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Some decisions impact a person for a lifetime; some impact generations of people. One such decision established the cornerstone of Berea College’s distinct financial model, enabling it to offer a tuition-free college education to generations of students and continue its interracial and coeducational founding mission.

When the Board of Trustees met on Oct. 20, 1920, and voted to create a policy that directed bequest gifts to the permanent endowment of the College, it is unlikely that board members realized the full significance and enduring impact of their decision. Official notes recorded at the meeting state, “All bequests, whether so specified or not, shall be considered as additions to the permanent endowment funds of the College, unless otherwise designated….”

This bold decision has helped secure the College’s mission to this day, creating an endowment from which the income replaces the tuition that students are not able to pay.

The wisdom behind the decision made 100 years ago still bears fruit today. … Berea is a good steward not just of its students, it’s also a good steward of its finances.

Tyler Thompson ’83, Berea College trustee

“Without these gifts, Berea likely would not exist as it does today,” said Amy Harmon ’99, director of Planned Giving. “More than half of our endowment’s principle exists today because of legacy gifts, which have ranged greatly in size but have been substantial in number. Berea’s model will live on in perpetuity through the legacies and commitments of many.”

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of this momentous decision, Berea College will seek commitments from 100 new bequestors during the College’s year-long celebration. This initiative, named “100 in 100,” aims to honor the 1920 Board decision and further support and sustain the College’s mission for many years to come.

“A lot has changed since 1920, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that Berea is still providing a high-quality education for students of great promise and little means,” said Berea College Trustee Tyler Thompson ’83. “The wisdom behind the decision made 100 years ago still bears fruit today. … Berea is a good steward not just of its students, it’s also a good steward of its finances.”

Gifts can be made in any amount and may be made in a variety of ways, such as including Berea College as a beneficiary of a will, trust, life insurance policy and/or a retirement account.

“There is great flexibility in the different ways donors can support the College with a bequest, and the Planned Giving team can assist donors in selecting the best option to meet the donor’s needs,” said Gena Edwards, associate director of Planned Giving. 

Donors who include Berea in their estate plans become members of the Great Commitments Society, and those who notify the College of these plans between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, will receive recognition as part of this special effort.

“As a member of the Great Commitments Society myself, I know that my values will live on through my legacy gift at Berea,” Harmon said.  “Planned giving donors at Berea have the ability to secure Berea’s unique mission and to continue changing students’ lives for generations to come.  Those who do so share a special connection to the success of our students and continue to create a perpetual legacy.”

The foresight of the Board of Trustees in 1920 and bequests of many generous individuals have sustained the mission of Berea College, enabling it to support a century of Berea students.

“Given the rising costs of educating our students, it will be imperative that we continue to identify more individuals willing to join us in our mission through a planned gift,” Harmon said. “Given Berea’s extraordinary funding model, our students’ futures depend on bequest gifts like these.”

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