Reflections on the value of a Mortar Board experience

By: Bridget Williams Golden (Purdue University, 1997)

Kathy Campbell during her service on the National Council in the 1970s.

Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2011 Forum

Kathy Kuester Campbell (University of Nebraska, 1968) had an insider’s view during the vote to open membership to men. She served on the National Council as national director of conference and alumni under the leadership of National President Jayne Wade Anderson from 1975-1979. Campbell actually coordinated the special 1975 meeting in Kansas City when the vote was made. She made sure there was a delegate from every chapter for this important meeting.

Reflecting on the decision to add men, Campbell states, “Actually, the reaction was quite positive and we saw chapters admitting men the first year and then men attending meetings and conferences. The fact that we had made such an effort to have every chapter represented at the special meeting and hear the discussion probably was a key factor in how smoothly the decision was incorporated into practice.”

Her husband, Dick Campbell, drove her to the meeting in Kansas City and she recalls how a paper ballot was passed after the formal decision to admit men to tap Dick as the first man to become an honorary member.

Mortar Board’s influence on Campbell’s life began from the moment of her tapping. She reminisces over her tapping into the Black Masque chapter at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. “Tapping was quite an affair. It was held on May Day with University Sing and lots of activities.” Women who thought they might be tapped sat on the lawn in a designated area, hoping a Mortar Board member would come and place a black mask on them, followed by an announcer reading her activities. Campbell sat on the lawn with her Alpha Delta Pi sorority sisters who came to support her. Her parents were invited to the tapping; all the parents were seated at a hidden location – a balcony overlooking the lawn.

Campbell says, “Mortar Board was an excellent laboratory to know what it was like to work with a group of all leaders and to learn the importance of relationships.” In fact, she says, “Through the years it’s been an interesting network of people in Mortar Board. I see the same people in Mortar Board in leadership again and again.”

A loyal Cornhusker fan, Campbell has lived most of her life in Lincoln, Neb. Dr. Marylu McEwen (Purdue University, 1957) served on the National Council with Campbell and fondly remembers her as always having “a lot of energy, initiative, and love for Mortar Board. She was fun to work with — had many ideas and worked hard for Mortar Board.” Campbell thoroughly enjoyed serving and admired the “strength of women in leadership positions across the United States.”

Kathy as a Nebraska state senator.

Campbell has worn many different leadership hats since her service on the National Council. After a career that included teaching, owning and operating a plant nursery with her husband, serving on her county Board of Commissioners for 16 years, and working as the executive vice president of the CEDARS Home for Children Foundation, Campbell now serves as a senator in the Nebraska state legislature. Campbell describes her leadership style as “enabling, participatory, and inclusive” and tries to help other people work with their skills and strengths to reach their potential.

Kathy with her husband Dick (the first man to be made an honorary member of Mortar Board), daughter Carrie and grandson Will.

Campbell is also the proud mother of two grown children, Andrew Campbell and Carrie Campbell Grimes (Purdue University, 1999), and grandmother of Will Grimes. Campbell described the pride she felt when she traveled to Purdue to be a part of her daughter Carrie’s Mortar Board initiation. “It was so exciting to be there with Barb Cook with whom I had served on National Council,” she said. The pride is mutual as her daughter Carrie describes her admiration for her mother, “I have always wanted to grow up to be like my mom. She is the role model you look up to. From her devotion to her community to her love for her family, she is an amazing woman who exemplifies what a true leader is.”

“A Mortar Board chapter is a great composite of different leadership skills that will help you in your professional lives. Take the time to get to know your fellow Mortar Board members and learn from them!”

– Kathy Campbell