Virgil Burnside ’74 and Dr. Jacqueline Grisby Burnside ’74

Dr. Jacqueline Grisby Burnside ’74 and Virgil Burnside ’74 met at Berea College, got married as students and marched together at graduation. Six years later, they returned to their alma mater and embarked on a nearly 40-year journey of service to the College and the city of Berea. At Summer Reunion, the dynamic duo was presented with the Rodney C. Bussey Award of Special Merit, given to alumni who have been employed by the College, recognizing their outstanding service to, demonstrated loyal interest in, and extraordinary quality of work for Berea College.

Having begun his career as an admissions counselor in 1980, Virgil retired at the end of the 2018-19 academic year as vice president for Student Life. Jackie continues in her role as professor of sociology and chair of Academic Division III.

Portrait of Virgil Burnside and Dr. Jacqueline Burnside
Alumni Virgil and Dr. Jackie Burnside were honored for 40 years of service to Berea College. Virgil retired as vice president for Student Life at the end of the 2018-19 academic year.

After graduating, both attended graduate school. Virgil earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Kentucky in 1992 and completed several courses in the Higher Education Policy Studies and Evaluation program while at UK. Dr. Burnside attended graduate school at the University of Oklahoma and Yale University, where her doctoral dissertation, titled “Philanthropists and Politicians: A Sociological Profile of Berea College, 1855-1908,” was an organizational analysis of Berea College as an interracial institution during the 19th century.

“Virgil and I pleasantly discovered over the years that having a diploma from Berea College was extremely valuable,” Jackie said. “As a credential, it paved the way for getting accepted into each of our graduate schools, and the strong academic courses we took at Berea College helped us continue to excel in our graduate studies.”

Virgil served in many roles at the College, including student development counselor, residence hall director, assistant to the vice president for labor and student life, Title IX and disability service coordinator, assistant to the president, director of residential life collegium and, finally, vice president for student life.

“Over the years, in terms of Berea’s mission, what it does, having worked here and seeing the power it has in transforming lives, it’s a special place,” Virgil said. “I just enjoy my friends across campus and recognize all the contributions they make toward making this place work. It’s not just teaching and learning. It’s the cafeteria, the maintenance of the buildings, the cleanliness. Every role is important. I try to share that with the labor students, too. Your role is important no matter what you do.”

Throughout his tenure at the College, Virgil has volunteered with many civic clubs and service organizations, such as the Berea Kiwanis Club (past president), and the boards of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Bluegrass, United Way of Madison County, Campus Child Care, Leadership Madison County (graduate of 1995 class), the Berea Hospital Auxiliary Benefit Committee (past chair), the City of Berea Board of Ethics and as a member of the Berea City Council for 17 years.

Over the years, in terms of Berea’s mission, what it does, having worked here and seeing the power it has in transforming lives, it’s a special place.

Virgil Burnside ’74, retired

In recognition of his contributions to the College and to the city, Virgil Burnside was awarded the Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for Community Service in 2000 and the Distinguished Alumni Leadership of Madison County award in 2001. He is an elder and trustee of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Berea.

Currently serving on the Berea College faculty, Jackie served as an Army sergeant with a tour of duty in the Panama Canal Zone from 1976 to 1979.

Her extensive research, particularly on the history of Berea College and the wider Berea community, has resulted in several notable publications. Dr. Burnside is the author of “Berea and Madison County, Kentucky,” a 2007 documentary photo book in the Blacks in America Series by Arcadia Publishing of Charleston, S.C. From 1999 to 2002, she was project director and writer for “Kentucky’s African American Heritage: Historic Black Berea: An Interracial Community 1866-1900s.” The project was funded by the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Berea College, and produced a historical map with CD narration developed by a College-town volunteer committee. She also led the development of a website, Early History of Black Berea that chronicles the influence of African Americans on the origins of Berea College and the town of Berea. Among other publications, Dr. Burnside authored several entries in “The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia,” published in 2015 by the University of Kentucky Press.

This year marks Dr. Burnside’s 18th as a member of the Berea Independent School Board, where she serves as vice chair. In 2014, she received the John G. Fee Award from the Berea Human Rights Commission, and after decades of service to Berea College and the city, she also received the Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for Community Service at the 2019 Berea College Commencement ceremony.

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