History of the TTU Alumni Association
By Tracey Narrie Duncan and Mark Hutchins
A life-long connection between alumni and their alma mater has existed for nearly 100 years on the Tech campus, and the collective strength of those who have come through its doors is one of the hallmarks of the university’s success.
That connection was formalized early on through the Constitution of the TTU Alumni Association, which states that the association’s purpose is to “serve and to promote the interests of Tennessee Technological University and its alumni. The Association shall establish and maintain mutually beneficial relations between the University and its alumni. It shall encourage and foster a spirit of fellowship, loyalty, and pride among alumni and friends, faculty, staff, and students of Tennessee Technological University.”
Alumni Association Structure
The earliest list of officers found for the Alumni Association Board of Directors is from 1921-22. The board president was T.W. Kittrell (Tennessee Tech bursar from 1918 to 1967); vice-presidents were Silas Anderson, Bonnie Hudson, and C.C. Cloyd; and the secretary-treasurer was E. Lillian Smartt. The next year, Kittrell remained president, but the board was restructured to include only two vice-presidents, a secretary-treasurer, and three general executive committee members. That format continued until the 1950s when directors from each region were added to the slate of officers. In the 1970s, a faculty representative was added, and the Associated Student Body president served as student representative. Chapter presidents also served on the executive committee. In 2002, the entire executive committee structure was replaced by an advisory board, with representatives from each college, each decade of graduation, and the geographic areas of Middle and East Tennessee, as well as Georgia and Alabama.
Other board presidents through the years include many names familiar to Tennessee Tech and the local community, including W.J. Huddleston, James W. Murphy, Thurman Shipley, James Seay Brown, Jared Maddux, Wesley P. Flatt, Jr., Henry Shelby, Mary Alice Little, Landin Boring, and Dwight Henry. Former Alumni Office Director Geeta Pratt McMillan (1986-96) served as board president in 1987-88, and current Alumni Advisory Board member Randy Wilmore served as president in 1991-92. The current president is Julie Mills Galloway.
Directors of the campus office of Alumni Relations did not come along until much later in the association’s history. Tom Moran was hired as the first full-time alumni and development director in 1965. The April 1968 issue of The Tennessee Tech Alumnus states that three alumni chapters were in existence when Moran joined the staff; 19 existed when he left. A computerized alumni record system was also installed while he was on staff, and funds were established to which alumni could donate, including the Eagles’ Nest for athletics, the Charles F. Bryan Memorial for music, instructional enrichment, alumni memorial room, alumni scholarships, and enrichment funds. Since that time, the office of Alumni Relations has disbanded, been combined with job placement services, and then again combined with development efforts, until finally becoming its own department in 2000. Through the years, alumni directors have been Peggy Mahaney, J. Allen Ray, Gifford Walker, Geeta Pratt McMillan, Lee Wray, and Tracey Narrie Duncan – all alumni of Tennessee Tech.
Alumni chapters were the heart and soul of the association for many years. Chapters in Tennessee were established beginning in the early 1950s in the Upper Cumberland (Putnam, White, and Warren counties), Nashville, Knoxville, Oak Ridge, Chattanooga, Columbia (Southern Middle Tennessee), Franklin County, Macon County, Coffee County, Cumberland County (Mid-Cumberland), and Tri-Cities (Upper East Tennessee). Other chapters followed in Birmingham and Huntsville, Alabama; Houston, Texas; Washington D.C.; Atlanta, Georgia; and Orlando, Florida. Chapters were social, meeting monthly or quarterly at public venues or alumni homes. Some chapters also raised money, establishing scholarships for children of their communities to attend Tennessee Tech.
Probably the most successful chapter at establishing scholarships is the Southern Middle Tennessee chapter out of Columbia, home of the annual Mule Day celebration in April, which began in 1807 and is a huge weekend event. In the mid-1970s, TTU alumnus Wilson Barnett acquired the rights to sell Mule Day t-shirts, coffee mugs, belt buckles, and buttons for the chapter, which produces and staffs the Mule Day booths. All proceeds go into scholarships to send students from Maury County to Tennessee Tech. Over the years, this chapter has raised more than $350,000 and is the only formal chapter still in existence today because of this arrangement. For its efforts, the entire chapter was the recipient of the Alumni Association’s Outstanding Service Award in 2004.
Nationally, alumni chapters began losing their popularity and disbanding in the late 1990s, and that trend occurred at Tech, too. As more civic and non-profit organizations came into existence, attendance at alumni chapter meetings dwindled. Chapter meetings were replaced by annual or bi-annual alumni events in areas where the chapters were once strong, and the funds in the alumni chapter accounts designated for scholarships were folded into a scholarship fund awarded by the Admissions Office for children of alumni.
Funding of the Alumni Association
In the early years the Tennessee Tech Alumni Association was run by volunteers. There is a notice in the inaugural issue of the Tech Alumnus (April 28, 1955) for the annual alumni meeting and banquet to be held on May 28, 1955. Dues for 1955-56 were $1 and a plate at the banquet cost $1.50. When a full-time alumni director was hired, some state funds were used for the association.
