Delta State Alumni Association remembers Abdo-Breeden, makes call for legacy nominations

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Ava Lee Abdo Breeden,
 2005 Alumni Legacy Award honoree.

The 1931 Lady Statesmen Rabbit Foot Squad (Front row, l. to r.) Sarah Evans, Margaret Wade, Mary Ellen Chapman, Erline Holly, Elizabeth Caldwell (Back row, l. to r.) Dimple Bryan, Wenonah Montgomery, Quinn Gorton, Ava Lee Abdo, Anne Rue Gorton, Evelyn Ezelle, Lorene Jumper

As the Delta State University women’s basketball team continues its bid through NCAA postseason play, it seems only fitting and appropriate to pay homage to the trailblazers of the program.

Delta State recently recognized Ava Lee Abdo Breeden, of Fairborn, Ohio, with the first-ever Alumni Legacy Award. The award, presented by the Alumni Association, is given to an alumnus deserving of the honor for their outstanding and long-lasting contributions to the life and legacy of Delta State University.  Breeden is recognized for the legacy she leaves, as she accomplished many “firsts” at Delta State Teachers College (DSTC).

A native of Leland, she came to DSTC in 1929.  Short on money to attend the college, Breeden made a personal visit to then president, Dr. William Kethley. Kethley was made aware of her outstanding basketball abilities by Dean William H. Ziegel, the then head coach of the Lady Statesman squad, and she was offered a basketball scholarship that would pay room and board, which at that time was $22 per month. 

Recognized as the first women’s basketball player to earn four letters, Breeden proved to be a versatile athlete at DSTC, earning spots on one of the first cheerleading, field hockey and tennis teams. She won the state doubles tennis championship with her partner Wenonah Montgomery, which again, is recognized as one of the first state championships won by a Delta State athletic team.

Despite her versatility and abundant talent, it was women’s basketball that truly remained Breeden’s passion. A teammate to the legendary Margaret Wade, their team earned fame as the “Rabbit Foot Squad.”

As the legend goes, a spectator merely mentioned that the team was on such a winning streak that they must have their lucky “rabbit’s foot” with them. The moniker stuck and the squad would capture the Mississippi Valley Championship in 1930 and 1931 and the state of Mississippi Championship in 1929, 1930 and 1931. 

And even though those early enthusiastic crowds overwhelmed the newly constructed gymnasium, the team and the catchy new title lasted only until 1932. That year, DSU officials discontinued the program, citing, “Intercollegiate basketball for women could not be defended on sound ground.”

It would take almost 40 years for Lady Statesmen basketball to return to the hardwood, as it was Wade, Breeden’s teammate, who initiated Delta State’s resurrection in 1972. The seasons that followed under Wade’s watchful eye, 1973-1979, brought the Lady Statesmen and Delta State into the national spotlight.  The mother of modern women’s basketball, as she would later be known, led Delta State to three consecutive A.I.A.W. National Championships in 1975, 1976 and 1977.

It is that legacy of women’s basketball that Breeden helped perpetuate and a significant factor in her receiving the inaugural Alumni Legacy Award – but not the only reason.

In 1931, Breeden was invited by Ziegel to teach second year French, making her the first DSTC student to be offered a teaching position at her alma mater. Breeden also received the second diploma in 1932 for her outstanding academic achievement, earning the salutatorian distinction. The achievement marked the first Delta State employee to earn that honor.

Following her years at DSTC, Breeden went on to distinguish herself, both, personally and professionally. She retired in 1989 as a GS-12 Contract Specialist/Negotiator at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio where she received numerous honors ranging from the Pentagon to the Dayton Intergovernmental EEO Council to the Hispanic Heritage Committee.

 In 1972, she entered the world of modeling, becoming a runway and tearoom model, while also appearing in various print campaigns. She began playing golf in 1978 and co-chaired golf tournaments that raised scholarship money for deserving students.  Breeden also served as President of the Fairborn (Ohio) Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA), where she helped raise money for scholarships for women. She has twice been named ABWA Women of the Year in 1977 and 1998.

The Alumni Association, which is comprised of 21,000 living alumni, is currently accepting nominations for the 2006 Alumni Legacy Award. Nominations can be mailed to the Delta State University Alumni Association, Box 3104, Cleveland, MS 38733 or emailed  Please include your name, address, and phone number.

