By Becky Cook
In 1855, in Berea, Kentucky, an educational institution named Berea College opened its doors for the first time. It was the dream child of a man named John G. Fee who was a self-confessed abolitionist and who wanted to open a school where no one was denied entrance because of race, creed, or financial need. Mr. Fee (actually Reverend Fee) was a scholar of The Bible, including the life and activities of the missionary Paul, who preached and gained many converts to Christianity all around the eastern Mediterranean, including the Greek peninsula. He frequented the town of “Veria” (Greece) which became a significant part of his mission field. When Berea College was started Reverend Fee chose qualities he read about in the geographic Biblical Veria and then used it as the model and name for his dream school in Kentucky. He wanted to offer quality education to prepare young men and women to return to their home communities and provide leadership and service and improve quality of life.
All along in Berea’s history various secondary and pre-secondary boarding schools also opened on Berea’s campus providing low cost education for Appalachian scholars needing this opportunity. One of those schools was called The Academy. You’ve already heard me talk frequently in The Breeze about my Dad (hometown Walnut, NC.) Through one of the school’s staff persons visiting his area he learned about Berea and was able to complete the application and entry process. In the summer of 1916 when Bates was 16 years old, quality schools were scarce and hard to get to in his remote area of western North Carolina. Through good fortune/Act of God (and on a wing and a prayer) he arrived in Berea to complete his high school education at Berea’s Academy. He stayed and completed college in 1925.
The rest of the story is full and detailed. I’ll save you from the boredom of that, though I hope you will enjoy learning that along the way young J. Bates found that special lady at Berea who filled his life and heart, and who also graduated from Berea and became his wife. They built a long life together and raised 3 children. He completed medical school and practiced medicine in several other venues before eventually returning to be part of Berea’s student health service. Berea was my home from age 7, and I met my future husband when we were both Berea students in the late 1950‘s. Uncles, cousins, a brother, my husband, and our two children are graduates as well.
In 1960 when John graduated we married and left Berea for approximately 10 years. But, we couldn’t stay away and found an opportunity to return in 1970. We were employed in various capacities until our retirement in 2000. Our son David has served most recently on an alumni advisory council. He proudly labels himself a 4th Generation Berean. We agree!
I will always have a love affair with Berea. I will delight in recalling and reconnecting with her in any way I can. I have grown up with uncles, aunts, cousins, and other “relatives” who were simply roommates or classmates of my parents at Berea. Other family members went to school or worked there at different times. 100 years is really just a drop in the bucket. But the summers of 1916/2016 are priceless milestones which help me realize how we are tied into the history of a very special place and time.
When Everette Chapman conducted my 104-year-old Mother‘s memorial service in 2006 he referred to her as a “National Treasure” and explained she had lived through the terms of 18 U.S. presidents, 7 wars, and even things like the first silent movie, and The Stock Market Crash. I’m in awe as I remember that my Dad experienced those same historical events and also forged an early personal link with the Berea we love and will always remember.