Today, Beta Theta Pi mourns the loss of a true leader, Captain Jerry M. Blesch, Centre ’60, who passed away from natural causes on November 27. A retired captain of the U.S. Navy, Jerry’s life was marked by his larger-than-life personality and deep loyalty to his country, family and Fraternity.
Jerry’s stellar academic and athletic careers began at Centre College, where he studied engineering, excelled in track as a half-miler, and was initiated into the Epsilon Chapter of Beta Theta Pi on March 2, 1957. A servant leader at heart, he continued his education at the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1962, and subsequently at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, where he was awarded a Master of Science in management.
During his 30-year naval career, Jerry became one of the branch’s most distinguished officers. By the time he retired in 1992, he had commanded the battleship USS Wisconsin during the Gulf War, the USS R.L. Page and the USS Puget Sound. Additionally, he was assistant director of the Tactical Training Group Atlantic, commanding officer of the Destroyer Squadron 25 in Pearl Harbor and executive assistant to the commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command. Among many honors and recognitions, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal and was runner-up for the U.S. Navy John Paul Jones Leadership Award.
Retirement from the Navy did not slow Jerry down; instead, it marked the beginning of another chapter of service in his life – to his beloved Beta Theta Pi. As a volunteer, Jerry served first as an advisor and house corporation president to his alma mater, as well as a district chief. He was elected General Secretary in 1995, a role he held for six of the most transformative years in Beta’s history. His visionary leadership – alongside other modern Beta Greats like Bob Cottrell, Miami ’54, and E.B. Wilson, St. Lawrence ’53 – set the course for the Fraternity to radically reshape the Beta experience on today’s college campuses with the advent of the Men of Principle initiative. For many years after, Jerry remained a Convention veteran and frequent attendee of the leadership programs for which he so strongly advocated, as well as an active member of the Advisory Council.
What Jerry gave to Beta Theta Pi in acts of service, he matched in gifts of treasure. Playing the pivotal role of major gifts chairman during the Foundation’s Upon These Principles Campaign, he helped raise $20.1 million toward the campaign’s original $15 million goal – then the largest capital campaign in Greek world history.
Jerry was more than a brother; he was an inspiration. His advocacy for more volunteers at the local chapter level, an expanded General Fraternity Officer volunteer corps and “Significant Emotional Experiences” were only matched by his frequent sharing of naval jargon and analogies to make his points toward improvement of the Fraternity he loved. In recognition of his profound contributions and embodiment of the Beta Spirit, Jerry was honored with the Francis W. Shepardson Award in August 2004.
His legacy within Beta Theta Pi is one of leadership and unwavering commitment to our association’s founding principles, and his achievements will continue to loom large over our Great and Good Fraternity in the generations to come. His absence will be deeply felt, and our thoughts and condolences go out to his Beta Sweetheart Karen, family, and all those who were fortunate enough to know this remarkable man.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Beta Theta Pi Foundation in Captain Blesch’s honor.
May Brother Jerry Blesch, No. 754 on the official roll of the Epsilon Chapter of Beta Theta Pi, rest in peace. Forever in ___kai___.