Hilda K. Roderick: “Teamvork is Vonderful”

Jason Lee MillerLeave a Comment

First Annual Hilda Karlsson Roderick Lecture

Hilda Roderick ’48 Presents a Berea College Student Crafts Bowl to Yale’s Dr. Robert Crabtree.   

In many ways, the family story of Hilda K. Roderick ’48 mirrors the story we all know as the American Dream. The first American-born child of German/Swedish immigrants, Hilda and the rest of the Karlssons settled into a life of farming in Maryland without much beyond land to call their own. All six children learned the value of hard work and, just as important, the benefits of teamwork.

“Life was hard,” said Hilda, and success in their new life together depended on participation of the whole family. “My father used to say, ‘Teamvork is vonderful.’”

But work wasn’t the only important key to the family’s success. While other farm children in the area often missed school to help at home, Hilda’s family put education first, as the children were encouraged to pursue their dreams of education. Hilda dreamed of studying science, yet the expense of college clouded her bright future.

“Then I found Berea,” she said. “I was so pleased.”

Hilda rode the train to Berea carrying only a footlocker containing a tennis racket and some “chicken feed sack dresses” she had made herself. She was ready to study chemistry and get down to work. In addition to the tuition scholarship, the Labor Program would help her pay for living expenses, alongside all the other student “teammates” at the college.

“Berea was just ideal,” she said. “The work program fit into my own way of living.” During her time at Berea, she held a number of labor positions. Hilda worked as a dishwasher, a Boone Tavern waitress, a tour guide (where she once guided Robert Frost around campus), a lab assistant, and a nurse’s aide.

Beyond professional work experience and a way to provide for herself while away from home, the value of teamwork was again reinforced in young Hilda’s mind, as was a growing appreciation of Berea’s mission to honor and support the dignity of “all peoples of the earth.”

“When you work with someone, you get to appreciate them, and I think Berea fosters that through its small community, and through intimate relationships between students and mentors,” she said.

She felt this in the classroom, particularly in chemistry with Professor Julian Capps, who was known for paying personal attention to his students. “He gave us such a wonderful feeling,” said Hilda. “He wasn’t just a professor ‘way up there.’ He was right there with us in the laboratory.” These experiences made a lifelong impression, and Hilda never left the Berea “team.” Each year in Maine, where she now lives, Hilda organizes “Berea Day” for alumni living in the state. She hosts a potluck picnic, where she provides the spoonbread and leads them in “Berea Beloved.” This began after her 35th summer reunion, and by her 60th, then Berea College President Larry Shinn presented her with the Alumni Loyalty Award.

Recently, Hilda and her family honored Berea by setting up the Hilda Karlsson Roderick Lecture series, an endowed fund that brings in distinguished scientists each year to speak and demonstrate for science students. This past spring, the first lecturer was Professor Robert Crabtree of Yale University, speaking on his research in alternative energy.

What motivates Hilda to continue her support of Berea College this way? “Love for people,” she said. “Love for life. Love for a certain harmony. Love for work. Love for the sunshine when it comes. Love for a spirit that is bigger than we are that binds us together. Berea has had a great and wonderful and lasting impact on my life.”


To set up your own endowed fund, contact the office of Development at 1-800-457-9846. Or simply make a gift by visiting www.berea.edu/give.

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