Jeff Young was initiated into Sigma Tau Gamma in 1969 at Ball State University where he studied American History. The reason he decided to join Sig Tau is a form of brotherhood in itself.
He and an existing member of the Ball State chapter went to high school together. At one point in their high school career, Young was being bullied and this other member stuck up for him. Even before they were Fraternity
brothers, the two shared a brotherly bond.
While Young was still in high school, he had a passion for writing. He remembered that some of his assigned essays were requested to be read aloud because the teacher thought his work was of high quality. As good as his essays were though, his teachers never really encouraged him to pursue a career in writing. “I kind of had these idealistic notions that teachers would really encourage me to follow my dreams. It didn’t work out like that, but I kept a journal throughout high school anyway,” Young said.
When he was in his late twenties, Young took a correspondence class in writing magazine articles at the University of Wisconsin. The first assignment was writing a nostalgia article in which Young chose to write about the novel hero Frank Merriwell. His instructor was so impressed with the work, he encouraged Young to send it to some publications. Amazingly, the first one that he sent it to bought it. Young had found similar success with other lessons, and it was then he knew that it was something that he wanted to pursue.
When asked about doing what he loved for a living, Young responded “Yes, that’s kind of been my main objective. I never deluded myself into thinking that I had some great message to share with the world, but I also liked it because it gave me a lot of autonomy. When you get these book writing assignments, the editors don’t care where you work, or when you come to work, just that you meet your deadline and get it to them in time and the format that they want.”
Over the course of his career, Jeff Young has had an outstanding 44 books published. When his very first book was published, Jeff said that it was like a dream come true. Upon receiving the complimentary copy from the
editor, he said it was a magical feeling just holding the finished product in his hand and seeing his name on the front cover and on the spine. He compared the feeling to climbing a mountain. “It’s a long hard journey, but once you reach the summit, the view is splendid,” Young said.
When asked what book he is most proud of. Young responded, “I’m very proud of that in the way a first book is almost like a first-born child. You try not to play favorites but you do.” This book, Fathers of American Presidents, was groundbreaking in that never before had a book been written about the fathers of presidents. He originally thought about just writing an article on George Washington’s father, and he was going to call it “The Father of the Father of our Country.” Once he got started on the article, he thought why not just do one for every father, and that’s how the book came about.
Aside from having 44 books published over his career, Young says one of his biggest accomplishments was receiving the Spur Award for his books
Bleeding Kansas and the Violent Clash over Slavery in the Heartland. This award is given by the Western Writers of America and considered one of the most prestigious awards in American literature.
Although Young has never written about his fraternity experience, he has had a piece published in a previous SAGA Magazine. The article tells of a fateful day in Young’s life where brotherhood was fully exemplified.
In 1983 Young lost one of his best friends, Jeff Gorham, in a tragic car accident while in Georgia fulfilling his duties for the Air Force Reserves. Young and Gorham both grew up in the same small town of Lebanon, Indiana and were the best of friends since the summer between their second and third grade years. The loss of a close friend is never an easy time on someone’s life, but even so, life has a funny way of working.
Young was on his way back from Gorham’s funeral and stopped in a library to make a copy of the obituary that was in a Georgia newspaper. After leaving, Young couldn’t remember where he had parked his car and found himself aimlessly walking through the big, unfamiliar city when something peculiar happened. A man approached Young that he didn’t recognize, until the man called Young by his college nickname, “Rufus.”
When God closes a door, he opens a window.
The man was Frank Petrella, Ball State. Frank was the president of the chapter at Ball State at the same time that Young was an associate member of Sigma Tau Gamma. Having both been US History majors, Young and Petrella were close friends until Petrella graduated in 1970.
“It was just kind of unreal because the only reason I was in that place at that time was because of the death of my closest friend. It’s just one of those inexplicable things that happen in your life. It was like the expression ‘When God closes a door, he opens a window.’ I lost one close friend and because of that I reconnected with another. I had that 13-year hiatus where I never saw him until that day in Atlanta. After that we stayed in touch until he passed away in 2001,” Young said.
You truly never know the people you will meet or the relationships you will form as a member of Sigma Tau Gamma. You may not see your brothers for years, but that will never take away that initial bond that was formed as active members. Brotherhood goes far beyond your undergraduate years. Brotherhood is eternal, as exemplified by that fateful day in Atlanta.