President Lyle Roelofs and First Lady Laurie Stand with the Concert Choir in Front of the Baha’I House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.


Whether journeying across the world or exploring the past, Berea College supporter and friend Kathleen “Kitty” Picken is always on the lookout for ways to find and foster human connections. Travel, she believes, is essential to the kind of personal growth that allows these connections to take place, and the Chicago philanthropist wants to bring Berea students along for the ride. With Picken’s support, Berea students are finding learning opportunities in new and unexpected places, from concert halls in Portugal to the College’s own 9,000 acre forest.

Traveling Around the World
Kitty Picken on choir tour in Chicago
Kitty Picken

“More Americans should do road trips,” Picken said, to help them understand the ideas and values that shape social and political stances. It’s important to focus on the journey, not on arriving at the destination quickly. “If you fly from Chicago to Atlanta, you don’t discover the mountains, you don’t understand the steep ravines of Kentucky with houses and trailers that cling to the edge…and if you don’t experience those things, you won’t connect with the experience of those people.”

Picken’s own relationship with Berea began with a road trip through campus in the early 1960s. She and her family traveled to Kentucky to pursue her love of horses. However, when they visited Boone Tavern, Berea captured their hearts. It was years before Picken realized her family was supporting Berea College. Their quiet philanthropy inspired her to commit to Berea, too.

For several years, Picken has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Berea College Concert Choir, sponsoring tours through the United States and Europe. During the summer of 2014, Picken joined 67 Bereans on a 15-day journey through Spain and Portugal, immersing themselves in the history of the region, building relationships, and performing for communities large and small. Dr. Stephen Bolster, Berea professor and conductor of the Concert Choir and Chamber Singers, believes opportunities like this provide invaluable experiences for students.

Picken at Bean Sculpture
Kitty Picken (left) poses with Anna Blanken ‘15, Hannah East ‘17, and Kendal Keaton ‘18 at the “Bean” sculpture in Chicago.

“When the choirs travel internationally, we try to perform music from the region and culture that we are visiting,” said Bolster. “To have the thrill of performing music in the same spaces in which it was conceived and created to be performed is an incredible experience.”

In Spain, they performed “Nigra sum” and “O vos omnes” by Pablo Casals and “Ave Maria” by Javier Busto. The pieces were performed in the very cathedrals for which the composers had written them.

In addition, Picken says traveling to foreign countries helps students learn to negotiate the world in new ways by presenting opportunities to think beyond language. She hopes students will build confidence by traveling, which will inspire them to travel independently or seek out other new experiences later in life.

“Traveling through Spain and Portugal was an exciting experience that I will never forget,” said Markcus Kitchens ’14, now in medical school. “I thank Ms. Kitty for making it possible for this southern gentleman to travel and gain lifelong memories. Her love for music drew us all closer to her.”

When possible, Picken enjoys sharing her expertise as a historian and traveling with the students. “Bereans have a spark of life and curiosity. It makes them gracious, thoughtful, and good company,” she said. Dr. Bolster reciprocates that pleasure. “It’s a natural, easy, friendly relationship,” he said. “She’s a creative spirit and easygoing person, and a supportive traveling companion. She enhances everything.”

Picken has also sponsored trips to Chicago and Ireland.

Traveling through the Past

Recently, Picken discovered another way to enhance the learning experience of Berea’s students closer to home. She made a gift to create a Geology and Archaeology Lab in the new Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building currently under construction on campus. “Archaeology used to be a treasure hunt, but now it is a way of understanding other people,” said Picken.

While the lab will help support a variety of classes and programs, Picken is particularly interested in how it will enhance the work of the college’s archaeologist, Dr. C. Broughton Anderson, whose investigations are creating a new understanding of Berea College and its role in the region.

Portacloy Ireland Group
A group of Bereans visited Portacloy, County Mayo, Ireland, on a trip funded by Picken. Clockwise, from back left: Emanuel Acheampong, Alicia Crocker, Bram Coffey, Doug Meadows, Jackson Napier, Lucy Begley, Kody Blankenship, Kitty Picken, Uinsionn McGraith, Brandon Richardson and Broughton Anderson.

“Broughton is learning about the formerly enslaved Africans who held land in the mountains on Berea’s property,” said Picken. “She is learning about the prehistoric settlements that are also in those hills—all of which contributes to the pride in and knowledge of the area.”

As Dr. Anderson is quick to point out, such knowledge provides more than a gateway to the past. “Through exploring material culture—the stuff humans have created—we can better understand how people lived and adapted to their surroundings, and through that, we can better understand ourselves. Archaeology doesn’t just study the past. We spend a great deal of time considering the present as well as the future,” she said.

Picken’s support of programs across the Berea campus expresses her belief in the value of a liberal arts education. “Going to college doesn’t mean you are going to do one thing for the rest of your life,” said Picken. “It means that you have learned to think and research and judge and balance, and that you will use those lessons to better understand ‘all peoples of the earth.’”

To find your passion project, please contact Development at 1-800-457-9846 or 859-985-3039. Or simply make a gift by visiting

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