90-year-old woman joins Washburn sorority

A 90-year-old woman joined the sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha after waiting 70 years for her dream to be fulfilled. The Great Depression prevented that dream.

Michael Vander Linden


If one were to sit in the classroom of professor Judy McConnell-Farmer, they would hear a story of a woman fulfilling her dreams nearly 70 years after she first sought them out. However, this was not just any woman; this was professor McConnell-Farmer’s mother, Bertie McConnell.

“When my mother was in school at Washburn in 1940, she only had one regret when she left,” said McConnell-Farmer.

This regret happened to be the opportunity to join the sorority of her dreams: Zeta Tau Alpha.

McConnell’s best friend had taken her to many of the rush events ZTA had going on during the year. Through experiencing the events and the girls, she completely fell in love with it.

“The girls back then were just so sweet and nice,” said McConnell.

It seemed like it would be a simple choice to join the sorority, but the Great Depression prevented that dream. The McConnell family, supported by a single mother, was struggling like so many others were. However, according to Bertie, she promised to save up money over the next year to help her join the upcoming school year.

But it just was not meant to be, as World War II began the following year. The men took off to Europe, while women, including McConnell, went to the front of the workforce.

McConnell-Farmer tells the story every year to her classes in attempts to keep them from leaving college with regrets. However, it happened to be this school year that would alter the story a little bit.

After telling the story to one of her classes, a Zeta Tau Alpha member came down to tell the professor how amazing that story was. Then McConnell-Farmer asked for a simple request that would turn into a huge story for the area.

She asked for a simple birthday card, signed by all of the ZTA members, to give to her mother for her 90thbirthday.

“I was going to give her the card and have the entire table decorated with Zeta decorations, colors, and even pictures,” said McConnell-Farmer.

The sorority member she was talking to loved the idea, but had to send her professor to Paige Martin, ZTA’s president. However, Martin could not give the go ahead on the birthday card. She had to contact the national headquarters of the Zeta Tau Alpha House.

“I thought it was over after that,” said McConnell-Farmer. “I didn’t think we would get anything after that.”

It was not until days later when Martin contacted McConnell-Farmer and asked to personally attend McConnell’s birthday party. She presented the very surprised McConnell with a bid to become an alumnus member.

“ZTA’s policies allow for its national council to approve, in deserving and special circumstances, the initiation of women who would bring pride to the fraternity,” said Martin. “These women become alumnae initiates with full membership rights.”

Everyone at Zeta felt as though Bertie fit this description well.

An interesting fact unknown by many is the fact Bertie had been offered membership originally in 1940. It was 70 years later where they were finally able to complete that bid.

“Our creed reminds us that in Zeta Tau Alpha lies the opportunity to learn those things that will ever enrich and ennoble our lives,” said Martin. “We believed that we had the opportunity as a chapter to enrich Bertie’s life and the lives of our current members by honoring our chapter’s original bid for membership extended to her over 70 years ago.”

Along with McConnell-Farmer and McConnell, the entire membership of Zeta was happy to see a life-long dream reach completion before their own eyes. There were so many opportunities for these girls to impact Bertie and be impacted by her, that it was a special moment for them all.

“This entire experience has been so wonderful but quite a surprise,” said McConnell. “The girls are just as sweet as they were 70 years ago.”