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Phi Alpha Theta > Delta-Psi Chapter History

History of Union University's Delta-Psi Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society

Union University's Delta-Psi chapter of Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society was chartered on October 17, 1953, making it the 119th chapter to join the society and the first in the state of Tennessee. The installing officer for the chartering ceremony was Dr. O. C. Skipper from Mississippi State College for Women (known since 1974 as Mississippi University for Women) in Columbia, Mississippi. Congratulatory letters poured in from chapters all across the country; they included such institutions as Ohio State University, Stanford University, the University of Colorado, the University of Florida, the University of Rhode Island, and William Jewell College. Professor Rosa D. Rutledge was the decisive person in establishing a chapter at Union, and she served as the chapter's faculty advisor from its inception until her retirement in 1962. She represented the Phi Alpha Theta national office at the installation ceremonies of the Epsilon-Nu chapter at Memphis State College (now the University of Memphis) in 1955; she was assisted by fellow faculty member Dr. R. H. Ward and Delta-Psi student members. In 1956, she was the installation officer at the chartering of the Epsilon-Chi chapter at David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University) in Nashville. It was also during her tenure that Charlotte Peddy attended the Phi Alpha Theta biennial convention in Los Angeles in 1954, Virginia Ruth Pearce went to the 1958 convention in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Ralph Williams presented a paper at the1960 biennial convention in New York City.

From 1962 to 1969, Dr. R. H. Ward filled the role of faculty advisor. One high point of these years was the attendance of Sue Lackie at the Phi Alpha Theta biennial convention in Chicago in December, 1962. Also noteworthy was the presentation of a paper by Lonnie Scott at the 1969 Tennessee regional conference that David Lipscomb College hosted.

Ward switched to a joint sponsorship of the chapter with Dr. James Edmonson in 1969, and the two co-sponsored the society until 1973. Edmonson represented the national office at the installation of the Rho-Delta chapter at Lambuth College (later renamed Lambuth University) in 1970. Edmonson, Ward, and Professor Stan Ekrut took student members to the 1973 regional conference at David Lipscomb College, where history major Jane Barber presented a paper on Great Britain titled "Elegy for an Empire." Ekrut assumed the responsibility of chapter faculty advisor in 1974 and supervised its activities until 1978. The chapter sponsored a chapel program in 1978 with State Representative Roger Murray as the speaker.

From 1978 to 1983, history faculty member Dr. Paul Waibel advised the chapter. Student members Mitchell L. Graves, Teresa Luna, and Larry DeGarmo were paper presenters at the 1979 regional conference; DeGarmo's paper on Robert E. Lee won second place. The major event of Waibel's tenure was the chapter's co-hosting with Lambuth College of the 1980 Tennessee Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference on Union's campus. Two Union student members, David Hailey and Lee Duffey, presented papers, and Dr. Charles Crawford of Memphis State University delivered the luncheon talk.

Since 1983, Dr. Stephen Carls has served as the faculty advisor to Union's Phi Alpha Theta chapter. The honor society has initiated 253 new members under his guidance and hosted two regional conferences. At one of these conferences, the chapter celebrated its 50th anniversary; it used Peeps candies, also in a 50th anniversary celebration, as a part of the table and cake decorations. The Delta-Psi/Peeps connection, which still exists, was bolstered by the fact that the manufacture of Peeps began in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where they are still made, and the Delta-Psi chapter’s charter came from Allentown, Pennsylvania, then the site of the society’s national headquarters. Bethlehem and Allentown are adjacent to each other in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. At Union's 2006 Homecoming, the society dedicated a time capsule and held a reception afterwards. The chapter held another reception to celebrate its 55th anniversary at Union's Homecoming in 2008.

In 2013, the Delta-Psi chapter celebrated its 60th anniversary on two occasions. One was in the spring, when State Senator Lowe Finney attended the history department's awards banquet and presented a joint resolution to the chapter from the Tennessee state legislature that congratulated Delta-Psi on its 60th anniversary and cited many of the chapter's accomplishments since 1953. The second came on October 30 in the form of a 60th anniversary luncheon held in Union's Chapman Dining Room. The guests included Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist, Madison County Major Jimmy Harris, Phi Alpha Theta Executive Director Graydon Tunstall, and Union President David S. Dockery. Thirteen Delta-Psi chapter presidents, ranging from charter member R. G. "Bob" Elliott to 2013-2014 President Gracie Wise were also there. Gist and Harris presented the chapter with a joint proclamation of congratulations from the City of Jackson and Madison County, and Tunstall conferred an honorary Phi Alpha Theta membership on Dockery for his many contributions to the field of history.

