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FHU Associates Celebrate 50 Years

A lot can happen in 50 years – just ask the Freed-Hardeman University Associates. This group of ladies is directly responsible for more than $3 million given to the university for student scholarships. The mission of the Associates is to support FHU and Christian education while establishing friendships among the Associates.

The organization began Sept. 5, 1963, when a group of ladies met to plan a women's association to support and encourage Christian education at Freed-Hardeman College. Mrs. Neal Penny of Milan, Tenn., presided at the meeting and was elected the first president.

This year the group has been celebrating 50 years in style. In May 2013, the Associates hosted the Associated Women for Christian Education Conference. One of the programs, titled "Party Like It's 1963," honored the year the Associates began. Attendees dressed in the styles of the early 60's and enjoyed food and entertainment associated with the period.

In September, the Associates kicked off the school year with a 50th birthday party during its national meeting. The FHU advancement team presented the Associates, as well as founding members Regina East and Sylvia Harris, both of Henderson, with certificates of recognition.

Currently, 14 chapters and almost 800 members throughout Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky comprise the organization. The 14 chapters make up the national organization of Associates, coordinated by an executive committee of national officers. Debbie McLaughlin of Henderson has served as the national president since the fall of 2012.

"When the Associates began in 1963, most of its members were wives without jobs outside the home," McLaughlin said. "The Associates of today are comprised of business women, homemakers, stay-at-home moms, retirees, professors--we are in all walks of life."

The Associates' goal is to raise $70,000 for the 2013-14 school year; $65,000 will be given to the Associates' annual scholarship fund and $5,000 to an endowed scholarship. Two categories of fundraisers, local and national projects, they believe, will help them reach the goal.

Two of the most successful local projects are the annual Victorian Tea Party held at the Hardeman House in Henderson and the bi-annual rummage sale at the Henderson National Guard Armory. Other chapters host benefit dinners, sell plate lunches and produce community calendars.

The Associates' national projects, in which multiple chapters participate, include activities at FHU's Homecoming in November and Bible Lectureship in February. At Homecoming, the Associates host a pancake breakfast, Chester County barbecue lunch and vendor booths at Brewer Sports Center. At Lectureship, they provide lunches for guests each day and sell products such as cookbooks, artwork and cutlery. This year, the Associates introduced the Lectureship Coffeehouse, a place for guests to gather, visit and enjoy a quick snack.

The Associates also manage the N.B. Hardeman House, a venue for weddings, showers and parties. They provide catering services as needed, both at the Hardeman House and elsewhere.

McLaughlin said, "Over the last 17 years, I have baked hundred of scones with silly ladies late at night while covered in flour. I've had sore feet and a sore back from hard work. I have problem-solved and brainstormed and been both challenged and blessed. The FHU Associates are my friends and my encouragers."

Working with the Associates is a family tradition for Kristen Hicks. A third generation Associate, she said, "I love being able to say that I'm a third generation Associate! It's a link to the past that lives on in our family – sometimes when I'm setting up for an event, I stop and think how much my grandmother would also be enjoying the preparations if she were still here. It's an honor to follow in her footsteps, and those of my mother, to continue raising money for student scholarships." Hicks is the granddaughter of the late Delorese Gardner, a former FHU first lady, and the daughter of Phyllis Hester. Upcoming events for the Associates include the Princess Tea Party in Huntsville, Ala., April 13; the spring rummage sale in Chester County, April 22-27; and the Victorian Tea Party in Chester County, May 4.

A team of ladies is ready and willing to visit with anyone interested in starting a local chapter. Contact the Associates at or 731-435-1090. For more information on the FHU Associates, visit

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