By: Randall Goblirsch, Florida Gulf Coast
“Have you bought your Tri Delt pansies yet?”
This was a common refrain in Vernon, Texas in the fall, when the heat subsided in October and pansies were ready to be planted. It was when the local Tri Delta alumnae chapter, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, held their annual pansy sale which not only raised money for the community but also forged lifelong friendships for its members.
Sherry Grisham Spears, Texas Christian, credits the pansy sale fundraiser for keeping the chapter viable all these years. “You have to have a purpose each year, you have to have a reason to meet,” she explained. “Then members want to come and then continue to participate.” For Tri Deltas in Vernon, their purpose was the pansy sale. “We all looked forward to that, it was a fun day.”
Sherry, current alumnae chapter president, came to Vernon in the late 1960s as a newlywed and recent college graduate. Vernon, her husband’s hometown, has a population of about 11,000 residents and sits on the banks of the Red River at the Texas border with Oklahoma.
At that time a few Tri Delta alumnae had been active in the area for a number of years in an unofficial capacity. They encouraged young women from Vernon to participate in recruitment when they went off to college, wrote references and sent gifts to various Tri Delta chapters throughout Texas.
As a recent alumna herself, Sherry was interested about the possibility of Vernon having a chartered alumnae chapter. Over the next several years she reached out to friends to hear their alumnae experiences and eventually Tri Delta sent an alumnae volunteer who helped lay out their next steps. By this time there were 12 Tri Deltas in Vernon, a near all-time record high, and they all agreed to charter as an official alumnae chapter in 1981.
The Vernon, Texas Alumnae Chapter has averaged 8 to 10 members in its 40-year history with just one new member in the last 20 years. Sherry laughed, “You know what, more people move out of this town than move in!”
Tri Delta is the only Greek organization with an official alumnae chapter in Vernon and they can boast 100% participation from local women. If you were a Tri Delta who lived in Vernon, you were a dues-paying member of the chapter. While their local chapter numbers stayed small, Vernon is proud that so many young women who went off to college became Tri Deltas too. Sherry said, “We portrayed Tri Delta in a very positive light all these years.”
Beginning in 1990, the chapter coordinated the pansy sale. Sherry Youngblood Fuqua, Southern Methodist, one of the instrumental chapter founders who passed away in March, hosted the sale each year at her home. Members would arrive in the morning wearing matching T-shirts to share a potluck brunch then don their aprons embroidered with pansies and spend the rest of the day loading up 400 flats of flowers for buyers. By 2011, Texas was in a three-year drought which greatly impacted pansy supply, and the few members of the Vernon Alumnae Chapter were getting to the age where, understandably, they were less inclined to spend the day loading pansies into truck beds.
In its 20-year run, the pansy sale donated more than $58,000 to causes. Always keeping the focus of donations to benefit children, they gave to a variety of organizations including Cook Children’s Healthcare System and Wilbarger General Hospital. They purchased books and accelerated reading materials for the Vernon elementary schools and the local library, donated to the Vernon Fire Department and funded 33 scholarships for students at Vernon College.
“This chapter of 40 years has had quite a journey celebrating births, marriages, welcoming new members, saying goodbye to longtime members and mourning the loss of loved ones,” Sherry said. “It has been a journey of dedication to our community while never forgetting our Tri Delta bonds of enduring friendship to each other.”