In the summer heat of 1999, a soon to be college senior is attending a multi-day leadership program. As the program closes, the facilitators ask the young man, and 23 of his peers, to find a quiet place on the remote wooded property just outside of Bloomington, Indiana.
They urged them to spend time with their thoughts. To consider where their life may go, where they want it to go and what they need to do to make those dreams a reality. Each young man received a note card and set about considering their future.
The program was the TKE Leadership Academy X. And one of those young attendees, and soon to be graduate, was Frater Christopher T. Hanson. And that notecard? It has been in his wallet for twenty years.
“Like Danny Thomas’s prayer to St. Jude, my notecard has helped show me my way in life. On it, I have a couple of things that have been visions and goals of mine; to periodically remind myself. One of those was to be a person who had a lifelong engagement with the Fraternity,” says Hanson.
For the last twenty years, Frater Hanson has embodied that vision. From an enthusiastic collegiate career to an engaged alumni volunteer, he has given much to TKE. So much so that a full accounting of every hour volunteered, late night call, email, reception and sacrifice would consume all our available pages, and then some.
Since graduating from the Academy, Chris has attended ten Conclaves, served as a facilitator at numerous Leadership Academies, attended countless events and served in nearly every available volunteer role. Finally, in 2007, he began his journey as a member of the Grand Council. At Conclave 2007 in Las Vegas, he was elected to the position of Grand Hegemon, starting more than a decade of volunteerism at the highest levels.
Proudly wearing his Academy X polo, Chris was again at the Charles R. Walgreen Jr. TKE Leadership Academy this summer. Much has changed, though. The program has grown to 72 men and is now held at the La Foret Conference & Retreat Center in the serene beauty of Colorado Springs.
Chris has also changed. That’s what an intense personal leadership development program like Leadership Academy does for someone. It allows them to self-evaluate; to make decisions and put themselves on the line by owning the outcomes.
Frater Hanson has spent his career putting his life at risk to change the world for the better. After graduating from The George Washington University with a Bachelor’s of Science in biological sciences, he put his lab coat on and performed research on infectious diseases; helping in the development of biodefense vaccines. Because of his expertise, he was called to work on scientific program management, high containment research policy and is now helping to design labs for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). His work is vital in allowing the NIH’s research to continue safely and effectively.
Chris is the first Grand Prytanis to have attended Leadership Academy, and he has been present for many, if not all, of the Fraternity's highest achievements in the last two decades.
Those achievements did not happen by accident.Frater Hanson makes deliberate choices. “The scientist in me always wants more data, more analysis. The practical and pragmatic leader in me, and what I have come to learn from the Fraternity, you have to make the best decision with the information you have, and the right voices, and the people you have engaged.”
“I have come to learn from the Fraternity.” A statement not unique to Chris, but uniquely his to share as a past Leadership Academy Graduate. For the first time in our history, we can point to our premier leadership program and see the results in action in our highest level of leadership. Hanson has used this biennium to make deliberate choices that have led us forward into what is arguably a new era for TKE.
One of the most impactful achievements TKE has had in the last decade is our partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In 2011, the men of Tau Kappa Epsilon committed to raising $1 million in five years to name an MRI suite. After completing this commitment a year early, his seat on the Grand Council made him a part of the creation of our second commitment; $2.6 million in six years to name the Proton Therapy Synchrotron/Particle Accelerator.
Since we first began supporting the mission of St. Jude, Tekes have been on the search for ways to do more. By the time this article is published, Grand Prytanis Christopher T. Hanson will have given us another moment for the history books. In what will likely be his final act as Grand Prytanis, he will announce our newest pledge, the largest commitment to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital by any men’s fraternity.
$10 million over the next ten years for the children of St. Jude.
With such a large goal, one would expect the leader of TKE Nation to experience a bit of hesitation. But there is none.
You can hear the pride in his voice as he shares, “There is no selfish reason that we are supporting St. Jude in this capacity.” Continuing, “The men of Tau Kappa Epsilon have shown us they are invested in helping to achieve Frater Danny Thomas’s dream that ‘no child should die in the dawn of life.’ The $4 million raised over the last 8 years have made a vital impact on research. I believe Danny would be proud of his Fraternity.”
Our newest commitment to St. Jude may be one of Chris's final acts as the leader of our organization, but it is only the latest in a line of decisions that he and the Grand Council have considered over the last two years. Frater Hanson’s choices are focused on one goal. Keeping TKE around for future generations to experience.
