Alumni Johnson ’59, Phipps ’92 ’97, and Telford ’89 Inducted into the Reich College of Education Rhododendron Society

Appalachian State University alumni Phillip Johnson ’59, Don Phipps ’92 ’97, and Betty Telford ’89 were inducted into the Rhododendron Society on June 7, 2024, at a brunch held at the Grandview Ballroom in Boone, North Carolina. 

Rhododendron RecipientsFrom left to right: Dr. Don Phipps, Betty Telford, and Dr. Phillip Johnson. Photo by Chase Reynolds.

The brunch was attended by the award recipients and their guests; past recipients; university leadership, Reich College of Education (RCOE) Advancement Board members, and college leadership. 

The RCOE established the Rhododendron Society in 1999, Appalachian’s centennial year. It is named for Appalachian’s former yearbook “The Rhododendron,” which captured the university’s historic moments, activities and accomplishments.

As the highest honor given by the college, the award honors alumni for their exemplary service to education and to their communities. The society recognizes RCOE graduates whose service as teachers, librarians, human service professionals or administrators has reflected great credit on themselves, the field of education and the university. Johnson, Phipps, and Telford joined a distinguished group of Rhododendron Society members, bringing the total to 80.

Scholarship recipientsScholarship recipients, Megan McCraw and Tony Coggins. Photo by Chase Reynolds.

Society members give back to the RCOE through an annual scholarship, which is awarded to an undergraduate and graduate students who are outstanding in their course of study. 

RCOE encourages Rhododendron Society nominations of Appalachian alumni currently working in the field of education as well as those who have retired. To learn more about the Rhododendron Society or to view nomination materials visit

Dr. Phillip E. Johnson '59

Phillip JohnsonDean Melba Spooner  hands Phillip Johnson certificate. Photo by Chase Reynolds.

Dr. Phillip Johnson earned his B.S. in mathematics with a minor in science from Appalachian State University, an M.A. in mathematics from The American University, and a Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in mathematics from Vanderbilt University. His postdoctoral work was in mathematics education at North Carolina State University and research in the History of Mathematics at Cambridge University. His publications include one book, A History of Set Theory (Boston: Prindle, Weber & Schmidt, 1972), and numerous articles in professional journals.

Johnson had a long career teaching high school and university mathematics. He taught at the University of Richmond, Vanderbilt University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Appalachian State University. He also had two teaching positions abroad as a Fulbright Teaching Fellow at Cuttington University College in Liberia, West Africa, and as an exchange professor at Kingston University in England. 

His work with the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCCTM) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics included giving talks, serving on committees, chairing annual meetings, serving on the Board of Directors of NCCTM and as Vice President for Colleges. NCCTM recognized his work with its highest honor, the W.W. Rankin Memorial Award for Excellence in Mathematics Education and Outstanding Service to NCCTM.

As the director of the Reich College of Education’s Mathematics and Science Education Center, Johnson helped establish programming, including science seminars, professional development for mathematics and science teachers, family math and family science nights, regional science fairs, and the Summer Ventures in Science and Mathematics for rising high school juniors and seniors. He retired from App State as Professor Emeritus of Mathematics in 2020.

Dr. Don Phipps '92, '97

Don PhippsDean Melba Spooner hands certificate to Don Phipps. Photo by Chase Reynolds.

Dr. Don Phipps, a veteran in the field of education, has dedicated 30 years to various roles, including school psychologist, principal, and superintendent. He holds degrees from Methodist University, Appalachian State University, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and his academic journey culminated in a Doctorate in Education Leadership.

Phipps' influence extends beyond his roles as a school psychologist, principal, and superintendent. He has served on numerous committees, teams, and advisory boards at the local, regional, state, and national levels, including the North Carolina State Board of Education and the Governing Board for the School Superintendents Association. His participation in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction committees and task forces, particularly focusing on assessment and accountability reform, demonstrates his commitment to shaping education policies.

Phipps' leadership has been recognized with prestigious accolades, including Pfeiffer University Professor of the Year in 2001, Region 1 Superintendent of the Year in 2015 and Region 7 Superintendent of the Year in 2023. His most significant honor came in 2023 when he was named the North Carolina Superintendent of the Year, receiving the esteemed A. Craig Phillips Award, a testament to his significant contributions to the education sector.

Beyond his professional achievements, Phipps finds fulfillment in family life, which he shares with his wife Nancy, four children, two grandchildren, and two dogs.

Betty Telford '89

Betty TelfordDean Melba Spooner hands certificate to Betty Telford. Photo by Chase Reynolds.

Betty Telford grew up in Watauga County, attending Appalachian Elementary School, which was located on the campus of Appalachian State University. She graduated from Watauga High School. 

Wanting to move “off the mountain”, Telford completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Carolina University. She also received her administrative certification from Gardner-Webb University. 

After a career in the classroom and wanting to contribute more, she earned her Education Specialist degree in school administration from Appalachian State University. Completing this degree allowed Telford the opportunity to work in a federal program that provided services for families while working with parents who advocated for their children. This also gave her the opportunity to discover her passion for working with adults.

Her career highlights include working with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and at Salem College for fourteen years in a variety of roles, including as dean of the Fleer Center for Adult Education. 

Telford considers her work with adult students as the most fulfilling and rewarding of her career. She continues to work part-time, making a difference by teaching adult students through Raise the Grade, which provides rigorous food safety training.