Kappa Alpha Order

The planning for the Gamma Psi 50th Reunion

Sample Planning Guide & Reunion Planning Review
50-year chapter anniversary
(adapted from Gamma Psi Chapter)

CLICK HERE for the Reunion Planning Review Document

2008 (5 years out)

Initial discussions
Realizing the 50th celebration would be five years ahead, discussions were began about what events should be planned and how. This was an informal discussion to begin the thinking process.

Past and updated archives planning
A closet at the fraternity house had been used for many years as storage for composite photographs, records, newsletters and assorted memorabilia for the 45-year history of the chapter. This was not ideal.

Contact was made with the Archivist at the University Library to see if storage of historic items could be arranged. Since the university collections had little documentation of student organizations except for yearbooks and newspapers, the Campus Library was pleased to accept our offer to donate.

The process of sifting through boxes of files began. Any documents about student life and the members were hauled to the library along with any composite not hanging at the house. Then as a new composite arrives, the one taken down is moved to the university archives.

Discussions began about an exhibit to be organized for the 50th reunion and include its opening as an event for the planned celebration in 2013.

 

2009 (4 years out)

Continued discussions
Continued to think through what events would be most successful in attracting the largest number of “old” and “new” alumni.

The work in 2009 was basic organization to be ready for promotion of the reunion

 

2010 (3 years out)

Venue selection
The only venue largest enough for a dance to be the culminating event of a two-day celebration was the Natchitoches Events Center, and it would only accept reservations three years out. The first week in 2010 we booked the entire building. Being an university-affiliated group, a discount was given which reduced the cost by 10%.

Formal organization of Reunion Steering Committee
Once the facility was reserved the need for an organizational structure to recruit the highest attendance possible became apparent.

The planning was extended to a local Reunion Steering Committee of six alumni with an invitation to the chapter president to attend. These alumni reflected initiates from the 70s through late 1990s but each had a constituency of friends who could be useful in creating a successful reunion.

Two of our committee members were employed at the university (both former Number Is), another was a local KA banker, another from the 1970s was a former Number I and well known in the community, a former Number I, initiated in 1999 who as a salesman came to town weekly with many KA alumni friends in Shreveport from his generation, and finally a retired faculty member who already was producing an alumni newsletter three times a year and involved with the Active Chapter. He also had maintained a database since 1988 of members, which became an important resource in the reunion planning.

University alumni office involvement
Northwestern State University Alumni Office has allowed fraternities and sororities to mail their newsletters without cost (except producing the document) in an envelope with its return address and Address Correction Requested. Any returns or address changes is first processed in its records and then given to the local chapter for changes in its database.

Constituency engagement
The steering committee realized the best the way to get more alumni involved was through friends who had been in the fraternity.

The chapter had two semi-organized alumni groups. One from the 1960s who met each summer for a day of golfing. The second group, mostly of 1970 initiates, had used a fishing tournament over a fall weekend to be its annual meeting event.

The leaders of these groups were notified early since they would be essential in locating and encouraging attendance from the two oldest groups of members.

 

2011 (2 years out)

Utilization of organized age-based alumni groups
When the two organized groups had their annual events, information was given about reunion plans and to “hold the date.”

Newsletters starting in 2011 included the dates of reunion in 2013

 

2012 (1 year out)

Direct planning begins
The direct planning began early in 2012 with three tracks:

1. Planning events that would encourage the largest attendance (Parties by Decade).

Golf tournaments and sporting events were nixed as official activities. They could restrict numbers involved and also have spouses and guests left for our group to entertain or plan activities.

As such, all events were for everyone to attend.

The only exception was the first evening, as “Parties by Decades” became the event. Each group met by the decade they were initiated in a separate location, and each group planned its own activities outside the official schedule.

The 1960s group met in a patio with outside seating as well as a separate cash bar from the restaurant.

The 1970s chose an outdoor dining deck at a popular restaurant overlooking a lake. There was a fixed price buffet and each person paid for their drinks.

The 1980s bunch was downtown with a fixed price buffet of appetizers and cash bar.

The 1990s combined with the past 10 years since the participation of recent initiates would probably be less (which it was). The group had appetizers and a cash bar.

Our small historic town with a busy downtown had lodging and enough restaurants for three of the decade parties to be within a block and a half of each other and many were able to book lodging in a local inn or B&Bs.

Folks staying in this area were able to visit the KA House, the Memorial Service, and the Parties by Decades by walking.

The Reunion Steering Committee allowed each group to plan its Friday night event without any input.

