Opportunity for growth: Ann Hairston Hill ’75

Abbie Darst ’03Leave a Comment

Ann and Cynthia Hairston Interview

Ann Hairston Hill 1972In the fall of 1971, the first Hairston sister, Willene, had just graduated from Berea, and the fourth sister, Ann, entered on Nancy’s heels.

“Berea was a part of our family by then,” Ann said. “We were already connected there. The campus was beautiful, and I had family there. It felt like home.”

Ann settled into Berea life easily. She auditioned and was accepted into the Chapel Choir and also began singing with the Black Ensemble and the Polyesters. She enjoyed working at the library, learning about the value of the College’s rare books.

But what began as a smooth transition into college was soon disrupted by racially-charged campus turbulence. Nationwide, black college students were pushing for their culture and heritage to be remembered and taught, and Berea was no different. When tensions peaked surrounding the dismissal of a newly-hired African-American counselor, President Willis Weatherford dismissed students early for the fall semester, postponing finals and giving the campus time for its passions to cool over the extended break.

“We didn’t come back until after Christmas—they just closed out the semester,” Ann recalled. “There was so much tension on campus; it was a frightening time.”

Ann and her sisters returned in January to what Ann recalls as a college community in the midst of clarifying its values and identity.

Ann had a transformative experience when comedian and civil rights activist, Dick Gregory, spoke at a convocation. Required to write a reaction paper about the convocation, Ann remembers writing about things Gregory presented that she had not understood before. Her professor challenged her reaction, encouraging openness to ideas, balanced with questioning that led to deeper understanding.

“You come to understand that you must go out differently than you came in,” Ann said. “We were there to learn more than just knowledge about the field we were choosing, but to think critically about ourselves, about life and purpose.”

Ann continued learning through all the experiences she had at Berea. For example, on a choir tour to Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg, Va., she not only cherished singing in the National Cathedral and other historical venues, she also remembers experiencing sites like Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, and being deeply moved by the slave quarters.

“We could have just been singing,” Ann said. “But Dr. Hovey gave us a valuable experience. These experiences were significant.”

Soon after returning from that choir trip, Ann took a new position as a College tour guide, where she learned about and shared the story of John G. Fee, the foundations of Berea and what the College stands for.

“One of the things Berea gave me that I have tried to use throughout my career is the belief that everybody matters,” Ann said. “Everybody has value. We need to speak for children, for the less fortunate, the elderly and the disabled. That’s what we’re supposed to be about.”

In December 1974, Ann walked beside her sister, Nancy, at graduation, finishing in just three and a half years with a degree in child development, and was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. She went on to
earn a master’s degree in family and consumer science from Wayne State University. Since then, she has served
as an early childhood teacher, director of early childhood programs and as an early childhood licensing regulator.

She spent the last 15 years before retiring as an early childhood professor, most recently as program director of the Early Childhood Development program at Florence-Darlington Community College in Florence, S.C. As a professor, Ann said she told every class about growing up in Appalachia in Williamson and emphasized Berea’s motto, reminding her students they all have value and a voice. Ann is married and has two children.

“Berea has such a rich legacy that has been passed down to us,” she said. “Wherever you come from, whatever your past experience, Berea is equipped to enrich your life, to help you grow and be successful.”

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