Leia used the Sloane Shelton Grant to study yoga in Bali, Indonesia in summer 2018.
In September 2015, Jan Buckaloo lost her partner and dearest companion. Jan and Sloane Shelton had been together for 50 years before Sloane succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis.
To Jan, and the rest of the world, Sloane was no ordinary woman. A Berea alumna, she was born into poverty in a small Georgia town and grew up in Asheville, N.C. Sloane’s childhood was difficult. Her father worked in a local mill, and Sloane and her brother cared for their mother, who, after an unsuccessful lobotomy when Sloane was 9 years old, was unable to care for herself or her children.
Sloane was drawn to the arts and loved working with her hands. Before coming to Berea in 1951, she already was immersed in literature, poetry and theater because it gave her a life she could visualize happening if she worked hard enough.
“Berea cracked the door for her and gave her the breathing space to realize her potential,” Jan said.
At Berea, Sloane met Mama (Louise) Scrivener, her advisor and mentor who had a huge impact on her life.
“She saw what was in Sloane and knew she was a special kid,” Jan said about Scrivener. “That encouragement was everything for a kid with no encouragement.”
At Berea, Sloane worked in the theater—first sweeping up, then making costumes and building sets. Eventually she wrote, directed and starred in a play about an Italian family in New York City called “The Snow Is Mud.” Years later, Sloane laughingly admitted she’d never been to New York, didn’t know one Italian and hadn’t seen snow when she wrote the play. Sloane caught the attention of a well-to-do family in Asheville, N.C., who gave her $5,000 to live in England after receiving a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
“The money this wealthy family gave her, Sloane insisted on paying it back, if it took her years,” Jan said. “And it did. Little did she know the family was so stunned at this, they put the money into a savings account for her. She only discovered they’d done this years later.”
Sloane’s time in London allowed her to break into the theater industry. Upon returning to New York, where she eventually met Jan, she went on to have an illustrious career as an actress and playwright. Over the years, Sloane worked with Eva Le Gallienne, Kathleen Chalfant and Vanessa Redgrave. She appeared with Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman in popular films. But Jan says Sloane was most proud of acting in the play “Eudora,” which was commissioned for her, and of being the first female character to open the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, N.Y.
“She loved the theater; it was a religion to her,” Jan said. “It had the ability to teach and make a way into people’s hearts and minds.”
And Sloane did that too. “She was silly and somber, passionate and stubborn,” Jan continued. “She lived flat-out. She was heaven, and I miss her.”
Jan wanted to honor her wife through a fund to Berea College, where Sloane received not just an education, but a chance at a better life. This past year, she gave a gift to create the Sloane Shelton Arts and Humanities Grant program to help other Berea College students pursue a career in the arts they love.
“I wanted to do this because Berea provided Sloane a way out of a really closed life situation,” Jan said. “Berea gave her enough encouragement to pursue her dreams.”
“These students need to have their eyes, minds and hearts opened,” Jan continued. “Sloane would be glad that money is going to these students. She knew she had been given a leg up, and she wanted to help others.”