meet along the way: the women of Beta Sigma Phi

Women do incredible things. Here, we feature the stories of women who are a part of the Southeast Missouri community by way of living here, being from here or passing through. We hope these stories inspire you to connect with others and that they encourage you to be who you are in the world. We need you and your unique gifts.

This story was first published in the July 2019 issue of “The Best Years (TBY).”

By Ali Keillor

At Beta Sigma Phi chapter meetings in Cape Girardeau, women gather for a girls’ night away from spouses and children. It’s a night to themselves, but not for themselves: after learning about an educational lesson on a different topic at each meeting, discussions begin about which organization to donate to or volunteer with next. Each woman leaves with more knowledge and a bigger heart.

Beta Sigma Phi is an international women’s organization that prioritizes bringing women together. With chapters across the world, the organization promotes sisterhood among women everywhere through its three core values: life, learning and friendship.

Ellen McAuley, an officer with her chapter of Beta Sigma Phi in Cape Girardeau, has been involved in the group for 37 years.

“A friend took me to my first meeting. It gave me a chance to meet people when I had not been from [Cape Girardeau] and make friendships,” McAuley says.

The non-academic sorority that originally began as a women’s reading club has since developed into a social sisterhood with 200,000 members worldwide.

The organization began in Kansas around 1930 when a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman noticed women living in rural areas did not have many opportunities to socialize. From there, the organization grew. It is now present in 50 states, every Canadian province and 30 other countries.

With eight chapters in the Cape Girardeau/Jackson area, there are groups for all ages. The chapters are based on age and range from 20-year-olds to 80-year-olds. Though called a sorority, the organization is not directly affiliated with Greek sororities at Southeast Missouri State University; any woman can join at any age.

Although not initially created as a service organization, Beta Sigma Phi has since taken on a responsibility of and love for helping others. The women contribute to many organizations such as Soles4Souls, Hope House, Safe House for Women, American Red Cross, Teen Challenge and many more.

As one example of the group’s many service projects, a member’s father was stationed overseas in Afghanistan, where a nearby school was bombed. He asked his daughter to present the cause of donating school supplies for the school to the group. As such, the women have bought numerous supplies to send to the school. As another example: when one member’s grandchild was ill, the group donated to his fundraiser.

In addition to service projects, the chapters have meetings and socials. There are city-wide events all the chapters can attend to socialize together, such as the annual Founder’s Day dinner. Many socials have a different theme and include educational programs. Whether it is a Valentine’s Day social at which members learn about the history of the holiday or simply discussing gardening, there is always an attempt to learn something.

Wanda Darby has been a part of the organization for roughly 27 years. She joined through the invitation of a friend whom she played cards with every Friday or Saturday night. Through Beta Sigma Phi, Darby says she has made lifelong friends.

“They’re the sisters that I never had. I don’t have any siblings; I’m an only child. So all these women I feel like are so close, and I call them sisters,” Darby says.

Similarly, a friend invited Debbie Balsano to a Beta Sigma Phi chapter meeting 29 years ago. At the time, Balsano had recently moved to Cape Girardeau and worked in Carbondale, Illinois; being away from home often, she says, made it difficult for her to interact with people in Cape. That changed when she joined the organization. She found Beta Sigma Phi was a way to make many friends while helping out the community.

“If there’s anybody out there looking for some good sisterhood, fun times and giving back a little bit, we’re here for you,” Balsano says.

If you would like to learn more about how you can join a chapter of Beta Sigma Phi or how to start your own chapter, please contact Ellen McAuley at (573) 450-3248.