Millikin has handed honorary degrees to many figures throughout the years – congressmen, university presidents, opera stars, scientists and more – but only one recipient created a stir in national and international news. It was “Sig,” the shaggy dog mascot of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in the ’30s and ’40s.
On May 29, 1935, before an assembly of students and administrators, Sig was recognized for his dogged determination with a doctor of canineology degree, an event reported in newspapers as far away as The London Times. Sig earned the distinction following loyal service to his fraternity and his school, including the countless hours he spent in the classroom.
Sig began each morning a few blocks west of Millikin at Dennis Elementary School to oversee the flag raising and children playing, then wandered to Millikin for his own classes. He’d enter Shilling Hall — then known as Liberal Arts Hall — and sniff at classroom doors until he located an SAE and joined the class at the feet of his chosen student.
Sig was known for his SAE loyalty, often picking out a certain fraternity member to follow around campus. Bill McGaughey ’43 was one of his favored SAE students.
“Sig was snooty and wouldn’t tag along with non-SAEs,” McGaughey says. “In the hallways, he would sniff other men, and if not an SAE, passed them by. He was a faithful SAE.”
When the bell ended class, Sig promptly rose to leave, and if the professor dared to lecture past the bell, he would bark loudly until the classroom door was opened for him.
Sig’s SAE “brothers” also envied his popularity with the ladies. In the 1934 Decaturian social column, a lady admirer swooned: “We just love Siggie because he behaved so beautifully Saturday afternoon [Homecoming] in his sweet little Millikin coat. While all his doggie brothers were barking and carrying on no end, dignified Siggie sat peacefully on the grass and watched the game with great interest. Therefore, Siggie gets all the dog biscuits this week.”
But Sig was more of a rogue than his lady admirers knew, always getting into a variety of scrapes. During spring break 1935, he accepted a ride with a perfect stranger who had a number of dogs with him. Duped by his “love of riding in an automobile and the desire for good, doggy companionship,” according to the Decaturian, Sig was forced to spend his spring break in the city dog pound. He was slated to be put to sleep, when his brothers raced to his rescue just in time. Sig came away from his spree with a new collar, license No. 8 and fleas.
Sig even set off looking for adventures on the day of his big degree ceremony. Finally located at Dennis School, he was led into the ceremony to the tune, “Oh, Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone.”
Sig was especially fond of accompanying McGaughey and his girlfriend (who later became his wife), the late Isabelle Osgood McGaughey ’45 to the local Blue Mill restaurant. Sig had a regular seat there and the owners always treated him to a complimentary ice cream cone. He also had a choice seat on the floats at Homecoming parades and attended sporting events wearing a blue-and-white coat bearing his name and the name of his fraternity. “He understood it was something special for him,” says McGaughey.
When World War II broke out and the fraternity shut down for the duration, Sig went to live with McGaughey’s parents while McGaughey went to war. One day, he wandered off and was found by the railroad tracks, one more SAE who didn’t make it back after the war. But as a dog who took part in all the college rituals with his brothers – classes, dates, football games and spring breaks – he was accustomed to following in the tracks of the boys he so loved. ●
Information for this article, originally written by Katie Liesener ’03 and published in its entirety in the fall 2003 issue, was obtained from the late Bud Lewis ’36, Alumni Relations Director Jan Devore and a 2001 winter commencement speech made by Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences, Gerald Redford.