2. Promotion through team leaders by decades to encourage attendance

The identity of our team leaders was announced early in 2012 and each “took over” contact with their group. This allowed for the steering committee to focus on overall reunion planning.

Interestingly one team leader of the 1980s lived in Amsterdam and was able to have as much contact and involvement by email and Skype.

3. Social Media and direct mail for overall group contact.

The retired faculty member on the steering committee established a Facebook page, Gamma Psi 50th, which became the main contact for the general audience of Gamma Psi members.

He used the last 50 years of college yearbooks as a source of photographs and the pictures he had hauled to the archives. For Facebook image resolution or quality was not critical so he was able to shoot many of pictures posted with an iPhone. By tagging the members in the pictures, the increased traffic garnered big interest and chatter among friends.

On Facebook, Gamma Psi 50th is an open site and can still be viewed.

In addition, the chapter mailed three newsletters, the summer edition, the fall edition and the spring edition in early January devoted exclusively to the Reunion with information on lodging options, activities, looking for bad addresses of members, and also trying to determine the deceased members for a memorial service.

The university alumni office assisted by researching its database and also trying to verify who we thought was deceased. Each time we published a list someone on it reported in alive and a couple more deceased were added to the list.

 

2013 (the reunion)

The Events
Several strategies developed in planning activities for the two-day reunion.

We wanted to get the alumni involved with the history of the chapter and the fraternity house and active members early but still not conflict with the planned activities.

Library Exhibition and Registration – Friday afternoon
Having stored historical documents in the library for several years and a cooperative staff, the first event on the agenda was opening of the exhibition, 50 Years of KA at Northwestern. The library was on the street into town from the interstate so registration and pickup of nametags were combined.

A concern among those planning was few folks would stop at the library but proceed to their lodging or the fraternity Open House later in the afternoon.

This concern was not valid since the largest crowd ever to attend an exhibition opening in the archives visited. An electronic counter indicated 351 guests entered between noon and 4pm.

The university library is closed on Friday afternoons so arrangements were made for access to the guests attending the KA function on the third floor. Active Members greeted guests outside and directed them to the elevators. The first two KA contacts for alumni participants were the KA letters in front of the building and chapter members outside the building.

All composites in the chapter history except the ones hanging at the KA House were on display. Another area had the all the small individual composites spread over two tables. Glass exhibit cases held an assortment of memorabilia including the original application for active chapter status and numerous T-shirts since the chapter’s founding.

The items donated were a great source of conversation among guests. A member had sent the hand written invoice for dues from 1971 and his university ID card. The variety of displayed items made the exhibition appealing for spouses and campus guests that also were invited.

Many yearbooks spread over the years were open in glass cases to the KA chapter page.

Open KA House – Friday early evening
The fraternity house is the only Greek lodging in a residential district so in order for neighbors not to complain about traffic and the commotion, invitations to the neighbors for the Open House were hand delivered by Active Chapter members.

The university alumni office hosted the refreshments, and the planning committee purchased a birthday cake to cut as a part of the program.

The university president, the city mayor, and Knight Commander William E. Dreyer attended. These invitations were made months in advance. The University alumni director, a KA, was master of ceremonies and gave opening remarks on the general history of the chapter, the university president talked briefly about Greeks on campus and their role, the mayor recognized the chapter for its 40 years of presence in this location and its contributions to the community, the Knight Commander talked about KA on campus and the connection with the Order as a whole, the chapter presented a tree to the university president to plant on campus as a symbol of future growth. (The chapter had presented a tree to the campus at its 30th birthday.)

The university marketing folks posted a short video on YouTube of the reception, which can be viewed at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUXbuncflFM&list=UU54lTPrE-UfX0zZaeezg85A

Following the formal part of the program, the first KA Rose in 1963 and the latest Rose from 2012 cut the birthday cake representing continuity in the chapter’s history.

Alumni were invited to tour the house and property. With so many activities planned over two days having the reception first insured everyone had time to come to the house and enjoy reminiscing together.

The excitement generated at the Open KA House was a great start to the weekend activities.

Then each group had an hour or so before the Parties by Decades began around 7pm.

Parties by Decades – Friday evening
Each party had a coordinator or coordinators who did all the planning, coordinating with guys from his era and carrying out the event.

The last decade was combined with the 1990s since we expected (and had few) attendees from the past 10 years.

All four groups opted for a location associated with a restaurant and bar. All had private rooms or area for their groups.

