Albert Thomas loves to tell how his family discovered Boone Tavern in the late 1950s. He and his wife, Marian, were traveling south from Michigan along Highway 25 en route to visit family in South Carolina and Georgia. They pulled to a stop outside the Tavern, peered at the mountains that stood before them, and thought it best to settle in for the night.
“In those days,” Albert said, “people of color did not have places they could spend the night and have a meal. A person came by, and we asked if there was some place around where we could spend the night. The person pointed to Boone Tavern.”
There, in a segregated southern town, they received a warm welcome and a dinner jacket if he needed one.
“There was the feeling that you had some worth,” Albert said. “You weren’t just somebody traveling who stopped there, and they rented you a room. It seemed to come out in all of the students and the faculty. We remember that warmth and acceptance each time we send a contribution to Berea.”
The Thomases returned each year while traveling, getting to know Richard Hougen, who wrote the cookbooks used for the meals prepared at Boone Tavern; chatting up the students working in the dining room; and learning how all the students worked in positions across campus.
“The students seemed so thankful for the opportunity to be at Berea,” Albert said. “We understood. All these students were there tuition-free and based on need.”
The Thomases have included Berea College in their philanthropy for more than 50 consecutive years.
“I like the motto—God has made of one blood all peoples of the Earth. Berea does what God intended all of us to do. It shouldn’t matter where you are in life; you’re one of God’s children, and you should be treated as such. A school like that has to go on.”