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Legacy of Literacy Story

Celebrating 100 Years of Literacy Service

Published On: 2013-01-24

Pi Beta Phi’s literacy efforts began in 1912 with the founding of the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in Gatlinburg, which brought education to an area of great need. Pi Phi staffed and operated the school for more than 50 years. Today, Pi Beta Phi Elementary School is operated by Sevier County and more than 300 students are enrolled in grades K-8. 

The celebration kicked off with a school-wide assembly at Pi Beta Phi Elementary School on Friday afternoon. During the assembly, the Fraternity presented nearly 10,000 Box Tops for Education® to the school’s PTA. Pi Beta Phi Elementary will redeem the Box Tops for 10 cents each and use the funds for educational materials.

The Fraternity also presented each student with a copy of “Remember the Ladies: 100 Great American Women” by Cheryl Harness. The children’s book features 100 women who shaped American history. The books, 700 in total, were donated in partnership with First Book. The title is also available on the First Book Marketplace for registered recipient groups.

That evening, Pi Phis, parents and many members of the Gatlinburg community enjoyed a performance of “Then and Now,” a play celebrating the 100th birthday of Pi Beta Phi Elementary School. Local Gatlinburg resident Marie Maddox wrote the play and all of the acting, costumes, hair and makeup were done by dedicated students, parents and teachers.

At the conclusion of the play, Pi Beta Phi Foundation President KATHY SWINEA NEVILL, Tennessee Gamma, surprised the crowd when she presented Pi Beta Phi Elementary School with a $10,000 check. The grant will help the school purchase books for their library to meet the core curriculum standards required of a Blue Ribbon school.

The next day began bright and early with a catered breakfast for Pi Phis and friends at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, hosted by Pi Beta Phi Foundation. After the meal, it was a short walk across the street to the plaza dedication.

More than 200 people gathered for the dedication ceremony, unveiling of the plaza and its statue and to enjoy a meet-and-greet reception, complete with arrow cookies and traditional mountain music by the band “Boogertown Gap.” Grand President MARY LOY TATUM, Oklahoma Beta, welcomed guests and remembered the women whose pioneering spirit in 1912 led to the literacy work of today’s Pi Phi women.

“One hundred years ago, a small group of dedicated and passionate Pi Phi women were challenged to find a way to honor the Fraternity’s founders with a philanthropic project, and those women had the vision to help others through education and literacy,” Mary said. “We gather to celebrate their spirit and the culmination of their efforts, including Pi Beta Phi Elementary School, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and the Arrowcraft Shop — all reminders of what can blossom from literacy.”

When the ceremony was over, guests crowded into the Centennial Plaza to watch the unveiling of a life-size bronze sculpture, created by Sculptor Doug Young, of Pi Beta Phi Settlement School’s first Pi Phi teacher, DELLA “DELL” GILLETTE MORGAN, Illinois Zeta. Dell was a beloved teacher and instrumental in increasing the enrollment of the school, among other accomplishments. 

The statue, featuring Dell and her student “Max,” was revealed to many “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd. Grand President MARY LOY TATUM, Oklahoma Beta; Pi Beta Phi Centennial Committee Chairman CAROLYN HELMAN LICHTENBERG, Ohio Alpha; Pi Beta Phi Foundation President KATHY SWINEA NEVILL, Tennesseee Gamma; and Sculptor Doug Young removed the veil from Dell as Pi Beta Phi Elementary School student Johnny Ayers played a drumroll and cymbal crash. 

Later in the evening, Pi Phis and Gatlinburg citizens attended the “Vintage Views” artist and author reception, lecture and historical film screening, held at Pi Beta Phi Elementary School. The film documented the founding of the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School and included interviews with many past students of the school. The video also featured clips from the Fraternity’s “Legacy of Literacy” video series

“I am deeply moved by how Gatlinburg and Pi Beta Phi joined together to celebrate this 100-year journey,” said Grand President Mary Loy Tatum, Oklahoma Beta. “The Settlement School helped blossom Gatlinburg into a thriving community of leaders. A lot can happen in 100 years, and Pi Beta Phi’s next 100 years will be no different. Pi Phis play a vital role in their local communities, and we look forward to the future philanthropic work of our Fraternity as we lead the way to a more literate society.”

For complete coverage of Pi Beta Phi’s Legacy of Literacy celebration, view the Winter 2013 Arrow.

You can also view additional photos from the celebration on Pi Beta Phi’s Facebook page.

  • To view photos from the assembly and book distribution at Pi Beta Phi Elementary School, click here.
  • To view photos from the dedication of Pi Beta Phi Centennial Plaza, click here.