The Chapters in Our Lives
By Martha Hunter Shepard ′66
After people go to Rhodes, they find that Rhodes goes with them. With alumni located around the world (you never know who you’ll run into, or where), and with a solid base of 16 Rhodes Chapters sprinkled about the country, reconnecting with the college is easier than ever. Chapters, arms of the Rhodes Alumni Association, have been called “outpost communities” of alums, parents and current students. More than that, they’re like families who come together for old and new times’ sake, for fun and fellowship that always end up helping the college in myriad ways.
You can find Chapter members at ballparks cheering for the Nationals, Astros, Travelers or Round Rock Express. They tailgate when the Lynx play local colleges.
The Nashville Chapter attended the opera last year, and Chicago hosted a night at the theater, taking in a performance by Heather Tyler ’97. Austin turned out to share some laughs when attorney and comedian John Ramsey ’02 headlined at a comedy club.
Members of the Alumni Relations, Admission, Athletics and Development staffs travel to these gatherings. Often, a Rhodes professor will be there to speak about current events or the featured artist at an exhibition. Chapters also like to invite prospective students and their families to meet Rhodes people, including President and Mrs. Troutt, who enjoy attending as many of these events as they can.
Every Rhodes Chapter has a website, and many have a Facebook page to promote current events and contacts within the region. The St. Louis Facebook page features side-by-side pictures of the Gateway Arch and the Rhodes arch between Robinson and Williford. Most Chapters encompass large metropolitan areas. Others are more regional, like the Arkansas Chapter headquartered in Little Rock, North Texas in Dallas, or the New England Chapter based in Boston. (See Alumni Relations Director Bud Richey’s column to see how it all works.) Memphis, with the most alums (more than 3,000), last year divided itself into four geographic “clubs”: Downtown, East, Midtown and Germantown/Collierville. It simply makes it easier for people to get together.
And do they love to get together— for happy hours and trivia nights at local pubs, dinners out or crawfish boils and barbecues at people’s homes. Sometimes, young alumni like to do things on their own, like have a spectacular sunset-on-the-river party on the rooftop of Memphis’ Madison Hotel. And, bygones being bygones, some Chapters even party with alums of rival colleges.
Anne-Marie Crifasi ’07 in New Orleans loves it all, including when the Chapter “co-happy houred” with Sewanee and Vanderbilt alums last year. She especially enjoyed a Chapter-only reception and the chance “simply to meet, mingle and reminisce with Rhodes friends, faculty and family, both old and new.” She adds that “connecting with generations of Rhodes alumni enhances the fundamental unity we share. It helps keep Rhodes alive.”
Many Rhodes people like to remember the city of Memphis, a large part of their college experience: The Arkansas Chapter marks Elvis’ birthday at a restaurant where the chef makes fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the King’s favorite. Some even risk heresy: The Houston Chapter is known to have hosted a Memphis-style barbecue the same weekend as the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
And just as they did in college, Chapters take community service seriously. They do things on their own, or team up with local organizations to help make the world a better place.
For instance, Birmingham hosted a benefit show for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Austin Chapter members, following the lead of service chair Harry Swinney ’61, regularly volunteer at a lunch program for the homeless.
The North Texas Chapter sponsors a team for the Step Out Walk to fight diabetes. The team, “Adah’s Rhodesters” was formed in memory of Adah “Laura” Coultas ’01 who passed away due to complications from diabetes.
What happens in Chapters definitely doesn’t stay in Chapters. The fellowship and fun always come back to aid the college. Members recruit at college fairs, host receptions for prospective students and their families, have “yield” parties for accepted students who haven’t yet committed to Rhodes, then host summer send-off receptions for the first-years who have.
Bobbo Jetmundsen ’77, chair of the Atlanta Chapter, and Rhodes parents Dr. Peter and Linda Tufton in New Orleans hold records for having hosted the most events. Jetmundsen seemingly holds open houses for Rhodes year-round, welcoming area prospective and accepted students and their families and hosting Chapter get-togethers.
In New Orleans, the Tuftons, parents of Margaret ’08, Michael ’09, Anne ’10 and Ashley ’13 are right up there with Jetmundsen. In fact, after one summer send-off, a guest was heard to say upon leaving, “Thank you for a wonderful time. See you next year!”
In the Washington, DC, area, Charlie and Lucy Cook, parents of Becky ’08, are staunch Rhodes supporters as well.
