Nearly 70 Years After Pledging, Sterling Hennis ’52 Looks Back on SPE Experience

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Dr. Sterling Hennis. Photo courtesy of sterlinghennis.com.

Dr. Sterling Hennis ’52 pledged Sigma Phi Epsilon NC Delta Chapter when Harry Truman was president. And he has stayed committed to his brothers – as an active, faculty advisor and proud alum – ever since. 

Hennis, now 86, has been such an ingrained part of the culture at Delta that the chapter house bears his name. That honor was bestowed upon him during a surprise ceremony in 2010.“This is a wonderful honor and I appreciate it deeply,” Hennis writes in his memoirs, which are available at sterlinghennis.com.

Although he entered college at UNC in the fall of 1948 without the faintest notion of pledging a fraternity, he changed his mind after meeting the brothers during a rush ceremony.

Pledging in those days lasted the whole academic year. So Hennis and his fellow pledges spent months going through standard pledge activities of the day, like having eggs cracked on their heads and being forced to walk back to town after getting dropped off by the side of the road by the brothers. (However, Hennis largely avoided the tired feet associated with the latter task, as a Duke fraternity member drove by the desolate stretch of road that Hennis was walking and offered to drive the poor pledge back to campus.)

In 1960, Hennis, then a professor of English education at his alma mater, was asked to be NC Delta chapter’s faculty advisor. It was a duty he would perform into the next century.

“As faculty adviser for more than 40 years, I have been able to witness, to some small degree, the lives of many young men as they have moved through their undergraduate years,” Hennis says. “Often coming as rather shy and uncertain freshmen, most have left as secure, sophisticated graduates eager to make a contribution to society.”

As a faculty advisor, he was instrumental in getting a new house built. He also had to help put out some fires, like when one of the brothers confessed that he had stolen the bell clapper from the church next door because he grew tired of it interrupting his sleep every Sunday morning. There was also the incident in which some pledges “collected” 12,000 copies of The Daily Tar Heel; that cost the fraternity about $4,000, as the Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers had to pay for the cost to reprint some 7,500 copies.

Still and all, Hennis has been a passionate supporter of NC Delta chapter over the years. And his reasons are numerous.

“There were many times when I witnessed the very best in human conduct,” Hennis says. “I often saw a true sense of brotherhood. I saw brothers helping brothers. I heard their goals and plans and hopes for the future. I saw serious students who knew why they were here. I heard loving comments made about families and friends back home. I was aware of the link that exists between the undergraduate brothers and the alumni who have shared common beliefs and traditions. I listened to many of their personal and academic problems. I observed the reunions of brothers who had not seen one another for many years – and watched the years melt away as they picked up conversations from the past as if it were only yesterday.”