Six years passed before the sixth Hairston sister would step into the tradition and high expectations at Berea. Vivian began forging her own path in high school when she fell in love with an accounting class. Taking advanced math classes, primarily filled with male students, Vivian’s intrigue with the business industry sparked her sister, Cynthia, to orchestrate Vivian’s first labor assignment in the Accounting office.
“All that history came with some privileges with the connections my sisters had,” Vivian said. “All of that helped to pave the way for what was next in my educational career.”
Vivian aspired to be a successful business woman in a Fortune 100 company. Majoring in business, she spent four years in the Accounting office connecting her major and her interest with practical work experience. Vivian also desperately wanted the opportunity to sing with the Chapel Choir as all of her sisters had before her. But in 1980, Dr. Rolf Hovey handed over the choir reins to young, energetic Dr. Stephen Bolster.
“Some of the tradition and natural order of what you got involved in when you came to Berea was music and singing,” Vivian said, recalling her nervousness trying out for choir.
But her nervousness was unwarranted, as she blew Bolster away right from the start. In fact, when the auditions for solo pieces came up that year, Bolster said Vivian’s voice was so fine that he picked pieces especially for her and did not hold typical auditions—a decision so rare he wouldn’t do it again for 36 years.
“She sang so extraordinarily beautifully that we kept that piece all year; we performed it many times, and she always shone,” Bolster said.
Vivian sang with the choir four years and was part of the first Chamber Singers ensemble. She performed at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn., and participated in numerous spring tours, performing for audiences all over the country in communities big and small. The people she met in those singing groups became her closest friends. “What an opportunity to be a part of the beauty and excellence of music through the music programs, and the directors who strove for excellence, helped us to be excellent,” she said.
Her first year, Vivian met senior basketball star, Vance Blade ’82. Vance’s sister Valerie (Thomas ’84) was Vivian’s RA in Pearsons Hall, and he played ball with Vivian’s cousin, Donald Hairston ’84, and another former Williamson classmate. Those connections brought the two business majors together and, as Vivian recalls, ‘magic just struck.’ The two were married at Berea Baptist Church and have been married for nearly 31 years. They have two children.
After graduation, Vivian attended Eastern Kentucky University and earned a master’s degree in business administration. From there, she completed a management intern program that put her on a leadership track with Fortune 100 companies. She spent eight years with Humana and nearly 13 years at GE, giving her the foundation for her consulting firm. As a professional development trainer and coach, Vivian now helps “organizations develop incredible leaders and individuals to fuel incredible careers.” She also is an adjunct professor at the University of Louisville, preparing her students to be successful and add value in the workforce.
“We don’t just come through Berea with an educational degree,” Vivian said. “We come through with strengthened values, purpose and desire, and a strengthened passion to give back, to help others and share opportunities—and share Berea as well.”
Not only do Vivian and Vance support the College financially, Vance is in his third term on the Berea College Board of Trustees. Vivian returns to Berea to speak to, inspire, mentor and encourage current students.
“Our legacy is taking what Berea has to offer and what life has to offer and working with that,” Vivian said, “Trying to not just go to work, but to help make the world a better place.”