Alumni Profiles

Mary Ellen Nichols - House Cook

Imagine cooking three meals a day for up to 40 still-growing young men. Now imagine cleaning up the kitchen after 40 men every morning before you start cooking. It really wasn’t as bad as you imagined. Well, maybe it was. House cook for 13 years, from 1990-2003, Mary Ellen Nichols says, “even though that was my job, it was really something special because of the wonderful young men of Kappa Sigma.”

Read more: Mary Ellen Nichols - House Cook

E.V. Bishoff '44

Nothing Can Compare with Dec. 7, 1941 (Nov. 2003)
Posted on 1/8/2004

It was a different time. Brothers dressed in a jacket for dinner in the evening and in a coat and tie for Sunday lunch. Seniors usually wore jackets or suits to class - no t-shirt and jeans. Many of the upperclassmen wore felt dress hats. In the house, everything had to be quiet after 8:00 p.m. - no music or noise of any kind. It was all study time. There was only one telephone in the house, and it was downstairs. And no house mother was on-site to watch over everything. Pledges kept the house clean; that was their responsibility. Every fraternity had a pledge master - an upperclassman - supervise the pledges. Saturday morning was clean-up time.

Everybody knew everybody. The upperclassmen all took the freshmen under their wings and showed them the ropes. Behavior was very important. Pledges had to know the full name of every active in the house. Every time a pledge came in the fraternity, he had to stop inside the door and give his full name and recite a scripted statement. All freshmen had to wear a dink and a name card. First-year men had to wear a black bow tie, and all freshmen had to carry a pack of gum (for the upperclassmen). The Nittany Lion was a new work of art on campus, and students walked by it as they entered into the old Beaver Stadium. Most people walked. Only two people had cars at the house: Lloyd Dixon '43 had a bright yellow 1941 Lincoln Zephyr convertible; John Anstine '44 had a Model-T Ford for which he paid $15.

That was 1941 - the year that E.V. Bishoff '44 pledged Kappa Sigma at Penn State. But WWII loomed on the horizon for Americans. "The most important thing that happened was Dec. 7, 1941," said Bishoff. "We had just finished lunch on that Sunday and went into the living room. Someone had the radio on. The announcement came over about Pearl Harbor. It changed everybody's life. Dances and homecomings were fun, but nothing can compare with December 7."

In 1943 E.V. left PSU to enroll in an accelerated chemical engineering program at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, though he said, "My heart is at Penn State." By the spring of 1943, many fraternity houses had been closed and the government was taking them over temporarily. Missing graduation, Bishoff took the night train from Pittsburgh to New York and set sail with the Merchant Marines. For more than two years, he served as an engineering officer, seeing many parts of the world including the North Atlantic, Persian Gulf, Mediterranean, North Africa and Europe. The son of a PSU Kappa Sig, Bishoff moved right into the house in 1941. He recalls fondly his days with brothers including his freshman roommate, Bob Bacher '47, and many others including Gardner Lindzey '43, Ted Baldwin '43, Dick Stebbins '43, Larry Furman '42, Bill Mayer '42, Ralph Sapp '42, Walt Sapp '49 and Ed Lenker '48. One of his better friends was Carrol Blackwood '43. President of Kappa Sigma at the time was Lloyd Dixon.

Since 1946, Bishoff has seen a career spanning 57 years and encompassing everything from sales engineering for Rockwell in Pittsburgh to the creation of his own commercial real estate company, E.V. Bishoff Co., where he is currently the chairman. The company, with offices in Columbus, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, is run by son David. Bishoff and wife Jo also have two daughters, Karen and Beth, as well as five grandchildren. They are a close family, all living within blocks of each other. Bishoff has also become re-established at PSU, attending a football game each year as well as being involved in some alumni and philanthropic efforts for the university. And Kappa Sig will remain a key influence in his life at Penn State. “It’s hard to put into words what it meant,” he said. “Those two years were very important because they helped shape my attitude toward a lot of things: values, behavior, treatment of others and responsibilities. If I hadn’t belonged, I might not have picked up on this. Our older brothers went out of their way to help us turn from boys to men.”

Brothers can contact E.V. Bishoff at 614-221-4736.

John Surma '76

Man of Steel: Kappa Sigma Brother Named President of Major Company
5/23/2003

John Surma feels honored to have recently been named president of U.S. Steel Corporation. John, a 1976 Penn State graduate with a degree in accounting, says, "The timing was a welcome surprise at this stage in my career."

He took the presidential reins for the Pittsburgh-based industrial mega-company in March 2003. In his new role, he oversees the day-to-day management of the organization. The operating, commercial, financial and legal staff report to him.

"All the major operations are within my responsibility," he explains. U.S. Steel employs about 40,000 people worldwide, predominantly in North America and central Europe. "I'm focusing on serving in a new position that's very challenging," he says.

John was promoted from vice chairman and chief financial officer, and reports to the chairman/CEO. Previously, he had held senior management roles at a number of large companies, particularly in natural resources, mining and manufacturing.

Among other professional affiliations, John is a member of the Pennsylvania Business Roundtable and Penn State University's Smeal College of Business's Board of Visitors.

During his fraternity years at Penn State, John honed his leadership qualities as chapter treasurer. "It was good preparation for my career," he says. "I got the job as treasurer because I was studying accounting, and it was pretty good experience for the future." John also served on the IFC.

He joined Kappa Sigma along with a longtime friend, Steve Russell '76. "Steve and I started off school together in grade school, and we played Little League together. His father was the coach; in fact, I still call him Coach Russell," says John. "At Penn State, I was at first living in the dorm, in East Halls if I recall correctly. Geoff Wright '74 was in the fraternity and got Steve interested, then Steve got me interested."

John and Steve remain good friends to this day. "We play golf together from time to time," John says. "He lives not too far from here."

When asked how his fraternity years have influenced his life since graduation, John says, "My life and career as I look at them now have been largely of one leadership position after another. It's all about leadership and forming a team and being a member of a team - and that's what a fraternity is all about. The fraternity is where I learned to be part of a team and to fit into an organization. The fraternity was made up of individuals who were all different and with different views but who came together as a group."

He adds: "Being a member was also a lot of fun."

In addition to Steve Russell and Geoff Wright, John stays in touch with his old roommate, Ernie Kline '75, as well as several others. "It's not the degree or the frequency of contact that's important," he says. "The people I was close to then, I've remained close to today. If someone calls that I haven't heard from in awhile, I'll call him back and it's just like we'd been in touch all along. Time and space have not changed the relationships."

When asked if there is anyone in particular with whom he wants to renew contact, he says he'd like to get back in touch with all the guys he knew during his time at the fraternity.

What he remembers most from his Kappa Sigma years are the people. "It's the individuals I had the chance to be involved with, the closeness and the friendships, that are really the enduring things," he says. "More than that, it was a place and a time in life - our late teens and early twenties - that are such an important, formative period when you learn to be a part of something."

Of the current members of the undergraduate chapter, John says, "They really seem to have set themselves to the task of rejuvenating the organization. They're a much more studious group than we were. They're more academically oriented. I'd like to see the chapter achieve for the current members the same thing it achieved for me: helping a vibrant group of young men develop as individuals and move on to careers and find their way through life."

On the personal front, John and his wife, Becky, have three sons - Brendan (16), Jack (14) and Eric (12). John enjoys golf, bicycling and playing amateur hockey in an adult league. He also coaches his sons' respective youth hockey teams - "All three of them," he says.

In conclusion, "I enjoyed my time in the fraternity," John says. "I met a lot of great people and had a lot of great times. I would like to see that perpetuated for future members of the chapter."

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