Known by her peers as a trailblazer and as the mother of family reunions, Dr. Ione D. Vargus places a large emphasis on the importance of extended families. She began her professional work with families in 1954, and in 1986, she became deeply interested in the subject of African-American family reunions. Up until that point, Dr. Vargus had thought the extended family was dying out because people were moving apart and relocating, but she soon discovered that African-American families were using reunions to keep the family connected. She visited hundreds of such reunions coast to coast, and learned the traditions and strategies families used to come together year after year. Dr. Vargus found that, “reunions help support a person’s identity, especially for youth.” She soon became a regular on the lecture circuit, culminating in a documentary broadcast on WRTI in 1987. By 1990, she had established the Family Reunion Institute at Temple University, the only organization of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to strengthening and preserving the extended family through family reunions. It promotes reunions as a way to enhance identity, self esteem and family values. She also spent 17 years producing a national conference on family reunions.
Dr. Vargus came to Temple University in 1974 as an associate dean after holding professorships at Brandeis University and the University of Illinois. She liked the atmosphere of her new employer with the Temple School of Social Administration, as it was focused on social justice and social change. The highlight of her career was breaking new ground as the first African-American to hold the title of academic dean in Temple’s history. She stayed in that position for 13 years before eventually rising up the ranks to Acting Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and then to Presidential Fellow. Upon retiring, she was granted the honorific title of Professor Emerita, but has continued to further her life’s mission by remaining active with the Family Reunion Institute she founded while Dean.
Initially, Dr. Vargus became inspired to start in her field by to her own strong family. Her mother raised six kids on her own after her father passed away, and she always stressed the importance of education. Dr. Vargus’s family was also very active in helping people, and those experiences led her to want to learn how to alleviate poverty for families. She strove to utilize the strengths of the people she worked with, which was a big asset to her success. To prepare for her endeavors, Dr. Vargus earned a PhD in social policy and administration from Brandeis University in 1971, a Master of Arts in social service administration from The University of Chicago in 1954, and a Bachelor of Arts from Tufts University in 1952.
In recognition of her excellence in her field, Dr. Vargus has been interviewed or quoted by nearly 400 national and local publications and has appeared on radio, television, and online shows. Notably, she was featured in numerous editions of Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the East, and Who’s Who in the World. She was also honored to receive the History Makers Education Award in 2006 and to be named One of the 498 Hardworking Women in Pennsylvania in 1978.