For more information, please contact the Delta State Alumni Association at (662) 846-4660.


Delta State Student Art Show winners announced

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In an academic year heralded as the “Year of Cleveland,” Delta State University is paying special tribute to the over eight-decade long, positive town and gown relationship shared between Cleveland and the University.

It is a relationship the Delta State art department understands and recognizes, as Bill Lester, Chair and professor of art, explains, “For years, we, in the art department, have been blessed with the community’s support, and I don’t just mean lip support. I mean real, dedicated, committed support to the happenings and progress of this Delta State University art department. The community believes in the art department.

“Every time we have an event, the community is here,” he continues. “Every time we make a call for donations, the community answers that call. We are in a fortunate situation to be as supported as we are in the community. We recognize that.”

And, this year’s Student Art Show proved no exception, as the community, again, answered the call – loudly, in the form of $5700 worth of monetary support. That figure climbed $1800, compared to last year’s $3900 in prize money.

Of the 340 collective entries, just over 100 pieces were selected for display in this year’s student art show, with 40 receiving awards. The art department employs the services of a juror to select show entries and prize winners, as to remove any bias from the selection.

New to this year’s awards included the Delta State University Cabinet Award.

“We’d like the to thank the administration for their continued support to the Delta State University art department, as well as extending thanks to all those who have and continue to support the art department,” Lester offered. “We feel like we can’t say thank you nearly enough.”

The Delta State University Student Art show is free and open to the public, and will be on exhibit through Thursday, March 23 with some pieces available for sale. For more information, please contact the art department at (662) 846-4720.

Photo Identification:  The following students have recently won awards for their work in the Student Art show currently on display in the Wright Art Center Gallery on the Delta State University campus: (front row, from left) Josh Hobbs of Cleveland,  Jutta Karnstedt Ferretti Award, Bonnie and Luther Brown Award; Boris Potts of Indianola, Dr. Richard Strahan Award; T.J. Denson of Clinton; Brisbane Baird of Cleveland, Greenville Arts Council Award; Ashby Foote of Jackson, Caroline Gaines Award, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Kossman Award, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hall Rob Hall Memorial Award, Lee and Pup McCarty Purchase Award; Carlie Jenkins of Leland, The Cleveland State Bank Award, Mike and Nan Sanders and Pam Mathews Purchase Award, Dr. and Mrs. Charles Small Sculpture Award; Luz Bonta of Honduras, Planters Bank Award, Ford and Shawhan Award In Honor of Carolyn Norris; Mandie Carollo of Leland, DSU Cabinet Award, AAUW Promising Female Art Student Award, Ad-Venture Frames Gift Certificate Award; (2nd row from left) Erin Drummond of Greenville, Mrs. Keith Dockery McLean Award, Lisa Percy Award, Jeri McArthur Fiber Award, Chester Kossman Award,  Dr. and Mrs. Charles Small Ceramic Award; Lauren Tolbert of Water Valley, Good Company Photography Award, Ashley Jones of Greenville, SGA Award; Tamar King, Carol Tatum Award; Lauren Russell of Madison, Bud Tate Purchase Award for Tate Collection; Brian Byrd of Southaven, Beth and Gerald Jacks Graphic Design Award; (3rd row from left) Matthew Downs of Howell, Mich., Follette Bookstore Gift Card Award; Amy Potin of Greenville, Coopwood Communications Graphic Design Award; Laura Beth Lott of Senatobia, Latham Children and Grandchildren Award in Honor of Dorothy Dykes Latham, Maureen and Burrow Brooks Fiber Award; Eddie Lance of Oxford, Judy Wilson Interiors Award; Littrell Lane of Winona, Brown Special Addition Book Award for Art Inspired by the Natural World.


Not pictured: Sarah Teasley of Madison, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Flautt Award In Honor of Malcolm Norwood, Dr. and Mrs. Jason Morris Award; Abe Draper of Merigold, Dr. and Mrs. Hugh Cam Smith Photography Award; Anna Lucas of Meridan, David and Marcia Walt Award.



