Chris Senseney says she unexpectedly ended up in a sorority and lucked upon much more than camaraderie over her lifetime of involvement with the group. It was 1969, her freshman year at Rutgers–Camden. Senseney CCAS’73, CLAW’78, a native of Maple Shade, New Jersey, had joined the school newspaper, The Gleaner, and her editor assigned her to talk to sororities about rush.
“I thought I should go to an actual recruitment party so I could write a better article,” Senseney says. She went. She joined. And she found that engaging in sorority life, like working on the school paper, was a good way to make friends and generally milk the college experience for all it was worth. “It got you more involved than the traditional commuter student,” she adds.
Senseney, now retired and living in Las Vegas, was initially part of a local organization, Delta Rho, which was founded at Rutgers–Camden in 1951 and installed as a chapter of the national sorority Phi Sigma Sigma in 1971. Over the years, as Greek life’s popularity ebbed and flowed, it went dormant in the late 1970s and was revived from 1990 to 1999 before fading out again.
Though there’s no current Phi Sigma Sigma chapter at Rutgers–Camden, affiliated alumni have stayed in touch with each other and involved with the national organization throughout the years. Last November, two generations of Phi Sigma Sigma sisters from Rutgers–Camden got together (albeit remotely) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their chapter’s creation and the 70th anniversary of Delta Rho’s founding.
Along with Phi Sigma Sigma, two fraternal organizations also celebrated milestones at Rutgers–Camden last year. Founded in 1971, the Theta Chi Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. celebrated its 50th anniversary. And Kappa Sigma Upsilon, aka KSU or “Kazoo,” marked its 1951 founding with a 70th anniversary reunion. While joining Greek life was a spur-of-the-moment decision for Senseney, for her and many graduates, these organizations have been a social and professional ballast throughout life after college.
A traveling sisterhood
Senseney says she was “one of those painfully shy kids” who would cross the street to avoid talking to someone. But getting involved with Phi Sigma Sigma helped her build confidence in basic social interactions as well as with public speaking. It eventually helped in her career with the FBI, too, since much of her counterintelligence work involved having candid, open-ended conversations with strangers, she says.
Now, as a past international president of Phi Sigma Sigma, Senseney travels around the country for reunions and events. And when you put her in front of a room of 400 people and ask her to speak, “I can wing it,” she says. Senseney looks forward to the group’s national convention in Washington, D.C., in June, after two years off due to the pandemic.
Beyond being a confidence builder, Senseney says, Phi Sigma Sigma has been a valuable social network for the women involved. She moved around a great deal during her career, but she always kept in touch with her sisters. “No matter where you were in the country, you had somebody to connect with,” she says.
The house on Cooper Street
Rutgers–Camden was a different place in the early 1970s, says Frank Adams CCAS’73, a retired Camden County probation officer. There wasn’t a campus gym. The library was under renovation. “[The college campus center] was the focal point of life, and that became tiresome after a while,” he says. “[Some students] sought something else and found it.” For him, that something else was Kappa Sigma Upsilon, then anchored at a house on Cooper Street in Camden.
“I received a bid [to join the fraternity] in the mail, as was the custom in those days, and with trepidation I went down to this huge, haunted-looking house,” Adams says. “I went in and came out a different person.”
That house became the center of gravity for Adams and his frat brothers throughout their college years, and even after. The “Kazoo” fraternity hosted mixers, chariot races, and melodramatic play productions during Greek Week. Most other weeks, they managed to strike a healthy balance between academics, service, and social activity. “Our goal in life was to make the campus an extension of Kazooville,” Adams says.
After college, Adams went on to a career in law enforcement, and many of his brothers went on to do big things as well, he says, including careers in law, business, and the military. “We all served our community in one way or another,” he says. “Our common denominator after graduation was that house.”
In 1985, the house at 223 Cooper Street was torn down as the campus grew. In recent years, alumni have stayed in touch through golf outings and planned reunions in Florida, where many of them now live. This summer, they’ll mark the 25th anniversary of the death of their KSU brother Charles Hallahan CCAS’68, an actor who achieved fame through roles in films like Dante’s Peak and the television series Hunter.
Today, Adams runs the chapter’s Facebook page, and together with Chuck Mannella CCAS’70 and Robert Braunwarth CCAS’71, helped organize a 70th anniversary KSU reunion in December 2021. It was a “tremendous” event with more than 75 attendees, Braunwarth says, that recognized KSU’s importance in the lives of its members.
“I think our fraternity was special,” Braunwarth says. “It was certainly a significant force in our development, especially in our college years. And it has meant the formation of lifelong friendships.”