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Bertie McConnell and Kelley Harmon

Zeta Tau Alpha is saddened by the passing of Bertie Grace Ross McConnell, who became a member of Alpha Mu Chapter at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., on Dec. 4, 2011, at the age of 90. Bertie passed away, Tuesday, Feb. 21, in Lawrence, Kan.

Her memorial service will be held at 11 a.m., Monday, Feb. 27, at Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence. Members of Alpha Mu Chapter will speak on behalf of ZTA. Burial will follow at Memorial Park Cemetery in Lawrence.  Bertie will also be remembered at Memorial Service during Zeta Tau Alpha’s International Convention in Louisville, Ky., this coming June.

Bertie’s family would like establish a scholarship in her memory through the ZTA Foundation. The Bertie Grace McConnell Memorial Recognition Scholarship will be awarded to an early childhood education major from Alpha Mu Chapter. Bertie’s daughter, Dr. Judith (Judy) McConnell-Farmer, is the Interim Chair and Professor in the Department of Education at Washburn. Those wishing to contribute to the scholarship fund may do so online. Please indicate in the Special Instructions box that the gift is for the Bertie Grace McConnell Memorial Recognition Scholarship. Or you may mail the donation to the ZTA Foundation, 3450 Founders Road, Indianapolis, IN 46268, and indicate the scholarship on the memo line of your check.

The story of Bertie and her daughter’s hope for an unforgettable 90th birthday gift made national news last fall. Bertie had received a bid to pledge ZTA at Washburn in 1941, but she couldn’t accept because her family could not afford the dues. Bertie hoped to save up and join the next semester, but she did not return to school when World War II erupted. Many years later, Judy joined the faculty of Washburn University and would bring her mother to campus. Bertie would see the ZTA house and tell her daughter, “You know, Judy, my one regret is that I never became a member of Zeta Tau Alpha.”

For Bertie’s 90th birthday, Judy hoped to surprise her mother with a card from the Zetas. Instead Alpha Mu Chapter asked National Council to consider offering Bertie the opportunity to become a member of ZTA—at age 90—and National Council agreed. Alpha Mu president Paige Martin went to the birthday party to give Bertie a bid on October 15, 2011, ZTA’s 113th Founders’ Day.

The local newspaper ran the story of Bertie’s ZTA birthday surprise ran and then it spread to over 200 newspaper websites across the country. Anderson Cooper sent a television crew to Topeka on Oct. 27 to interview Bertie, Judy and the ZTA chapter. The story ran on Anderson’s daytime talk show on Nov. 3. Bertie was formally pledged and initiated into ZTA on Dec. 4 at the Alpha Mu Chapter house and she received an emerald badge as a gift from National Council. You can read the fully story of Bertie and ZTA in the winter issue of Themis.

Bertie was born on Oct. 15, 1921, in St. Louis, Mo., the daughter of Bertis and Grace Ella Stone Ross. She grew up in Topeka and moved to Lawrence in 1942. She was employed in the Personnel Department of Hercules Powder Company during World War II. She married Donald McConnell, May 22, 1944, in Lincoln, Neb. Don preceded her in death on Nov.  5, 2006.

She is survived by her daughter, Judy, and her husband, Weymouth, of Topeka; and her son, Donald (Chip) McConnell, Jr. of Lawrence and his wife, Connie, of Lawrence. She was preceded in death a son, Craig, in 1986. She had six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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