May 8, 1978
(Excerpted from James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009, pp. 291-292)
SAU faculty marched on Sunday, May 8, 1978, into Harton Theater in colorful academic regalia reminiscent of university dress in the Western world dating back to medieval times. Tasseled mortarboard caps, black gowns, and hoods of brilliant colors representing the wearers’ graduate schools and academic disciplines combined to project a scene of both dignity and celebration. This procession began the school’s first annual Honors Convocation. Dr. Harold T. Brinson, SAU’s new president, established the convocation to recognize faculty and staff service and outstanding students’ achievements. Dr. Brinson scheduled it on a Sunday afternoon to encourage parents and relatives’ attendance.
On this historic day, Dr. Arthur Steely, professor of math, was named SAU’s first Honor Professor. This unique form of recognition became the most treasured of all faculty awards because a committee of peers chose those admitted to this exclusive circle. Dr. Steely, a former public school teacher, had amazing patience and the ability to help weak as well as strong students excel in required mathematics courses. Each of the four new schools, the university’s new academic units, named an outstanding student: Business—Mike Reaves, Education—Cindy Little, Liberal and Performing Arts—Shirley Raines, and Science and Technology—Rodney Mark Dixon.
Special recognition was given to Bruce Maloch, the 1976–77 national secretary of the Future Farmers of America, and to Don Hawkins, the first SAU football player selected as a first team NAIA all-American. Graduating seniors of Alpha Chi, academic honor society, and of Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges also received awards. Awards for ten, twenty, and thirty years of service went to several faculty and staff. Math Professor Calvin Wetzig received a forty-year plaque, and Orval Childs one for thirty years of leadership in agriculture. Retiring board of trustees’ member Dr. John H. Wilson was named trustee emeritus after thirty-eight years on the board. The formality of the convocation gave the day and the honors a special character. Most participants enjoyed sharing the occasion with honorees. Inexplicably, some critics of Dr. Brinson found fault.