Joy Hager served Berea as a coach, mentor and trailblazer for gender equality

Dr. Joy Hager was a pioneer in her work. She was an extraordinary coach whose work for women in athletics reflects the College’s commitment to equality for all. Now, after more than 50 years, her students remember the tremendous impact she had on the College and their lives.

“When we faced adversity, we knew Paul and Joy were there,” said Faye Collett-Sutton ’65, one of Hager’s students. Collett-Sutton, who graduated with political science and history degrees, was Hager’s teaching assistant, and Hager also was her field hockey coach.

“People thought that because I was her TA, it was easier,” she said between laughs, “but we didn’t have any breaks; we had to do like everyone else.”

Sammie Wilson Wakefield '65 speaking at the dedication ceremony for the Joy Hager Gymnasium.
Sammie Wilson Wakefield ’65 spoke at the dedication ceremony for the Joy Hager Gymnasium located on the second floor of Seabury Center. She described her experiences being taught and coached by Dr. Hager during her time at Berea. Photo by Crystal Wylie ’05.

Hager expected 100 percent in the classroom, in work and in sports, Collett-Sutton expressed, recalling grueling workout routines fondly.

“About the first three or four days we could not walk because we were so sore,” she said. “We had to use muscles we never used, and Joy would say, ‘Go work it out.’”

She credits Hager for motivating her to be better, and says that both Hager and her husband, Paul, were life mentors.

“They lived in downtown Berea,” Collett-Sutton said, “and we would go to their apartment from time to time. They opened their home to us.”

Besides being mentors, Collett-Sutton said the Hagers helped her grow up and adjust to college life. “They made us face life, and they helped us develop high standards of performance for ourselves,” she said.

Collett-Sutton refers to her group of friends as the Berea sisterhood, and they return to their alma mater every two or three years to meet.

“It is wonderful what Berea gave you, and Joy and Paul were an integral part of us coming together,” she said. “I learned things that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Kidwell describes her experience with Hager as terrific, and the two maintained contact until Hager’s death in 2015. After graduating from Berea, Kidwell recalls running into Hager at professional physical education conventions, sending each other Christmas cards and having occasional phone calls.

Dr. Joy Hager with the Berea College field hockey team.
Joy Hager (front row, second from left) coached the Berea College field hockey team during her 49-year tenure at the College. She also coached women’s basketball, served as a physical education professor, as chair of the Physical Education and Health department and as athletic director.

“Because of her influence, I ended up majoring in physical education at Berea,” said Avanelle Kidwell ’65, another Berea “sister” whom Hager coached. “I also ended up working at a school for 42 years, and I am sure that was a direct result of her impact and her influence.”

“I’ve known her for so many years. We’ve been through athletics together, and that was one of the best times of my life,” Kidwell remembered. “I wouldn’t change that for anything—with her or any other athlete I played with at Berea.”

Because she started school at age 16, Kidwell explains the tremendous influence Hager had on her life and the lives of the athletes she knew.

In addition to being a mentor, Hager made exceptional strides for women in athletics. Kidwell recalls that it was a different time back then.

I don’t think there was much going on for women when we arrived,” she explained. “The coaches drove because we didn’t have any transportation, and we didn’t have any uniforms so we all wore black shorts and white tops if we could scrounge that up at home.”

I will never be able to repay Joy Hager, Berea or the people before her, or the people that I’ve met that have helped me be successful, but what I can do is help people I see in need because that is what Berea does.

Faye Collett-Sutton ’65

Kidwell says Hager had an impact on every athlete she worked with. Remarkably, she worked to have women’s full participation in a variety of sports.

As a strong advocate of gender equality, Hager provided leadership in organizing women’s sports in Kentucky, and her efforts included serving on boards and holding offices in the state’s Women’s Intercollegiate Conference. To recognize Hager’s influence on their lives at Berea, a group of alumnae started a scholarship to be granted to a female majoring in physical education.

“Although I can’t thank Joy, she knows that I am paying it forward by helping others,” Collett-Sutton said. She credits Hager for teaching her students about service-learning and emphasizing spotting opportunities. “Of course I had that for my family, school and church I went to,” she explained, “but Berea instilled service-learning. That has stayed; I couldn’t tear it out of my mind or body if I tried.”

“I will never be able to repay Joy Hager, Berea or the people before her, or the people that I’ve met that have helped me be successful,” Collett-Sutton added, “but what I can do is help people I see in need because that is what Berea does.”Helping others, staying healthy, providing solutions and handling tough environments are among the many things Collett-Sutton says Berea and Hager fostered in her life. “She added tremendously to Berea because she had high standards, and she knew her subject,” she said. “She was a leading educator in her field. Joy was an outstanding mentor and friend for a lifetime.”

Now, as a career coach, Collett-Sutton implements Hager’s teaching philosophy with her students as well. “One thing Joy taught me is to measure your results and not your intentions,” she said. “I ask my students, ‘What are you doing individually to help change people’s lives?’ We are paying it forward.”

On August 7, 2008, Tom Chase recorded an oral history with Joy Hager. This is Part A of that interview.
On August 7, 2008, Tom Chase recorded an oral history with Joy Hager. This is Part B of that interview.
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