Thomas Cowan Bell

"the qualities of learning"

Another native of Ohio, Thomas Bell was 23 when Sigma Chi was founded. Along with Dan Cooper, 25, Bell was one of the “elder statesmen” of the founding group. Yet Bell’s zest for life and good-natured personality belied his maturity and perhaps his main love, which was learning. He sought wisdom as a student, which he later helped to cultivate in others.

As a student at Miami, Bell lived in the Oxford home of his Aunt Lizzie. Because all of the other members of the fraternity at one time or another lived in Aunt Lizzie’s place or took meals there, the house became known as “the fi rst chapter home of Sigma Chi.”

Upon graduation, Bell immediately took up the life of teaching—a career that was interrupted only by service in the Union Army. Undoubtedly, his leadership skills as a teacher helped to account for his rise to the rank of lieutenant colonel (though characteristically, Bell preferred to be addressed with a more modest rank, answering to “Major Bell”).

Bell returned to his career in education after the Civil War, and assumed leadership roles in schools and school districts as principal, superintendent and president of various institutions throughout the West and Midwest. But it was not merely a title that set Bell apart from others; it was his love of learning and teaching, along with a generous spirit and hospitality, that distinguished him. Bell’s infectious warmth led Ben Runkle to describe him as one with “an expression on his face that made one instinctively reach for his hand.”

Brother Bell, an enthusiastic member of Sigma Chi into wise old age, died in 1919, the day after attending Initiation at Berkeley's Alpha Beta Chapter.