College trustee’s life of service and philanthropy spurs on Berea graduates

Every year, hundreds of Berea College graduates receive a copy of Berea College: An Illustrated History by Shannon Wilson, accompanied by a letter spurring them to “Go forth and make a difference in the world.” Just hours before they receive that highly-sought diploma rewarding them for years of diligence and hard work, these budding alumni are reminded of their duty to take their education and experiences and use them in service to the people and communities they will encounter throughout their lives.   It is Berea College Trustee Donna Hall who has stirred Berea’s graduates each May and December with this call to service by providing them with this historical account of the College and inspiring their futures. Hall said she and her husband, John, decided to support the purchase of the book because they believed that Berea’s graduates do not always seem to understand the mission and history of the College, and do not develop their philanthropy to the College as quickly as they might. Hall, who has served as a trustee since October 1990, has lived her life acting on her passions through service and philanthropy, and inspiring those ideas in the next generation is close to the couple’s hearts. The Halls support of causes and service span a wide variety of interests, from the arts to business, education to athletics, health care to conservation. “It is very important to me that Berea students engage in community service,” Hall said. “I hope every student leaves Berea with the understanding that we all walk the journey of life together, and we need to help one another on that journey. I believe that philosophy is instilled in students’ lives at Berea throughout their education.” That commitment is what also fuels Hall’s own service. Apart from Berea, she currently is a board member of 12 other civic, state and national organizations, each representing a cause that is near to her heart. Her involvement in organizations such as the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Kentucky Center for the Arts, the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation and the Gaines Center for the Humanities at the University of Kentucky stem from her passion for art in education, the humanities and the performing and visual arts. These are areas that Hall says, “feed the soul.” “It is important that everyone is exposed to the arts—the performing arts and visual arts—no matter their socioeconomic background,” Hall said. Other areas of Hall’s service strike a personal chord. As a 20-year breast cancer survivor, she is steadfast in her support of breast cancer research. She sits on the Board of Overseers of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University, where she and her husband established the Donna S. Hall Chair in Breast Cancer. “Being a survivor, it means a great deal to me to help other women and men who go through breast cancer and to support research to find a cure,” she said. While being treated at Vanderbilt, Dr. Hal Moses ’58, played an important role in putting together the team to treat Hall. Moses is a world-renowned cancer researcher and founding director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. During a career that spanned more than half a century, he pioneered an entirely new area of cancer research when he described and purified a transforming growth factor known as TGF-beta. Nearly every branch of cancer research has been influenced by this knowledge about the role of TGF-beta in human cancers, and new research continues to build on this groundbreaking discovery. When Hall discovered that Dr. Moses was a Berea graduate, she recommended him for the Board of Trustees. He was elected to the Board and served for many years. He eventually became chairman of the Board and completed his service this past June.

Most recently, the Halls have turned much of their focus toward conservation of land, clean water, and restoration and protection of the Everglades, specifically through the Everglades Foundation and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. They have been involved with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida for more than 20 years and received the Conservancy’s 2017 Eagle Award for their service and philanthropy. Donna serves on the Everglades Foundation Chairman’s Advisory Council and the Naples Botanical Garden board. For Hall, every organization with which she is involved holds an important place in her life. The same philosophy with which she challenges each Berea graduate—to go forth and make a difference in the world—is the same one she strives to live out through her service to various organizations with which she has been involved for decades. “We can and should make a difference in the world,” Hall said. “Pick a cause that is important to you and then volunteer, use your education and share your God-given talents and your monetary gifts to make an impact. We should leave this world a better place and make a difference in the lives of others.” Hall says her involvement with Berea College has allowed her to do just that, by bringing her life experiences to bear on the life issues Berea’s students face. “I believe Berea, through its students, makes a difference in lives by changing communities and improving the quality of life for the people who live there,” she said. “Because of the strong emphasis Berea places on service, often students return home and share their knowledge on how to strengthen and improve those areas. “Whether students choose to return to their communities or travel to a small village in Africa to help improve water quality,” Hall continued, “I believe it happens because Berea has prepared them to understand the importance of service to others and to live by Berea’s motto: God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.”

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Abbie Darst '03 is an article writing, husband loving, kid raising, cheer coaching, God serving, busy woman. Whether it's been in sports, law enforcement or higher education, Abbie has dedicated her career to telling stories that speak of mission, passion and the best parts of human experience. She's been telling Berea's amazing stories since 2017.

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