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Proudly Cincinnati section

University of Cincinnati grads continue to demonstrate loyalty to UC through Sigma Sigma

Although raising $1 billion may seem like an ambitious goal for the Proudly Cincinnati campaign -- or any university, for that matter -- a group of UC alumni stand as role models for dreaming big, then making those dreams come true. In 1991, early in the development of UC's Master Plan, members of the honorary fraternity Sigma Sigma decided they wanted to play a role in the transformation of the university's campus.

But they wanted to do more than simply contribute money. They wanted to make a statement that would attract visitors, serve students and illustrate their dedication to the institution all in one. So at the prominent Jefferson Avenue entrance to campus, the men took steps to create a grassy gathering space, complete with an amphitheater, wireless capabilities and a symbolic light tower designed by a signature architect.

The location was perfect. Thousands of students would pass through it daily, situated near the Alumni Center in the midst of yet-to-be constructed dormitories, a recreation center, the main campus green space and the MainStreet corridor. Furthermore, the striking location would be one of the first things many visitors to campus would see, giving them a first impression of a campus on the move yet anchored in tradition.

Following seven years dedicated to planning, raising $1.8 million and construction, Sigma Sigma Commons was dedicated in 1998 to honor the fraternity's centennial. It didn't take long to realize the project had exceeded expectations.

First of all, UC students quickly claimed it as their own, using it to study, lounge and host national touring acts for the entire campus. Furthermore, the Campus Master Plan's subsequent construction complemented it so well that UC was named one of the world's most beautiful college campuses by Forbes magazine this year.

"When we conceptualized Sigma Sigma Commons, we wanted it to be the cornerstone of the transformation our campus was about to undergo," recalls Sigma Sigma member Otto Budig Jr., Bus '56, HonDoc'09, Proudly Cincinnati campaign co-chair.

"No one knew when we began that Sigma Sigma Commons would be what it is today," says Thomas Humes Jr., Bus '71, MS (A&S) '77, who served as the Sigma Sigma centennial celebration program chair. "All of our members take great pride in the role Sigma Sigma played in helping to reshape our campus and create this wonderful green space."

In the end, the fraternity took nearly 3.5 acres and added a stage, granite amphitheater seats for 1,850 people and landscaping to accommodate 1,675 more people on the lawn. The commons' focal point is the Ronald Walker Tower, standing 64 feet tall and designed by world-renowned architect Rodolfo Machado.

Besides the aesthetic qualities of the tower, its architecture is full of symbolism. To start, its 10-foot-square base forms the letters U and C on alternating sides. Above these letters, the main wooden shafts rise in the form of hammers, which reflect the fraternity's motto, "The torch burns. The hammers ring." At the top, a beam of light shines through a stylized stainless steel torch and changes colors through the use of a computer program.

Tom Humes Jr.

Tom Humes Jr.

In raising funds for the project, some level of participation was expected from all Sigma Sigma members, so the energy and passion with which members committed their support did not surprise campaign leadership. But the fact that the $1.8 million goal was reached in less than three months certainly did.

Today, the commons is home of the campus's biggest party of the year, the Sigma Sigma Carnival each spring. In addition, the commons regularly serves as a venue for nationally touring comedians, musicial acts (such as pop-rock band OneRepublic) and outdoor movies -- the type of free entertainment students crave.

"It's important for an individual to treasure his or her experience at UC,"Budig says. "I truly believe that everything in life I have achieved, I owe to the education I received, the people I met and the life lessons I learned while on UC's campus."

Sigma Sigma was founded in 1898 as an undergraduate fraternity to bring together individuals who have contributed significantly to the University of Cincinnati, to foster and promote college spirit, and to enhance the honor and glory of the university. Service, leadership and commitment are core principles among members, who include some of UC's most esteemed graduates.

Today, those members are playing a role in leading Proudly Cincinnati, the university's ambitious $1 billion campaign, to success in 2013. Much how the Sigma Sigma members channeled their love of the university into a shared vision for a better campus by creating the commons, that same spirit is leading them to help the university set a new fundraising record.

"Sigma Sigma is one of the most profound fraternal organizations not just in Cincinnati, but throughout the country,"Budig adds. "It is an organization where age is transcended by love of university and a desire to lead for the university."

For the members of Sigma Sigma, the torch burns and the hammers ring through the Ronald Walker Light Tower.

For the Bearcat community at large, the light shines as a reminder of past achievement, current endeavors and the greatness awaiting our future.