100 years of Phi Beta Kappa

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The original resolution establishing the charter of Denison’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter

It’s celebration time for Denison’s 100-year-old chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, which has been thriving and growing since 1911 when its chapter was officially installed at the First Baptist Church in Granville. At that time, the society had established chapters at only 73 colleges and universities in the United States. Today there are 280.

Members of the academic honorary at Denison got together on campus last Sunday for a special luncheon in the Burton D. Morgan Center and were treated to an inside look at both politics and the fourth estate from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and his wife, Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning national columnist. At a presentation in Herrick Hall, Brown and Shultz were awarded honorary Phi Beta Kappa membership by biology professor and Chapter President Jeff Thompson, and the festivities were topped off with a reception in Denison’s newly expanded and renovated Ebaugh Chemistry Laboratories.

The luncheon attracted 40 Phi Beta Kappa members representing six decades of Denison graduates, current and retired faculty and staff, and two current students, Karen Watts ’12 of Delaware, Ohio, and Courtney Yong ’12 of Richmond, Calif., who were inducted last spring as juniors. Additional inductees from the class of 2012 will be selected for membership during the spring semester. A number of specially invited guests, friends and family members also were in attendance.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown addresses Denison Phi Beta Kappa members assembled in Herrick Hall.

Back in 1911, Professor Edwin A. Grosvenor, president of the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, presented the charter of the new Ohio Theta chapter to the Denison group, and Professor Francis W. Shepardson presided over the ceremony, filling in for University President Emory W. Hunt, who was recovering from an accident at the time.

For history buffs, Denison’s charter members included some familiar names in Denison lore: Ernest F. Burton, Augustine S. Carmen, Richard S. Colwell, Edgar J. Goodspeed, C. Judson Herrick, William B. Owen, and President Hunt and Professor Shepardson.

More recent Denison members include U.S. Senator Richard Lugar ’54 of Indiana; William Bowen ’56, former president of Princeton University and the Andrew Mellon Foundation; and Nancy Bero Petro ’70, former vice chair of the University Hospital Board at the Ohio State School of Medicine and author of “False Justice” (2010), who attended the event with her husband and co-author, Jim Petro ’70, former Ohio attorney general. In the last 100 years, Denison has inducted 2,565 members.

As the nation’s oldest and most widely known academic honor society, Phi Beta Kappa celebrates and advocates excellence in the liberal arts and sciences, and its campus chapters invite for induction the most outstanding arts and sciences students at America’s leading colleges and universities. In fact, only about 10 percent of the nation’s institutions of higher learning have Phi Beta Kappa chapters. The first chapter was founded on December 5, 1776, at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Since that time, a total of 17 U.S. presidents have been members of the honorary.

The Greek initials “Phi Beta Kappa” stand for the society’s motto, “Love of learning is the guide of life.”

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