What is the best advice you’ve ever received as president of Berea College? 

Berea College changes its president more than its president changes Berea College. For the tough moments, the best advice I received was from another president: “Try to think of what you would do if you were not scared.”

Professional portrait of Lyle D. Roelofs
Berea’s ninth president, Dr. Lyle D. Roelofs

What was one of your best moments as president of Berea College? 

There have been so many wonderful moments, most of them involving people, and so they are a little private. Some of the best public moments include:

  • Learning Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies would be willing to provide a 4:1 match up to $40 million for the MAC building, enabling us to build the best science facilities of any college in the state.
  • Shifting from mechanized logging to horse logging in the College Forest.
  • Flipping the switch for the Matilda Hamilton Fee Hydroelectric Station
    at Lock 12 to begin generating electricity.
  • The academic quality of Berea College beginning to be realized as we moved from No. 65 (2014-15) up first to No. 30 in the country in the U.S. News and World Report national liberal arts college rankings and then to No. 26 in the country for this year.
  • Overcoming the endowment excise tax, which would have cost the College about $1 million per year.

What events do you most enjoy attending on campus each year? 

Commencements, both December and May, are the most special.

What would you like to be remembered for? 

It was always my goal that on my departure, the College would be better able to sustain itself and its mission than when I arrived. If folks agree that the College is in better shape now than 11 years ago, then I hope that is remembered.

What are some of the student stories that have served as a continual reminder of the importance of this institution? 

There are so many, but my favorite is Guinevere Biere. Read more about Guinevere’s story.

What has been the most rewarding part of serving as Berea College president?

It has been such an honor to serve an institution that is truly unique in the country; any academic leader would love to have had that opportunity.

What was one of the most difficult seasons of your presidency? 

Well, dealing with COVID-19, which has involved so far 2 ½ years (= 10 seasons?), has been very challenging, but there have also been some tragedies and sharing the pain of those with families and friends of students and employees we lost was so much harder.

What will you miss most about Berea? 

It has been so very moving to see so many people—faculty, staff and students—working together to advance the most compelling mission in the country. We’ve also really loved getting to know so many generous and faithful donors and friends of the College. 

What is your advice for the next president? 

I hesitate to offer advice to Dr. Cheryl Nixon, who seems to be taking exactly the right approach to getting to know Berea. Rather, I will make myself totally available to her in the coming months to assist however I can, and beyond, too.

What are you most looking forward to in retirement? 

I have a lot of interests, and it’s a pleasing prospect to have more time for them, and, of course, there are the grandchildren.

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