The following speech was given by Al Bulliner '65 Beta Sigma/Lehigh at Howard Alter's funeral
To all of the family and friends of Howard Alter, I bring the most heartfelt condolences of Theta Chi Fraternity on his passing.
While we join in mourning Brother Alter’s death, Theta Chi is also celebrating his truly remarkable life, and giving thanks for the unprecedented contributions that he made to our Fraternity during the more-than-70 years of his membership.
Click image above to download Funeral ProgramTo sum up Howard Alter’s life, and its impact, on behalf of the whole Fraternity is simply impossible. There are literally thousands of brothers of Theta Chi, spanning at least 5 generations, who could stand here and speak eloquently of what Howard Alter meant in their lives. For myself, let me say simply that I believe that no person outside of my immediate family has had a bigger impact on my life.
Many of you know the historical facts of his Fraternity career. Like most of our members, he went to college and joined our Fraternity as an undergraduate. Like too few of our members, Howard continued his service after his college graduation, serving first as a volunteer counselor to chapters in this region. As one of the elite among the core of volunteers, Brother Alter, in 1960, was elected by undergraduates representing our chapters to serve on the Grand Chapter, our national governing board. In the same manner, he was elected, twice, as Theta Chi’s National President, the Fraternity’s highest office.
That volunteer service in and of itself would have constituted a noteworthy Fraternity career. But Howard was just beginning. As his 8-year term on the Grand Chapter neared its end, the Fraternity was conducting a national search for someone to replace its retiring Executive Director - a full-time position at the Fraternity’s headquarters, then located in Trenton, New Jersey. The search committee ultimately concluded that no candidate could fill this position as well as Brother Alter, and Howard agreed to take the position, even though it meant leaving his own business career, and leaving his beloved ancestral home here in Plum Borough.
He served as Executive Director for 16 years, fostering the success of many dozens of chapters and thousands of Brothers. He retired, as he had always said he would, when he became eligible for Social Security, in 1984, and was named Executive Director Emeritus. At that time Theta Chi created in his honor the Alter Award, given each year to our most outstanding chapters.
Theta Chi was very fortunate that, even after nearly 30 continuous years of service, Brother Alter still had much more to give, and to teach. He was immediately appointed to the Board of the Norwich Housing Corporation, which helps with the housing needs of our chapters, and soon became President of that Board, thus becoming the first man to lead all 3 operational branches of our Fraternity.
More recently, he was instrumental in guiding the creation of a history of Theta Chi’s first 150 years, providing facts and perspective on the last 50 years, and he continued to attend Conventions and other national events regularly, even after travel became difficult and inconvenient for him, to teach and mentor.
Sadly, just 3 years after Howard retired, Dale Slivinske, his hand-picked successor as Executive Director, who had served as Howard’s second-in-command for 15 years and had become his closest friend, fell ill with AIDS, and the prognosis was grim. Brother Alter stepped forward from his Emeritus position and made sure that the work got done. He also helped make sure that Theta Chi would not abandon Dale, but would treat him, and his illness, not just with compassion but with dignity and respect. In addition, Howard, along with Dale’s brother Bruce, personally nursed Dale through the extremely difficult last months of his life. During those months Brother Alter set an example, and a standard, of Brotherhood and friendship that the rest of Theta Chi, and the rest of the Interfraternal world, can only seek to emulate.
At the end of the day, Howard Alter’s legacy is not about positions held, or policies implemented, or chapters started or saved, or awards won. It’s about brotherhood, and friendship – across chapters, across geographical regions, across generations, across political philosophies, and indeed across fraternities. Howard’s definition of brotherhood wasn’t confined to the halls of Theta Chi; many of his closest friends and greatest admirers were officers of other fraternities. A number of them visited Howard during his final illness.
Because of the breadth and depth of his brotherly friendships, I submit to you that no man has ever had a greater impact on the men of Theta Chi.
Howard did not relish the role of public speaker, and rarely spoke for very long. But he could be very moving, and he often closed with a poem. Many of you are familiar with it.
“An old man, going a lone highway, came at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide, through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim – that sullen stream had no fears for him –
But he turned, when he reached the other side, and built a bridge to span the tide.
‘Old man’, said a fellow pilgrim near, ‘you are wasting strength in building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day; you never again must pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide – why build you the bridge at eventide?’
The builder lifted his old gray head. ‘Good friend, in the path I have come, he said,
There followeth after me today a youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me, to that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He too must cross in the twilight dim; good friend, I am building that bridge for him.”
Howard, no one could have built that bridge any better. Thank you for everything.
Beta Sigma ‘65