June 25, 2010

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By Sam Alcorn

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Thought to be Bucknell University's oldest alumnus, the Rev. Paul Humphreys died June 23 in Northampton, Mass., five days short of his 104th birthday.

Humphreys, a member of the Class of 1928, received membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest academic honor society, in 2006 as a surprise at his 100th birthday party. || Read obituary and complete Phi Beta Kappa story

Humphreys had graduated before a Phi Beta Kappa chapter was established at Bucknell.

But in May 1942, he received a letter from the newly established chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at Bucknell, telling him that he was one of 20 members from the Class of 1928 to be nominated for membership in the brand new chapter. Such invitations were a common practice for new chapters.

Put letter asside
With the dark days of World War II upon the nation, though, he put the letter aside. Pearl Harbor had been attacked only months earlier and who could think about honor societies when the world was at war? "Everything was in turmoil and other things seemed to take precedence," he told his son, Richard, a 1962 Bucknell graduate.

Years later, when his son discovered the letter safely tucked away in his father's personal papers, Richard wondered if it was too late to see his father presented with membership. An idea took shape and it turned into a great 100th birthday surprise.

"Phi Beta Kappa was a real surprise," said the senior Humphreys at the time from his home in Northampton, Mass. "My goodness. It was a real bump for me to hear that and to know that folks were interested in me. It made for a wonderful time."

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