Jane Williams 50-year member of Beta Sigma Phi sorority

Jane Williams

In these modern times when women want to take time just for themselves, they are likely to join a fitness club or schedule a regular appointment for a massage.

Fifty years ago when Jane Williams, now 79, wanted to step outside her role as wife of Joseph school superintendent and mother of a growing family, she and a group of six other like-minded Wallowa County women decided to form a chapter of Beta Sigma Phi.

She is still active in the international sorority, which emphasizes friendship and fulfillment. Later this month she will join the Golden Circle for 50-year members during a ritual ceremony in connection with the annual Founders Day Banquet on April 24 at the Outlaw Restaurant in Joseph.

"It was something I did just for myself. Everything else was for Bill and his position, or the kids," she said about Beta Sigma Phi. "It was an evening out. Well, maybe it started that way, but Beta Sigma Phi became just part of my life."

It was understandable that Williams may have wanted to get out of the house once in a while. The mother of six children, including twins, born between 1950 and 1959, she admitted that for three long years four of her youngsters were wearing at least night diapers. "And that was before disposable diapers, too," Williams said.

Beta Sigma Phi was founded in 1931 during the Great Depression to fill the need for an organization that could bring women together for friendship and support from other women, and to expose them to a social, cultural and educational climate not available to the average woman in those days. It quickly also became a service organization, and in World War II is credited with raising money for $22 million worth of war bonds.

The nonacademic sorority has members of all ages and educational backgrounds, and its Greek letters represent "Life, Learning and Friendship," the group's motto.

During the peaceful 1950s, when Wallowa County's first chapter, Beta Nu, was started by Williams and six of her peers, total national membership doubled. Today the organization has about 165,000 members.

Today, Williams is Wallowa County's only charter member who is still active in the organization, though one other, Joyce Freudenberg, still lives in the county. The others - Doris Courtney, Kay Clyde, Norma Stickney, Elinor Kennedy, and Vera Butler - have either moved away or passed on

Williams now belongs to the Phi Master chapter, along with about 15 other members who have had the longest tenure. There are also two other chapters, Beta Nu and Xi Beta Nu, and Williams estimates a total local sorority membership of about 45.

At each monthly meeting members take turns putting on a cultural program, covering a wide variety of interests. The Beta Sigma Phi chapters all adopt service projects, such as serving at the senior meal site, and have a variety of fund raising projects, such as a bread booth at Alpenfest, and serving nachos and popcorn at Chief Joseph Days. The Beta Nu chapter annually hosts a gala Mother's Day tea and fashion show in Joseph. The chapters donate to such worthy causes as American Red Cross and American Cancer Society. In years past, Beta Sigma Phi was active in the Mothers March of Dimes.

Jane Williams still actively helps man the CJD booth every year, and remembers the years when Beta Sigma Phi entered an award-winning float in the grand parade every year.

Williams and her husband, Bill, were honored in 1996 by being named collectively as Chief Joseph Days Grand Marshal. "I just rode on his shirttails," she said. "It was quite an honor."

Through the years, Williams has held all the offices of Beta Sigma Phi "more than once," and was also named "Girl of the Year."

Beta Sigma Phi, though important, has been only part of a very busy life for Jane Williams.

Bill and Jane Williams moved to Wallowa County in 1947 right after graduating from Whitman College in Walla Walla, he to become superintendent and she a teacher at the Lostine school. "We were the whole staff," she said. "It was a family affair."

Five years later the couple moved with their growing family to Joseph, where Bill Williams became superintendent, a position he held for 30 years. Though Jane Williams did a little substitute teaching in Joseph, for the most part she turned her talents to her family and community.

In addition to Beta Sigma Phi, she is still active in Eastern Star and Rainbow for Girls, serving as State Mother Advisor in 1974 and continuing to play piano for ceremonies. She also belongs to the United Methodist Women. Three of Bill and Jane Williams' sons, Bob, Bill and Mike, live in Joseph, and two, Steve and Charlie, live in Baker City. The couple has 13 grandchildren, with their first great-grandchild on the way.

"This was just for me," she repeated about her membership in the international sorority.

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