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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.

Although 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.

Bill 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.

On this 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.

Inside 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.

A 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.

Rotman 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

The 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.

Claude 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 relations.

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.

Meetings 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 Public Relations?"

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.

While Colorado 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.

The 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.

 President 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.

While 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 relationship diminished.

 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.

During 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 them.

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 still ahead.

Claude Ramsey

PRSA Colorado
12011 Tejon St., Ste. 700, Westminster, CO 80234
(303) 920-0176, fax (303) 458-0002