A Brief History of the RFSA 1982-1988

by Margaret C. Berry

On Sunday afternoon, April 18, 1982, the Retired Faculty-Staff Association was organized. Several individuals deserve credit for stimulating interest in forming an organization for retired faculty and staff members at the University of Texas at Austin.

A club was formed in 1942 as the “Die? No, Sir! Club” for retired personnel. The name was changed to Dinosaurs in 1954. In 1979, when Dean Arno (Shorty) Nowotny was Secretary and only officer of the Club, he said that its Constitution stated that the purpose of the Club was “to prevent its members from fossilizing prematurely.” He further explained, “It’s just a fun organization for retired people …. We have no dues, no duties, no formal speeches, and no business to transact.” The small group met irregularly, usually for lunch, and were not a part of the University structure.

A letter dated January 30, 1979, from Henrietta Jacobsen to then Vice President for Business Affairs James Colvin, expressed an interest in forming an association of retired UT staff and faculty. She and Jim met and talked about possible benefits of such an organization. Clark Gill confirmed that he suggested to President Peter Flawn, after Flawn became UT President in September, 1979, that an organization for retired faculty and staff would have value for both members and the University. President Flawn asked Shirley Bird Perry, who was serving as Vice President and Coordinator of Centennial Activities, to implement the idea and keep him informed. Mrs. Perry worked with Clark Gill and Henrietta Jacobsen and others, and a Committee of Ten (retired personnel) was appointed by President Flawn in November, 1981, to get together for a discussion of the possible special involvement of retired personnel in the activities of the University.

Members of the planning group were Maurine Amis, Speech Communication; Stanley Arbingast, Marketing; William A. Cunningham, Chemical Engineering; Clark Gill, Curriculum and Instruction; Jack Holland, Student Affairs; Joseph Jones, English; Henrietta Jacobsen, Chancellor’s Office; Page Keeton, Law; Eugene Nelson, General Business; and Archie W. Straiton, Electrical Engineering.

Purposes, as stated in a preliminary memorandum to retired faculty, administration, and staff in the spring of 1982 were to (1) provide opportunities for UT retired persons to remain more closely associated with University life; (2) identify needs of retired members of the University community and initiate procedures to extend beneficial services to UT retired persons; and (3) schedule periodic social events and facilitate friendships. The consensus of the Committee members was that no dues should be charged for the first year of membership and that thereafter modest dues of $5.00 per year (increased to $10.00 in the fall of 1987) would be appropriate to help defray costs of communication and meetings. The fee would admit both retired person and spouse to membership. President Flawn offered to make available part-time help in Mrs. Perry’s office for record keeping, communication, and meetings.

Early in 1982, a subcommittee mailed questionnaires to 140 retirees; 92 were returned. Ninety people thought the concept of such an organization was a good idea, although two indicated that they personally would not participate and two others indicated that the concept was “questionable,” but said they might be personally interested. A majority favored quarterly meetings of the general membership and monthly meetings of interest groups.

After several months of work by the committee, an organizational meeting was held on Sunday, April 18, at the Joe C. Thompson Center to adopt a constitution, confirm the suggested set of purposes, and elect a slate of officers. Officers elected for 1982-1983 were Nevada Blackburn, President; H. Malcolm Macdonald, Vice-President; Art Cory, Secretary; and Robert E. Greenwood, Treasurer. Elected as At-Large Members of the Executive Committee were Olin E. Hinkle and Rhea Williams. Members of the Committee of Ten were retained for one year as an advisory board to assist the officers in getting the organization off to a good start. Art Cory resigned as Secretary, and Eugene Nelson was appointed to fill that office.

Vice President for Graduate Studies William Livingston represented President Flawn at the organizational meeting. Vice President Shirley Bird Perry called the meeting to order and gave a brief background of the planning committee. She then led the group into the formation of an association. Henrietta Jacobsen reviewed the Statement of Purposes, and Eugene Nelson commented on the proposed Constitution. After a brief discussion, William A. Cunningham moved that the body adopt the two documents; Jack Holland seconded the motion, and they were adopted by unanimous consent of the assembled group of over 200.

