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Paul Humphreys with his Phi Beta Kappa certificate.
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Bucknell Class of 1928 graduate Paul Humphreys celebrated his 100th birthday this week.
It was a wonderful party surrounded by friends and several generations of family, including a number of Bucknell graduates. But Paul's son, Richard Humphreys, Class of 1962, had a special surprise in store — membership in the nation's oldest academic honor society, Phi Beta Kappa.
Paul had graduated before a Phi Beta Kappa chapter was established at Bucknell. But in May 1942, he received a letter from the newly established chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, telling him that he was one of 20 members of the Class of 1928 to be nominated for membership in the brand new chapter. Such invitations were a common practice for new chapters.
As Richard tells the story, his father put the letter aside. The dark days of World War II were upon the nation. Pearl Harbor had been attacked only months earlier. Who could think about honor societies when the world was at war? "Everything was in turmoil and other things seemed to take precedence," Richard quoted his father as saying when he asked about the letter.
When Richard discovered the letter, it had been safely tucked away all these years in his father's personal papers. He wondered, was it too late to see his father presented with membership? An idea took hold. Wouldn't membership make a great 100th birthday surprise?
As Paul's 100th birthday neared, Richard prepared the necessary documentation that showed "clear evidence of the possession of distinguished scholarly capacities" that would clear the way for the present-day nominating committee to advance his nomination.
It is, indeed, a noted career. After graduation from Bucknell, Paul continued his studies at the Crozer Theological Institute where he was awarded bachelor's and master's degrees in theology.
He served as a life-long minister in Hightstown, N.J., and Waterbury, Conn., and has written books on church history. Among other honors, he received the Bucknell University Alumni Award in 1960, was profiled in Bucknell World in 2001 and, along the way, served in numerous community volunteer capacities.
On Saturday, June 24, as he celebrated his 100th birthday (his actual birth date is June 28), Paul became the newest member of Phi Beta Kappa and was presented with his official membership pin and certificate — more than 78 years after graduation and more than 64 years since he received the Phi Beta Kappa membership invitation. It made a milestone birthday celebration even more special.
"Phi Beta Kappa was a real surprise," said Paul from his home in Northampton, Mass. "My goodness. It was a real bump for me to hear that and to know that folks were interested in me. It made for a wonderful time."
Remembering that letter from 1942, Paul says, "I treasured it — that I was even considered. I've always had a profound respect for Phi Beta Kappa as a very important part of your life — if you were honored enough to receive the award."
Richard takes certain pleasure in pulling off the birthday surprise for his father.
"It was just spectacular. Everyone had a marvelous time and Dad was in great form," he says. "The PBK membership was a complete surprise and a big hit. He was absolutely delighted."
"The Mu Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa is honored to celebrate this remarkable man's life through membership in our society," says Chris Zappe, president of the Bucknell chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "Rev. Paul M. Humphreys is a shining exemplar of Phi Beta Kappa's motto, Love of wisdom is the guide of life."
Zappe adds, "His life has continually affirmed the key aims of this honor society: friendship, morality, and literature."
Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest and most respected academic honor society in the U.S. Today, there are more than 270 chapters nationwide.
"Mr. Humphreys' membership in Phi Beta Kappa is both an unusual and a heart-warming story. To our knowledge, it is the first of its kind," says John Churchill, president of the national honor society in Washington, D.C. "We welcome him to a society that has pursued its mission of fostering and recognizing excellence in the liberal arts since our country was founded."
Posted June 27, 2006