To read individual stories, click on the arrow next to each award recipient below.

Dr. Alfred Cobbs ’66 | Distinguished Alumnus
Portrait of Alfred Cobbs with his Distinguished Alumnus award
Alfred Cobbs ’66, Photo by Mercy Eze ’25

Alfred L. Cobbs is associate professor emeritus of German Studies at Wayne State University, where he taught for 34 years. He earned graduate degrees from the University of Missouri at Columbia and a doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. Prior to his appointment at Wayne State, he taught at the Universities of Cincinnati and Virginia. During his career, he received two Summer Fulbright Awards to Germany; he served as a Reader for the Advanced Placement Test in German as well as on the Test Development Committee for AP German for the College Board.
In 1984, Professor Cobbs received the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from Wayne State University, where he also served as assistant provost. Other responsibilities have included serving as resident director of the Wayne State University Junior Year in Freiburg (Germany) Program, which consisted of a consortium of Wayne State University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Michigan State University and working with the gifted and talented and dual enrollment programs.
In retirement, Professor Cobbs travels internationally, takes in the culture of Detroit, Michigan, reads and stays in touch with former students and colleagues. He is the author of two scholarly books: “The Image of America in Postwar German Literature: Reflections and Perceptions” (Lang, 1982) and “Migrants’ Literature in Postwar Germany: Trying to Find a Place to Fit In” (Mellen Press, 2007). In 2020, he published his memoir, “Locked Out: Finding Freedom and Education after Prince Edward County Closed Its Schools” (Little Star).

Bobi Conn ’02 | Distinguished Alumna
Portrait of Bobi Conn holding her Distinguished Alumna award
Bobi Conn ’02, Photo by Brooklynn Kenney

Born in Morehead, Kentucky, and raised in a nearby holler, Bobi Conn is the author of two critically acclaimed books, “In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir,” and the fictional novel, “A Woman in Time.” After completing her degree at Berea College, Conn worked multiple part-time jobs to support her son while attending graduate school at Eastern Kentucky University, where she earned her master’s degree in English, with an emphasis in creative writing.

A passionate advocate for educational access for people on the margins of society, Conn incorporates elements of Appalachian storytelling to bring the lives of ordinary people into focus. Robert Gipe describes her lyrical prose style as one that “stuns and sustains the reader” throughout. Silas House said the intimate moments in Conn’s debut novel “transport the reader to a place so vivid that we feel we are walking through the lush woods, gathering flowers with these memorable characters.”

In addition to writing, Conn loves playing pool, cooking, being in the woods, attempting to grow a garden and spending time with her incredible children.

Betina Conley Gardner ’94 | Distinguished Alumna
Portrait of Betina Gardner with her Distinguished Alumna award
Betina Gardner ’94 Photo, by Ehku Say ’26

A distinguished leader in higher education, Betina Conley Gardner carried Appalachian Kentucky in her heart throughout a storied career at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). The self-described “freckle-faced girl on Spaws Creek” in Morgan County finished her degree at Berea College in 1994 and went on to earn her master’s degree in library science at the University of Kentucky. Retired after 28 years at EKU, Gardner served as the dean of libraries, chief information officer, executive director of the EKU Foundation and vice president of development and alumni engagement.

From 2019 until her retirement, Gardner led EKU’s philanthropic efforts, driving record endowment growth for the university and overseeing the largest Giving Day in the school’s history. Her leadership in the completion of the Make No Little Plans campaign exceeded a $50 million fundraising goal by more than 20 percent. Previously, in her role as dean of libraries, Gardner worked with Friends of EKU Libraries to improve access to critical resources for students and faculty. She also served on the creative team that led to the creation of the renowned Ron and Sherrie Lou Noel Studio for Academic Creativity.

Like many Bereans, the lifelong eastern Kentuckian believes everyone in the
Commonwealth deserves access to an affordable education and, though retired, Gardner plans to continue pushing to make that mission a reality.

Jeffrey Reddick ’91 | Distinguished Alumnus
Portrait of Jeffery Reddick with his Distinguished Alumnus award
Jeffery Reddick ’91, Photo by Breana Lovins ’25

Jeffrey Reddick’s first attempt at screen-writing came at the age of 14, when he wrote a prequel to Wes Craven’s classic horror film, “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” He mailed the manuscript to the president of New Line Cinema, Bob Shaye, who would come to mentor the aspiring filmmaker five years later while he interned at the movie company headquarters in New York City. Eleven years later, Reddick’s own iconic horror film, “Final Destination,” premiered in theaters nationwide, making him both the first person of color and the first member of the LGBTQ community to create a horror film franchise released by a major motion picture studio. Since 2000, there have been four sequels to the film, with another to be announced soon.

Reddick grew up in Jackson, Kentucky, in Breathitt County. After seeing a production of “Of Mice and Men,” he decided to hone his theater skills at Berea College. Berea not only gave him a place to perform, it also provided him the tools to shoot his first film project. Reddick was soon accepted into the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, which was followed by his fated internship with New Line Cinema.

