A legacy of leadership
Alpha Upsilon, the first fraternity at USC, maintains a proud history of excellence
The Alpha Upsilon chapter of Sigma Chi, the first fraternity at USC - indeed, the only fraternity at USC for 35 years - has a proud legacy of leadership.
Civic leaders, entrepreneurs, corporate titans, dedicated Sigs, famous brothers, athletes and simply great men: That's the Alpha Upsilon legacy of leadership.
Our chapter, now more than 130 years old, has 40 Significant Sigs, so far, according to Sigma Chi headquarters. That's one of the very highest totals among all Sigma Chi chapters across North America recognizing "those alumni members whose exemplary achievements in their fields of endeavor have brought great honor and prestige to the name of Sigma Chi."
The Order of Constantine is "considered the highest honor" and is given to Sigs "for their commitment, dedication and service to the Fraternity." Once again, the number of Constantine Sigs from Alpha Upsilon ranks among the highest of all chapters.
One of our leading brothers, Gene Erbstoesser, has among his many honors an Order of Constantine award.
“What we don’t understand is how many people lives we’ll touch.”
- Gene Erbstoesser
Order of Constantine
Sure, there are famous names like actors Tom Selleck, John Wayne, Ted McGinley and Buster Crabbe, professional sports names like Mike Holmgren, Bobby Valentine and Bill Buckner, plus many more.
And there are leaders of corporations with household names.
We even have Grand Consuls; Keith Sorensen and Craig Nason, affectionately known as "Blinky" to us.
But the real value is the intangible at Alpha Upsilon.
The chapter has done a good job of perpetuating its quality over the decades, says our most recent Constantine Sig
Gene Erbstoesser, who pledged in the
spring of 1967 before graduating in 1970. He's been a chapter advisor at three schools (UCLA, Cal State Long Beach and USC), House Corporation President and Vice President, and continues in leadership roles for our fraternity and our chapter. He's been a leading lawyer nationally and internationally, primarily for Ernst and Young.
Yet his Sigma Chi involvement remains central to his life. “What we don’t understand is how many people lives we’ll touch.” He tells the story of a talk he gave to the chapter years ago about the difference between right and wrong, and how each of us have that choice every day. One of those undergrads called Gene years later to thank him for that talk, and said it was one of the reasons he, like Gene, became a lawyer and later a District Attorney - fighting for right vs wrong.
When alums become "meaningfully involved" in the fraternity, Gene says, “Sigma Chi is better for it. And society is better for it.”
"You really feel it and live it from the very first day you walk in as a prospective pledge," says Sean Kell, Class of 1991. He's one of the most recent Significant Sigs and one of the youngest from our chapter to ever receive the Significant Sig award.
“There’s definitely something in the water," Sean said about the legacy of leadership at AU.
Sean won his award in 2018 after running senior housing company "A Place for Mom." After the company was sold in
The program cover from our 2001 re-chartering banquet which 500 alumni brothers attended.
2017, Sean took the helm at Blue Nile, making it the world's largest online jeweler. He's also held leadership roles at Expedia, Starbucks and more.
He credits the chapter house.
"The culture of excellence that flows through that building is really amazing and hard to describe.”
“You really can’t help but get caught up in this incredible unboundedness of goals and aspirations,” Sean says.
"Those four years are this amazing time," he says, "if you let it happen, your dreams and aspirations are unbounded.”
"It was just a dream machine," he says of the house. "That's what inspired me, was to dream really big."
And yet even a valued organization like Alpha Upsilon hits "some rough patches", as Gene calls them. “No institution that lasts over 125 years doesn’t have some bare patches or down cycle. The question is do they revive, do they regain? Poor organizations don’t. The major factor that has helped AU recover its stride has been its alumni support and involvement.”
Gene recalls that, during AU's re-chartering effort, which he co-chaired, 500 brothers showed up for the black tie event. What a statement.
The teachings of Sigma Chi are at the root of such value. The “Man in the mirror” teaching is the key to one’s validity as a human being, Gene says.
Gene cherishes another Sigma Chi distinction with which he was honored: "The Examplar Medal" given to the leading undergraduate at Alpha Upsilon. First given in 1921 after being created by Harry Lee Martin (AU 1895), the Exemplar was resurrected by Alpha Upsilon in 2011 and continues today.
In Gene's 2018 Order of Constantine acceptance speech, he gave thanks to a litany of Sigs including the undergraduate brothers at the three chapters which he advised. "They enriched my life in more ways than I can possibly describe."
ORDER OF CONSTANTINE
Learn more about
Order of Constantine
Gene Erbstoesser cherishes his Exemplar Medal awarded to him when he was Consul and IFC President in 1970. The medal was created in 1921 and continues to be awarded to the undergraduate who best exemplifies all that is good with Sigma Chi. BELOW: Gene with the Long Beach State Sigs as they return to campus.
Some of our Alpha Upsilon Significant Sigs - all hail