Written by Kenneth Schneider (Chapman, ’10), Director of Development
At the annual Sigma Alpha Mu Convention towards the end of the Saturday evening banquet, everyone is asked to stand. Our host then asks each attendee to sit down after they hear the number of conventions they have attended. You will see volunteers who remain standing well beyond the 30 or 40 year mark which puts to a name one of the distinct members of our brotherhood, Past Supreme Prior Lee Manders (Miami OH, ‘72).
When I was first introduced to Lee in 2014, he served as the Executive Director. At that point, his Sammy story spanned 5 decades. Over that time, he fulfilled the roles of a Field Secretary from ’67-’69 (now known as the Educational Leadership Consultant), volunteered as a Regional Governor (’80-’86), and served on the Octagon including Supreme Prior (’01- ’04). He became the Executive Director in 2009 and President of SAM National Properties (NP) & SAM Property Management (PM) from 2015-2021. He has been retired since January 2022, but remains a consultant for SAM NP/PM. As Lee enters his retirement, his most recent achievement benefiting our fraternity requires our special recognition.
The creation of SAM National Properties (NP), as well as SAM Property Management (PM), was born of necessity. As Past Supreme Prior Andrew Ahitow describes, “Our current housing was rapidly deteriorating and in some cases, local housing corporations were selling properties for a loss to get rid of the responsibility.” The business plan and structure of SAM NP and PM developed through several conversations between the two during Andrew’s time as Supreme Prior. Andrew added, “As the outgoing Executive Director, Lee was instrumental in working alongside me in drafting the business plan.” Once they received support from the stakeholders, Lee went to work with a new approach to fraternity housing.
“We realized that it was more difficult to raise donations for housing deals for several reasons,” explains Lee Manders. “Houses were more expensive; raising private equity is faster. The fraternity is expanding to campuses where we have no alumni.”
The SAM NP and PM are subsidiaries of the Fraternity and these separate entities were created in opposition to requesting donations; instead, raising private investment equity with a guaranteed return allows for a greater amount of funds to be raised by a wider collection of individuals. By framing this support as an investment rather than a simple donation, the NP staff can enable the same supporters with virtuous intent to earn financial returns.
This kick-started a professional entity with the infrastructure and resources necessary to support our undergraduate members. With that collection of private investors, SAM NP can maintain a good balance of equity and debt in housing projects, which makes these ventures more attractive to banks as well. Therefore, the transition from a donation-driven housing focus to a for-profit model began.
Two examples of Lee’s vision and impact can be seen at Mu Theta (University of Southern California) and Beta Gamma (University of Arizona). At USC, Lee’s housing approach allowed the Mu Theta Chapter alumni’s dream of owning a chapter house to become a reality. Since 2013, the Mu Theta Chapter previously called two different facilities home. Steve Jarmus (USC, ‘74), the Chapter Advisor, shared that Lee’s impact was felt early and often. Fra Jarmus shared, “Arranging the early meetings and securing the financing necessary to buy the house would never have happened without Lee’s leadership. We are very grateful!”
The acquisition of this property corresponds with the Mu Theta Chapter recruiting new candidates at some of the highest percentages in our organization over the past 5 years.
Prior to 2017, the Beta Gamma Chapter at the University of Arizona was nomadic, moving from one chapter facility to another on a frequent basis. Active and alumni members of the Beta Gamma Chapter, along with Ian Shore (Arizona, ‘09), former ELC and current head of Beta Gamma Housing Corp, recognized their need for a permanent facility on Greek Row. Ian recalls this effort as a “monumental advancement for Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity on the Arizona campus.”
A chapter house continues to serve as an intrinsic part of the fraternity experience. It is a place to conduct meetings, gather, and develop lasting relationships. Beta Gamma Chapter remains a strong chapter, as Ian Shore recalls, “ the acquisition of this property is a defining moment in our chapter’s history”.
Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity can also celebrate Lee’s vision: the hiring of the next generation of SAM NP professionals including Teresa Wright, President of SAM Property Management, Mike Weiner as Property Manager, and myself, Ken Schneider, as Director of Development, Alumni and Real Estate.
Beyond the addition of staffing, Lee has a few goals for the future of SAM NP and PM. This includes (1) the incorporation of our existing and new house corporations under management with SAM PM, (2) an emphasis on the financial strength and market rental rates, and (3) the expansion of this business model to other interested Greek organizations.
Currently, SAM National Properties and SAM Property Management support 10 different properties throughout North America. In a recent development, Property Management brought on Acacia Fraternity Headquarters as a client, displaying the potential of the model Lee brought forward to the Greek community.
Reflecting on Lee’s legacy within this organization, it becomes clear that he will be a tough person to follow. However, I believe being a former ELC and volunteer myself provides me with the necessary insight into the needs of this organization’s members and alumni. My goal is to aspire to be a consistent and available point of contact for alumni and undergraduates alike as they consider the exciting prospect of housing. Lee has always operated with the best interests of the fraternity in mind and I hope ΣAM will see me as an advocate with a similar level of passion.
Ultimately, the leadership and vision Lee displayed over the past 50 years can not be condensed to one article; However, his impact on housing and the opportunities it provides our Fraternity must be celebrated. With steadfast dedication, he worked long hours changing Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity for the better. As his wife Paula Manders recalls, “family vacations were taken during Fraternity conventions, there were phone calls and emails that needed to be responded to at all hours, having to take time away from family and social obligations”.
“It’s been an honor to have such a deep involvement on so many levels with ΣAM over the years,” shared Fra Manders. We assure you the honor has indeed been ours! Thank you for your service, Fra Manders!
In 2015, SAM NP and PM were formed around the understanding that student housing can be a profitable investment if structured prudently and with today’s college student in mind. The mission of SAM National Properties, LLC is to develop and manage housing for Sigma Alpha Mu Chapters. Greek housing is in high demand due to a shortage of viable fraternity houses, as well as the steady growth (4.8% annual growth) of Greek communities throughout collegiate America over the past ten years. Chapters and their members benefit from having their own “home”, a center of operation, and congregating space to conduct official activities, events, or just socialize. With a prudent financial approach, coupled with conservative managerial and deal-making tactics, we can provide an attractive return.
If you would like to send a personalized thanks to Lee, or learn more about how SAM NP/PM can work for your Chapter, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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