Many gathered to celebrate the 1927 laying of the cornerstone of Seabury Center. Photo provided by Berea College Special Collections and Archives
Thousands of Berea students and College visitors know the Seabury name. It is attached to prominent buildings on campus and awards for students and faculty. The connection goes back to the 1920s when Louise Seabury visited Berea while traveling on summer vacation. Impressed by Berea’s mission, she insisted her husband, Charles Ward Seabury, visit the College on their next trip.
Their grandson and Berea College Trustee Dr. Charles “Chuck” Ward Seabury II says that according to family lore, his grandfather—having done well in his business and feeling charitable— made it known to then-president William J. Hutchins that he would like to do something to address a current need of the College. President Hutchins told him the most pressing need at the time was a facility for men’s physical education and fitness. He and his wife agreed to fund construction of a well-equipped gymnasium for Berea. A 1927 article in the Berea Citizen noted that Mr. and Mrs. Seabury were attracted to Berea because of the College’s “ideals which have stood the test of time.”
The Stock Market crash of 1929 would test that commitment, but with “a great sacrifice” and some compromises on the architectural design of the gymnasium, they followed through. With that initial—and substantial—gift, the Seabury family began a long tradition of financial support for Berea College through the Seabury Foundation.
The Seabury Center, a first-class 106,996 square-foot facility that houses the College health, wellness and athletics programs; Seabury residence hall that is a home away from home for female students; the Charles Ward Seabury Fellowship for graduate studies; and Berea’s highest faculty honor—the Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching—all bear the name of a family and foundation whose support has been generous and longstanding.“
“Berea is quite rare in what it is doing,” said Bill Fisk, a Seabury descendant and chair of the Seabury Foundation. “The school has been very well supported. This was something our great grandfather supported and that’s not, in my opinion, a sole reason to support something, but that has been given weight.”
Since the initial meeting with President Hutchins in 1927, members of the Seabury family and their foundation have personally committed to the welfare of Berea College and its students. Beyond financial support, their steadfast loyalty has included serving on the College’s Board of Trustees, beginning with Charles Ward Seabury. After his death, his son, John Seabury, joined the Board and remained actively involved until his death in 1988. Soon after, John’s son, Chuck Seabury II, continued the family tradition by actively serving as a Berea trustee. Chuck also noted that his maternal grandfather, Grant Brown, was the commander in charge of the Navy V-12 unit in Berea during World War II. The V-12 program served the nation by providing well-educated naval officers, and the College by providing some financial stability at a critical time.
“Anyone who presumes to support educational opportunity as a means of social development and justice who does not pay attention to Berea College has missed the boat,” Chuck said. “I look forward to many more years of connection with this worthy institution.”