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Making Sisterhood Official: An Alumna Initiate’s Story

Category: Fraternity

Liz Handlin

Epsilon Phi, Chicago

In late September 1985, while attending orientation week at the University of Chicago, I met two fellow freshmen, Mary Knecht Shepard and Lisa McLeod Stephenson. Before long, the three of us were inseparable. The following April, Kappa Alpha Theta’s Epsilon Phi Chapter was established at UChicago and all three of us were chosen to be part of the chapter’s charter class. Initiation was planned for the following fall. However, Lisa had other plans, and she was to transfer to American University in Washington, D.C., by then. Mary and I were upset she would not be initiated with the rest of our charter class.

Despite this void, Mary and I went on to enjoy our time as Theta collegians, and we remained in close touch with Lisa despite the many miles that separated us. After graduation, we threw ourselves full force into our careers, got married, and some of us had children. But, no matter the changes in our lives, we leaned on each other while we navigated the curve balls that life threw our way. Over the years, Mary and I would wistfully muse to each other that it was too bad that Lisa was not our “official” sister. While we knew the Theta part did not take anything away from our very true and deep friendship, having Lisa in the bonds of our sisterhood would be very special.

In 2021, I became very ill and required a transplant to survive. My amazing husband became my primary caregiver, which required him to spend months away from our home and his job. After a few weeks, he was totally exhausted, but he would not take a break because he did not trust anyone else local to take care of me. Lisa was in very close touch with me and him throughout the whole ordeal. A few weeks in, she called my husband to say that she was going to fly from her home in California to me in Texas so that she could give him a week’s break to take care of some things back at our home. Lisa swooped in; rented a car; took me to all my doctor appointments; walked with me and my puppy, Raylan; and binge-watched movies with me. In short, she was a real sister to me.

In 2022, I became the advisory board chair (ABC) for Epsilon Phi Chapter. I recruited Mary to join the board with me, and very soon after that, we resumed our conversations about how it was too bad Lisa was not able to share the Theta experience with us because she was not our “official” sister. One day, I was reading something in the Theta Magazine about how, on rare occasion, Theta initiates post-undergraduate women who have never joined a sorority, and I decided right then and there that Mary and I had talked about this issue between ourselves long enough. I contacted Theta headquarters and learned more about the process in place for exactly this type of situation: the alumna initiate program! Mary and I were overjoyed by this news and were determined to have our chapter initiate Lisa in a way that would be beautiful, meaningful, and memorable.

At long last, on Nov. 12, 2023, after 18 new members were initiated, our Epsilon Phi Chapter initiated Lisa Marie McLeod Stephenson. I was honored to lead the second part of the service with Mary and Epsilon Phi Chapter’s very first president, Margie Thomas Morris, standing by my side. Reading the sacred words and asking Lisa to pledge her loyalty to our Fraternity was so much more meaningful when viewed through the lens of a half-century of friendship together, and it quickly dawned on me that Lisa had already fulfilled all these promises and more.

Finally, bestowing upon Lisa the special pearl-encrusted Theta badge that Mary and I gave to her was so emotional. In addition to all the collegians in attendance, Lisa’s initiation was witnessed by three other charter members (Mary Ann Kalina Travers, Carrie Levine Schiff, and Beth Fulkerson) as well as two other alumnae (Prita Saikia Wadwahani and Callie Buck Momatazee).

When the Initiation Service concluded, we attended a lunch with 32 alumnae in attendance. It was our first ever Epsilon Phi Chapter reunion on a larger scale, and one that none of us will ever forget. Lisa’s initiation embodied the phrase, “Theta for a lifetime,” and now Mary and I are finally able to call Lisa our sister.

Photo used with permission from Angela Garbot Photography; Angela is a member of Epsilon Phi Chapter.