“Lucy and I have known of Rhodes’ great reputation for 40 years, but it was Becky’s enthusiasm and love for Rhodes that she developed as soon as she arrived in 2004 that was contagious,” says Charlie. “We soon became evangelistic in our zeal to promote Rhodes in the Washington area, when it was just beginning to get on the radar screen for high school counselors, students and parents. Becky received her B.S. degree in Biology in 2008 and is almost finished with her graduate work toward a master’s in genetic counseling, but we still support Rhodes financially and promote the school enthusiastically. What’s there not to like? I don’t know how someone could have an experience with Rhodes and not be incredibly impressed by the students, faculty and administration.”
Terry ’79 and Trudy Palmer-Ball Regan ’82 in Cambridge, MA, share the Cooks’ sentiments.
Trudy says it’s fun reconnecting with the Rhodes community, but, “Basically, we just want to spread the word about Rhodes up here. In New England, people seem to fixate on a select few colleges and don’t even bother to look outside that list. We’re just glad to give some of these more adventuresome students a new alternative. It can be hard convincing them to look outside the box, but the few who do are really loving it. Academically, I believe Rhodes is just as strong as many of the New England colleges. Plus, the college admissions process is so stressful these days, it’s wonderful to be able to tell students from the Northeast about a really strong choice that would be a good fit for so many of them.”
Chapters don’t stop after getting students to Rhodes. They’re also big on holding career networking events, usually in the spring, helping find internships for current students and jobs for new graduates. The DC website even includes an “Internship Manual” and some “Job Hunting Tips for Federal Jobs” in the District.
There are one-on-one instances as well. When Shannon Myatt ’92, an account manager at Reuters America in San Francisco, heard that Effie Du ’11 was interested in moving to the bay area after graduation to pursue a career in business/finance, Myatt invited her to meet with her in her west coast office. Du flew out over fall break, met Myatt and a colleague for an informational interview and was provided with names of potential employers.
“Effie is a delight, says Myatt. “The whole encounter re-instilled the pride I have in the college. I can now pretend that I am as smart as she is since I went to the same school! All joking aside, I’m happy to be an advocate for Rhodes in any way I can.”
Elizabeth Tyson ’02, a New York documentary maker, has asked for Rhodes interns. Assistant Professor of Art Liz Daggett, who heads Rhodes’ CODA program (Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts), had already planned to accompany several CODA students in New York in January, so it was a natural for them to meet.
Says Daggett: “We were so excited to have met with Elizabeth. The theme of our trip was ‘surviving in the arts,’ and Elizabeth is a great example of not only surviving, but thriving. Her art history concentration at Rhodes provided a broad base, which makes her an excellent documentary producer, and I was happy to talk to her about that, as well as internship opportunities for current Rhodes students. The alumni network, from what I have seen, makes a fantastic effort to support not only other alums, but the current students, and that’s really remarkable.”
Rhodes Alumni Clubs were put in place in the 1990s but went dormant until 2003 when Bud Richey took the helm as associate vice president and director of Alumni Relations. At the time, veteran Rhodes recruiter Billy McLean ’57 in Mobile, AL, and Dave Wottle, then dean of Admissions, teamed up on Richey, encouraging him to re-establish them. McLean emphasized that Mobile alums would be more than happy to open their homes for many kinds of events. That set the standard, and in four months’ time, the Mobile Chapter was born, with McLean as president. Other Chapters followed in rapid succession.
“Chapters continue to do so much to help advance the college,” says Richey. “And it doesn’t matter how far they are from campus, they’re all eager to engage in Rhodes activities. It is difficult to imagine turning back the clock to the days before our chapters were in place.” Carey Thompson, Rhodes’ new vice president for Enrollment and Communications, agrees.
“Coming from two other colleges that Rhodes would consider close competitors and ‘like’ institutions in many ways, I’m highly impressed with Rhodes’ ability to command attention so far from home,” Thompson says. “On a recent ‘listening trip’ to Dallas, Houston, Austin and Denver, I was astounded with the level of interest in Rhodes in geographic regions that are distant from Memphis. While there is much work to do to spread the word about Rhodes, I believe the potential for the development of the national reputation of the college is outstanding.”
Marynell Branch ’77 founded and heads the Arkansas Chapter as well as the Rhodes Alumni Association. She sees “more and more younger alums becoming involved. I’m liking the numbers,” she says. “We’re building our bench.”
With a total of 14 years’ service, Branch is the longest-serving member of the Alumni Board. And she doesn’t do it for nothing.: “It has meant a whole lot to me. When you believe in something, you want to give back, and this is my way. Financially, you can always give, but giving with your heart and service is part of the Rhodes experience as well.”
Rhodes Chapter Events