Delta State seeking nominations for outstanding staff member

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Delta State University’s Administrative Staff Council is seeking nominations for the H.L. Nowell Outstanding Support Staff Award, which will be announced and presented during commencement exercises Saturday, May 13, in Walter Sillers Coliseum on the campus.

Award recipients must have ten consecutive years of service as a full-time support staff member, with nominations being accepted from students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of
Delta State on an annual basis. Nominations will be received by the Vice President for Student Affairs, permanent Chair of the Award Committee. The committee shall consist of staff employees from the University. The deadline for nominations is April 7.

Donated by members of the Nowell family and named in honor of the longtime Delta State employee, the H.L. Nowell Outstanding Support Staff Award was first recognized in 1994.

The recipient receives a cash award of $2,500 and a plaque commemorating the award, with a permanent plaque inscribed with all of the award recipients’ names, to hang in The H.L. Nowell Union.                  

Nominations must be in writing and should be submitted to: Dr. Wayne Blansett, Vice President for Student Affairs, Box 3135, Delta State University, Cleveland, Miss., 38733.

For more information, please contact (662) 846-4150.


Delta State to present first-ever Delta Business and Entrepreneurial Symposium

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Dr. Brent Hales, Director of the Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Research at Delta State, is working to recruit participants to upcoming Delta Business and Entrepreneurial Symposium, Wednesday, March 29 in Stoneville. For more information or to register, please contact Hales at (662) 846-4233 or at

Delta State University, through its College of Business, Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Research, Small Business Development Center and Center for Community and Economic Development, in partnership with the Mississippi Micro Enterprise and Assistance Network, will present the first annual Delta Business and Entrepreneurial Symposium, Wednesday, March 29. 

To be held at the Charles W. Capps Entrepreneurial Center in Stoneville, Miss., from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., the symposium will feature information on entrepreneurial opportunities in the Delta region, opportunities for funding and programs designed to assist existing and emerging entrepreneurs.  Jim Clinton, Executive Director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, will keynote the event’s luncheon. 

In the last 10 years, the Mississippi Delta has experienced significant manufacturing employment decline.  And with such declines are expected to continue, the traditional method of seeking large-scale manufacturing opportunities is costly and often ineffective.  

Similarly, most new jobs for the uneducated or low skilled workers pay minimum or near-minimum wages and are not substantially increasing wealth in the community.  Additionally, population declines are projected for the region for the next 15 years by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Office of Policy Research and Planning (2005). 

Such downturns affect communities’ tax bases and their ability to promote their existing businesses. Opportunities for growth in the Delta may largely depend on using local resources and local talent to promote new small or niche businesses. 

The Delta Business and Entrepreneurial Symposium will highlight innovations in entrepreneurialism and mechanisms that communities can use to encourage small business development. 

According to Dr. Brent Hales, Director of the Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Research at Delta State, “The Symposium is designed to bring together community and business leaders, interested entrepreneurs, economic development professionals, and other interested parties, to both learn about entrepreneurship and to create a network of existing and emerging entrepreneurs.  I would encourage anyone interested in learning about entrepreneurship to attend this symposium.” 

The cost of the symposium is $10.  For more information or to register attendance, please contact Dr. Hales at (662) 846-4233 or at





Delta State alumna returns to alma mater for Archives exhibit

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One of the first and most endearing pieces in the series is a shot of The White Front Café in Rosedale. Other works by photographer Debra Ferguson will be on display at Delta State University’s Capps Archives and Museum Building as part of “The Vanishing Delta” exhibit, set to open Sunday, March 26.

Photographer Debra L. Ferguson left the Mississippi Delta in the early 1970s but, as she puts it, “The Delta never left me.” Fortunately, assignments and family kept taking her back to the region, and along the way she began capturing images of things and places that were fast disappearing.

A retrospective of this work, “The Vanishing Delta,” opens Sunday, March 26 in Delta State University’s Charles W. Capps Archives and Museum, with an opening reception planned for 3 p.m. inside the Seminar Room. Ferguson will be in attendance to deliver a program detailing her art.

A 1974 graduate of Delta State, Ferguson works as a magazine and advertising photographer, specializing in agricultural and rural lifestyle subjects. Her photography has appeared in Farm Journal, Progressive Farmer, Southern Living Travel and other publications. A prolific stock photographer, her images are represented by agencies in California, England and France and have appeared in ads, text books and magazines in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

She admits to being “a little obsessed about photographing certain Delta landmarks.” When Ferguson drives past a familiar sight, like an old school or store, she often turns around and captures an image.

