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Berea Receives Largest Single Donation in Its History

Berea College and St. Joseph - Berea have received gifts totaling almost $14 million from the estate of Alfred M. and Mary Swain Wood.

The bequest of $10.7 million to Berea College is the largest single gift the College has ever received. Designated the Alfred M. and Mary Swain Wood Scholarship Fund, the proceeds from the endowment will be used to provide student scholarships at Berea. The $3.2 million gift to Saint Joseph - Berea will fund facilities and health care initiatives for the hospital that serves Berea and the surrounding community.

Alfred Wood was a sales executive with Procter and Gamble for 39 years in the East and Southwest and later, with his wife Mary, managed a cattle ranch for more than 25 years in Oklahoma, but the couple maintained close ties to their native state of Kentucky. Al Wood grew up in Wildie, a small community in Rockcastle County just south of Berea, where his father ran a grocery store and the post office. In 1914, Wood graduated from the Berea Academy, a college preparatory school for Appalachian youth operated by Berea College for almost a century.

He was a Navy pilot during WW I and was commander of Mediterranean Naval air operations during WW II. After the first war, Al did collegiate studies at the University of Kentucky before moving on to Harvard University where he earned a degree in economics. Mary Wood was originally from Eminence and Danville, Kentucky, and was a children’s book representative for Scott-Foresman, and promoted the Dick and Jane series for her whole working career.

“The story of Al and Mary Wood is one of very modest backgrounds, hard work, frugal living, and a strong desire to give back to the institutions that educated them and that still serve their local communities well,” says Berea College President Larry D. Shinn. “We at Berea College are humbled by the magnitude and the far-reaching benefits of the Wood bequest that represents the largest single gift in Berea’s 154 year history. Students for many generations –students from backgrounds like Al’s and Mary’s—will benefit from the scholarship assistance such gifts provide. We are deeply appreciative of the Wood family’s generosity.”

David Shelton, Chair, Berea College Board of Trustees, states, “On behalf of the Berea College Trustees, I am so very pleased to acknowledge the meaningful support that Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Wood have provided through this gift. Generous gifts, such as this bequest from Mr. and Mrs. Wood, help Berea College continue its distinctive mission of learning, labor, and service to the Appalachian region.”

Saint Joseph - Berea is part of the Saint Joseph Health System and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI). Its mission is to nurture the healing ministry of the Church by bringing it new life, energy and viability in the twenty-first century.

Speaking on behalf of Saint Joseph - Berea, President Greg Gerard says “This is a tremendous gift that will allow Saint Joseph-Berea to further its ministry of creating healthy communities and provides the resources to develop new and innovative programs. Because of the Woods’ gift Saint Joseph-Berea will be able to make a significant difference in the lives we serve.”

Leigh Jones, chairman of Saint Joseph - Berea Foundation which will administer the bequest funds, emphasizes the importance of such gifts to the community. “The bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Wood to Saint Joseph-Berea Hospital is truly a magnanimous gift that will benefit the entire Berea community. The Foundation Board hopes that others will follow the lead taken by Mr. and Mrs. Wood by making gifts and/or bequests to the Hospital Foundation.”

Alfred and Mary Wood were long-time contributors to Berea College and returned to the area frequently, visiting Mr. Wood’s mother, Eliza, who lived in Berea until the 1950s, as well as his brother, T.J. Wood and wife Hilda, who lived just north of Berea. T.J. Wood, a former vice president and member of the board of directors of Procter and Gamble, served as a trustee of Berea College from 1962 – 1967. Alfred Wood died in 1997, at the age of 100. Mary Swain Wood died in 2008, at the age of 99.

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