Nursing alumna uses her 36-year career to launch into ministry service in Kenya
For Mary Ann (White) Phifer ’84, attending college was not a choice, but part of the cycle of growing up. She grew up expecting to attend college like her three older siblings.
“I wanted to know and explore the world beyond Clay County, Ky., and I knew that a college education was going to be the ticket to that future,” she explained.
Phifer learned about Berea College from her mother, Vanilla (Potter) White, who attended the Lincoln Institute in the early 1940s. Phifer was drawn to Berea’s respected and renowned nursing program, unique labor opportunities and beautiful campus. While at Berea, she majored in nursing and held labor positions across campus in a number of departments, including Needlecraft and at the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel and Restaurant. Phifer met her husband, the late Fred E. Phifer ’83, at the end of her first year, and the couple married in Danforth Chapel one day before her graduation.
“We had often spoken about wanting to give back to Berea College in appreciation for what we had received,” Phifer shared. When Fred passed away in 2010, she started the Fred E. Phifer Endowed Scholarship in his honor.
After graduating, Phifer had a successful 36-year career as a registered nurse. Over the course of her career, she was employed in several positions, including hospital-based and home health, occupational health with the Central Intelligence Agency and school nursing in elementary and middle schools. “My experiences in nursing were diverse, and the education I received at Berea College allowed me that flexibility,” she explained.
After having been involved part-time in mission work for about five years, Phifer decided to retire in 2020 and move to Kenya to serve as a full-time missionary, where she is a trauma healing training facilitator with a ministry focused on house-church planting and discipleship. In this role, she facilitates small-group healing sessions for persons who have suffered trauma and conducts training to equip others to become facilitators.
“Trauma encompasses those painful life experiences that cause suffering and deep wounds of the heart and mind that typically take a long time to heal,” she shared. “This Trauma Healing Institute program utilizes a distinctive way of healing trauma that joins established mental-health practices and interaction with God through scripture to foster healing.”
Most recently, Phifer established The Mary White Phifer Endowed Nursing Fund, meant to provide discretionary income for the Department of Nursing to enrich the learning experience for Berea’s nursing students. “I believe in the education provided by Berea College,” Phifer said. “I also believe in paying it forward so that others will have the opportunities that I had to reach my goals.”
In order to prepare students for the rapidly changing healthcare field, Phifer believes nursing education needs to be up to date with technology so students transition from college to the workplace well prepared.
“I hope that the fund will be used to maintain the nursing department’s cutting edge with technology and to provide a variety of real-world experiences for students so that they will realize that a career in nursing is not static but multifaceted.”