History of the Colorado Chapter of PRSA
The Early Years
By Claude Ramsey, APR, Fellow
September 10, 1957, was a warm, pleasant September day in Colorado. The aspen were turning in the foothills.
the words "public relations" were used by Abraham Lincoln in 1840, they
were not yet household words in Denver except to 13 middle-aged men
gathering for lunch upstairs at the Denver Press Club. The 13 were
meeting with the avowed intention of organizing a Colorado chapter of
the Public Relations Society of America. All were members or associate
members in good standing of the national organization.
Kostka, Sr., was among the group. He was a former editor of Look
Magazine and had toiled in the public relations vineyards of New York
City. He was generally credited with being the first to establish a
public relations counseling firm in Colorado. His firm employed five or
six on its staff and was a member of a counseling network.
day both the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News headlined on page one
the federal injunction against the governor of Arkansas Orval Faubus to
force integration in the schools. The Rocky front page had a full-page
photo of four models (the article called them "svelte") wearing $500,000
worth of furs and clothing on behalf of the Denver Symphony.
on page three the Rocky Mountain News printed a photo, body-length, of
Marilyn Van Debur in her new Miss America swimsuit cavorting in the
Atlantic Ocean. She had spoken the day before at a luncheon of mayors,
hosted by Denver Mayor Nicholson, at the Waldorf-Astoria. The New York
press compared her beauty to that of Grace Kelly. In her speech, Marilyn
said she had no intention of marrying and figured that age 24 was soon
enough. "I want a stable home and three or four children closely spaced,
as children in my family were," she explained.
In other news that day, the Thornton City Council backed down on its announced intention of boycotting Denver Business.
Chicago counselor was one of the 13 men upstairs at the Press Club. He
was Morris B. Rotman, chairman of the national PRSA Development
Committee, with the charge of seeing that the chapter was properly
organized. One member, Bob Person, had dropped out when his company
called him for greater things and he eventually became president of the
Public Service Company. Another person absent that day was Duncan
Wimpress, director of public relations at Colorado School of Mines.
Duncan had signed on as a member, only to resign later when he learned
he wasn't a member after all but had confused PRSA with a college
public relations association to which he belonged. He eventually became
president of Trinity University in San Antonio.
The founding members in alphabetical order were:
Richard K. Ayers, Counselor, R.K. Ayers Public Relations
Art Bazata, General Manager, Writer's Manor
*Victor J. Danilov, Director of Public Information, University of Colorado
Donald G. Derry, William Kostka and Associates
Stewart Faulkner, Director of Publicity, Continental Airlines
C. Glynn Fraser, Administrative Consultant, St. Joseph's Hospital
William Kostka, William Kostka and Associates
Claude Ramsey, Public Relations Incorporated
Harvey T. Sethman, Executive Secretary, Colorado Medical Society
Leonard S. Smith, Intransition
Russell W. Tarvin, The Clute Corporation
Ross E. Thomas, Thomas & Wade
Carroll Van Ark, Counselor
Wayne A. Welch, Wayne A. Welch, Inc.
ran the meeting. After a few brief remarks he passed around a petition
for signatures seeking permission of the national organization to form a
Colorado Chapter. Some members had already signed it, others quickly
added their signatures. Then came the election of officers. Two men were
nominated for president: Bill Kostka and Dick Ayers. Ayers won. The
other positions had contested races also and when the dust settled the
officers of the new chapter were:
Richard Ayers, President
Carroll Van Ark, Secretary
Harvey Sethman, Treasurer
Claude Ramsey, National Delegate
meeting had been preceded by a limited amount of politicking by members
seeking officer positions. The feeling of rivalry generally subsided
and the chapter started a vigorous program of explaining public
relations to the community.
Discussions revealed that most members
believed if everyone worked hard the chapter could grow to a membership
of 20. There were strong and unanimous feelings that no on with less
than five years experience as a "public relations executive" would be
welcomed as a member. An "executive" was defined as someone who hired
and fired public relations personnel. That feelings changed within seven
years as the Chapter decided it wiser to accept younger and less
experienced members and offer them guidance and training.
Ramsey represented the chapter at the national convention in
Philadelphia a couple of months later and received the charter for the
36th chapter in PRSA. the group decided the chapter would operate on a
calendar year. Since the year 1957 was nearing its end all officers were
reelected to serve a full year in 1958.
The year of 1958 was one
of growth and considerable discussion about the role of the chapter and
whether public relations persons outside the chapter were qualified for
membership. A problem, as seen by the members, was to convert business
executives to an understanding and appreciation of the role of public
The chapter ended the first year without a women
member. In fact, a women member was still a few years away. However, the
male members looked forward to her, but there were no female candidates
at this time. The National Assembly in 1958, the first at which the
chapter participated, had only two women present: Denny Griswold, there
to cover the meeting for Public Relations News and Rea Smith, wife of
the executive director. There were no women voting delegates.
for the first year were scheduled at the Denver Press Club. The next
year, 1959, Claude Ramsey was named president and the chapter moved the
meetings to Club 26, high stop the Colorado National Bank. Governor
Steve McNichols addressed the group and Ramsey authored a three article
series for the Denver Post business page under the subject "What is
The chapter staged a retreat at Allenspark with
all family members invited to stay at the Aspen Lodge. Among those
attending was a high school student from Boulder, the daughter of
Carroll Van Ark. She hoped to enroll at Yale University to study drama. A
couple of decades later, she was seen with regularity on television and
in the movies and was identified as Joan Van Ark.
