TSU Celebrates Former National Association Presidents and Alumni Directors During 2015 Homecoming

By K. Dawn Rutledge

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – In 2012, Tennessee State University celebrated the milestone of its 100th birthday. It was a special time for the university’s alumni, students, faculty, staff and the community at-large. Now, the university’s alumni have something else to celebrate – a century of excellence – recognizing the achievements of the Tennessee State University National Alumni Association and those who have led alumni efforts over the past 100 years.

Robert Smith
Robert Smith (1998-2002)

Established in 1915 in Nashville, the TSUNAA has undergone a number of changes in direction and leadership – all leading to the growth of the association with members across the globe.

As part of the important work of chapters across the country, Tennessee State University is gearing up to salute all alumni for their dedication and support. The university will pay special tribute to those who have given their time in key leadership roles, specifically the former TSUNAA presidents, who will be recognized during 2015 Homecoming as the official Grand Marshals, and the former TSU alumni directors, who will be recognized as honorees.

James Ford
James Ford  (2002-2006)

The idea of an alumni association began to take shape in 1913 when a group of summer-session students anticipated forming such an organization following their graduation. A resolution was drafted formulating the idea of a national organization with elected officers – one president, one general secretary and one treasurer – along with one vice president and one secretary for each town or city. The idea was implemented by 19 members of the 1915 graduation class and 11 members of the 1914 class – all forming the first Alumni Association in June. Meredith G. Ferguson served as the association’s first national president.

After the institution changed from normal school to college status in 1922, President William Jasper Hale established an Office of the Alumni on campus in 1923. R.B.J. Campbell (’18) served as the first executive and corresponding secretary. Under the reorganization, Christopher C. Purdy (’22) became president, leading the association until 1928.

Ada Jackson
Ada jackson  (2006-2008)

“As an alum of Tennessee State, I am excited to celebrate the contributions of our alumni during the 2015 Homecoming celebration” said Cassandra Griggs (’93), director of the TSU Office of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving. “Each day I have the opportunity to connect with some outstanding alumni who are making the university proud through their professions, in their communities and around the world.”

Over the years, the TSUNAA has grown into a network of more than 3,000 national members in 40 active chapters. The association has been instrumental in supporting the institution its graduates fondly call their ‘alma mater’ by volunteering their time to recruit students, raise scholarship funds, and help to promote the academic and social advantages of a TSU education.

Leonard Stephens
Leonard Stephens (2008-2012)

Mary Knowles (’54, ’65), served as TSUNAA’s president from 1986 to 1990. She said she never intended to be president, but was “[I]pushed into it. I didn’t have sense enough to say no,” she laughed.

Despite her hesitancy to take on the highest-ranking leadership role for TSU alumni, Knowles’ tenure saw traction with a major focus on increasing membership and making sure people knew the benefits of a TSU education.

“We really tried to encourage chapters to give money to the TSU Foundation for student scholarships,” Knowles said. “We also spent a lot of energy encouraging alumni to recruit students to come to the school.”

Knowles worked at Meharry Medical College as registrar and director of admissions. She left in 1969 and headed to St. Louis and worked with Harry Stokes St. College as registrar and teacher certification before retiring in 2000 after 31 years.

“I know if it were not for my TSU education, I would not have had the life I have had, and the advantages and the opportunities to do what I wanted to do to be successful,” Knowles said.

James H. Ford, Jr. (’69), who served as TSUNAA president from 2002-2006, said under his administration he served two TSU presidents – Dr. James A. Hefner from 2002-2005, and Dr. Melvin N. Johnson from 2005-2006. Ford said that with the university’s Centennial so close at the time, he wanted to focus on preparing for that celebration.

“We put banners up on the campus announcing the countdown to centennial,” he said. “This was important because there are not many African-American businesses and organizations that make it to 100 years old.”

Leon King
Leon King, Alumni Director 1979-1990

Ford also initiated the Millennium Membership level for the TSUNAA, a new concept allowing graduates to join for a 10-year period as opposed to life membership. Also under his administration, Ford was instrumental in pushing for Vivien Thomas, a surgical technician who developed the procedure used to treat blue baby syndrome in the 1940s, to be installed into the TSUNAA as an honorary alumni member. Emphasis was also placed on fundraising for scholarships and student recruitment under Ford’s administration.

Dr. Ada Jackson followed Ford as national president and focused on building regional attendance and membership. She was in tune with regional concerns due to her experience as the association’s Mid-South Regional vice president two years prior.

Chris Whitfield
Margaret Whitfield, Alumni Director 1990-2000

“Dr. Jackson worked closely with the university president to ensure that the national association provided the greatest level of support to program and events,” said Dr. Darlene Harris-Vasser, TSUNAA’s current executive secretary. “Dr. Jackson can be recognized for hosting one of the most successful National Alumni Association conventions in its history.”

Harris-Vasser added that many of the TSUNAA presidents were instrumental in trying to increase communications to and among alumni chapters and worked hard to strengthen the programs and activities of the national organization.

Michelle Viera
Michelle Viera, Alumni Director 2000-2011

The Grand Marshals for the 2015 Homecoming who will attend the Oct. 16 Scholarship Gala include:

  • Robert Smith, Esq., 1998-2002
  • James H. Ford, 2002-2006
  • Ada Jackson, Ph.D., 2005-2008
  • Leonard Stephens, 2008-2012

Former TSU alumni directors who will be honored are:

  • Leon King, 1979-1990
  • Margaret C. Whitfield, 1990-2001
  • Michelle Viera, 2001-2011

“One hundred years is a milestone that we should embrace and be proud about,” Griggs said. “I challenge all alumni to give a little more time and resources to support the education of future alumni years to come.”

Department of Media Relations
Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University

With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.