A Tragic Pi Phi Loss Helps Establish National Safety Standards

This post is courtesy of Historian Fran Becque as part of her continuing series on Pi Phi heritage.

Pi Beta Phi’s 40th Biennial Convention at the Huntington Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena, California, was the largest one to that date and took place June 24-30, 1956. The final banquet was held on Friday evening and afterwards, many attendees began preparing to return home since some had early flights on Saturday morning.

Janice Haas, Missouri Gamma, was president of her chapter at Drury College. She lived in Springfield, Missouri, where Drury is located. Marie Wilson Klemp, Colorado Alpha, was the mother of a young child, and was serving as President of the Kansas City, Missouri, Alumnae Club. Lois Klein Brock, Colorado Beta, was the delegate for the Arlington-Alexandria, Virginia Alumnae Club. She lived in Falls Church, Virginia. The three boarded a TWA flight for Kansas City. Sally Laughlin, Pennsylvania Epsilon, served as her chapter’s delegate and was from McKeesport, Pennsylvania. She boarded a United flight to Chicago. None of the four would make it home.

Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Photo courtesy of National Park Service

The two planes, a United Airlines Douglas DC-7 and a TWA Lockheed Super Constellation, took off from Los Angeles within minutes of each other. The TWA pilot requested to fly above the clouds and the planes were cruising at the same altitude — 21,000 feet. At about 10 a.m., each pilot reported that they would be crossing over the Grand Canyon at the same position at 10:31 a.m. Unfortunately, they did not report this fact to the same station, so that the pilots were not made aware of each other’s presence.

The planes crashed over the Grand Canyon that morning. All 128 people, the total of passengers and crew on both planes, were killed.

On July 5, Grand President Marianne Reid Wild sent a letter to officers, chapters and alumnae clubs telling them of the tragic loss of the four Pi Phis. She asked that each chapter/club’s membership be notified. Her instructions continued, “In loving memory of those whom many Pi Phis had come to know during the Convention, Pi Beta Phi declares a period of official mourning from July 15th to July 25th. In accordance with the Chapter Manual a small strip of black ribbon will be worn under the badge for that period in remembrance.”

Pennsylvania Epsilon’s chapter letter in the Spring 1956 Arrow noted that Sally Laughlin had been elected to Pi Gamma Alpha Fine Arts Honorary. In the Chapter Reports section of the Winter 1956 Arrow, Missouri Gamma reported, “A scholarship fund which is to be made available to any Drury girl, has been established under the auspices of Pi Beta Phi in memory of Janice Traer Haas, Missouri Gamma president.”

At the time, it was the deadliest American plane crash in history. More importantly, it led to the establishment of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to modernize air traffic control so that accidents of that type could be prevented.

Last week, a plaque was dedicated at the overlook above the Grand Canyon accident site making the crash site a national historic landmark. The marker reads: “This tragic site represents a watershed moment in the modernization of America’s airways, leading to the establishment of the Federal Aviation Administration and national standards for aviation safety.”

Pizza and Pi Beta Phi Foundation Scholarships

Programs and Operations Director Betsy West McCune, Missouri Alpha, has been on staff with Pi Beta Phi Foundation for 10 years. If you’ve met Betsy, you know she’s extremely passionate about Pi Beta Phi … she’s also very funny and sarcastic. One of Betsy’s passions is the Foundation’s scholarship program. In her blog post below, Betsy writes about scholarships … in the language of pizza. You’ve been warned!


I’m hungry … and I’ve been asked to write a blog post.

So, naturally, I’m going to write about Pi Beta Phi Foundation’s scholarship program — as an analogy to pizza. Yep, we’re going there. Bib up and hang on.

The pizza parlor — the Foundation

For the 2009–2010 academic year, the Foundation [pizza parlor] awarded [made] $121,000 in scholarships and fellowships [pizzas]. That is a lot of dough. It was a big deal. We celebrated. In fact, we ate pizza.

Flash forward five years and the Foundation just awarded $355,500 in scholarships and fellowships for the upcoming 2014–15 academic year.

This is a great increase and is a big deal. We should celebrate. But how did we arrive here [really good pizza, really great customers] and where do we go next? I’ll stop with the brackets now too. You get the idea, and I’ve been promised lunch.

The kitchen — the process

Five years ago the Foundation took the paper scholarship and fellowship process online. It may not seem like a far-fetched step in progression now, but it was then. It was amazing. Trees were saved, my fingers required no bandages and our photocopier stood silent.

Since that inaugural online year, the application numbers have grown significantly. Here’s my proof: In the last five years, our completed scholarship application numbers have grown 184 percent. Boom.

Let that [kitchen] sink in.

I lied about being done with the brackets. That’s so not Leading with Values® of me.

Do we have more applications because we’re saving trees? No. We have more applications because there is more need.

The pizza — our scholarships … and our quality applicants and their need

Our collegians and alumnae continue to face ever-rising tuition costs that outpace families’ earnings. Each year, more collegians are faced with the task of paying for college on their own without family support. As college and university demands upon students increase, it has become even more challenging for students to hold-down significant employment as well. I’ve now managed the Foundation’s scholarship program for ten years, and I can tell you that our applicants are the total pizza pie package and it is a supreme honor to work with them each year.

So our scholarship process continues to evolve, our applicants continue to set the bar higher and the need grows.

This is where our donors — individuals, chapters, alumnae organizations, parents, etc. — come in.

The customers — our donors

It is our customers (donors) who love pizza. They want us to make as many pizzas [scholarships and fellowships] as possible and thereby support our members’ educational dreams and aspirations.

We have all sorts of customers. Some donate a slice to the cheese pizzas and some donate a whole pie with a special topping. We also have our special group customers, chapters and alumnae clubs. We need all of our customers [donors] to keep our pizza business going and to hopefully increase business to keep in-line with the rising need. And the need is there, especially in the areas of Graduate Fellowships and Alumnae Continuing Education (ACE) Scholarships.

So, are you hungry?

  • For potential applicants, a link to the online scholarship applications for the 2015–16 academic year will be available on the Foundation’s website mid-November. Completed applications must be submitted by February 15, 2015.
  • Follow this link for more information on the Foundation’s scholarship program.
  • For current and future donors, we cannot tell you how appreciated you are … especially by our scholarship and fellowship recipients. You are true Pi Phi angels … and pizza aficionados! To order a slice of a scholarship today, visit our giving page and select “Scholarship Fund” from the drop-down menu. While you’re there, please consider a monthly gift. If you’re interested in creating a specialized pie, follow this link and/or contact me at betsy@pibetaphi.org or (636) 256–1357. I love to talk scholarships and help members build the perfect pie for them.
  • View a list of Foundation scholarship recipients for the upcoming 2014–2015 academic year.

If you’re still reading, you’re awesome. Let’s grab some lunch! If you email me why the Foundation’s scholarship program is important to you by July 30, I’ll enter you into a random drawing for a pizza gift card.

Making a gift to the scholarship program won’t increase your chances of winning, but it will increase the chance of educational success for a fellow Pi Phi sister. Now that’s WINNING!



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