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Bill Best & Violet Farmer to be honored at Summer Reunion

Two well-known Berea residents who are also alumni of Berea College will be honored as part Berea College’s Summer Reunion activities June 12-14.

Receiving the awards of Outstanding Alumnus (and Alumna) will be Dr. Bill Best, formerly with Berea College and now a nationally known leader in sustainable agriculture for his preservation and production of heirloom vegetables; and Violet “Vi” Farmer, a distinguished educator and public servant in Berea for more than four decades.

Both recipients will be honored Saturday, June 13, at the Alumni Awards Reception scheduled from 5-6 p.m. in Baird Lounge of the Alumni Building. All are welcome to attend.

Originally from Haywood, N.C., Bill Best graduated from Berea College with a Physical Education degree in 1959. Following graduation, he served at Berea in various capacities for more than 40 years as alumni building director, coordinator of social activities, director of Project Torchlight, director of Upward Bound, professor of physical education, teacher of general studies, and swim coach. He is a founding member and current director of the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center, which focuses on maintaining the genetic heritage of vegetables and fruits. He serves as a consultant to many groups and individuals interested in sustainable agriculture, seed saving and preservation. He is a charter member of the Lexington Farmers’ Market and founder of the Berea Farmers’ Market. He received the “Kentucky Master Conservationist” award in 1997, the Southern Foodways Alliance “Keeper of the Flame” award in 2003 for his work with heirloom fruits and vegetables, and has been featured in several regional newspapers and magazines as well as professional publications including a cover story in American Vegetable Grower. The author of five published books, he is currently completing a book on Appalachian heirloom fruits and vegetables. In additional to his undergraduate degree from Berea, Best holds an M.A. in Physical Education from the University of Tennessee and a Ph.D. in Appalachian Studies from the University of Massachusetts. He has resided on his family farm in Madison County with his wife Irmgard Best, ’71, for the past 36 years.

Violet Johnson “Vi” Farmer was born in Laurel County and grew up on a livestock-tobacco family farm. She graduated from Berea College with a degree in Elementary Education in 1961, went on to earn a M.A. from Eastern Kentucky University and later received her Rank I and Gifted/Talented certification. Farmer’s service to education spanned 29 years, as a teacher and coordinator of the Gifted/Talented program in the Berea school district and as a board member of the International School-to-School Experience, an exchange program for sixth grade students for promotion of world peace, during which she accompanied delegations to Guatemala and Mexico. Farmer was elected to three terms as president of the Berea Education Association and also served on the Governor's Task Force to write guidelines for Kentucky's Gifted Education Program. In 1983 she was elected to Berea City Council where she has served 26 years. She was instrumental in forming the Sister-Region relationship through Madison County International Committee (MCIC) and served on the board of the American Committee for KEEP (Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project). Farmer has been very active in professional associations and civic organizations as well. Special recognitions for her contributions include being named "Teacher of the Year" in 1970; "Outstanding Women of Madison County" in 1987 and "Woman of the Year" in 1994. She and her husband, Jack Farmer, '53, have three sons, two granddaughters and a great-grandson, all of whom live in Berea area.

Summer Reunion, sponsored by Berea’s Alumni Relations Office annually, brings together alumni from throughout out the country for a weekend of celebration, fun, renewing of friendships (and wedding vows in Danforth Chapel) and catching up on what’s new at their alma mater. Classes celebrating special reunions this year are: 1939, 1944, 1949, 1954, 1959, 1964, 1969, 1974 and 1979.

On Friday evening, an event at the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center will focus on the life and work of the late Jim Wayne Miller, a poet and pioneer in Appalachian literature and Appalachian Studies and a 1958 graduate of Berea. Miller is the featured author in the summer 2009 issue of “Appalachian Heritage,” a literary quarterly published by Berea college. The celebration in the Student Activities Room of the Alumni Building, begins at 7:30 with refreshments and the panel discussion at 8 p.m. Admission is open to all and is free of charge.

A group that includes Wayne’s widow Mary Ellen Miller, ’57, Loyal Jones, ’54, and Morris A. Grubbs, editor of a forthcoming book of Miller’s works to be published by the University Press of Kentucky will read from and discuss the author’s work. For more information, visit or call (859)985-3699.

Another special event this year will be the Rededication of the Chimes in Phelps Stokes Chapel, on Saturday, from 3-4 p.m. The 10-bell Menelly Chime, installed in 1917, has been completely restored to its original sound and operation and began ringing again in December 2008. Since its original installation in 1917, several changes had been made including electrifying the chime and replacing the manual keyboard in the tower with a small electric keyboard next to the organ in Phelps Stokes Chapel. The bells and clappers had also been altered, affecting the sound quality. Dr. Edwin Broadhead, associate professor of general studies at Berea and a fine craftsman, restored and refinished a period chimestand (which contains the keyboard) for the project. Now back in the tower and played manually, the chime has also resumed ringing the familiar “Westminster Chime” sequence each hour.

The restoration was initiated by Berea’s class of 1948 who along with members of the class of 1965 and the Arizona Alumni Chapter, gave gifts totaling more than $33,000 toward the project.

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