Lessie Smithgall, longtime Brenau University supporter and friend, talks to Brenau Provost Jim Eck at a reception celebrating the university's intention to pursue a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Lessie Smithgall, longtime Brenau University supporter and friend, talks to Brenau Provost Jim Eck at a reception celebrating the university's intention to pursue a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau hosts reception announcing intention to form Phi Beta Kappa chapter

Mar. 7, 2019
Kristen Bowman
Lessie Smithgall, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, talks to Brenau President Ed Schrader at a reception celebrating the university's intention to pursue a PBK chapter. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Lessie Smithgall, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, talks to Brenau President Ed Schrader at a reception celebrating the university’s intention to pursue a PBK chapter. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau University and Lessie Smithgall, a long-time Brenau supporter and friend, hosted a reception on Thursday, March 7, to celebrate the university’s intention to have a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest academic honor society in America.

“Today, Brenau University formally announces our intention to seek a Phi Beta Kappa chapter during its next triennium,” said Brenau Provost Jim Eck. “Successfully earning a chapter requires compliance with over 75 criteria. Brenau has already developed task forces and working groups to ensure we are well-prepared for the next application cycle.”

The reception in Sellars Gallery acknowledged the long legacy of PBK in Northeast Georgia. The University of Georgia in nearby Athens has a PBK chapter, of which Smithgall was a member more than 75 years ago.

“We’ve pulled this together today to draw a line in the sand and talk about something we’re going to be working toward the next few years,” said Matt Thomas, Brenau vice president of external relations. “But the person who has really been the beginning process of this is Mrs. Smithgall.”

Matt Thomas, vice president of external relations at Brenau, speaks during the reception in Sellars Gallery. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Matt Thomas, vice president of external relations at Brenau, speaks during the reception in Sellars Gallery. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“My memories of Phi Beta Kappa go back,” said Smithgall, who will turn 108 on April 1. “I am proud to be a member. Phi Beta Kappa was a name I’d always been curious about. Where did it come from? I found out it came from Greek saying, ‘love of learning is a guide to life.’ Isn’t that beautiful?”

She said while she can’t recall memories of her own initiation into the honor society, she does remember “a tender moment” from joining.

Charles Davis, dean of the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, speaks with Lessie Smithgall at a Brenau University reception announcing Brenau's plans to seek a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Charles Davis, dean of the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, speaks with Lessie Smithgall. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“My mother was sitting in her wheelchair reading the Atlanta Journal when she called me and said, ‘Lessie! You’re a member of Phi Beta Kappa!” Smithgall recalled. “That was special.”

Brenau President Ed Schrader commended Smithgall for having the “idea, creativity and faith in Brenau” to pursue the chapter at the university. He said she called him a few months ago with the idea. “When Lessie says you need to do something, you need to do it,” he said. “Usually, there would be a lot of time and thought behind something like this, but she was absolutely right.”

To find out how you can assist Brenau during the application process, please email Eck at jeck@brenau.edu.

General inquiries: info@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6299 or +1-800-252-5119 | Admissions: admissions@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6100 or +1-800-252-5119 ext. 6100