As a writer and producer, Reddick has sold or optioned more than 40 projects for film and television. Reddick’s produced feature credits include Lionsgate’s thriller, “Tamara,” the remake of George Romero’s classic, “Day of the Dead” and “The Call,” starring Lin Shaye and Tobin Bell. In television, Reddick served as a supervising producer on Season 3 of HereTV’s “Dante’s Cove” and as a story editor on season two of NBC’s “Midnight, Texas.” He helped create two animated series for Netflix, the Emmy-nominated “A Tale Dark and Grimm” and “The Usagi Chronicles.”

His feature directorial debut “Don’t Look Back,” a mystery thriller, was released in
October 2021. He is slated to direct his next horror film, “Dead Rules,” in 2024.

Clark Allison ’79 | Alumni Loyalty Award
Portrait of Clark Allison with his Alumni Loyalty Award
Clark Allison ’79, Photo by Mercy Eze ’25

Clark L. Allison was born in West Virginia to Roberta Larew Allison, a Berea graduate of the class of 1942. Roberta’s dedicated service to Berea College ended this year, with her death at the age of 102, but his passionate support of the College’s mission continues. His father was a forester, which sparked Clark’s own interest in agriculture and natural resources. Drafted into United States Army during the Vietnam War after a short stint at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va., Allison married his high school sweetheart, Phyllis, before they shipped out to Germany. Their first child, Stephen, was born in Germany. Their second child, Jeanette, accompanied her mother in utero on the graduation stage at Berea College.

A year after Phyllis completed her
degree in elementary education, Allison finished his degree and began work as a soil conservationist in Lebanon, Ky. He would later serve as a district conservationist in Irvine and Prestonsburg. He finished his career as a resource conservation and development coordinator for the Big Sandy area of eastern Kentucky.

Roberta, Clark and Phyllis have been among Berea’s most active and passionately dedicated alumni over the decades, attending reunions and homecomings, and hosting alumni and friends events. Having developed an interest in graphic design, Allison has been producing Berea College accessories promoting the “love over hate” mission of his alma mater. In addition, he has expressed interest in helping Berea develop a new composting system.

Senora May Childers ’13 | Outstanding Young Alumna Award
Senora May holding her Distinguished Young Alumna award
Sonora May ’13, Photo by Breana Lovins ’25

Senora May Childers’ expressive voice, tinged with wildness, has been described by author Wendell Berry as “something straight out of nature.” Coupled with intuitive songwriting and folk, rock, country and R&B influences, her singular music has garnered her a national following and recognition as one of the chief architects of the New Appalachian Sound: music that pays homage to the past but that is decidedly progressive and grounded in the present.

She captured attention in 2018 with her debut album “Lainhart,” which was followed by her sophomore release “All of My Love” in 2021. Steeped in longing and melancholy, the album featured vocals from Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers and was produced by Jessica Lea Mayfield. Acclaimed by critics as “an album that resonates [with] a maturity far beyond her years,” its success led Childers to play at the 2023 Newport Folk Festival and to open for bands including Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats.

Childers credits her years at Berea College with fostering her deep commitment to social justice and bolstering her identity as an artist. “I never really took music seriously,” Childers says, “until I was at Berea playing campfires and open mics. That was the first spark that gave me confidence.”

With her husband Tyler Childers, Senora founded Hickman Holler Appalachian Relief Fund in 2020 to raise awareness and financial support for philanthropic efforts throughout Appalachia, including natural disaster relief, addiction recovery and higher education. She also supports the Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Black Lives Matter movement. She will release new music in 2024 and remains devoted to creating change in the region she loves so deeply.

Al White ’81 | Rod Bussey Award of Special Merit
Portrait of Al White holding his Rod Bussey Award of Special Merit
Al White ’81, Photo by Brooklynn Kenney

Al White transitioned from Berea College alumnus to Berea College employee in 1999 when he was hired as Berea’s first instructor of Appalachian instruments. He taught until his retirement in 2020. White founded the Berea College Bluegrass Ensemble in 2000 and continued as director for 20 years. Between 2004 and 2020, he organized six Bluegrass Ensemble tours in Ireland. The group has also performed in Denmark and Japan. In addition, beginning in 1992, White accompanied the Berea College Country Dancers for performances in England, Denmark, Italy, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. With support of external grant funding, White led the newly-formed Berea College Country Dance Ensemble on a tour to Mexico in 2006. 

With the ending of the Country Dance Ensemble in the spring of 2015, White founded the Berea College Mariachi Ensemble, known as Mariachi Berea, in the fall of 2015. The Bluegrass Ensemble, along with Mariachi Berea and many other Berea College music ensembles, gained nationwide exposure when featured on a CBS broadcast of their annual Christmas
Concert in 2016. The Bluegrass Ensemble also received much acclaim when their professionally produced video of “Carol of the Bells” went viral with more than 180,000 views on YouTube. The Bluegrass Ensemble has released six professionally produced CDs under White’s direction. He now tours domestically and internationally with the McLain Family Band, with the trio Al, Alice & Ruth, and he performs contra dance music regionally with the Berea Castoffs.

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