Berea, Berea Beloved…

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In 1976, I was accepted to Berea College and really had no idea how my life was about to change forever. I’ve been thinking about Berea a lot lately. I have reconnected with many Berea alumni through Facebook and that has really been a wonderful thing. Berea people seem to all have a lot in common.

I have a friend from high school, (one of only 3 that I have allowed into my Facebook page) who has a daughter who is a Senior in high school and in the winter was looking to find the right college fit.  I had her look at Berea to see if she might consider Berea as one of her choices. Due to the less expensive cost for the education, Berea is unique, because if you make too much money, you can’t get in. It is primarily for students from the Appalachian Region who have the brains but not the financial means to go to school. In my case, I paid a full term bill because I was receiving Social Security money from my father’s death when I was 13. I didn’t have the grades to get in and got in on letters of recommendations. But once there, I managed to become a dean’s list student. I needed to get away from a home life where there was no emphasis on education. And I needed to see the importance of education on my life. At any rate, I paid about $4,ooo for a 4 year education. The cost of Berea is much higher now. but is still very affordable for students without the funds to go to college at all.

Melvin, (Steven's partner) Susan Strickler-Polstra & Steven Summerville

When I graduated from Berea in 1980, I had met the love of my life, had experienced classes that allowed me to think critically about things that I never would have thought about, and make valuable friendships that I hope to keep for the rest of my life. Thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with so many wonderful Berea folks and I also have to say that has made a big difference too.

Dorothy Tredennick with students in 1980 at my wedding

Recently, I went back to Berea. I had not been there for almost 20 years. My art history professor, Dorothy Tredennick had passed away in February and her memorial was being held March 18th. I rode there with a potter friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. Dorothy was 96 years old and had led an incredible life of travel and teaching and inspiring her students. The service was more of a celebration of her life than a memorial. She was the kind of teacher that expected much from her students and while that kind of teacher can be hard to like, Dorothy was loved by all.

I didn’t make it onto the quadrangle to see much of how that part of campus has changed but made it inside the main block in the center of town. The students all look like a next generation of the students I went to school with. Porter Moore Drugstore, as it was when I was there is now a coffee cafe, equipped with wi-fi and espresso machines and sofas. The fountain counter is now a serving counter full of pastries and goodies with the typical chalkboard menus behind the counter on the wall like you would see in any large city. Yet the students still have the look of being from small towns and full of promise for a bright future after their Berea experience.

back of Boone Tavern, new drive up portico

me, Melvin, Joanna Griffin & Margaret Beasley

 

The disturbing thing about my visit back to my alma mater though is the change that looks like a marketing ploy. Boone Tavern is no longer owned by the college but by the Marriott Corp and it has the look and feel of a Marriott now instead of a unique hotel full of handmade crafts made by the students. I was told that the president of the college no longer lives on campus with the students but has a home in Richmond, KY, 15 miles up the road and is rumored to own a home in Northern VA. Not really the type of individual that seems to be relating to his students in terms of their backgrounds or needs. And the student crafts are being downsized and are changing, I’m sure due to the recession,  but the college is known for the student crafts as well as the top education that it offers the students. A Kentucky Artisan center has been positioned at a new Berea exit and it makes you wonder if the proximity to the college was on purpose to make it’s success play off the reputation of the college crafts.

On a positive note, I didn’t see that there are food courts and the kinds of additions to the college that I know many universities are spending their money on for the students that don’t add value to the student’s overall education. I saw additions to buildings that were definitely improvements such as a large addition to the music building to allow for a new elevator (which was much needed 30 years ago) and the elimination of the glass walkway on the art building to allow for more hanging space in the gallery. These are both good changes that are adding to the educational value for the students.

Union Church, Sally Wilkerson (fiber arts professor) on front pew

What a great way to spend a reunion! Celebrating a life well lived, reconnecting with friends and seeing change.