Chapter Development

By Jane Dearing Dennis

Cornerstone: an indispensable and fundamental basis; a person or thing of prime importance.

By this definition, Mississippi’s First Alumnae Association has not one – but 38 cornerstones. These are its 38 chapters through which members can stay connected with each other and work together to support the W.

Chapters provide alums many opportunities to support the W and each other. “Chapters can raise funds for much-needed scholarships, recruit new students, invite faculty to share news about what is happening in the classrooms, network for each other, and … well, the possibilities are endless,” Anne Teague Dees, the alumnae association president noted. And, she added, “It is often difficult for alums to get back to campus regularly when we live hours away from Columbus, so chapters provide a link to the campus.

In addition to connecting people, chapters have the grassroots ability to positively impact fundraising for the university as well. “Chapters are an integral part of what ties alums to the W,” said Shirley Rutherford Spain ’64, who was instrumental in revitalizing the Birmingham, Ala., Chapter in the last year. “A strong chapter network is critical for the university to receive support from the average alum. I think the big donations may come without this connection, but the support from the masses needs to come from some sort of personal contact,” she observed. And Chapters are all about personal contact and connections.

At one time, all chapters followed a traditional model of organization. Recognizing that technological advancements have created other models of linkage, MFAeA has expanded the scope and definition of chapters to include three different and distinct models:

(1) The Traditional Model offers a formally structured pattern of organization. There’s usually a president and other elected officers, a dues structure, a regular meeting schedule and local projects determined by the membership.

(2) The Informal Model often has a contact person who steps to the plate and agrees to guide the group and its activities. Gatherings are held from time to time and reflect extreme flexibility in regard to format, schedule, activities and projects.

(3) The E-chapter Model breaks all molds. E-chapters may consist of members from a widely dispersed geographic area, who, lacking access to a local chapter, opt to create a community in the virtual world of the Internet and other modern technology. E-chapters are often designed to facilitate connections between alumnae with shared interests or common pursuits — a common major, members of the same social club or organization, or a shared professional field, hobby, interest or pursuit.

There is no minimum number of members required to organize a new chapter. If you live in an area that has no local chapter nearby, consider organizing one. By placing another cornerstone for MFAeA you will be creating opportunities that combine fun and fulfillment, social interaction with service.

Seeds are being planted daily for new chapters. To find out about existing chapters in your area or explore establishing a brand new chapter, please visit the MFAeA web site, or contact Chapter Development Committee chairperson Shirley Spain at

Jane Dearing Dennis ’80 is currently a freelance writer and antique dealer who lives in Little Rock, AR