A longtime volunteer at Gamma Beta Chapter, Brother Ed Forester used his trademark leadership style to pioneer national alumni programs, all the while mentoring multiple generations of young Sigma Nu brothers.
In 1965, Brother Edward Forester (Northwestern) was among a core group of Gamma Beta alumni who accepted the difficult challenge of rebuilding their chapter from the ground up. He would go on to serve as president of the Northwestern alumni interfraternity council for six consecutive terms. In the 1970s, he was the only non-faculty member to serve on the Northwestern’s presidential advisory commission, a role he held for seven years.
Ed was a guiding force at Gamma Beta Chapter, through the best of times when the chapter was thriving and at the worst of times when alumni were forced to close the house in 1967. “The decision to again suspend the charter in 2004 was probably the most difficult thing for Ed to endure,” recalls Ben Buetell, president of the Gamma Beta alumni chapter. But Ed never wavered in his commitment to Sigma Nu and his desire to see Gamma Beta return to Northwestern.
Brother Forester served as president of the Gamma Beta House Corporation and remained on the board for over 30 years up until his passing. Brother Forester played an instrumental role in the refurbishment of the Gamma Beta chapter home leading up to the chapter’s centennial celebration in 1998. His role in securing substantial resources in support of the chapter continued through the recent recolonization and up to his passing.
As a member of the High Council, Brother Forester was tasked in 1973 by then Executive Secretary William Amiott to study the existing alumni relations programs in place at the time. The findings of this study were presented to the High Council, upon which two plans were recommended for further study. The High Council proceeded with plans to establish a network of alumni organized into 53 divisions, which would become a foundation for the alumni volunteer program we have today.
“He did what he thought was right and he avoided playing politics. He was a plotter, always moving ahead.”
Brother James Truesdale, speaking at the 1972 Grand Chapter in Dallas, spoke on Ed’s behalf before High Council elections. “Ed has served diligently his Fraternity since he was active in the collegiate chapter and then on into his alumni chapter,” he said.
“Ed has served many years with great distinction as a Division Commander in the Midwest,” Truesdale continued. “Ed has served as unselfishly and as devotedly as any man that I know in many, many happy experiences and friendships through Sigma Nu Fraternity. Ed is a devoted husband, father, and a very accomplished businessman.”
Brother Forester’s contributions to Sigma Nu are perhaps best summarized by one collegiate delegate speaking on his behalf during High Council elections in 1976. Brother Lee Stetson: “He has done a fine job in developing a program for us to use nationally to salvage chapters that are in deep trouble, and I think this is something that we all feel is an important aspect of development of our Fraternity.”
Brother Stetson continued: “Secondly, Brother Forester strongly supported the idea of adding Collegiate Grand Councilmen to the High Council so that we have input from the undergraduates during the various meetings of the High Council.”
What Brother Stetson said next again highlighted Ed Forester’s visionary thinking, in this case foreseeing the need to develop educational programs that would become the early stages of Sigma Nu’s award-winning leadership development programs. “He’s also been involved actively with the more recent trend toward educational effort of our Fraternity,” Stetson observed. “Specifically, he’s been a member of our Mini-University faculty since its inception.”
Brother Forester became known as someone who would listen carefully, particularly during challenging debates for the fraternity. He reiterated this commitment during one of his speeches for High Council positions. “One of the first things my father said to me that I can recall is that you never learn by talking; only by listening,” he explained during the 1972 Grand Chapter in Dallas. “This has been my philosophy of life. I hope to be able to listen, to interpret, and to act upon your wishes in the best way I can.”
“Because of my father’s involvement with Sigma Nu, I could see how the fraternity formed meaningful connections that continued later in life.”
This ability to listen, combined with resolute decisiveness, were signature traits of Brother Forester’s leadership style. “He would listen and make up his mind,” recalls Jeff Forester, Ed’s son and fellow Sigma Nu. “When he made up his mind he had a motivating personality. He did what he thought was right and he avoided playing politics. He was a plotter, always moving ahead.”
Brother Forester was also quick to remind the Grand Chapter of the High Council’s priority to serve the collegiate members of Sigma Nu. “The High Council serves the undergraduates,” he said during a speech at the 1976 Grand Chapter in Nashville. “I promised the undergraduates I would remain as close to them as I possibly could. I would listen to them. I would weigh the various factors. I would look at the directions they wanted us to take, and I would attempt to the best of my ability to carry them through.”
The words he offered in Nashville would prove to be as relevant in 2015 as they were in 1976. “Years ago the Grand Chaplain spoke of Sigma Nu as though it were perfect and composed only of scholars and true gentlemen,” he recalled. “Now, we know that we are a community constantly in need of reform. How often have people rushed in with ill-conceived ideas of what we ought to be?”
From the time he accepted his bid and up until his last days Brother Forester kept a focus on helping his fraternity brothers reach their full potential. He leaves a legacy of incredible generosity, one who embodies the spirit of a humble leader. “The foster child my parents adopted was one of many young people who rolled through our house when I was growing up,” Jeff remembers. “There was a constant influx of young people – some needed a place to stay as they passed through town, others a reference for a job. My dad liked to build personal relationships with people and help them. But he didn’t talk about it much – he was quiet about it. Both of my parents were non-judgmental and open to people of all backgrounds. Sigma Nus of all ages sensed this and they would seek my parents’ counsel on all sorts of questions.”
Ed’s love for the fraternal movement trickled down to his whole family. Lynn, one of three daughters, got involved with Tri Delta because of the example her parents set. (Ed’s wife, also a Tri Delta, was Gamma Beta Chapter’s White Rose Sweetheart.) “They were so involved, both of them,” Lynn says. “They had such love for their fraternity and sorority.” Lynn has served as a national volunteer and president to several Tri Delta alumni groups since becoming an alumna. “Because of my father’s involvement with Sigma Nu, I could see how the fraternity formed meaningful connections that continued later in life. It’s so important for college students to form these relationships and get leadership experience. You don’t get any of that living in a dorm room.”
“I see my role as continuing to listen,” Ed once told the Grand Chapter, “but also to attempt to have the wisdom to show all of you the way to seize your special talents, your special graces, while you still have the opportunity.”
Brother Forester entered Chapter Eternal on July 31, 2014, with three generations of family members at his bedside. They told stories and listened to big band tunes – Ed’s favorite music. He had particular fondness for Glenn Miller, a fellow Sigma Nu brother.