“I learned the hard way to stop, no matter how tight my schedule was, and compose a photo that says something about the character of the place,” she explains. “There were times when I didn’t stop, then I came through the next time and discovered that the building was gone, utterly erased. At one time it had maybe been the center of a community that, itself, thrived for a time and then dwindled to nothing.”

Indirectly, Ferguson is describing Skene, the farming community just outside of Cleveland where she grew up. She remembers when several stores operated at or near the crossroads, and the surrounding countryside was home to scores of small farmers and the families that lived and worked in those fields. In her earliest recollections, two schools served that patch of Bolivar County, and several churches prospered in and near Skene.

Now, she says, very little of it remains. Except for a small cluster of homes and the Baptist Church, just about everything else has been torn down or reduced to an empty shell. Communities like that disappear a little at a time, she says, and people who are closest to the place don’t see the decline as dramatically as someone like herself who comes and goes over the decades.

“The Delta partly mirrors what has happened across a wide part of rural
America since World War II,” Ferguson maintains. “Over the years, I’ve handled assignments in places as far apart as North Carolina and California, and nearly every time I go back to familiar communities, something is missing. Modern farming doesn’t require as many people, so rural populations declined and their businesses and institutions slipped away a little at a time.”

“The Vanishing Delta” exhibit, underwritten by Cleveland State Bank, includes images representing a wide portion of the region, from Tunica in the north to Yazoo City in the south. As this body of work grew and Ferguson began producing fine art prints, she began calling it her Vanishing Delta series. A web site,, grew out of the work.

Ferguson says she noticed lately that many of the images have something to do with food or eating. One of the first and most endearing pieces in the series is a shot of The White Front Café in Rosedale. The cafe, which still survives, was founded by Joe Pope, a businessman who made his mark serving hot tamales to a mostly takeout clientele. As strange as it seems to outsiders, hot tamales are a Delta passion. They’re served in some of the region’s finest restaurants and in small eateries like the White Front.

Another spot in the series is Booga Bottom’s, a country café that flourished for a number of years, doing business in an old country store east of Duncan. Ferguson walked into Booga Bottom’s one afternoon in the 1970s.

 “It looked like it had been there forever,” she says. “Meringue was piled high on the pies, and they were served at lunch by the women who made them. I had heard about the place for years and, even though it had a busy lunch hour, I wondered how much longer a spot so far out could survive. I went back to my car, loaded a couple of cameras with the last black-and-white film I had that day, then asked if it would be OK to take a few shots.”

The images capture a quiet Delta afternoon in a place that soon faded away. A couple of years later, Ferguson drove back to Booga Bottom’s and found it abandoned and empty. 

Ferguson’s work also celebrates the ethnic history of the Delta. “I never pass up a chance to photograph a small-town store that still bears the name of a Jewish, Chinese or Italian family that owned it,” she says. “Those signs say more about the history of a town than any historical marker. The Delta was one of the great meeting grounds in American history, and those stores and signs symbolize that fact.”

Ferguson, a current resident of Jackson,  jokes that she learned photography “by shooting a lot of bad pictures.” Five years ago, she ventured into digital photography, and two years ago dropped film photography, altogether.

Her digital work has been featured in the New York professional journal, Photo District News, as well as in PC Photo. The exhibit includes a mixture of film and digital photography. All images are printed on giclée fine art canvas, with reproduction by Digital Imaging Group of Flowood, Miss.

Ferguson eschews the notion that she basically is photographing decay, something she often sees when photographers find their way to a place like the Delta “and fixate on rusty, abandoned pickups and dilapidated shotgun shacks.”

“In many cases, I’ve probably recorded the last image of a landmark that was once important to many people, and I try to bring forward something of its purpose and its quiet dignity,” she says. “These places are worth remembering, and when they’re gone, it’s for eternity.”

Free and open to the public, the exhibit is set to run through May 4. For more information on “The Vanishing Delta” exhibit, please contact the Delta State Capps Archives and Museum Building at (662) 846-4780.