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gin & jazz: a return to the twenties
Story by Audrey Poff; photography by Amy Long

1925 Ford Model T Runabout owned by Michael Nowlin of Jonesboro
1924 Ford Model T Touring owned by NIcholas Nowlin of Blytheville
Lindsay’ s Gatsby-inspired white dress courtesy of David’s Bridal

The Arkansas State University Alumni Association will mark its 90th anniversary with a roaring twenties-themed celebration to be held Oct. 3 in conjunction with homecoming festivities.

There is much to celebrate, said Beth Smith, who has served as executive director of the university’s Office of Alumni Relations since 1997. She began working as associate director in 1992.“Twenty years ago the alumni population was approximately 35,000,” she said. “Now it has more than doubled
to more than 75,000. With A-State really focusing on attracting strong academically qualified students, the rate of growth will rise even more rapidly and we look forward to celebrating reaching the 100,000 mark.”

Arkansas State University developed from an agricultural school founded on April 1, 1909, by Act 100 of the 37th Arkansas General Assembly. It was created as one of four Arkansas high schools to teach agriculture, horticulture and the art of textile manufacturing. “The alumni association was founded in 1924 by the first 13 graduating classes of what was originally State Agricultural School,” said Smith.

The 1924 edition of the student yearbook included the following information on the alumni association: “The association has laid many plans for the collective aid of its Alma Mater. It will promote its interest in the legislation of the state. It will send boys and girls to the institution to receive instruction that they in turn
may return to build a greater and better Arkansas. The aims of the Aggie Alumni Association are identical with the ideals of the men who founded the school and because it has an ideal of service as its aim, it will succeed.”

The biggest milestone for the alumni association in its 90-year history has been the opening of the Cooper Alumni Center, Smith said, where Gin & Jazz will take place.

“This project was a longtime dream of the alumni association because they knew it would be an asset to the campus and the community,” she said. “It has met that mission since it opened in October 2008.”

As the university has continued to grow, Smith said changes in technology over the years have made keeping track of alumni more manageable.

“It’s amazing how much has changed in such a short amount of time,” said Smith. “In 1992, when I joined the staff of the Office of Alumni Relations, Tom Manning, the director of alumni relations, had just completed a conversion to a computerized database of alumni.”

Although they weren’t being maintained with updated information, Smith said at that time the office still had the original 5x7 index cards in file drawers that included the name, last known address, degree information, activities, etc., that the office was previously using to follow alumni.

“Now, we pull lots of information from social media,” said Smith. “It is updated in the alumni database and easily segmented by interest area so that alumni who were active as part of the marching band can receive information that relates specifically to them. The staff can connect in real time with alumni. The smart phone is definitely our friend. And yes, it was hard to finally discard those cards … I wish that I had kept mine.”

Preliminary planning for the 90th anniversary celebration began last fall.“The alumni association was founded in 1924 so a ‘20s-themed event seemed perfect to celebrate the 90th anniversary,” said Smith. Lindsay Burnett, director of Alumni Relations at A-State, has been in charge of the planning and research for the upcoming event.

“I know that everyone who attends will enjoy this special evening as she has given great attention to the music, food and décor,” said Smith.

Gin & Jazz, the largest event ever presented by the association, promises to be a unique event.

"Those attending will be amazed at how the Cooper Alumni Center will be transformed into a “Gatsby” party with a fantastic jazz band and some unique food and drink items,” said Smith.“Twenties attire is not required but it will certainly be in style.” Burnett said Gin & Jazz will simply be a big celebration, with the E-Train Band of Memphis providing entertainment.

“We want everyone to come out and enjoy the atmosphere, the music … to mix and mingle and dance and just celebrate the alumni association’s 90th anniversary,” she said. “There will be no program, no bidding on auction items. We’re not trying to get people to donate or anything. We just want them to come and enjoy.” Rich Carvell Jr. of Bentonville, president of the A-State Alumni
Association, encouraged alumni to make plans to attend the upcoming event.

“I invite all former students to join us for the 90th celebration of the founding of the association,” said Carvell. “Over our history, alumni have made contributions to improve campus in academic offerings, faculty enhancement, facilities and scholarships. Our university is experiencing incredible growth at this time and being part of this event will be a fabulous occasion to recognize this success.”

Tickets are $75 each for members of the Alumni Association
and $100 for non-members. The 1924 Sustaining Life membership, which is the highest level of membership in the alumni association, will receive tickets as a benefit of their membership.

For more information on becoming a 1924 Sustaining Life member, contact Marsha Carwell at mcarwell@astate.edu or 972- 2586. To purchase tickets to Gin & Jazz, RSVP by Sept. 26 to astatealumni.org/90th or call 972.2586.

To stay up to date with the Office of Alumni Relations, Smith encouraged alumni to become a member of the A-State Alumni Association.

“We email a weekly newsletter that includes items of interest to alumni as well as special messages and information especially for members throughout the year,” said Smith. “So much is happening at A-State in our academic programs and in athletics. The alumni association is the connection you need for all of this great news to flow directly to you.”