Roberta Allison holds a plaque, outlining her generous donations to the College.
If you have attended a Berea College Homecoming celebration, there is a good chance you’ve seen Roberta Allison ’42 chatting with fellow alumni, attending special agriculture and natural resources events or dancing at the Saturday night block party on College Square. Beyond her presence at campus events, Roberta has been one of the College’s most loyal and passionate supporters for more than 75 years—giving generously to the Berea Fund by way of outright gifts and charitable gift annuities.
“I’m glad to know I’m helping the school,” she said.
In addition to helping complete Tuition Promise Scholarships for talented Berea students, Roberta also has supported Berea College through the Class of 1942 Fund, as well as providing campaign support for the recently completed Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building.
Though she earned good grades while attending school in Greenville, W. Va., and hoped to attend university on a scholarship, Roberta realized quickly this wasn’t a realistic goal, being one of 10 Depression-era children in her family. She learned about Berea from her time as an active member of her local 4-H chapter, which was led by a 1937 Berea alumnus. Roberta went on to earn a degree in home economics with a major in dietetics, which led to her career as an extension agent.
“It was four years of learning how to live a youthful life after you get out of college,” Roberta said of her time at Berea.
Following graduation, she also served as a recruiter for Berea, educating others about the College’s mission and helping to arrange transportation to campus for prospective students.
During her tenure at Berea College, Roberta took courses she never thought she would be taking, such as chemistry and astronomy.
“I can’t think of any classes that I didn’t learn a lot of things that were so useful to me later,” she said.
As one of the few female students in the 1940s to enroll in agriculture courses, she is recognized as one of the pioneers responsible for the equal representation of women in the program today. Her passion for serving others became apparent as she put the knowledge she gained at Berea to use teaching others how to garden and preserve food through demonstrations and programs. When asked to reflect on the Great Commitments and which she considers most compelling, it is no surprise that Roberta chose service to others as the commitment she most appreciates.
For her work in the field of agriculture, she has been presented with the Roberta Pearl Larew Award, named in her honor. Given by the faculty and staff of the Berea College Agriculture and Natural Resources program, the award is presented to a Berea College alumna for significant achievement and service in agriculture and natural resources, with a minimum of five years post-graduate experience, who has made notable contributions toward serving others through agriculture and natural resources.
Today, the gender composition of Berea’s agriculture program demonstrates that times have certainly changed since Roberta was a student. Still, role models like Roberta empower female students to pursue their own goals and passions both in the halls of academia, as well as in their own careers, just as Roberta has through her steadfast support, leadership and inspiration in the field of agriculture, and her continued participation in campus events.