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PUGET SOUND ASSOCIATION OF
PHI BETA KAPPA

 HISTORY 2003-2012

The Puget Sound Association was conceived and created in 1952 by the Washington Alpha Chapter, whose members rightly concluded that a means should be found to encourage the pursuit of liberal education by financially supporting students, and that establishing an agency independent of Alpha Chapter was the way to do so.  The child has now reached middle age (that point keeps advancing) but its connection with its parent who is approaching its centenary was never broken and is now stronger than ever. Alpha’s president and its executive secretary, if a PBK member, are ex-officio members of the PSA board and serve on its committees, and the association and Alpha sponsor joint events.  A similar pattern exists with respect to Delta Chapter at the University of Puget Sound.  Our connection with the Phi Beta Kappa Society is also strong: at the very beginning of this 10-year period, the society honored our request to host its 2003 Triennial Council meeting in Seattle.

The brief history of PSA’s first 50 years is available online, but a few milestones still are worth mentioning.  By June 1952, $223.50 was available to be spent in support of students, the PSA charter was approved by the Phi Beta Kappa Society at the 1952 Triennial in Lexington, Kentucky, and its charter was formally adopted on January 23, 1953.  The first awards were book prizes for high school students.  This is still a feature of our program.  In 1968, scholarships, at first for high school students, were awarded, to be succeeded in the following year by scholarships for college level students.  The year 2000 saw the creation of a scholarship for graduate students.  These early awards, four at $250 each, plus three at $500 each for disadvantaged students, were made possible also in large part by the generosity of non-members C.L. Egtvedt and Mr. Henry Valle, urged to make these donations by PSA’s treasurer, Stu Prestrud.

During the last 10 years, PSA awarded 48 undergraduate scholarships, amounting to $72,300, and nine Ernie R. Stiefel Graduate Study Awards for $23,700.  During the 2012/2013 fiscal year, PSA committed an additional $9,360 for undergraduate scholarships and $4,000 for the graduate study award.  Thus, during these fiscal periods PSA paid or was obligated to spend a total of $109,360.  All these were funded by PSA members’ dues and donations from members and non-members alike.  It attests to the great support from a relatively small group who evidently believe in the value of liberal arts education.

High schools in PSA’s 13-county Puget Sound area may select an outstanding senior to receive our High School Book Award.  Many high schools, wishing to acknowledge the achievement of several students, purchase additional copies.  During the 10 years being reviewed here, approximately 1,300 books were distributed to participating high schools.

The Pathfinder Award was established to honor those who encourage and enable others to seek new worlds to discover, pathways to explore, and untouched destinations to reach.  During the last 10 years, 40 awards were given, 30 to individuals, including five students, and 10 to organizations.  Among the individuals were professors and car dealers, educators and food pantry managers, proponents of women’s rights, those concerned with the underprivileged, and fundraisers for scholarships.  Some of the institutional recipients were projects to enhance library resources in Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and China; commercial enterprises; theaters; community centers; and a Holocaust education center.

An important part of the PSA program is the connection established with our members via scheduled activities.  The variety of offerings includes luncheons; tours of museum exhibits, theaters, gardens and landmarks; kaffeeklatsches; and lectures and other public events, some jointly with Alpha Chapter.  During the period under consideration, PSA sponsored 69 events, including 22 semi-annual lunches and two very successful events for younger Phi Betes.  We also co-sponsored a well-received conference, Women in the Professions, for which our board member Karrin Klotz, was an organizer.

It is of great importance to the board that PSA members receive full information about our programs and activities and that they are encouraged and enabled to respond.  In the fall of 1991 we started issuing a semi-annual newsletter, The Key Connection, which, much enhanced in format and content, is still being published in hard copy.  It is now also accessible online.  In fact, recently, our major means of communication takes place online – announcements of upcoming events; articles of interest; short biographies; letters to members; and information on the association and its board, officers, and committees are open to anyone with online capability.  Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are added means of communication.  Our Web site is always completely up-to-date and also serves as a means for members to pay dues and make donations.

