When you throw a party, you never really know who will show up. Such was the case at Heidelberg Homecoming in 2019. The annual event that year also marked the 70th anniversary of Sigma Tau Nu Fraternity. Invitations went out and everyone hoped for a good turnout, the chance to reminisce and even meet new friends.
It just so happened that Jack J. Bertolino ’51 made it back to campus that year. Perhaps known to some but certainly not all, Jack was one of the 28 young men who founded Sigma Tau Nu fraternity on March 14, 1949.
As the elder alum present, he was asked to speak, and stood in front of four or five dozen fraternity brothers and their family members and started his remarks by saying, “I may be the last man standing,” as he referred to the other founding members.
Jack had a few tears in his eyes as he addressed the celebration, but they weren’t tears of sadness. He recounted that he had gone early that morning to visit the Sig Hall. It was locked, but a woman in the building helpfully called a Sig active who promptly arrived to open the hall. Jack then spent the next hour or two in the hall in conversation with Sig actives and alumni.
Stirred by these memories Jack began his history lesson to the audience. “When we organized our fraternity, it was because we wanted an egalitarian group,” Jack told the celebration. “We wanted an organization that would be inclusive and accept everyone, would be compassionate and want to do the right thing. This philosophy that we developed is still here! That philosophy is continuing after 70 years.”
“The college president told us we were going to have a very hard time” organizing a new society, Jack said. “But every criticism made us stronger.”
After graduation in 1951, Jack served in the U.S. Army for two years. He married his college classmate, Ruth Zimmerman, the first Sig sweetheart, in 1952. He taught fourth grade for several years, then worked for the New Jersey Education Association from 1957 until his retirement in 1993.
“I never realized [as a student] that the philosophy [behind Sigma Tau Nu] would carry me through my work,” he said. “Never take anybody or anything for granted.”
Unfortunately, Jack died suddenly and unexpectedly on October 21, only two days after the Sig celebration in 2019 and one month shy of his 90th birthday. He was participating in a bocce ball tournament at his senior citizen community in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Ruth and their two married daughters survive him.
Bob Youngblood ’70 and current Sig advisor spoke with Ruth a few days after Jack’s death. “She told me that Jack just could not stop talking about the wonderful weekend he had enjoyed with actives and alumni of the group he had helped create,” Bob recalled.
Jack had said that he looked forward to returning to Heidelberg to celebrate Sigma Tau Nu’s 75th anniversary in 2024. We will certainly miss his presence at that gathering.
While his sudden passing was tragic, his words inspired the alumni of Sigma Tau Nu. The idea was hatched at a later Sig Alumni Association meeting to raise funds to begin a scholarship in his honor. Much like the invitations to the party, letters went out to ask alumni to step up and make a gift and start the first Greek Society-affiliated scholarship on campus. There were even grand ideas about this fund becoming endowed.
Once again, there were those who gave words of caution regarding the effort needed to raise $25,000 to endow the fund. Several similar efforts failed or took the maximum time of five years to collect the minimum amount.
Undaunted, the men of Sigma Tau Nu not only raised the minimum amount in two years but raised more than double that goal with over $50,000 in total. Looking forward to their 75th Anniversary in 2024, the bar has been reset to raise $75,000. The scholarship will help fraternity members in good academic standing and with financial need to complete their education.
As a result of this tremendous success, the association awarded its first scholarship to Eric Evans ‘24, of Tiffin, at a luncheon ceremony at Heidelberg’s 2023 Homecoming festivities last weekend. Eric is the immediate past president of Sigma Tau Nu and still holds leadership positions in the fraternity. He is a music major also pursuing a minor in business administration.
“I am very grateful to the Sig alumni and the Bertolino family who made this happen,” said Eric. “This scholarship helps me a great deal and sets the table for me to continue my education after Heidelberg. I hope someday to pay this forward by contributing to the endowment as a successful alum.”
Looking to the future when Sigma Tau Nu’s centennial is celebrated in 2049, there will be men who will recall with joy that they met one of the founders and that like Jack, they remain committed to the ideals of the fraternity, to their fellowship with Heidelberg, and to being “second to none.”
Much of this story is drawn from an account of the Sigs' 70th Anniversary Celebration, written by Steve Sterrett '70