Over the past 30 years, Delta-Psi chapter members, both students and faculty, have attended more than 20 regional Phi Alpha Theta conferences, traveling to locations in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Illinois to do so. Student members have presented papers at virtually all of them, and faculty members have helped at many by serving as panel chairs/commentators. At least 16 Union student paper presenters have won prizes at regional conferences since 1992. Carls has represented the national office at several of the regional meetings.

In addition to regional conferences, Union has had participants at several Phi Alpha Theta biennial conventions in recent years. The convention sites have included New Orleans in 2004, Philadelphia in 2006, Albuquerque in 2008, San Diego in 2010, Orlando in 2012, and Albuquerque again in 2014. Students who have delivered papers at biennial conventions include: Ian Crawford and Mariann Martin in New Orleans; Joshua Abbotoy, Cameron Armstrong, John Arnold, Abby Carpenter, Mary Beth Johnson, Nikki Henry, and Racheal Pressnell in Albuquerque in 2008; Noah Arnold, Elizabeth Blevins, Kate Cline, Charles Googe, Micah Snow, Cameron White in San Diego; Rebekah Anderson, David Conway, Savannah German, Elaura Highfield, Mary Ellen Poe, Caraline Rickard, and Caitlin Roach in Orlando; and Colby Benefield, Shelby Pace, Charles Snow, Heather Stricklin, Lowell Van Ness, and Gracie Wise in Albuquerque in 2014.

The Delta-Psi chapter has had other highlights since the turn of the millennium. For one thing, it has won 11 straight Best Chapter Awards (2003-2013). A part of the award consists of $250 to buy history books for the chapter's university library; with the 2013 prize money added, the honor society has contributed $2750 to purchase more than 85 books for Union’s Emma Waters Summar Library. Secondly, two students have won Phi Alpha Theta scholarships: Noah Arnold in 2010 won the Thomas S. Morgan Memorial Scholarship of $1000 to do a master's program in history at the University of Mississippi; and Elaura Highfield received the A. F. Zimmerman Scholarship of $1250 in 2012 to work on a master's degree in public history at Middle Tennessee State University. Thirdly, Delta-Psi chapter member Patricia Dawson won the Lynn W. Turner Prize of $500 that the national office of Phi Alpha Theta offered for the best undergraduate paper submitted in its 2013 nationwide competition. Finally, Carls was elected national vice president of Phi Alpha Theta at the 2012 biennial convention and national president in January, 2014. He served on the organization’s national council from 2006 to 2008 and advisory board from 2008 to 2012.

Following their graduation from Union, numerous Phi Alpha Theta members have enjoyed very rewarding careers. Some have become presidents, vice presidents, or deans at colleges and universities. One was named a USA Today All-American high school history teacher, and others have had notable success as high school administrators or history teachers. Many have earned advanced degrees at graduate schools or seminaries and established themselves as well-respected university professors or pastors. Still others have studied law at schools like Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Memphis; after obtaining their law degrees, they have become highly successful lawyers.

All current full-time history faculty members belong to the Delta-Psi chapter, including Dr. Henry Allen, Dr. Keith Bates, Dr. Terry Lindley, Dr. David Thomas, and Carls. In addition, Robert Briley and Dr. Jared Myracle, who teach for the department part-time, are Phi Alpha Theta members.


Charter members of the Delta-Psi Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta stand with the installing officers from Mississippi State College for Women at the chartering ceremony in October, 1953. They are: (front row, left to right) Dr. George Mason, Mrs. Ajax, Mrs. O. C. Skipper, Miss Patricia Hardy, Dr. O. C. Skipper; Mrs. Rosa D. Rutledge, Mrs. Mallie Newsom, and Mrs. Bettye B. Walker; (second row, left to right) Dr. R. H. Ward, T. W. Davis, Orville I. Wilson, Charles P. Curier, Jr., George M. Horton, and Roy G. Elliott.