From the late 80's through 2013, the work of the association was funded by an affinity credit card program, popular among many universities. All purchases made by alumni on these credit cards benefited their university, so they were widely used. The first such local program was established between the TTU Alumni Association and First Tennessee Bank in 1987. The Alumni Association received about $300 that year. In 1994, TTU entered into an agreement with MBNA (which later sold to Bank of America) to market these credit cards nationally. The association received more than $1 million for this program over the years. The money funded the operations of the Office of Alumni Relations and the Tennessee Tech Alumni Association, so that state funding was only necessary to pay staff salaries.
Other affinity programs have been added over the years supplementing the operating budget as well, such as long-term care and short-term (gap) health insurance, alumni travel, Golden Eagles-blend coffee, and TTU wines, all available on the association's web site.
With the downturn in the economy, large sum commitments from national banks became a "thing of the past" for TTU and most other universities in 2013. The Alumni Association is still funded by its other affinity programs however, and is searching for other programs that will benefit its alumni as well as offer income to fund Alumni Association programs.
The Golden Eagle Marching Band in the 1966 Homecoming parade as it makes its way down North Washington Avenue.
The first Homecoming was held on Thanksgiving Day, 1928, and celebrations ever since have included a parade with colorful floats, Tech’s marching band and those of nearby high schools, and an ROTC detachment. Though the dates now change, it is amazing that Homecoming is still so similar – always bringing back to campus alumni, friends, and community members to enjoy the parade and the afternoon football game.
Homecoming is generally the event most identified with by alumni. The number of graduates who return every year varies greatly, and so have the related events. The parade and football game are the two most consistent elements; other activities have included an alumni banquet, which was well attended for many years before there were other events to compete with it; fraternity and sorority open houses and parties beginning in the 1970s with the formation of Greek organizations on campus; a Friday night gathering at the Holiday Inn downtown; alumni awards ceremonies; and now tailgate lunches and department banquets. Homecoming is the one time a year that today’s students and former students come together to celebrate their affection for their school.
That inaugural issue of the Tech Alumnus in April 1955 was chock-full of notable events, including a notice that the classes of 1935 and 1945 were to be honored at the alumni banquet that year in May.
Class reunions were a very early tradition that continued for decades. As time went on, however, and classes got larger, fewer alumni felt quite the affinity for the class with whom they graduated, and attendance steadily declined. Fortieth and 50th reunions continued until 1999, after which the 40th was dropped. Fiftieth or “Golden Grad” reunions continue to this day and continue to be popular.
The Class of 1929 at a class reunion in 1955, pictured here in front of Prof. Kittrell's house.
Class reunions were first held at the annual alumni banquet in the spring. Later they were moved to Homecoming. Each group of association officers chose which groups to reunite and the dates. In 2002, the Golden Grad reunion was moved to a date prior to Homecoming in the fall, because Homecoming had become such a busy weekend that events were competing with each other.
The current format includes a welcome reception, seats in the president’s box in Tucker Stadium for a home football game, a bus tour of campus, lunch with individual colleges, a medallion ceremony and banquet inducting classmates as “Golden Grads” and a farewell brunch hosted by the president and first lady at Walton House.
Becoming more popular over the past five years or so are “affinity-group” reunions – gatherings of alumni who were members, for instance, of the marching band, ROTC, major varsity sports, Greek organizations and more. The goal is to keep alumni connected with their alma mater in the way they best remember Tech.
Over the years, Tennessee Tech alumni have achieved great notoriety, serving as generals, an admiral, professional athletes, corporate CEOs, artists, politicians, journalists and many other positions of note. It’s simply not possible to list all the alumni who have gone on to prominent and newsworthy positions, but the top echelon would have to include Harry Stonecipher, retired chairman of Boeing; Carolyn Lee, first woman to serve as associate managing editor of The New York Times; Rodney Atkins, award-winning country music artist; Roger Crouch and Barry Wilmore, shuttle payload specialist and astronaut, respectively; and Richard Cox, award-winning tenor with the Metropolitan Opera.
Several of those graduates have been honored with awards from the Tennessee Tech Alumni Association, as have dozens of others over the years. The first Tech Alumnus is where the first mention of alumni awards arose, and five men were later honored in the Eagle yearbook as “outstanding alumni”: Wallace Prescott, W.J. Julian, Bryce Douglas Stone, Paul Moody Koger, and S.G. Mesamer. Unsurprisingly, alumni were spotlighted and honored in other issues of the Tech Alumnus, but an alumni awards ceremony wasn’t organized until 1975, when the university recognized the recipients of awards to “distinguished alumni” each year at Homecoming. In 1981, awards for outstanding service were added – and these sometimes honored friends of the university who weren’t alumni. Awards for young alumni began in 1985.
In 2008, due to a diminishing interest in awards ceremonies and competition from other Homecoming events, the Alumni Association decided to move the ceremony to its own weekend in late January/early February. The former awards structure was dismantled as well; now, each college selects its own outstanding alumnus, and at this dinner and ceremony, all six are recognized.
Some of those names are no doubt familiar even to the newest of Tech’s alumni, because the university has also recognized them by naming academic and residence halls in their honor. Tech alumni have served and continue to serve as great ambassadors for the educational experience that the university has become known for. But the most wonderful feature of an alumni association is that the story will continue well beyond the memories of the 66,000-plus men and women who have already graduated from Tech.
(The above information was taken from "Practical Work - 100 Years of Dixie College & Tennessee Tech University", a book produced in 2009 to celebrate the centennial of Dixie College / TTU.)
— Tracey Narrie Duncan is director of alumni relations. Mark Hutchins is former vice president for university advancement.