Ilene Olansky, Zeta Chapter at UCLA, graduating class of 1952, was one of the founders and the first chair of Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation. Throughout her career as an educator and volunteer, she lived Phi Sigma Sigma’s ideals by inspiring personal development, igniting positive change and perpetuating the advancement of womanhood.
Ilene’s daughter, Ellen, recounts how being a Phi Sig sparked her mother’s lifelong devotion to community service. As a sister, Ilene learned to assess the needs of an organization, create infrastructure and fundraise. She used these skills throughout her life as a volunteer with numerous organizations such as the Executive Service Corps, and as President of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Judith Distler, Zeta Chapter ’68, recalls Ilene’s influence on her own life. Judith was a student at the junior high where Ilene taught and babysat for Ilene’s daughters. When Judith began attending UCLA, she received a call from Phi Sigma Sigma, inviting her to a root beer social. As the Grand Vice Archon of Undergraduates at the time, Ilene was the influence behind that call. She also helped convince Judith’s parents that joining the Fraternity would be a great opportunity.
According to Judith, Ilene felt it was time for the sorority to have a foundation that would benefit its members by providing financial assistance for education. Ilene and Jeanine Goldberg, Nu Chapter ’60, collaborated to launch the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation on November 15, 1969, with Ilene serving as chair. In part because of Ilene’s impact, Judith became more involved with the Fraternity and the Foundation after graduation.
Ellen adds that her mother mentored many people, women in particular, who went on to serve in organizations such as Phi Sigma Sigma for the rest of their lives. She encouraged people to find their passions and follow through, whether in business or in service to others. Ellen feels that Ilene would want young women of today to stay true to their hearts, give unselfishly to their communities and not get swept up in fads that cause us to forget our interconnectedness with others.
In addition to inspiring a lifetime of giving, Ilene’s sisterhood rewarded her with lasting friendships and many happy memories. She will be missed, but her legacy endures.