After 70 years, woman gets second chance to join sorority

Bertie McConnell, right, celebrated her 90th birthday Saturday with a little surprise added when she was inducted in the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority by Washburn University chapter president Paige Martin, center.

It was a rush 70 years in the making.

Bertie McConnell was a wide-eyed freshman at Washburn University in 1941. She enjoyed her studies that first semester, worked hard and often accompanied her best friend to events held by the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, a group of women, she said, “who were just so sweet.”

She wanted desperately to join that group. But money was tight, and the $40 dues were just too high. And then, with America becoming involved in World War II, McConnell’s life changed dramatically. She left Washburn, went to work in an ammunitions factory and eventually started a family with Lawrence resident Don McConnell, her now-late husband.

But on her 90th birthday, she finally got the chance to fulfill at least one more dream: She was officially inducted as a member of Zeta Tau Alpha.

Chapter president Paige Martin delivered the news, which was a surprise to McConnell, at her party Saturday afternoon. McConnell’s daughter, Lawrence resident Judith McConnell-Farmer, contacted Martin about a week ago, just hoping, she said, “to get a birthday card signed by a few people” from the chapter. Martin took the idea a step further, calling the national chapter to get approval to invite Bertie in as an honorary member.

“We just thought it was an amazing idea,” Martin said, “because we saw that she cared about Zeta Tau Alpha.”

McConnell made jokes with her family after the announcement, saying that she’d love to do whatever she can to help the chapter, but that they may have to hurry to get her involved. She said she was overwhelmed by the generosity and support of both the group and her family, as well as happy to have the opportunity to join the group that meant so much to her so many years ago.

“I finally made it,” she said.