President Nevada Blackburn commented on the importance of the new organization and made announcements regarding membership cards and annual dues. The new association began its activities and programs in the fall of 1982.

Following the organizational meeting, a reception was hosted in absentia by President and Mrs. Flawn.

By August 1982, the association had 238 retirees and 141 spouses as members, a total of 379.

The fall meeting was on September 9, 1982, at 2:15 p.m. in the East Campus Lecture Hall. Over 260 attended. President Blackburn invited members to sign up for an interest group with Bill Cunningham as chairman, an exercise and sports group with Rhea Williams as chairman, a bridge group with Harold Bold as chairman, or a travel group with Loraine and Rex Jackson as co-chairmen. The highlight of the first regular meeting was an address by President Flawn, who assessed the state of the University. Joe Jones distributed a booklet, Waller Creek Wilderness Trails and Adjuncts, prepared by himself, S. P. Ellison, and Keith Young. It launched a series called “Walking the Forty Acres.” Following the meeting, President and Mrs. Flawn hosted the reception in the Eighth Floor Gallery of the LBJ Library.

A vocal group of 55 participated in the first discussion group session on September 23, 1982. The University’s medical insurance program was the topic. Clark Gill chaired a Benefits Committee that obtained, with help from Jim Colvin, permanent ID cards, beginning in September 1983. The Committee also procured reduced Faculty Center annual dues ($45; increased to $60 in 1988) and arranged for reduced prices for tickets to special events on campus.

The organization was off to a running start and grew considerably during its first six years, in size as well as in quality of the programs and services offered to the membership. With the president’s office providing organizational support through the office of the vice president for development and external affairs, the RFSA offered opportunities for UT retired persons to remain more closely associated with University life, identified needs of retired members of the University community, initiated procedures to extend beneficial services to UT retired persons, and provided periodic social events that facilitated new friendships and nourished old ones.

The interest and activity groups flourished and provided members informational and leisure time activities. Swimmers and walkers and an exercise class met twice each week; bridge players, an investments and finance group, and a luncheon group met once each month. The first trip made by the travel group was to San Antonio on October 14, 1982, where participants visited the Institute of Texan Cultures, had lunch at Mi Tierra, and toured the San Antonio Museum of Art (the old Lone Star Brewery).

In March, 1983, Stanley Arbingast suggested, in a letter to the Executive Committee, that the Association create a fund by grants from members to provide scholarships at the University. A motion made by Malcolm Macdonald to create a Centennial Retired Faculty-Staff Scholarship Fund was seconded by Jack Holland and was approved by the Committee. Contributions to this fund have been voluntary. By the spring of 1988, the Fund had in excess of $25,000, making it eligible for administration matching and in a position to receive UT President William H. Cunningham’s proffered $5,000 for each additional $10,000 increase in the fund. The first scholarship of $500 was awarded for the spring semester, 1986, to Pascale Vial, a graduate student. In 1987-1988, three scholarships of $500 each were awarded. The Fund contained approximately $40,000 by the end of the sixth year of the RSFA.

