Gretchen A. Kemp · 1975
By Theda Joan Bromelmeie
Gretchen Alise Kemp, the daughter of Jess M. and Ethel Dunn Kemp, was born on December 8, 1909 in Kempton, Indiana, the Tipton County farmland community named after her ancestors who donated much of the land on which the town was built.
Her education in the Kempton schools gave no direction to the profession she was to follow later. Kempton High School, from which she graduated in a class of 17 students, had neither a school publication nor a typing class. Her teachers encouraged her to study math or law; however, she liked to write and decided to pursue this interest in college.
At Butler University she majored in English and minored in speech and journalism. She was a member of the varsity debating team and on the staff of the Butler Collegian newspaper. She was also a member of Tau Kappa Alpha, speech honorary, and Phi Kappa Phi, scholastic honorary; and she served as president of Alpha Chi Omega, her social sorority. She received a bachelor’s degree from Butler in 1931.
That fall Kemp began her first teaching job at Westfield High School; she taught English, speech, and journalism in that school from 1931 to 1935. The following year she taught the same courses at Carmel High School. At each of these schools she also put out the yearbook and the newspaper, directed plays, and coached oratory contests.
She was leaning towards speech as her specialty area with plans to obtain a master’s degree in speech from Northwestern University when she was offered the position of director of publications at a large Indianapolis school. With her acceptance of this position, her future course was changed; and her long distinguished career in educational journalism was launched.
From 1936 to 1948 she taught journalism and directed the publications at Emmerich Manual Training High School. During this period she rigorously learned her trade by obtaining a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin in 1952 and by working part time on the Indianapolis Star. From 1943 to 1948 she worked on the copy desk two nights a week during the school year and full time during the summer, an experience which gave her professional training beyond that of most high school journalism teachers.
Through work on the state certification committee for journalism teachers and with the Indiana High School Press Association, she became acquainted with John Stempel, then chairman of the Indiana University journalism department. In 1947 he asked Kemp to join the Indiana High School Journalism Institute which had just been started. When she took a number of Manual students to the first institute in the spring of 1947, she knew she would be its director the following year.
When she became director of the institute in June 1948, she did not intend to spend many years teaching through the winter and directing the institute until the summer of 1974 when she turned the directorship over to Mary Benedict, also a former Manual High School teacher.
Through the years Kemp’s reputation and abilities brought her opportunities for full-time newspaper work, faculty posts at other universities, and state positions; however, she felt she had found her life’s work in teaching at Indiana University. She loved the personal contact with the students, and she took an active role in the university life going on around her from avidly supporting the athletic teams to eagerly serving on university committees. She was promoted to associate professor in 1954 and to full professor in 1963.
Gretchen Kemp retired in December 1974 after 26 years of devoted service to the University and her profession. In retirement she spends the winter months in Florida but returns each summer to the friends and the cultural and civic life of Bloomington, her home.
In the annals of journalism history, Gretchen A. Kemp will not be remembered as the publisher of an important paper, the reporter of many front page scoops, nor the author of best-selling books. She will be remembered as a teacher who earned her place in Indiana journalism history because of her influence rather than a colorful reputation. As a journalism teacher for some forty years, she inspired and trained countless numbers of students many of whom went on to become reporters and editors on some of the country’s top newspapers or to become instructors of high school and college journalism classes.
During the 26 years she taught at Indiana University, she developed one of the country’s outstanding programs for training journalism teachers and became a nationally recognized leader in secondary school journalism.
Although she did not found the Indiana University High School Journalism Institute, which began in 1947, she became the director in 1948, gave it form and scope, and remained the director for 25 years. The institute, which is conducted during the summer, is taught by journalism instructors from around the state along with professional newspapermen. Over the years the organization and the curriculum have changed to fit the needs of the times, but the standards and the purpose have remained the same — to teach high school journalists and advisors how to produce newspapers and yearbooks of which they can be proud. This summer program has improved the quality of Indiana high school publications and influenced many of the young people who attended to pursue a career in journalism.
Her own publications reflect her life-long work in education. She was on the committees which authored the Course of Study in Journalism for Indiana High Schools in 1943 and 1948, Two Units in Journalism for English Classes in 1963, and Teacher’s Guide to High School Journalism in 1965. Along with Julianna Uphoff, she co-authored Your Yearbook — How Good, How Big, How Costly? in 1959. She wrote articles for Scholastic Editor, Quill & Scroll, The Indiana Teacher, Indiana Publisher, and Hoosier Schoolmaster; and she took her turn as faculty advisor of the Indiana University student newspaper, The Indiana Daily Student, and the yearbook, Arbutus.
She has been active in the following professional organizations: Indiana High School Press Association (president of Advisers’ Division); Journalism Education Association (Editorial Board of Communications Today); National Association of Journalism Directors; Theta Sigma Phi (initiated in Indianapolis chapter, active in Bloomington chapter and faculty adviser of Delta Collegiate chapter for 13 years); American Association of University Professors; Altrusa International — Bloomington chapter — 1961 (president, 1973-74).
In recognition of her contributions, she has received the following honors and awards: Listed in the first edition of Who’s Who of American Women, 1958-59; Theta Sigma Phi Advisers’ Award, 1960; National Headliner Award of Theta Sigma Phi, 1961; Indiana State College Journalism Center Award for Outstanding Journalist in Education, 1964; Ball State Honors Award for Distinguished Service in Journalism, 1965; Alpha Chi Omega Outstanding Alumna, 1968; Frances Wright Award of the Indianapolis Chapter of Theta Sigma Phi; JEA Carl Towley Award for Service to Journalism, 1970; NSPA Pioneer Award for Service to Journalism, 1970; IU Chapter, Sigma Delta Chi, Rocking Chair Award (to retiring faculty or staff whose career at IU has been exceptionally distinguished), 1975; Indiana Chapter, Sigma Delta Chi, Journalism Hall of Fame, 1975.
In the summer of 1973, the Gretchen Kemp Fund for High School Journalism Teaching was established by her friends to honor her achievement and to perpetuate her work.
Her contribution to the field of journalism is the kind that is difficult to measure. As her former students continue to practice in their professions, they will pass on to their own students and fellow journalists the knowledge, training, and standards that she gave them. A reputation is finite. Influence is infinite.