Bertie celebrating her sorority initiation with Washburn University chapter president, Paige Martin. (Photo by …At 90-years-old Bertie McConnell may be the country's oldest sorority recruit.
A freshman Washburn Univeristy in Topeka Kansas in the fall of 1941, Bertie was a regular at Zeta Tau Alpha parties. But in December, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she quit school to work at an ammunition plant. Suddenly supporting herself and her future husband, a naval aviator, became more pressing than earning her degree.
After the war, she married and had a family but she never had the chance to finish her college education. In a way, the next generation made up for that.
Bertie's daughter, Judith McConnell-Farmer, is now the department of education's interim chairman at her mother's alma mater.
"She told me her one regret in life was that she never became a Zeta," Judith told The Topeka Capital Journal, which first reported the story. "Her mother would tell her they didn't have the money to join, that it was something they would do later."
So with help from Judith, the current sisters of Washburn's Zeta Tau Alpha chapter decided the time was now. After Judith shared her mom's story with students in her class, members of the sorority got approval from their national council to extend an invitation to Bertie for her 90th birthday this past Saturday.
"We just thought it was an amazing idea," Martin said, "because we saw that she cared about Zeta Tau Alpha," Paige Martin, Washburn's chapter president told Lawrence Journal World, the local paper that photographed Bertie's big initiation.Since Bertie's introduction to the sorority began with a party some 70 years ago, it was only appropriate that her acceptance to the Zeta house would be celebrated with the same fanfare, at a reception in a restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas.
What makes this story particularly sweet is the fact that her daughter used her own education, the one Bertie never got to complete, to bridge the gap between between the 'Rosie the Riveter' and 'Facebook' generations.
Momentary misty-eyed earnest statement, if you please: It kind of makes me feel like there's a bigger sorority out there that we all belong to.
99-year-old bachelor finally marries
25 famous sorority members
Mean girl fashion at Cornell sorority
Five mistakes you should make in college