Ex-Communications Society meets monthly to reminisce

Ray Beckham holds up a certificate and badge from BYU’s Ex-Communications Society. The society is made up of former communications faculty members and meets monthly. (Kjersten Johnson)

There are retirees who move to Florida and play bridge, and there are retirees who join BYU’s Ex-Communications Society.

The group is made up of former communications faculty members from BYU.

“I was in the doctor’s office one day, and I saw an ex-faculty member waiting for the doctor,” said Raymond Beckham, who taught public relations and advertising at BYU for 21 years. “I said that I hadn’t seen him at the ex-communications meetings, and everybody’s ears perked up. I had to explain to the whole office waiting room what I meant.”

When creating a name for the group, members of the Ex-Communications Society knew a name like that would grab some attention in a place like Provo.

“It was a deliberate play on words; we have a lot of fun with it,” said Dallas Burnett, who worked in BYU’s journalism department for 38 years.

The society began with Jack Nelson, his wife and some delicious rhubarb pie. Former communications faculty members would meet to socialize and play poker with nickels and dimes. When word got around about poker games, they started to call the meetings probability seminars to avoid scrutiny.

“Then in 2005, President Hinckley warned of the evils of poker playing,” said Alf Pratte, who taught journalism at BYU for nearly 20 years. “We decided not to indulge in probability seminars anymore.”

The group now meets monthly for lunch at Brick Oven. Members discuss current events, politics and the church. As they age together, they find they have more to talk about.

“Most of all, we talk about what current illnesses are,” Burnett said.

The Brimhall Building is home to the BYU School of Communications. The Ex-Communications Society is made up of former communications faculty members and meets monthly. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

Their relationships have not always been as good historically as they are now. For instance, while at BYU, Pratte was well known for his strong opinions.

“We had lots of fights and brawls — fist fights, almost. We’re passionate people,” Pratte said. “We had a lot of friction and fighting, and I was one of the worst. I stepped on a lot of toes; I didn’t have any tact. I was all enthusiasm and venom.”

After an argument about a program, a faculty member was released and because of it vowed to never speak to his fellow faculty members again. The Ex-Communications Society helped reunite them.

“He finally came to one of our meetings, and it was a joyous celebration,” Pratte said.

Several years later this faculty member passed away, and the group was able to mourn together.

“We’re very conscious when retired faculty dies,” Burnett said. “We’re a group for the sadness.”

Dallas Burnett, a member of the group, taught journalism at BYU for 38 years and served as department chair twice. The Ex-Communications Society is made up of former communications faculty members and meets monthly. (BYU)

Looking at how much they enjoy each other’s support now, they often wonder why they didn’t get along well in the past, Pratte said.

“We get along a lot better now than when we worked full-time in the department,” Beckham said. “We were always competing and wanting certain programs. If you bring together a whole bunch of Ph.Ds. there’ll be different opinions. Now we enjoy each other.”

Current faculty members in the School of Communications are supportive of the group and enjoy it as well. The members of the society are invited to the school’s annual Christmas party and are included in department activities.

They are often even told in advance of upcoming changes to the college, Beckham said. Last year, then communications department chair Ed Adams (now dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications) attended a monthly lunch and presented the department’s new accreditation and designation as the School of Communications.

Many of the current faculty are former students of the group members. “They’re all looking forward to joining, naturally,” Beckham said with a smile.

By being members of the Ex-Communications Society, these former BYU faculty members continue to do what they have always done best: tell stories. They honor those who paved the way before them and hope current students will recognize whose shoulders they stand on now.

“Students deserve to know about the heritage of this school,” Pratte said. “We’re just classy people who have a heritage that goes back to the ’30s. Everyone in the society has beautiful stories to tell.”

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