Working a job where most people last only about a year, former Society of Professional Journalists Executive Director Terry Harper stayed almost eight. His dedication provided financial stability for the society and turned a deficit into a six-figure surplus, outgoing SPJ President Dave Aeikens said.
Terry Harper died June 2 of brain cancer.
Lee Ann Harper thanked the society for its support and appreciation of Harper’s work. She said that after her husband’s death, she received more than 100 cards from people she didn’t even know.
The Wells Memorial Key, the highest honor for an SPJ member, is given to a person who has served the society in a tremendous manner. The award is in memory of Sigma Delta Chi’s second national president, Chester Wells, who died while in office in 1913.
“They’ve been very supportive of my whole family,” Lee Ann Harper said of SPJ. “They allowed me to serve on the board that decides how the Terry Harper Memorial Fund would be spent.”
Irwin Gratz, a former national president, nominated Harper for the award long before his death.
“He came in at a time when the finances and staff were in a disarray,” he said. “He really whipped the organization into shape.”
Aeikens said Harper might have been honored regardless of his illness, as he was a deserving candidate.
“The organization was not very strong. He built it up, we’re strong now, and he deserves it,” he said.
Before Harper, said vice president of Sigma Delta Chi Robert Leger, there were numerous problems regarding staff and finances. Leger was part of the team that hired Harper in hopes he could rescue the organization.
“We were looking for somebody with experience in fundraising,” he said. “Terry came in with some very smart ideas on budgeting.”
Harper found a new way to generate revenue by requesting that SDX pitch in more money to cover SPJ’s payroll and supplies. Leger said that Harper not only made smart decisions while serving, but also set the society up for success with each hiring of stronger and more qualified candidates.
“He put people there that could keep the thing going even when he wasn’t there,” he said. “Terry stepped in and did a great job.”