enjoyed an oil boom during the decade of the 60s, the Chapter enjoyed
stable growth, building its foundation. Presidents who served those
years were Malcolm Grovers, who later became a Safeway senior executive,
1960; Harvey T. Sethman, Colorado Medical Society, 1961; Wayne Welch,
an advertising-public relations professional, 1962; Adolph "Bud" Mayer,
University of Denver, 1963; John Emery, who headed the firm Research
Services, 1964; Lyle Leggett of the Colorado Cattleman's Association,
1965; Calvin Pond, another Safeway public relations man who became a
Safeway executive in Oakland, California, 1966; Hal Culpepper of the
Colorado Wheat Administration Committee, 1967; Ted Johnson of Ideal
Cement, Co., 1968, and Harry Cole, a banking executive, 1969.
regime of Malcolm Grovers was highlighted with a seminar at the
Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs on the subject "Critical Issues in
Public Relations." Chairman was Victor J. Danilov, then of the
University of Colorado. The seminar was scheduled for the weekend of
April 23-24 and utilized a pro and con approach to the subjects: "Are we
a Profession?"; "Should we have Licensure?"; "Can you Educate for
Public Relations?"; and "Should management be in Politics?" The national
PRSA assembly meet at the Broadmoor prior to the seminar and provided
many of the speakers and few Colorado speakers were utilized. A large
portion of the paid attendance of 150 came from the Assembly delegates
and other out-of-state persons. Vic published an attractive book which
contained verbatim reports on each talk. The book was widely distributed
and was the source of quotations for many years. Vic himself departed
Colorado and became president of the Museum of Science and Industry in
Chicago and returned to the state more than 30 years later to develop a
museum entitled "Women of the West."
In 1965, under the
presidency of Lyle Leggett the chapter hosted the national PRSA
convention. The National Assembly agreed with the chapter that since the
convention was coming to Colorado it might be more fun to have it in
August, the only time in the organization's history that its convention
was scheduled in the summer. The conference was unusual, too, in that
members were encouraged to bring their spouses and families. Bob Lotito
produced a 45 rpm recording which was mailed to all PRSA members about
the country, plugging the convention with the music of the Unsinkable
Molly Brown. An OK Kiddy Korral was established in three ballrooms of
the Hilton Hotel and Wayne Welch and folk singer T.D. Lingo worked long
hours entertaining the children of members. The adults attended the
Central City Opera one evening and were feted by the Air Force at a
reception at the Air Academy. All in all, 1,350 persons attended, a new
record at that time.
The national PRSA had labored for two years
to develop an accreditation program. The idea came out of the
Counselor's section but the Assembly decided accreditation should be
available to all members, not to counselors only.
By mid 1965 the
program had been tested and was ready for implementation. The first
accreditation exam was in New York City to accommodate the profession's
leaders, the second in Denver. A professor at the University of Denver
served as proctor and applicants from 10 or 12 states gathered at DU for
the one-day exam. The exam proved, in the minds of the Accreditation
Board, that accreditation was acceptable to the rank and file members.
Cal Pond pushed for an awards program during his term in 1966. The
first program was a dress-up event, with the national president
speaking. Only one recipient was designated for the Gold Pick Award. The
winner was Columbia Savings & Loan Association President Dan
Richie. Dan later became the chancellor of the University of Denver. The
award was a bronze pick, painted gold, mounted on a plaque with
appropriate wording. In subsequent years, the program was sometimes
skipped, sometimes expanded to numerous categories, and the gold pick
itself was no longer sculpted but became a certificate. The chapter did
not keep a permanent record of winners.
The presidency of Hal
Culpepper in 1967 discovered a misadventure as the treasurer co-mingled
personal and chapter funds. A member auditor, Harvey Sethman,
straightened out the finances and the chapter did not suffer a loss.
male members wondered, and discussed, who would be the first women
member, one slipped in the back door. She transferred from another
chapter, was active for a few months, then moved out of town, resigning
from the chapter. Her name is lost in chapter antiquity. The first local
woman accepted for membership was Gail Pitts of Colorado Savings and
Loan Association. Gail, for many years a Denver Post editor, advanced to
vice president in 1971, then resigned and returned to a newspaper
career. the next women, number three, was Zel Grebe who had become
acquainted with PRSA when her employer, Dan Richie, won the chapter's
first Gold Pick Award.
The early years saw creation of a rapport
between the Colorado and New Mexico chapters of PRSA. Joint meetings
were scheduled, either in Albuquerque or at the Broadmoor. As the
chapters grew larger, and logistics became more difficult the
Forty years after the 13 men met upstairs at the Denver Press Club, only one was still active in PRSA, Claude Ramsey.
The Chapter held regular monthly meetings, but often moved its locations utilizing many hotels and clubs.
the first decade, plus two years, the chapter established itself and
demonstrated the enthusiasm of, a youngster. Its greatest
accomplishments included substantially furthering the knowledge and
acceptance of public relations, hosting a big national convention,
publication of a text from its first regular seminar, having one member
elected to the national board, Ramsey, and creating a rapport among
members. Occasionally the chapter stubbed its toe. For instance, when
Cal Pond who as president established the Gold Pick Awards died
unexpectedly in Washington, DC, his death was not mentioned in the
newsletter. The newsletter editor, a comparatively new member, chose
instead to use a story about Coors changing its advertising agency.
Occasionally too, emotionalism took over as later when two active
members dies, they were quickly singled out to have awards named after
The chapter in its first 12 years was similar to an
exuberant teenager in the family. Sometimes it did embarrassing things,
but it was your teenage and forgiveness was inevitable. Adulthood was