02/26/12 — Sorority chapter celebrates 60 years of service

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Sorority chapter celebrates 60 years of service

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on February 26, 2012 1:50 AM

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Tesha Isler, from left, Mattie Grigsby and Clarise McLeod talk Saturday at Alpha Kappa Alpha's 60th anniversary event. Isler is the president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Grigsby and McLeod were two of the charter members present at the event.

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Mattie Grigsby, left, and Renita Dawson look at an old Alpha Kappa Alpha photograph Saturday at the sorority's 60th anniversary event. Grigsby and Dawson were trying to figure out which one was Grigsby. Clarise McLeod and Grigsby are charter members.

Clarise McLeod stared down at the plaque in her hand as Renita Allen-Dawson listened intently.

Mounted on the plaque was a photo of Mrs. McLeod, 82, and the rest of the charter members of the Epsilon Phi Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, along with fellow charter member Mattie Grigsby, 84, who was seated on the couch beside her.

Together they are two-thirds of the chapter's living charter members, so Mrs. Dawson, the chapter's current public relations director, wasn't simply listening to their stories to put names with faces -- she was chronicling the chapter's history.

That history was on full display at the Epsilon Phi Omega chapter's Founder's Day celebration Saturday, which, this year, also marked the chapter's 60th year of existence.

Walnut Creek Country Club was fully decked out in the chapter's green and pink hues while each member, dressed fully in white, entered the banquet hall with a sense of excitement.

The excitement and energy was what drew the charter members to journey from Washington, D.C., and Charlotte to the event this year to help celebrate the group's six decades of service. The reunion's theme -- "Epsilon Phi Omega ... Through The Years," also echoed the nostalgic vibe of the event.

Still, they remember it like it wasn't so long ago.

"At that time we were young people -- right out of college," Mrs. Grisby said.

She had been initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha in 1947 -- a year before graduating from Johnson C. Smith University. She taught school in Wayne County at Central and Dillard High before earning her master's degree and returning to her collegiate alma mater to serve as a librarian.

At the time, she said, with her life ahead of her, there wasn't much discussion about the impact the club may have on future generations. Graduates from schools around the area, some from Lenoir and Wilson counties, came together to form the sorority's alumni chapter to stay in touch, continue serving and to fellowship.

"We just got together and had a good time," she said.

Her aunt's house served as the meeting venue for a number of meetings, she said, where the 20-somethings gathered to plan service projects, mostly dealing with helping out children.

Today, the chapter celebrates its contributions to dozens of agencies and charities from WAGES to Habitat for Humanity, as well as other projects like voter registration and a partnership with Wayne County Public Schools.

While the magnitude of the organization's dedication to service has increased during its history, Mrs. Grisby said the size of the chapter itself was the most notable change.

"Then, it was nothing like this," she said.

Nearly 60 members gathered at the event to fellowship and catch up with one another, but the program showed nearly 100 members -- a far cry from the dozen who began it back in 1952.

Both Mrs. Grigsby and Mrs. McLeod left the area shortly after the chapter's inception, so they were glad to see what their organization had grown into.

"That's the great thing to see now," Mrs. McLeod said, "how it's expanded."