A word now about PSA-PBK’s board of trustees.  We are doubly fortunate in the present composition of the board.  There were in the past, and there are right now, board members who have served more than 40, 30, and 20 years, such as Ernie Stiefel, Myra Lupton, Vivian Chun, Stu Prestrud, Karen Klotz, and Redmond Barnett.  They and others approaching this multi-decade-long service know the institution, its history, and the community, and they are the gurantors for the preservation of Phi Beta Kappa values.  The other fortunate circumstance is that the determined effort by these members of long tenure to attract younger Phi Betes to join the board was successful.  To name just a few, Benjamin Lukoff, Daniel Leach, Aspasia Bartell, Greg Bianchi, William Mari, and Sandra Andrews-Strasko have been of inestimable value in moving the association forward into the rapidly changing present, in particular making use of the opportunities presented by social networking.  In addition, they are most helpful in inducing recent initiates to become association members.

In recognition of the outstanding service performed by members of the association or the board, we were moved to honor such outstanding individuals as Ernie Stiefel, who died in 2010, Victor Scheffer, who died in 2011 at the age of 104, and Stu Prestrud, who also passed away in 2011, by bestowing on them honorary membership.  Our graduate award was established by having Ernie Stiefel’s name attached to it.  Ellsworth C. Alvord Jr., for his support of PSA as well as of liberal education in many ways, has been honored by having the top recipient of our annual undergraduate scholarships designated as the Ellsworth C. Alvord, Jr. Scholar.

Retaining and recruiting members is, of course, a crucial objective pursued by the board.  It attempts to do so, as mentioned, by improving communication, online social networking, offering a wide variety of activities and, above all, by appealing to the shared view of the importance of liberal education.  Some figures may be useful in evaluating this effort.  In 2003 we counted 444 members.  A steady decline left the association with 294 members in 2008.  But from then on, we seem to have been doing what the Red Queen did, doing all the running we could  to stay in the same place, because the figures are 277 for 2010, 270 for 2011, and 293 dues-paying members for 2012 plus 91 gratis members .  The latter group represents recent Phi Betes who are accepted without having to pay dues for three years after having been initiated.  Our approach in drawing in younger members was commented on favorably by the national society, which recommended to other associations the adoption of this practice as part of their own program.  Figures for the last four years should not be viewed as a discouraging development.  We apparently have succeeded where many other non-profits have experienced a decided decline in the number of members.

The board has maintained a consistent effort to increase the association’s income, particularly in order to enable the scholarship fund to award scholarship money more in line with the ever-increasing cost of tuition.  For example, while the $1,500 undergraduate scholarship in 2003 paid 32% of a University of Washington student’s tuition, for the same $1,500 in FY 2012 it provided only 16% of the tuition, cutting the support exactly in half.

Aside from the sagacious and conservative management of our assets by a succession of treasurers and the board of trustees, a major factor in the steep increase in the level of our funds, i.e.,

Total funds from $80,923 in 2004 to $245,390 on June 30, 2012

Scholarship funds from $74,400 to $233,828 for the same time period

was the bequest by Evelyn S. Egtvedt.  PSA had been mentioned to Mrs. Egtvedt as a worthy recipient of her largesse by Stuart Prestrud, our former treasurer. By her generosity, approximately $144,000 was added to our scholarship fund in May 2004.

PSA’s mission statement, recently updated, affirms that PSA-PBK adheres to the national society’s core values, and that, in support of these, the mission of the association is the promotion of culture, academic scholarship, and public education.  But unexpressed, I believe, is the more basic belief, as phrased by one of my heroes, John Adams, that “The only way a democracy can survive is a broad foundation of liberally educated citizens. “  That is the end that just justifies all of our efforts.  Phi Beta Kappa and this association whose 60th birthday we are celebrating will continue, with your help, to find the means to keep this principle as our guiding star.

Gerald J. Oppenheimer
August 2012


 


 
 

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