Several hundred members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority arrived in Hannibal on Saturday, April 9, for a special ceremony honoring the sorority’s founder by renaming a local park for her.

Several hundred members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority arrived in Hannibal on Saturday, April 9, for a special ceremony honoring the sorority’s founder by renaming a local park for her. This was the former Willow Street Park, which was renamed Douglass School/Arizona Cleaver Stemons Park.

Stemons graduated from Douglass High School in 1918 and founded the sorority in 1920 at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The park is on the former grounds of Douglass School, the current location of Willow Street Christian Church. A sign and storyboard were installed at the park, telling the life story of Stemons.

The Zetas were not new to Hannibal. Many members arrived in August 2015 for “Zeta Day in Hannibal” to celebrate the unveiling of a marker for Stemons, also located on the Willow Street Christian Church grounds.

During the April 9 afternoon ceremony the Rev. Minnie Smith, Willow Street pastor, told the crowd “Welcome to holy ground.”

She said one man in Hannibal remembers attending Douglass School with Stemons. He is 104-year-old Estil Griggsby. Smith invited the Zeta members to go and meet him.

Joe Miller, leader of the Douglass School reunion committee, invited people to the next reunion, which will be on July 29 and 30 of this year.

The featured speaker at the April 9 ceremony was the Zeta Sorority International President Mary Breaux Wright, who echoed Smith’s statement, adding, “We are on holy ground, also we are on Zeta ground.”

She said Stemons had told people she was attending Howard University in Washington, D.C., “to get an education to come back and support her family.” Wright also quoted Stemons: “We did whatever our hands found to do.”

The park’s sign stated the sorority was founded in 1920 as a sister organization to the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, and that later Stemons returned to Hannibal and was director of the Commercial (Business) Department and French teacher at Douglass High School.

Wright noted that Zeta now has more than 100,000 members internationally.

“Let yourselves know how proud you are of having the name of the founder” she continued. “Don’t be afraid of who you are. You (the Midwestern Region of Zeta) have made history. Don’t worry about making U-turns.”

Before closing, Wright encouraged the people present to “take pictures and put them all over” social media.

Among the Zetas present was Porsche Elkins of Grand View, Mo., who explained the Zetas were attending their annual convention in Overland Park, Mo., when they boarded their buses for Hannibal. Her Zeta chapter was among the host chapters.

Smith had earlier explained that the Zeta sorority had also adopted nearby Eugene Field Elementary School, and it was helping Willow Street Christian Church’s Helping Hands tutoring program by donating funds and school supplies.

Smith noted that when the sorority wrote and requested the park’s name be changed to honor Stemons, the church approved the request and passed it on the city City of Hannibal, because it is a city park.

During the ceremony, Andy Dorian and Mary Lynne Richards of the Hannibal Parks & Recreation Department had been honored for providing the park. The renamed park includes playground equipment, a paved basketball court, a playing field and picnic pavilion.

Reach reporter Bev Darr at bev.darr@courierpost.com.