Ann Adams Hays ’78 has a favorite memory of watching the yellow leaves fall from the gingko tree outside the old science building, which is where the biology major would meet her future husband, Lon Hays ’78. Ann was following in her older brother’s footsteps into medicine, and Lon, still uncertain of his path, would follow Ann wherever she was going.
Four and a half decades later, they’re still together, still practicing medicine and still fondly reminiscing about their alma mater, which enabled lives of great success.
“Going to Berea was probably the best thing that happened to me in my life,” Ann revealed, noting that the liberal arts setting encouraged her to nurture two sides of herself, the scientific and the artistic. She loved to draw, but she also loved her math and science classes. Plus, she was getting good field experience through her labor position at the hospital, where she worked as a lab technician, drawing blood and studying electrocardiograms. The combination of school and work, Ann says, prepared her well for medical school.
“I got a great education,” she said. “The instructors were all excellent. The liberal arts education was second to none. The job is as much of a learning experience as all the classes.”
Going to Berea College was perhaps the natural progression of things. Ann grew up in Berea, so attending the local college seemed the logical choice. Her father, the postmaster, was an alumnus, and her mother was a craftsperson who had made all the furniture in their house. Her mother encouraged Ann to become a doctor, and that is the path she took.
She also took up sports, playing for the women’s basketball and field hockey teams and even men’s golf when the team did not have enough players to compete. “The thing that sports did for me was it helped me get organized,” she said. “If I had golf practice or basketball practice, it would allow me to organize my time to study a little bit better.”
For Lon, too, having to balance school, work and extracurricular activities led him to hone his organization skills. He worked the breakfast shift in the dining hall his first year, while playing tennis and joining up with country dancers.
“If you’re working at 6 a.m.,” he said, “you have classes all day and then go to country dancer practice right after tennis practice, you have to be organized or you’re never going to get where you need to be.”
Lon had grown up in nearby London, Ky., on the campus of Sue Bennett Junior College, a Methodist-affiliated school where his father was president. Growing up on a college campus meant frequenting the college library and playing at the tennis courts. It would be a long time before he realized that Thanksgiving dinners with international students was not the norm for everyone.
“I grew up thinking that was normal, that that’s what Thanksgiving was all about,” he said. “It wasn’t really until I reflected on it years later that I recognized that was probably not the norm for southeastern Kentucky in the 1960s.”
Lon didn’t grow up knowing what he wanted to do, but after taking biology classes at Berea, he decided to major in the subject. He met Ann in those classes and asked her what she planned to do with her degree. She revealed she was going to medical school, so Lon decided that’s what he was doing, too. In the meantime, he played tennis and took Berea College to nationals his junior and senior years.
Both Ann and Lon graduated from Berea without any debt and went on to medical school at the University of Kentucky with the assistance of grants from the Appalachian Fund, now the Berea College Appalachian Fund, with the mission of improving the general education, health and physical well-being of people in Appalachia.
After three years in medical school, Lon still didn’t know what kind of doctor he wanted to be. Nothing so far had called to him.
“I was always amazed at the people in our class who immediately knew that they were going to be a surgeon, or they were going to be an emergency room physician,” Lon said. “I had no clue. Then our psychiatry rotation came along, and for me, it was like the sun came out and the clouds parted. I realized I had found my niche in life.”
While Lon pursued his newfound love of psychiatry, Ann went into family medicine and took a job at the University of Kentucky University Health Service for students and employees. She’s still there 37 years later and is now the director. When Lon finished his residency, he joined the faculty at UK and served as the chair of the psychiatry department for 20 years. In addition, Lon once served as the president of the American Board of Addiction Medicine.
Both credit Berea for fostering a good work ethic, study habits, organizational skills and acceptance of people. In fact, Lon says that while serving on the admissions committee at UK’s medical school, he learned what a great reputation Berea students had for being good students and workers. He, too, has taken a sense of pride with him into life after Berea.
“Serving in the cafeteria,” he explained, “I was making 61 cents an hour. I had as much pride in that job as I have in my career today.”
Ann and Lon also believe the diversity at Berea helped them in their careers. “Berea gave me a diverse education,” Ann said. “I can communicate with my patients better because of that.”
Lon added, “Because of Berea, I have an appreciation for things in life that I might not have had otherwise. Berea furthered my ability to be open and accepting of all ethnicities, genders, lifestyles, etc. It has certainly been an asset to my career.”
Both Ann and Lon say their greatest achievement in life has been the rearing of their three children, all of whom played varsity tennis at Centre College, and all of whom have become very successful in their own right. From time to time, Ann still draws, and she imagines a retirement filled with art. Lon, who has stepped down from his administrative roles, is focused on research and teaching others how to help people struggling with addiction.
Twice is Enough
Sometimes a little faith pays dividends. Lon Hays has experienced this twice in his life and loves to tell the story of a pair of struggling medical school students who were once strapped for cash. It was around 1982, and the newlyweds had a tight budget. Lon sent up his prayers over the family’s finances and went out to wash his car.
“What’s momentous about this,” he said, “was that it may be the only time I’ve ever washed a car. My dad always said, you know, it’ll rain.”
And rain, it did, though not in the way he expected. As he was cleaning off the floor mat on the driver’s side, Lon found an envelope beneath the brake pedal containing $600 in traveler’s checks left over from his honeymoon that he had forgotten all about.
The money helped the couple get through that semester, but not too long later, money was again in short supply. Again, Lon prayed about his financial situation and traveled to meet Ann and his father-in-law at the Keeneland horseracing track in Lexington. A friend gave him $2 to bet the Daily Double in the first race. Lon’s horse lost, but there by his seat was a ticket someone had dropped on the ground. It contained a bet on the second race, a 50-to-1 longshot on the No. 2 horse. Lon describes a scene like out of a movie, with the favorites beating the pack all around the track until, suddenly, in the last furlong, the No. 2 horse began to gain ground.
“The two came from the dead rear and blew everybody way,” Lon said, and the winnings from the ticket he found on the ground amounted to more than $300.
“That money lived in my sock drawer for the rest of the semester,” he related.
That was the last time Lon prayed for money.
“I don’t want to abuse that privilege at all,” he explained. “Twice, but you know, I’m not going to do that anymore.”