Our steering committee had little input or coordination, but the alumni coordinating had used the email and mailing lists for contacts. Team leaders worked phones to contact guys from their time period to attend the reunion and the Friday night party.

These parties were all successful with large attendance.

Memorial Service – Saturday morning
With two Methodist ministers in our alumni base, an idea evolved to host a memorial service at the local Methodist church just a block from the KA House.

Since the event was at 10am at the beginning of a long day, the steering committee was not sure how well attended the even would be. Our attendance was close to 150 with alumni, actives and spouses/guest.

Besides the two alumni officiating (Rev. Ray Varnado and Rev. Fred Fraser) and Ben W. Satcher, Jr. (Former Knight Commander and Chief Development Officer for the Kappa Alpha Order Educational Foundation), the local Methodist minister was on the program as well as an alumni leader, along with the Active Chapter I, II, and III.

Parts of the service were adapted from the public KA ceremony, “Chapter of Sorrow.”

Total time was about 45 minutes and certainly an appropriate and emotionally stimulating beginning to the day.

Lawn Party Picnic – Saturday afternoon     
The largest event planned for the reunion weekend was a Lawn Party at Cherokee Plantation where actives, dates, alumni, guests and parents of actives were invited.

The owners of Cherokee live out of town but on-site coordination was done with the full-time staff on the property. The Big House was not used because of lack of host and hostess for the historic property. A camp across the road on the banks of the Cane River Lake with a large garden of live oaks tree was the site of the picnic.

The caterer had access to a kitchen; two bathrooms in the camp were used for women. Porta-johns were rented for men.

The idea for a picnic event allowed for more seating and less restrictions on attendance.

A caterer was hired one year out. Arrangements for table and chair rentals were also booked a year out.

The event started at noon with the intention to eat about 12:50pm.

Then a program would recognize alumni, chapter members, parents and guests. Also several scholarships were presented. Knight Commander William E. Dreyer was the guest speaker. The event was dignified, yet relaxed.

Total length of the program was about 30 minutes.

Following the picnic and program, the whole group walked across the road to take the official photo in front of the Cherokee Plantation home. A video of the photo shoot is at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=715Wdga4JBI&feature=share&list=UU54lTPrE-UfX0zZaeezg85A

The schedule was kept, and the event ended before 3pm giving everyone rest time before the final ball that night.

Final Ball
The only venue large enough for a dance was the local city-owned Events Center. It had been reserved three years out. The services offered include full setup of tables, chairs, stage, and dance floor. A cash bar was contracted to a third party vendor. The rules of the venue require 1 security guard for 100 guests so planning for a maximum attendance of 500; we hired through the local city police five off-duty officers for $100 each.

Hiring a band to appeal to a diverse audience from 70-year-old alumni to current undergraduates was a challenge. An alumni committee in Shreveport watched and searched. The best choice turned out to be a band that specializes in cover music used to appeal to a diverse audience.

Remarkably at midnight when local regulations require the party to end, there were “old folks” as well as undergraduates on the floor for the last dance.

The band proved to be a popular compromise for all.

 

Assessment (post reunion)

How do you assess whether the reunion was successful?
Right at 200 alumni registered, with actives in the chapter and members on alumni status still enrolled in an undergraduate degree program, attendance of KAs totaled close to 230. Since the chapter has initiated just a few over 900 members in 50 years, the total attendance was around 25% of the total.

Our goal going into planning the reunion was 200 in attendance, and we achieved that.

In addition the registration process collected email addresses and a phone number for each alumnus. This is a valuable resource for future chapter alumni activities. A simple online form can be built or the active chapter can assist on their website.

Already alumni realizing such a big reunion is not feasible on a regular basis are planning group reunions in the next several years. This would be an important chapter support tool.

Also some alumni were not able to attend because of work or family obligations want to be included in activities planned in the next several years.

Many photographs from the weekend are still being posted on the Facebook site, Gamma Psi 50th. Even though the event has past, the site will continue to be used for alumni contact since nearly everyone attending was on Facebook or got on it for the information distributed during the planning stage.

How did we do financially?
With a $100 registration fee and a total income of about $20,000, all bills were paid including some for house repairs necessary to get the place ready for the Open House. About $2,000 should be left after some remaining bills are paid, and that will be placed in the Alumni Account to support chapter activities.

Were the results worth the efforts?
YES, our alumni base is much involved and active. The chapter has a greater realization of what being a KA means to men 70 years old. We are already hearing stories about what this old guy did or said about his chapter years, making the concept of KA a life-long experience much more meaningful than just something in a rush presentation or brochure.

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