Remarks of Chapter President Dee Ann Rexroat '82 at the Dedication of the Phi Beta Kappa Plaque June 1, 2002
Facilitating the creation and installation of a permanent plaque to commemorate Phi Beta Kappa on this campus has been among the most rewarding undertakings of my eight years as an administrator at Cornell. The idea for a plaque came out of a committee that included professors Craig Allin, Rich Martin, and Truman Jordan. A few years ago they created a plan to raise the visibility of Phi Beta Kappa on campus. As part of their strategy, we have sponsored annual Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholars, we purchased stoles with our Greek letters and key that our initiates wear at commencement, and we began electing a small number of juniors each year who remain on campus as an example to other students. This plaque is by far the most visible and productive of our efforts. We did not dream that it would come about so quickly – but more on that later.
I would like to thank Professor Emeritus of Physics Dick Jacob, our Secretary-Treasurer, and all past secretary-treasurers, for keeping a remarkably accurate list of the members of our chapter. I would also like to thank College Librarian Jean Donham for giving us this space in the library. She did not even hesitate when we asked for this prominent location.
In a few moments you will see before you 1,204 names in the honor roll of Phi Beta Kappa initiates at Cornell. When we took our first initiates in 1923, many deserving alumni were also inducted. Let me introduce you to a few of our Phi Bete predecessors:
- Alice Fellows Rigby, Class of 1867, arrived on campus by horse and wagon at age 3 with her father, Cornell’s first president. She and her husband produced a dynasty of more than 200 Cornell graduates.
- The oldest of Alice Rigby’s children was Jessie Rigby, Class of 1900, a Cornell librarian for 32 years described in her Cornellian obituary as a "gracious lady" with "a love of beauty in all the arts." How appropriate that she is recognized in Cole Library on this plaque.
- Leslie Shaw was governor of Iowa and served as secretary of the treasury under Pres. Theodore Roosevelt
- Erastus Burrows Soper raised the money for Alumni Gym, currently being transformed for the Dept of Art; he is also part of a Cornell dynasty.
- Ruby Clare Wade was Cornell professor of French for 30 yrs and is the namesake for Wade House, the home of our Admissions office.
- Lee DuBridge became president of the California Institute of Technology
- Don Fehrenbacker won a Pulitzer Prize
- Liz Isaacs was a beloved professor of English at Cornell
- Franklin Littell is a founding member of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. His life’s work is the advancement of religious liberty and the exposure of persecution.
- Victor Furnish is a prominent theologian and author of seven books (will return for his 50th reunion in October and speak on the interesting topic of "The Women in Paul's Life: Female Leaders in First-Century Christianity")
- Listed among the names are two Rhodes scholars who earned advanced degrees at Harvard: Edward Weismiller, a published poet and novelist who taught English at Pomona and George Washington University; and John Bohstedt, an author and professor of history at the University of Tennessee.
- Blanche Swingley Armstrong was an artist who funded Armstrong Hall of Fine Arts.
- Campbell McConnell wrote the best-selling economics textbook of all time
- Jerry Ringer, who is present today (acknowledge), is an ophthalmologist and currently the chair of our BOT
- Leo Beranek founded a high-profile acoustics firm and was an early contributor to the design of the Internet
- Lee Schmudde is VP of legal and environment affairs at Walt Disney World
- AND David Hilmers was an astronaut and is now a medical doctor and professor who has worked in the field of HIV in Africa and performs medical missions work internationally.
I encourage our faculty present, especially those who have taught here for many years, to take time to look at the names and find and remember their former students.
Before we do that, I want to share with you the story behind how this plaque came to be.
In 1977, Chris Ellerbroek graduated PBK and like many students, he did not have sufficient funds to purchase a PBK key. His two chemistry professors, Truman Jordan and Addison Ault, surprised him at initiation with a key. Truman and Chris have maintained a relationship since then and in December, Chris, now a pediatric radiologist in Des Moines, received a letter from Truman telling him about the plaque. Here is what Truman wrote:
"Some 24 years ago when you graduated, you made a promise that you have perhaps forgotten. Ah, but I have not forgotten. This event occurred on the third floor of West Science Center after you had been initiated into Phi Beta Kappa. Addison and I had purchased you a key, which was given to you as a surprise gift when you were initiated. You were obviously pleased with the gift, and you were standing in the door to the stairwell at the south end of the building. You thanked me for the gift, and you said, "I am going to do something significant for the college someday." Then you left. … I remember thinking at the time that you may not have realized what you said, but the time would come when I would remind you of that promise."
After describing the plan for the Phi Beta Kappa plaque, Truman explained the ways the chapter is working to increase its visibility on campus:
"In an environment where many activities compete for a student’s time," he wrote, "we want to make it clear to our students that academic achievements are as worthy of recognition as success in social and athletic activities."
That week Chris and his wife, Renee, made a major donation to cover the cost of the project and continue to fund the addition of names annually. Truman and Addison contributed an amount equal to a percentage of their gift. This plaque is possible because of a faculty-student relationship that Professor Jordan valued and fostered, and because of the generosity of his former student.
Professor Jordan and Dr. Ellerbroek, would you please do the honors and part the curtain to unveil our plaque?
In 1972, the University of North Carolina inducted into Phi Beta Kappa a student who would someday venture west and have a major impact on the future of Cornell College. That student was Les Garner, who this afternoon will finish his eighth academic year as Cornell’s president. During his years on the Hilltop we have seen the leadership and service programs founded and flourish and witnessed an improved residential experience. Our teaching, studying, and work habits were transformed by the introduction of a campuswide fiberoptic computer network and the renovation of Law Hall into a technology center. We have seen the renovation of this building, of Merner Hall, of McWethy Hall, of our athletic facilities, and soon, Armstrong Hall, its theater addition, and the new pedestrian mall. Under his leadership, our students and faculty are thriving. Les Garner is a valued member of Cornell’s Delta of Iowa chapter and is very supportive of our activities. Please join me in welcoming President Garner.
After you have viewed the plaque, please join us for Birthday cake honoring the 80th anniversary of our charter in 1922.