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SPJ awards 2009 Wells Key to Terry Harper


For Immediate Release:

Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215, kgrabowski@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism association, is pleased to honor Terry Harper as the 2009 Wells Memorial Key recipient. The award, presented Saturday, Aug. 29 during the President’s Installation Banquet at SPJ’s annual convention in Indianapolis, is the highest honor bestowed by SPJ on a member.

Harper served SPJ members for seven years as the Society’s Executive Director. He passed away June 2, 2009, after battling brain cancer for nearly two years. He left a legacy of tremendous leadership that helped place SPJ in a strong position even as the journalism industry and journalists everywhere felt the effects of a struggling industry and economy.

His financial skills were a saving grace for SPJ, and he steered the organization to a solid financial footing. He pushed to increase SPJ’s presence as an industry leader in professional development and diversity efforts in newsrooms and fostered key relationships with other journalism associations.

“He guided us out of that financial spiral and restored that trust,” outgoing SPJ President Dave Aeikens said. “He survived and thrived through a tumultuous time and brought stability that no other executive director in the modern era has equaled.”

Graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1986, Harper developed strong skills in management and development that assisted in his role with SPJ and the Sigma Delta Foundation, the Society’s educational arm. He had 19 years of nonprofit association management experience, including 13 years with Phi Kappa Psi fraternity where he served as executive director from 1990-1999. In 1999, Harper was designated a Certified Association Executive by the American Society of Association Executives. After working with the fraternity, he was a financial adviser at UBS Paine Webber (now known as UBS Financial Services). Before he came to SPJ and the SDX Foundation, Harper was the director of fundraising for the Kiwanis International Foundation. With his solid background in association management and development, Harper still liked to note that his first paying job was in journalism, as a paperboy for the Yukon Review in his hometown of Yukon, Okla.

Harper touched more lives than those with whom he worked. The blog "Thumping My Melon" that Harper wrote after he discovered he had a brain tumor was covered nationally by outlets like Editor and Publisher, the New York Post and Romenesko/Poynter.com. His honesty reflected a spirit that he brought to all he did in his life and with SPJ.

“Terry will be remembered most as our friend,” Aeikens said. “He was funny, compassionate, supportive and downright ornery: Never too far from a smile, usually humming a song and always planning his next quick-witted retort.”

Harper is survived by his loving wife Lee Ann and two teenage sons, Dale and Jace. All three family members attended the banquet and accepted the award on his behalf.

See the memorial page on the SPJ Web site for more on Harper and his commitment to the organization.

The Wells Memorial Key is given to a member for outstanding service to the Society during the preceding year or over a period of years. The SPJ executive committee selects all recipients. Click here for more on the award and a list of past recipients.

The Wells Key was first presented in 1913. The award is named for Chester B. Wells, Sigma Delta Chi’s second national president who died in office in 1913 at age 26. Wells’ brief time in office was marked by an inspiring dedication to the work and ideals of Sigma Delta Chi, and after his death, members decided to award a jeweled key each year in his memory to a member who had performed meritorious service to the Society.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, visit www.spj.org.


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