In a labor of love, 2 Phi Sig sisters have dedicated much of their lives to leading one Ohio city
July 13, 2010
CALL IT COINCIDENCE, CALL IT FATE. Whatever you call it, there’s no denying the remarkable fact that the two women who have consecutively served as mayor of University Heights, Ohio, for the past 33 years share more in common than a deep love for their city.
Despite hailing from different hometowns and backgrounds, different alma maters and generations, former Mayor Beryl Shapiro Rothschild, 80, and current Mayor Susan Keegan Infeld, 51, are Phi Sigma Sigmas – an unprecedented happenstance that says so much about our sisterhood’s cherished values for leadership, mentoring and service.
Of course, they didn’t realize this years ago when they first met – before Infeld was politically active in this cozy suburb east of Cleveland, where residents held Rothschild in such high regard that they kept her in office an incredible 32 years. (Along the way, Rothschild earned the distinction of being one of America’s first women mayors, and certainly one of the longest-serving. Only a term-limits law which recently took effect could sideline the woman Infeld still calls “The Mayor.”)
Actually, Infeld was alerted to their sisterly bond through a small article in The Sphinx magazine about a decade ago highlighting Rothschild’s political accomplishments. “I ran through my house saying, ‘The mayor is a Phi Sig! The mayor is a Phi Sig!’ ” Infeld recalls with a laugh.
Shortly afterward, she approached Rothschild at a city council meeting, telling her, “Mayor, we have something in common.” Infeld leaned closer and said in a low voice, “Diokete Hupsala!”
“I remember Beryl’s reaction to this day,” Infeld continues. “Her eyes got really wide, and she said, ‘Phi Sigma Sigma?’ ” They were already colleagues, destined to become very good friends. This mutual connection simply drew them that much closer.
On the day we recently caught up with them, the women were sitting together, as they often do, in the mayor’s office – chatting about what they’d accomplished over the years, the city they love, and how Phi Sigma Sigma impacted their future in public service.
Rothschild (Beta Delta – Ohio University) has long been a mentor to Infeld (Theta – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), and she checks in regularly to see if she can be of any assistance.
“When I took over,” says Rothschild, who’d been a journalist, then a member of the city council for 10 years before running against two men to win the mayor’s seat, “my predecessor left me a note on a pad of paper that said, ‘Good luck.’ That was it. There was no transition.”
Rothschild learned her job, and earned the love and loyalty of her voters, through trial by fire. Among the most valuable lessons she gleaned, worth sharing with sisters of every age:
- Being a leader, especially in a high-profile or public role, requires you to be strong and decisive. Know your goals. Focus on how to achieve them. Make the difficult decisions, tackle problems head on and work your way to the finish line.
- Surround yourself with a strong network of supportive people who are willing to champion your most important causes. You won’t win every time – but you’ll win much of the time.
- Empower people you trust to do what needs to be done because you cannot possibly do all the work yourself – and there’s always plenty to accomplish when you’re a conscientious leader.
- Above all, learn to become emotionally and socially intelligent – what she calls being “a psychologist and a psychiatrist,” able to read the people around you at all times so you can adapt and respond appropriately to multiple situations.
Infeld, it turns out, was one of Rothschild’s biggest champions – first, as a concerned citizen who worked hard to galvanize neighbors to approve an upgrade to the large community pool, and then as an active member of the city council. She carefully studied the mayor’s leadership style (“City Hall is like a big family,” she says), and she ultimately won the same seat herself last year by a large margin.
“Beryl inspired me and helped me develop the experience and confidence to serve the public,” Infeld says. “Being mayor is a big job impacting thousands of people. Because of her leadership, and what I’ve learned from her, I’m able to pick up where she left off and continue making progress in our community.”
Mutual love of Phi Sig
Both women recall their Phi Sigma Sigma college years with fondness, saying the skills they learned as young sorority women – to collaborate, communicate, motivate and persuade – helped shape the leaders they’ve become.
In recalling the “old times,” however, they agree the best part of being in Phi Sig was all the fun they had with their sisters. (Note, they seem to insist on having fun while working together – and their laughter and enthusiasm are contagious.)
You could easily listen to them for hours: about Rothschild’s two children and two grandchildren and Infeld’s three children (both have a daughter named Margaret), about how Rothschild intends to write a book about her experiences, about Infeld’s passion for marathon running, about all the fascinating, entertaining and even nail-biting stories you’d expect mayors serving the same city could tell.
Rothschild: “We had a terrific time. I remember a (Greek) show we competed in, where we did this musical with a wagon and one of our sisters singing – she was crowned Ms. Athens – and the wagon squeaked all across the stage. We couldn’t stop laughing. It was hilarious! … Oh! And did you know we believed we had a ghost in our house – a famous writer at the university who haunted the garret floor….”
Rothschild: “Yes, and I remember our house mom, who made the best hotdogs with cheese and mashed potatoes.”
Infeld: “I recall meeting Founder Jeanette Lipka Furst…. And did you know that the current grand archon (Pamela Downey) and I were members of the same chapter? If you’d known her back in the day, she was such a go-getter.”
Rothschild: “So many good memories….”
Infeld: “There’s nothing like reconnecting with sisters and picking up where you left off….”
It’s sisterhood at its finest – and proof that Phi Sigma Sigmas, wherever they may be, gravitate to women of like minds and like hearts.
“That we’re both sisters who’ve served as mayors of the same city is certainly a coincidence,” Infeld says. Rothschild adds: “A happy coincidence.” The residents of University Heights – and our sisters worldwide – couldn’t agree more.
Learn more about the 'Phi Sig Mayors' of University Heights, Ohio:
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