Bessie F. Gabbard Memorial Scholarship Fund
In 1993, Phi Delta Kappa established an endowed scholarship fund in honor of Bessie Gabbard, the first woman admitted into Phi Delta Kappa. The Bessie F. Gabbard Memorial Scholarship will be awarded annually to a high school senior from Florida or Ohio as one of the PDK's prospective educator scholarship recipients.
Bessie and Hazel Gabbard were born on May 26, 1905, to Meredith and Loucinda Flannery Gabbard at Hamilton, Ohio. Seventeen years later, as the twin sisters neared high school graduation, a brother, Wendell, was born. Hazel's professional career was spent with the U.S. Department of State; she died in 1990. Wendell and his wife, Alma, live in Bellevue, Michigan. Bessie Gabbard is also survived by two nieces and several cousins.
Bessie Gabbard's first year of college was spent in Kentucky at Berea College. She transferred to the University of Cincinnati and earned her undergraduate degree in 1928. She also received a master's degree from the University of Cincinnati and did graduate work at the University of Chicago.
She distinguished herself as a teacher, principal, and supervisor in the Cincinnati Public Schools. As a young teacher, she was a pioneer in the use of radio to bring literature to children in the 1930s. Over a ten-year period, she broadcast more than 500 stories across the air waves and was lovingly recognized as the "Story Lady." Among her fans was Shirley Temple.
During her tenure with the public schools in Cincinnati, Bessie Gabbard met Dr. George Reavis. Dr. Reavis became her mentor. She worked closely with him in the establishment of the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation in 1966. It was not until February 13, 1974, that Bessie Gabbard was initiated as a member of Phi Delta Kappa when the organization, by constitutional amendment, eliminated the gender barrier. Bessie Gabbard was the first woman admitted to Phi Delta Kappa and, at the time of her death, served as chair of the Foundation's Board of Governors, a position she held for nearly 20 years. Her initiation in 1974 earned her the title of "First Lady of PDK." She held membership in two local PDK chapters: The Ohio State University Chapter in Columbus, Ohio, and the Broward County Florida Chapter in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Bessie Gabbard traveled extensively. She visited six continents. In her travels, she met a number of students and subsequently "sponsored" their education at institutions of higher learning in the United States. At last count, seventeen students had received direct support from her.
Bessie was an active member of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and the League of American Pen Women. A minister at Coral Ridge summarized Bessie Gabbard's life succinctly. He stated, "Her life was characterized by faithfulness: faithfulness to God, His Son, and humankind."