Icing on the cake: Eleanor Sue Hairston Jones ’72

Abbie Darst ’03Leave a Comment

Sue Hairston Jones interview

Sue Hairston JonesSue came to Berea with the same love of music, heart for service and determination to succeed. She knew from day one that she was going to be a teacher. She had spent countless days at their kitchen table in Williamson, teaching her younger siblings their letters, how to read and American History. She loved to learn and enjoyed teaching her siblings, wanting them to have the same thirst for education. Only a year apart, Sue recalls going to elementary school with Willene, even before she was old enough to attend. She always knew that college was in her future, and following Willene to Berea just made sense. 

At Berea, Sue began working in needlecraft and then moved on to hold positions in the record library and choral library in the Music department. She remembers earning about $40 per month salary—being paid $1 per hour, the top-of-the-line amount in 1967. Sue easily balanced the schedules of classes, labor, rehearsals, voice, piano and organ lessons and homework. 

Sue was alto section leader in the Chapel Choir, and she remembers how much she enjoyed singing at the Sunday evening convocations, performing in Choir concerts and going on Choir Tours. She has fond memories as a choir member at Christmas singing Handel’s “Messiah” at Union Church, going Christmas caroling around campus and returning to the Hovey’s home for hot chocolate. With the Choir, Sue sang at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and in Williamsburg, Va., at Bruton Parrish. She also sang with the Polyesters and was the second director of the Black Ensemble after Willene graduated.

“There was a spirit of community and togetherness,” Sue said. “It was open and loving. It was the Berea Way.” 

For Sue, Berea has always been a haven of peace. From her dorm mother, Mrs. Upton, at Kentucky Hall to the Union Church congregation and Union Youth Fellowship, having served as president and representing Union Church at the youth conference at Emory University in Atlanta, to the relationship she and her family built with President Willis Weatherford and his wife, Sue said Berea’s campus has always felt like home. 

After Sue graduated in 1972 with a music education degree, she completed master’s degrees in music education and elementary education and earned her Rank One at Eastern Kentucky University. She taught as a music teacher in Louisville and Winchester, Ky. After her father passed away, she moved back to Williamson where she continues to teach first grade today and serves as a mentor teacher in her district. She has enjoyed a 45-year career teaching and inspiring students to help them fulfill their educational goals.  

But Sue’s love and gratitude for Berea only grew after she left. She and her husband, Wayne Jones, were married in Danforth Chapel on Berea’s campus. Though not a Berea graduate, Wayne began to advocate for Berea as well because he saw it as such an opportunity for youth in their area. Wayne recruited many students to Berea, even taking them to campus and standing in as their parent when necessary to help students succeed. 

Twenty years later when Sue and Wayne’s oldest daughter, Susan ’02, was ready for college, Berea was once again a wonderful opportunity for their family. 

“Students have thanked us for introducing them to Berea, and said it has changed their lives,” Sue said. “I’m thankful for what Wayne did, not only for our own children, but for other people. It’s a service mission and a part of our legacy.

“I think when we came to Berea, we had something to give; we were already filled up with love when we came,” Sue continued. “Mama and Daddy nurtured us from the very beginning, so when we got to Berea, it was icing on the cake.”

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