,” focusing on academic achievement and personal and career development for members.

Whether Monmouth alumni pledged SigEp before or after that major 1991 event, they agree that another moniker applies to their experience – “changed man.”

“It really fundamentally changed who I am as a person,” said Brad Nahrstadt ’89. “It’s a debt I’ll never be able to repay. I’m blessed.”

Nahrstadt came to Monmouth knowing he wanted to be an attorney, and he stuck with that career goal. Two other SigEps a decade apart – Bill Murschel ’75 and Tom Sargent ’85 – said the fraternity led them down an enriching career path far different from their initial goal of becoming doctors.

“It really fundamentally changed who I am as a person. It’s a debt I’ll never be able to repay. I’m blessed.” Brad Nahrstadt


“What SigEp did for me, it developed the interest I wound up using in my career,” said Murschel, who worked in public affairs. “That’s how I’d say it in one sentence. Everything I did in SigEp prepared me for that. I was the chapter’s vice president for external relations, and I remember one of the events I helped promote was the initiation of our 500th brother.”

Monmouth’s first SigEp brothers were initiated when the chapter began on May 22, 1948.


Becoming a leader

Now an educational studies professor at his alma mater, Sargent said he experienced both a career change and a personal transformation during his undergraduate days in the fraternity.

“SigEp helped me develop leadership skills,” he said. “The fraternity was coming off a rough period, and membership and recruitment were in a rough spot. We needed to bring in a good class of young men, or we were in danger of losing the chapter. I was part of a pledge class of 15, and we came in and made a difference. I was placed in leadership roles, which I was not comfortable with initially, but by the end, I was chapter president. It developed a set of skills in me. I didn’t have that skill set prior to coming to college.”

“I was placed in leadership roles, which I was not comfortable with initially, but by the end, I was chapter president. It developed a set of skills in me. I didn’t have that skill set prior to coming to college.” Tom Sargent


Roy Sye ’13 came to Monmouth well after the “Balanced Man Program” was implemented, and he said it had a major influence on his development.

“Through the ‘Balanced Man Program,’ I was given several opportunities for leadership and professional development, which led me to proudly serve as chapter president for two years,” he said. “I learned how to navigate tough conversations, lead an executive team toward a shared goal, and how to celebrate big wins and encourage the heart. It left an indelible impact on me.”

Sye credited the fraternity for helping him clear the initial hurdles he encountered at Monmouth.

HE'LL BE BACK: Roy Sye '13 is pictured speaking to Monmouth chemistry students on April 2... HE'LL BE BACK: Roy Sye '13 is pictured speaking to Monmouth chemistry students on April 21. In just over a month, Sye will return to his alma mater for SigEp's 75th anniversary celebration.“SigEp provided me a sense of belonging through the brotherhood, especially during my freshman year while I was battling homesickness and the transition to college,” he said.

Following graduation, Sye was a traveling leadership consultant for the fraternity, helping start new chapters across the country, and he continues to serve as a national leadership facilitator.


From zero to hero

Nahrstadt had a freshman year experience somewhat similar to Sye.

“I came to Monmouth knowing I wanted to be an attorney, which is kind of funny, because I also had a paralyzing shyness,” he said. “I was not at all comfortable in crowds. In high school, I didn’t do any extracurricular activities. I wasn’t on any teams, and that suited me just fine. It wasn’t my thing.”

That made the freshman from rural Genoa-Kingston High School a very unlikely candidate for Greek life.

HAPPY 75TH! The charter for the Illinois Gamma chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon was signed May 22, 19... HAPPY 75TH! The charter for the Illinois Gamma chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon was signed May 22, 1948. The 75th anniversary celebration will be held May 26-28.“Coming to college, I had no interest in joining a fraternity – zero interest,” said Nahrstadt. “My roommate was dead set on joining one, but he didn’t want to go alone to the first Greek recruiting event. The college had five fraternities at the time, and if you were interested in joining one, you had to go to all five of the presentations. I told him I’d go to the first one with him, but that’s it.”

But then Nahrstadt met the brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon.

“I was just really impressed by the guys I met, and they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” he said. “On bid day, I was in that room for a solid hour, wondering, ‘Do I accept a bid?’ My parents didn’t want me to, and especially my mom. At the end of the day, I decided I was better off being a part of it than not.”

Nahrstadt’s hunch was proven correct.

“It really helped me come out of my shell,” he said. “By the time I graduated, I was perfectly comfortable standing in front of a group of people and selling. As an attorney, that’s what you have to do. You have to sell, whether it’s yourself, or your firm, or your client’s position.”

Nahrstadt has gone on to work at the state level with a dozen SigEp chapters from 2007-15, then began a six-year term on the fraternity’s national board of directors. He recently started his second six-year term in that capacity.

“It really helped me come out of my shell. By the time I graduated, I was perfectly comfortable standing in front of a group of people and selling. As an attorney, that’s what you have to do.” Brad Nahrstadt


Like Nahrstadt, Murschel also recalled being impressed by the SigEps he met, which happened even before he was a Monmouth student.

“What was interesting to me is that I was one of two high school seniors visiting Monmouth in the fall of 1970, and we were placed in the SigEp house,” he said. “I was incredibly blown away that the guys in the house invited us to their biology lab. … I also remember 40-some guys sitting around the table and singing, and the guys serving one another at dinner and then watching football together or playing pinochle.”

Murschel said it was a major advantage for him to be exposed to older students early on.

“A special thing about living in a fraternity house is living with upperclassmen,” he said. “We were housed with four classes of students, and that’s what attracted me to SigEp. The older guys were really valuable to me as a student.”


Looking forward to May

Murschel, Sargent, Nahrstadt and Sye are all part of the planning group for the 75th anniversary celebration, which will bring scores of alumni back to Monmouth.

“It’s one of the first opportunities to bring people back to campus,” said Sargent, referencing the pandemic. “It will be an opportunity for many of them to realize what’s happening with the organization and to see the change and the growth.”

“It’s going to be an extraordinary event. ’m 70 years old. This is not going to happen for me again. I’m old enough to understand the importance of weddings and the birth of grandchildren. This is in that category for me.” Bill Murschel


“You get to know the people who were there when you were there,” said Nahrstadt. “But the beautiful thing about brotherhood is this connection, this bond, you share with people who were here in the 1960s and 1970s, even the 1950s. We all have this special connection. So I’ll be able to spend time with folks like Bill who I have a connection with because of SigEp. That’s what I’m looking forward to – reconnecting with the guys I knew and making new connections with others.”

“It’s going to be an extraordinary event,” said Murschel. “I’m 70 years old. This is not going to happen for me again. I’m old enough to understand the importance of weddings and the birth of grandchildren. This is in that category for me.”

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