A Librarian’s Labor of Love

Just over 87 years ago, on November 17, 1929, the Alpha Beta Chapter at Santa Ana College in California was chartered. Two days later, at the then-American Association of Junior Colleges’ annual convention, Phi Theta Kappa was recognized as the official honor society for community colleges.

Though the Society had been established in 1918, Founders Day was born. Alpha Beta advisor Sal Addotta sees a little kismet in the closeness of the two dates.

“It would appear that there is a special bond between the two,” he said. “Among other things, our chapter may have been the last chapter chartered before Phi Theta Kappa was recognized as the official honor society for junior colleges.”

Addotta sees a further connection: Alpha Beta was the first chapter chartered in California.

“Phi Theta Kappa began as a pioneer in the field of women’s colleges,” he said. “Alpha Beta Chapter started as a pioneer in California.”

And one more: one of the chapter’s former presidents, Cynthia Strickler, was born on November 19. While the chapter has always been active, Addotta said Strickler was instrumental in getting even more members involved in chapter activities.

“Her drive and determination helped raise the bar of academic achievement for our chapter as never before,” he said.

Addotta joined Santa Ana College as the part-time librarian 22 years ago. He was looking for a way to get more involved with the students when he found Phi Theta Kappa, so he offered his help to the then-advisor.

He was co-advisor for many years, traveling with the students to various events, doing the “fun stuff.” In 2007, he took over the chapter full time.

He’s had ups and downs during his “roller coaster” ride as an advisor — his chapter president stepped down his first year as lead advisor. And he may not agree with everything the Society does — online membership acceptance is great, but he finds the website a little difficult to navigate.

Still, he’s stuck with it for the students.

“They’re all younger than me, and most of them are pretty bright, so I learn from them,” he said. “It keeps the wiring going in my brain.”

Addotta’s love for and pride in Phi Theta Kappa is palpable. Both he and his wife are honorary members, and he still treasures and appreciates the phone call he received from PTK’s President and CEO, Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner, wishing him a happy birthday.

Eight years ago he gave his first presentation at a Phi Theta Kappa conference on the Honors Study Topic and said the experience made him a better advisor. He’s the Nevada/California Region Alumni Association Co-Alumni Advisor, and he has represented the Society Headquarters at several chapter-chartering ceremonies.

“I find I get encouragement from other advisors and students,” he said. “Whomever I meet reaffirms that I am doing the right thing.”

He’s planning a trip to the Center for Excellence in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2018 in celebration of the Society’s centennial. And, he hopes other chapters will look up their own chartering dates. (Find your chapter.)

“There is a date, and you should celebrate it,” he said.

Addotta was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Queens. A trip to California to visit family one Christmas left him wanting more of the sunny weather, and he and his wife soon relocated.

He’s spent his career among books. Addotta has worked as a high school librarian and has worked in three different public libraries — he still works part time at the public library in Anaheim.

“I could just be a librarian, but this keeps me involved on campus,” he said. “I get a lot more out of it than the members do.”

Alpha Beta has cohosted the Nevada/California Regional Fall Leadership Convention twice, in 2010 and 2016. The chapter has won numerous regional awards and was recognized as the Santa Ana College Student Organization of the Year four years in a row, 2011-2014.

Addotta puts the Five Star Chapter Plan at the top of Phi Theta Kappa’s programs and encourages his students to participate in personal enrichment opportunities like Competitive Edge — he became a Five Star Member in April.

The chapter serves meals at a homeless shelter each semester — most recently on Veterans Day — and participates in the college’s Adopt-A-Family program to help needy students at Thanksgiving.

Addotta also hosts PTK 101 orientation workshops twice a month to inform students of the opportunities available to them through membership. He said that over the years he’s seen students who have been told their entire lives what they couldn’t do; much of his life’s work has been to change that perception.

“I tell students, don’t tell yourself ‘no,’ don’t let others see you sweat,” he said. “Even if you’ve never done it, you can do it.

“And when a student gets it… well that’s why I keep doing this.”

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