Leading a fraternity is a role that sometimes requires difficult decisions. Many challenges face organizations like TKE. Some are as old as the concept of fraternity itself- others are new. In an increasingly complex world, the Grand Council is responsible for stewarding the Fraternity - keeping it safe for future generations of Tekes and also positioning us as thought leaders amongst our peers. They guide us to where we need to be, and TKE is not a status-quo organization. To that end, Chris and the Grand Council embarked on a nearly two-year effort to analyze the most significant challenges we are facing; to work at all levels of the Fraternity to neutralize those threats.
The most notable of these threats are member safety and the ever-present public opinion. This culminated in the Grand Council's decision to update TKE's alcohol policy. A move that positions us as a proactive thought leader, and goes a long way to highlight that fraternity is more than four years and a bottle. The value of TKE lies in what our members can accomplish when we are engaged and dedicated to living up to the ideals of love, charity and esteem.
“It wasn’t, ‘this is the endgame we want to achieve and how do we get there?’” shares Chris. He explains that by analyzing our culture, they were able to ask, “what do we need to do to make sure that the future of what we have for our members, is positioned to the best of our abilities based upon what is confronting us today.” Essentially, what are the actions we can consider today to improve our organization or position us appropriately for growth and security?
He and the Grand Council have worked tirelessly to safeguard TKE for the future, and as the youngest Past Grand Prytanis in a generation, he will continue to be active in that future for many years to come. So, what’s next for the youngest Past Grand Prytanis in the last twenty years? He plans to spend a little more time being a husband and a dad.
“It’s hard to believe our girls are eight and ten already,” he beams. “I do my best to balance professional time, Fraternity time and family time. I make it a priority to make it home in time to participate in dinner and be part of the bedtime routines where we are reading story books, or the girls are reading to me.”
As much as he strives to support the members of TKE, he also works hard to support his daughters. That support comes in “making sure that we’re doing things together, whether it's a movie night or a family outing, or excursion, or a trip; even just enjoying each other’s time and staying close to home.” His goal is to make sure they are all in the moment with each other.
When you are called upon to lead, like Frater Hanson, the effect of those decisions are shared by those closest to you. It’s a commitment from his wife as well.
“I know that my wife Annie fully supports everything that I'm able to do at the Fraternity. She is also looking forward to the time when I can commit more personal time back to her and the family without competing so much with the Fraternity, but that’s the nature of Grand Council service,” says Chris.
He explains that “as a college freshman, I found the Fraternity, and I found Annie, just about the same time. She and I dated all through college, got married a few years after college and started a family. So, she has been able to see my maturity and growth and development through the years. Being a new member, being a collegiate, being a young alumnus, being a leader that has stepped up and developed and come forward. So she appreciates what the Fraternity has done for me and what it can do for others.”
Just as his family was present in New Orleans at Conclave 2017 for his inauguration as Grand Prytanis, we expect to see them at Conclave 2019 in Orlando.
“They have been so much a part of my ability to be as active with the Fraternity. They have made sacrifices of time and other resources that have enabled me to be the leader that I had wanted to be for this Fraternity. In that regard, they share in this opportunity as well, to celebrate and be a part of the pictures and memories that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
Speaking with Chris now, he reflects that Leadership Academy was one of his last official events as Grand Prytanis before he hands the gavel over to his successor at our 60th Conclave in Orlando. Rounding out a truly magnificent story of Fraternity for Life. As he carries his note card up to the Conclave stage in August, one wonders how many more dreams he will make a reality before he is done. And while this feels like a goodbye, it isn’t. For Chris, TKE is family, and family is something that he takes very seriously.
“As I have seen the end of my tenure as an elected member of the Council coming to a close, there’s a couple of things that come to mind. I am beyond content with the effort and the accomplishments that the Council and I have been able to achieve over the last twelve years. But I also know that I have reached a level of fulfillment and reward that has really made it an extraordinary experience.”
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Founded on January 10, 1899, Tau Kappa Epsilon is one of the largest collegiate men’s social fraternities in North America with over 296,000 initiated members and 220 active chapters. TKE’s mission is to aid men in their mental, moral and social development for life. With nearly 12,000 collegiate members, Tau Kappa Epsilon contributes to the advancement of society through the personal growth of our members, and service to others. TKE builds Better Men for a Better World.
With a vision of forward-thinking, growth for Tau Kappa Epsilon, the Grand Council of TKE has released our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan.
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