Before Janice Blythe ever stepped foot on Berea’s campus as a professor and chair of Berea’s Child and Family Studies Department in 1986, her life, teaching style and belief system were shaped by numerous Berea College alumnae. These educated, forward-thinking women added to the depth of history and appreciation Janice had developed for Berea from childhood when growing up one county to the west in Lancaster, Kentucky.
Janice’s great grandmother graduated from the Berea Academy in 1883. Her aunt and several cousins later graduated from Berea College.
“Even though I didn’t get to come to Berea, I have always appreciated what it stood for,” Janice said.
Instead, Janice attended Eastern Kentucky University where she encountered Professor Effie Creamer ’54 while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics. As one of only five African-American students in a department of 500 students, Janice found a mentor, confidant and lifelong friend in Effie.
“Effie taught very differently and, after being at Berea for three decades, I understand now why she was so different.”
Effie and her husband’s Berean way of bringing students into their home and helping them grow as people stuck out to Janice.
“They treated their students like their kids—and they had four children of their own,” Janice said. “We ate, did dishes, visited and worked on school projects all together in their home.”
Alongside Effie’s mentorship, Janice eventually encountered other Berea alumnae, such as Dr. Betty Powers ’53, Dr. Shirley Gibbs ’57, Peggy Kidd ’59, and Jessie Zander ’54, who impacted her life and career in monumental ways.
“They were my mentors and they demonstrated the things Berea stood for then, and I see the things we still stand for and that I want to promote as an employee,” Janice said.
Janice hopes she has had this same impact on the thousands of students she has taught, advised and mentored in her 31 years at Berea. Coupled with the historical impact of her family’s involvement with the College, this desire has motivated Janice to give back to Berea for more than two decades.
“It’s the right way to live, and it’s the right thing to do—to give what I can toward the continuation of what this school has done for 162 years,” Janice said. “There are many resources we possess that are not just in dollars. But whether it’s with money or mentoring, I encourage people to think about how they were invested in and use that to reinvest in others. I see what I do at Berea as a great investment, and our students are incredible.
“I wish I could have been a Berea graduate—that’s my one great envy—but I’m doing the next best thing, and that is contributing,” Janice continued. “That is my service.”