Photo by Rui Barros Photography
Steve Anderson’s childhood memory of his mother packing boxes of clothes to send to Berea College for her Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Texas is his first awareness of the College. It was that vague recollection that made him detour off the interstate for a stop in Berea in 1992 on a trip from Tennessee back to his home in Maryland.
That day, Steve attended a service in Danforth Chapel. The service was good, he recalls, but the tremendous hospitality of the Berea College faculty, staff and students was captivating. Steve ended up staying the night in Berea. When he returned home, what he had learned about this liberal arts college in Kentucky forever impacted his life.
Steve and his wife Jane are graduates of Oberlin College (Ohio)—an institution founded on an interracial education commitment that inspired Berea’s founder John G. Fee, and from where many of Berea’s first teachers and presidents were recruited.
“Part of the attractiveness of Berea is the same as my initial draw to Oberlin,” Steve said. “I was attracted to Oberlin by its motto of ‘Learning and Labor.’ Finding that Berea embraces the values of radical equality and work in an environment shaped by Christian values was a wonderful discovery!”
“That was part of the excitement of sending that first check,” Jane added. “He came home so excited. That check was the beginning of a lifetime commitment for both of us.”
These values have been part of Steve’s life since childhood, when he followed a call into ministry and began at the age of 15 preaching in little East Texas churches. He spent his 45-year career as a minister with the United Church of Christ.
During his first visit, Steve learned Berea was looking for a new president. He immediately called his dear friend, Larry Shinn, whom he had met at Drew Theological seminary. “I told him, ‘You need to go to Berea.’ There was silence on the other end of the line and then Larry responded, ‘You’re the second person this week to tell me this.’ In my mind it was a perfect match between the values and commitments that characterize both Larry and Nancy (Shinn) and Berea.”
Despite his and Jane’s close relationship to the Shinns, Steve is adamant their support has always been about Berea College.
Jane grew up in North Carolina, remembering her grandmother’s home infused with items from Berea—woven plaid blankets, hearth brooms and a handcrafted Skittles game.
“I grew up with the idea that Berea was a special place,” she said.
Jane pursued a teaching career after college. In her first full-time position, she discovered a 10th-grade student in her English class who could not read. That experience shaped a subsequent career helping students with various types of learning disabilities discover paths to successful learning.
“What I particularly appreciate is how carefully Berea considers reasons students may struggle,” Jane said. “Everything from the Macy’s shopping trip for professional clothes, to reaching out to parents who might have concerns about kids missing the next crop, to a personally designed internship—I am inspired by what the College will pursue on a young person’s behalf.”
The Andersons truly believe Berea is an institution of integrity. They have supported the college for 27 years, and each year they embrace again the way Berea lives out its mission and commitment to student success.
“The Great Commitments,” Steve said, “seem to imbue and inspire students, faculty, staff and administrators—everyone—and the result is an entire community reflecting a commitment to something bigger than themselves. It’s wonderfully contagious.”