The executive officers of the Association bore the burden of responsibility for the organization. Monthly meetings during these first few years provided a vehicle for planning, reporting, and implementing RFSA business. Officers for the second year, 1983-1984, were Archie Straiton, President; Sam Ellison, Vice-President; Thelma Lockwood, Secretary; Bob Greenwood, Treasurer; Rhea Williams and Eugene Nelson, At-Large representatives; and Nevada Blackburn, Past President. Officers for 1984-1985 were Henrietta Jacobsen, President; Gene Nelson, Vice-President; Beth Cotner, Secretary; Bob Greenwood, Treasurer; Bob Higley and Rhea Williams, At-Large; and Archie Straiton, Past President. For 1985-1986, officers were Stanley Arbingast, President; Rhea Williams, Vice-President; Elizabeth Cotner, Secretary, Bob Greenwood, Treasurer; Joe Kennedy and Erna Pearson, At-Large; Henrietta Jacobsen, Past President. For 1986-1987, officers were Jim Colvin, President; Dorothy Lay, Vice-President; Elizabeth Cotner, Secretary; Robert Greenwood, Treasurer; Lanier Cox and Henrietta Jacobsen, At-Large; Stanley Arbingast, Past President. For the sixth year, 1987-1988 officers were Lanier Cox, President; Burnell Waldrep, Vice-President; Donald Strong, Secretary; Bob Greenwood, Treasurer; Ora Bennett and Delsie Neile, At-Large; and Jim Colvin, Past President. Elected for 1988-1989 were Ora Bennett, President; Orville Wyss, Vice-President; Emily Dunbar, Secretary; Bob Greenwood Treasurer; Charles Clark and Tom Morgan, At-Large; and Lanier Cox, Past President. Shirley Bird Perry was liaison person with the UT President’s office from the beginning. She was assisted at various times during the first six years by Pat Heath, Elvia Krajewski, Martha Burns, Mary Ellen Oliver, and Ester Tobias.

Graham Blackstock served as Editor of the Newsletter (published quarterly) from 1982 to 1988; Margaret Berry served as Historian and Archivist, and Joe Coltharp as Photographer from the first year of the organization. Each year active committees, including Caring, Peer Counseling, Benefits, Telephone, Volunteer Corps, Scholarship, and Membership enhanced the value of the organization to its members. A representative of RFSA served on the Gerontology Committee of the Institute of Human Development and Family Studies, and one served as RFSA liaison for the Longhorn Career Program. An Activities Calendar was distributed bimonthly; the President of the Association edited it the first four years, but an Editor was appointed thereafter.

From 1982 through 1988, the RFSA held four general meetings each year, two in the fall semester and two in the spring. Not only the programs, but the location of the meetings were of significance. Members were privileged to visit and have conducted tours of special places on campus, including the PAC-Opera Lab Theater, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery at HRC, UT System Office, LBJ Library, Erwin Center, Perry-Casteneda Library, Alumni Center, PTF Academic Center Fourth Floor Atrium, Bates Recital Hall, and the Balcones Research Center. The UT President’s state of the University address each fall was a highlight and helped keep retirees up-to-date. Each Christmas, beginning in 1984, the Varsity Singers provided entertainment. Examples of other programs at general meetings held during the first six years are (1) a report on UT wine-making by a representative from the UT System land management office in 1984; (2) a presentation about UT’s Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Program in 1985; (3) an address by Chancellor Hans Mark in 1986; (4) one by Dr. Charles B. Mullins about the role of research in universities and the special role of medical research in the UT medical institutions in 1988, and (5) one by Shirley Bird Perry about the University’s various constituencies in 1988.

The travel group, after its first trip to San Antonio, went to the Big Bend, Fredricksburg, Galveston twice, Jefferson, Hodges Gardens, Laredo, Kerrville, Washington-on-the Brazos and Winedale, the East Texas Dogwood Trail, the Corpus Christi Area, Epcot Center, Houston, Monterrey and Saltillo, and the Palo Duro Canyon.

At the October 6, 1988 general meeting, with Lanier Cox presiding, the definition of membership was clarified in Article II of the Constitution. The amendment established an Associate Member category and authorized the Executive Committee to consider applicants for this category of membership. The amendment also made explicit the fact that UT System employees are invited to be members.

Sixth-year President Lanier Cox noted membership growth and the obvious success of the Association as significant characteristics of the first six years of its history. Membership at the end of the spring semester, 1988, was 511. Requests from several universities and colleges about the structure of UT’s RFSA recognized the successful implementation of an idea for an association of retired University personnel.