When Jim Gaines wanted to join a fraternity at Middle Tennessee University (Murfreesboro) in 1966, he had two choices: join one of the few that were already on campus or start a group that might eventually be granted a charter from a national organization.
The first option meant that he wouldn’t have to wait to enjoy the membership benefits of a known fraternity. The second would involve convincing others to join a new local fraternity, meeting strict guidelines to become a chapter of the national, and developing a lengthy and compelling petition. That would take a year or more and there would still be no guarantee they would be accepted.
The native Tennessean decided that because his preferred fraternity—Sigma Alpha Epsilon—wasn’t yet on campus, he would take the longer, more complicated path. “I had my eye on ΣΑΕ and didn’t want to join any other fraternity,” Jim recalled.
So after forming Lambda Psi, he and the other members spent the next few years learning ΣΑΕ history and related background, getting acquainted with chapter leaders of the area Province (Their unanimous approval was required.), and doing everything else possible to be worthy of an ΣΑΕ charter. In the process, their membership produced two student body presidents, along with a General and other top officers from the school’s ROTC program. “We worked really hard and had the highest grade point average of all fraternities,” Jim said.
Finally, in June 1969 they were approved at ΣΑΕ’s annual convention and Tennessee Beta received the coveted charter. Because he had graduated (with a BS degree in History) the prior semester, Jim didn’t get to enjoy the benefits of being an ΣΑΕ undergrad. But he has no regrets. “It was definitely worth the work involved. I knew that once we did receive the charter, I would be an ΣΑΕ for life.”
After graduation, Jim entered the management program at Mass Mutual Life Insurance in Jacksonville, Florida; remaining with the company for almost 10 years. After being transferred to Dallas, he decided it was time for a change. “I always wanted to start my own company and had previously been assigned to the San Diego area.” In 1978 he relocated to San Diego and founded an independent general insurance agency, representing a variety of leading companies. Then in 1986 Brother Gaines and a few partners formed one of the first national insurance marketing firms. “We developed a franchise operation to promote the major firms’ insurance products; eventually expanding to 35 offices throughout the country.”
His successful insurance career was interrupted in 2001 when he had a major health crisis. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Jim knew he wouldn’t be able to focus on the business while undergoing treatment. He sold his portion of the company to one of the partners and then over the next two years had a bone marrow transplant, series of chemo treatments and a kidney operation. “It was a difficult period that changed my life in many ways,” he said. “But I believe that sometimes when experiencing bad situations, we can actually become a better person.”
In remission for the last 15 years, Jim has since done some online insurance sales, while also volunteering with various business and charitable organizations. For example, he spent several years on Middle Tennessee University’s Business School Advisory Board and currently is on the Boards of the John Moore Cancer Patient Care Center and the La Jolla Professional Men’s Society, and serves as an usher (along with Brother Gary Keehner) at his Rancho Santa Fe church. One of his favorite projects is Reality Changes, an organization that tutors Hispanic high school students and prepares them for the SAT test. “We’ve seen so many success stories, with deserving students receiving college scholarships.”
He’s equally enthusiastic about the scholarship program he set up at his college alma mater. “It’s for those students who attended my high school; paying for part of their freshman year at Middle Tennessee University.”
Of course, as an ΣΑΕ chapter founder he has a special bond with his fraternity on both a local and national level. Jim helped plan ΣΑΕ’s 1991 national convention in San Diego and is currently a member of the DeVotie Society (donating $25,000 to the national fraternity). He has been associated with the San Diego Area Alumni Association since the early 1980s. “ΣΑΕ means a lot to me and the Association has been very important. I’ve made many great friends in my home state, the San Diego area and elsewhere. I’ve had an opportunity to develop friendships and business relationships and to give back. ΣΑΕ is for life! ~ By David Robinson