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Origins of the Organization
A Special Tribute

Presented by Gerald J. Oppenheimer, Vice President
at the 50th Birthday Party of the Puget Sound Association of Phi Beta Kappa
Women's University Club, Seattle, Washington
September 28, 2004

Like many other good things, the Puget Sound Association of Phi Beta Kappa owes its existence to a few individuals who recognized a need and an opportunity and took the appropriate actions. These founding mothers and fathers deserve a brief mention.

It all began when Washington Alpha wished to participate in the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the founding of Phi Beta Kappa. On November 15, 1951, Dr. Nathaniel Engle, the chapter president, invited five Seattle Phi Betes for dinner at the UW Student Union: Will Shannon, Sylvia Vopni, Ruth Hale Gershevsky, Robert Graham, and Elmer Christie, joined by Richard Wilkie and Ellen Williston. The inevitably lengthy discussion centered on the interest that had been expressed in forming an organization to aid in raising scholarship funds. A Committee on the Graduate Association and Scholarships reaffirmed the policy of forming an Associate Group, free from the control and name of Washington Alpha.

At the instruction of the Executive Committee, a working group, appointed by President Engle, developed a letter, signed by the above named individuals and joined by Richard Newell. Let me quote briefly from this letter:

“It seems a fitting time for Seattle to take its place in the rank of major cities which have Phi Beta Kappa Graduate Associations. The undersigned met for an informal discussion of ways and means with the officers of Alpha Chapter... who have agreed to provide secretarial assistance. The following thoughts emerged: 1) The idea of a Seattle Association provided that the organization is kept simple and the number of meetings to a minimum. 2) Its function should be the encouragement of scholarship, particularly in the high schools...[by] awarding a scholarship to the outstanding senior in each of the nine public high schools in Seattle and by providing speakers for high schools on topics stressing the value of learning in life, career, and democracy.”

The letter concluded its substantive part by emphasizing that “the only way a democracy can survive is on a broad foundation of liberally educated citizens.”

The letter was sent to about 1,000 individuals who were requested to return the enclosed card as an expression of interest, willingness to serve as a speaker, and readiness to make a small contribution ($1 to $2 was suggested).

The June 1952 meeting of the fledgling association was attended by 25 people and was the real beginning of its organized existence. By then, 89 cards had been returned and the amount available for scholarships was $223.50. A constitution was adopted, the decision was made to seek recognition in the form of a charter issued by the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, an invitation was extended to PBK members throughout the entire Puget Sound area, and it was agreed that awards would be made to high schools outside of Seattle as well, because of the recognized needs of encouragement to students of small towns.

Robert Graham, of the law firm of Bogle & Gates, was elected the Association’s first President, Richard Newell, of the Tricoach Co., became Vice-President, and Anne Holmes-Goodfellow served as Secretary-Treasurer. The Association’s charter was approved at the 1952 Triennial Meeting of the United Chapters in Lexington, KY and the constitution was formally adopted on January 22, 1953.

Soon thereafter, the Association began awarding book prizes, a practice continued until the present day. In 1968, there occurred the first approval of scholarships, as we recognize them today, although still limited to high school students. In the first year, they were to be awarded to “one boy and one girl” who gave the best answer to the question “What Contribution Can I Make in This Changing World?”

1969, when the UW tuition was $345, was the beginning of college level scholarships. Two, worth $500 each, were to be awarded, but, in the event, four at $250 each were given to Juniors and three at $500 to disadvantaged students. I believe that this sudden largesse was due to significant support from PBK members and members of the community at large. It was then that the $3,500 C.L. Egtvedt Scholarship Savings Account was established and that Mr. Henry Valle donated $5,000 for scholarship awards. Neither was a Phi Bete but had made the donation at the urgings of Stu Prestrud.

In 1972, a closely reasoned major report on scholarships was submitted to the Board, claiming that the issues under consideration were still the major functions of the Association. The Committee’s recommendations were, briefly:

  1. That three $500 scholarships be awarded to academically deserving minority students at the UW.

  2. That two $500 scholarships be awarded to foreign students.

  3. That several $100 scholarships and certificates be awarded to Junior Phi Beta Kappa scholars.

  4. That the High School Book Award program be continued.

As you will note, while specific conditions and requirements have changed, the Association has kept intact both the scholarship and book award programs, in recognition of the fact that they are the heart of its organized life. Very recently, in the year 2000, the Association even extended the direction of this activity by establishing, for the first time, a graduate study award, named after Ernie Stiefel.


And this will bring me, after a brief intermission, to the second and, I promise, last part of my remarks. But before that happens I want to mention some of the many individuals who have devoted time and energy in making this Association a going concern, reflected also in the fact that the Association succeeded in hosting the Society’s 2003 Triennial.

I can mention only a few of these outstanding members who, in the past, rendered such meritorious service — Stu Prestrud, our long-time treasurer, who was also among those who at the very beginning had signed one of the cards in 1952, Bett Houston, Jan Shapiro, Nanci Richards, and Chris Weiss. They all deserve our thanks. And my apologies to the many others I did not name.

Tonight, I want to pay particular attention to one of our luminaries — Ernie Stiefel, who joined the Board in 1965 and, in 1974, took over as treasurer from Stu, and only very recently became Assistant Treasurer. When I was asked to say a few words in honor of Ernie’s contributions to the success of the Association’s programs, an honor in itself, I asked myself that ubiquitous question “Why me?”

The only explanation I could find was that I have known Ernie probably longer than anyone else here, going on 65 years. We were born in the same city, lived in the same block of apartment houses even, although not simultaneously, and escaped persecution from there, arriving in Seattle, this earthly paradise, about the same time. Both of us were initiated into Phi Beta Kappa by Washington Alpha, I in 1946 and Ernie in 1949. And I have here a copy of the letter inviting Ernie, signed by none other than our erstwhile governor, Dixie Lee Ray. Our paths diverged, and it was Phi Beta Kappa and this Association that brought us back together, about ten years ago.

I thought initially that I should add a scientific patina to my remarks and produce a chart showing the growth of the Association’s assets during Ernie’s stewardship whose first report registered total assets of about $14,000. I gave up when I realized that the scale required for guests in the back of the room to see the figures, would have the ordinate reach to the ceiling. So you may have to make do with the mixture of fact and fiction that I am about to offer; you will decide where one leaves off and the other begins.

It isn’t simply the extraordinary length of Ernie’s tenure as Board member and Treasurer, almost 40 and 30 years, respectively, which is so remarkable. It is also the way his complex personality prompted him to conduct what he obviously regarded as his mission.

We recognize him as the fierce defender of the sacredness of the assets of the Association, as an enthusiastic promoter of the principle of supporting learning, as a gentle charmer whose persuasiveness caused us to empty our pockets of the last dime in order to insure the Association’s financial health, and as a wise counselor to keep its affairs on an even keel. All of that, I’m sure, you know, and yet there might be another aspect to his personality, the desire for artistic expression. I’m not certain whether it was real, or just in my imagination, that particularly in his later years, I frequently thought that I heard him sing, well, perhaps hum would be a better word, a catchy little tune whose refrain went something like this:

And I have managed that money so carefully

That now I am master of the treasury.

PSA-PBK History 2003–2012

Gerald J. Oppenheimer, August 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.

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