Siblings Deloris and Jeff Reed can’t remember a time when Berea College wasn’t a part of their lives. Their father, Johnnie Reed, began working in Broomcraft in 1940, and their mother, Emma, soon followed. Their childhood memories are filled with Saturday mornings in the broom studio—the smell of the corn, the sound of the stitching machine, the rough feel of willow canes cut for handles. Even now, Deloris says the scent of homemade brooms reminds her of her parents.
Johnnie and Emma didn’t set out to create a family legacy. They both spent their working lives at Berea and inspired three of their children to do the same. Together with Deloris, Jeff, and brother Lonnie, they have given more than 175 years of service to Berea.
The families of both Johnnie and Emma moved to Berea from Jackson County for work opportunities. Johnnie started as a rookie broom maker at Berea at the age of 17 in 1940. He moved up to supervisor in 1958, a role he filled until 1976 when health issues forced him to retire. That is when Emma picked up the supervisor baton, a role she filled for 23 years.
Johnnie’s children remember one of his singular designs, the princess broom. It had red bristles and a hand-cut walnut handle. “He could make perfect measurements for the sawing and filing by using his eyeballs and hand for guidance,” Jeff said.
In the summers, Johnnie and Emma would travel to North Carolina, Mammoth Cave and the Kentucky State Fair demonstrating broom making on behalf of Berea, starting a tradition of live demonstrations that continues today. (Read more about live broom-making demonstrations).
The Reeds crafted an untold number of brooms. Deloris remembers that at her father’s funeral, one of her friends made a unique bouquet that included a fan-tail broom purchased at an antique store. The arrangement was even more special to Deloris when she looked at the broom closely and realized it had her father’s signature twist of broom corn. It was one he had actually made!
The Reeds had an impact on generations of Berea students through the student labor program. Deloris and Jeff estimate their parents supervised 30 students a year, working with more than 1,000 young people during their tenure. It was a labor of love, both given and received. The Reeds would have the students over for dinner; the students would keep in touch after graduation, sending letters and pictures and returning for campus visits with their families.
Watching their parents at work in such a close-up way instilled a strong work ethic in all of their eight children. “Dad would say, ‘When you get a check, ask yourself if you worked hard enough for it,’” Deloris said. “They raised us to work hard.”
Lonnie followed in his parents’ footsteps. He began working in Broomcraft in 1968, then moved up to
supervisor when his mother left in 1999. He retired from the College in 2010. Deloris and Jeff have both spent their careers at Berea but branched out from the family tradition of broom making. “Mom always said you have to love making brooms to do it,” Deloris said. “I don’t have the patience for it.”
Jeff couldn’t tolerate the rash he gets from broom corn. Instead, he’s spent more than 45 years in Facilities Management. He began as an electrician, then worked his way up to team leader, project coordinator and now associate director. He is grateful for the way Berea supports its employees by offering classes and training in trades like electrical, plumbing and HVAC.
“I have given my life to the College, but it has given me more,” Jeff said. “It taught me the skills to build my own house and take care of my personal needs. When I started here at 19 years old, I didn’t know any of that.”
Even so, Jeff can’t escape Broomcraft completely. Student Craft continues to use the broom stitcher his father bought decades ago, and he is the one they call when it needs repair.
Deloris has remained even closer to brooms, spending most of her 32-year career in Student Craft. She started in the shipping department and rose to assistant director. She recently moved to the Division of Alumni, Communications and Philanthropy.
“I miss the students,” she said. “Some students are so fragile, and in four years we watch them grow and mature. It means so much to me.”
She knows of at least one student who graduated and found a career using skills he first learned in Student Craft. He became an executive in shipping at Lowe’s.
Jeff and Deloris believe a sense of ownership in the work they do is something handed down to them by their parents. “We can’t leave here,” Deloris said. “All of us feel honored to work where our parents left such a great legacy. It is a part of us.”