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How Sigma Nu set Donald Bain, ’66, on the path to leadership

Rising to the rank of Captain during his tenure in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bronze Star Medal recipient, Donald Bain, ’66, recalls how Sigma Nu honed his leadership skills. We talked to Donald to hear more about his experience and the impact Sigma Nu had on his life.

When and why did you choose to join Sigma Nu? What drew you to the fraternity?      
I joined Sigma Nu in 1963. I had an associate member of the fraternity that was a friend of mine living in the dorm (West Halls – Thompson Hall). One of the biggest draws to Sigma Nu was its location on campus. At that time, there were only six on campus.

What was it like living in the Sigma Nu house? What are some of your best memories from those years?
I lived there for three years, serving as Lt. Commander for two of them. I loved the experience of living with the Brothers. We had a live-in house mother and a full-time cook. I remember some of the Brothers served as waiters for meals in exchange of a reduction in their house bills, which back then ran about $325 per quarter.

The best times were participating with the Brothers in everything, including sports. We won the IFC wresting championship in 1964 – Tom Dale and I won our weight class championships too. There was also the parties, being on probation – several times, throwing water bags at the Dean of Men from the roof of the housemother’s suite, the football games, and meeting my Sigma Nu sweetheart, Elaine Michele Rugienius (Thea Phi Alpha, ’66), at a Homecoming float committee mixer in 1964.

What did you study in school and how did Sigma Nu support your education?  
I majored in Industrial Engineering and participated in the ROTC Advanced Course. Back then, two years of ROTC training was mandatory for all male students. During the last two years of ROTC Advanced Program, I was paid $27.50 per month by the Army, which increased to $40 per month during my Senior year. At the end of my time at Penn State, I received a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Living at the Sigma Nu was especially attractive because the engineering school was also on west campus!

How do you feel Sigma Nu prepared you for your career after school? 
I was introduced to the skills and attitude required to be a leader of men through my experience serving the fraternity as Lt. Commander and Pledge Marshall. This was in addition to being a Captain in ROTC.

When was the last time you returned to campus and the house?            
I used to get back to State College several times a year for Alumni Chapter meetings. I actually served as EC of the Alumni Chapter for several years. I also went back for football games, but since my wife, Elaine, became ill in 2007 and passed away in 2012, I have not been back to visit the house. I did pass through with my current wife, Ellen Hoy Bain, in 2013 or 2014 to show her the house and campus.

Do you keep in touch with any Brothers today? Why is it important to maintain these friendships?       
Yes, I keep in touch with Dante Corso (Yogi), Ed Kmit (Bennie) who lives near me in Michigan, John O’Donnell (Greenie), Bob Niznick, and several others via the Christmas card route. We have lost many Brothers over the years, including Dan Downey recently, Hank Garfield, Jay May, and others. I used to see Bob Cheney and Jay May at PSU events like the Grand Destiny Campaign.

As you might recall, “Sigma Nu is for life, and it is for us to extend a helping hand to those who follow.”

Tell us about your life since graduation
I served 3 ½ years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, rising to the rank of Captain. I fought in the Vietnam War, receiving the Bronze Star Medal. I left the Army and attended graduate school at the Wharton School of Business/University of Pennsylvania. After graduating with Distinction (top 5 percent of the class), I accepted a job with Ford Motor Company, planning to work there a couple of years to gain experience. Thirty-two years later, I retired from Ford!

After a few months of retirement, I took on a consulting job with Ford to accomplish the separation of Visteon Parts Manufacturer from the company. Two years later, I went to work for Visteon, planning and organizing the sale and transfer of some Visteon manufacturing plants. After that assignment, I retired.

My lovely spouse, Elaine, became ill with cancer and I lost her in 2012. Together we raised three children, one girl and two boys. Each of them has more college degrees than I do!

Today, I do volunteer work. I serve on the board of directors for a couple of nonprofits, including the Michigan Chapter of Penn State Alumni. I also do pro bono income tax preparation for the AART Tax-Aide program, play a lot of golf, sing in a choral group, practice banjo and guitar, participate in a Senior Theatrical Troupe, and travel/hang out with my wife, Ellen, whom I married on Valentine’s Day in 2016.

How do you support the Chapter today?             
I have contributed to the “Fixing the Housemother’s suite roof” several times. This seems to be a project that lasts through the decades! I have also maintained my alumni dues and there are two Penn State scholarships that I have endowed. One to the Schreyer’s Honor College and the other for PSU students from the Sunbury, PA area.

Having the knowledge and wisdom of experience now, what would you say the current Brothers, if given the chance?                              
I would tell them to do things that give you pleasure – you will surely excel at the things you like. Golf may be an exception! I would also tell them to persist and chase excellence, find love and it will sustain you, and live according to the creed…Love, Honor, Truth.