At the edge of campus, an iron bridge stretches across Brushy Fork Creek, leading to scenic trails open to hikers of all stripes. Over the past 11 years of Lyle D. Roelofs’ presidency, the bridge has become a symbol of initiatives designed to ease the path of the economically disadvantaged students traversing the campus terrain. There is a bridge in—summer programs and resources that help the newly admitted Berea College student to transition to college. There is a bridge through—a supportive environment that increases retention and promotes the success of a demographic that tends to struggle to finish college. And there is a bridge out—the unique supports offered to graduating students to help them establish a life after completing their degree.
The bridge analogy in higher education is avant-garde. At Berea, no student is admitted and then left to fend for themselves. During Roelofs’ presidency, retention and graduation rates have steadily increased, thanks to the supports offered to students.
“Lyle’s transition a decade ago necessitated a steadfast and consistent leader who was genuinely interested in people’s well-being and success,” said Stephanie Zeigler, chair of the Berea College Board of Trustees. “Under his leadership, Berea has been focused on student enrollment, retention and success; all things that others in higher ed are just now talking about.”
This issue of Berea College Magazine focuses on the bridge out, just as Lyle and Laurie Roelofs make their own transition to life after Berea. As retirement beckons, they leave behind a legacy of care, from their promotion
of big ideas like community wellness through the President’s Run/Walk Club to small acts of kindness like providing popsicles to Summer Bridge program students nervous about working as groundskeepers
at the President’s Home. For all the major initiatives that succeeded over the past decade—the construction
of the Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building, the nation’s first college-built hydroelectric station, the Great Committees that reiterated and reaffirmed the College’s Great Commitments, and the repeated high rankings of a Berea education by national publications—perhaps the greatest accomplishment of “Papa Roelofs” and “Mrs. President,” as the students have affectionately called them, is re-creating and continuing the “beloved community” that has always defined Berea College as an institution.
The thing about bridges is they go both ways. In that sense, there is a bridge in, through, out and back again. Though the Roelofs are taking the bridge out to retirement, the beloved community will always welcome them back with open arms.