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For 150th, Founders' Day Honors Fee's Family

More than fifty of John G. Fee's descendants came to Berea College to celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of its founding. They and their ancestor were honored during the Founders' Day convocation, where they received the John G. Fee Award.

Fee's descendants receive awards at Founders' Day convocation.

The descendants to receive the award boxes were the eldest five surviving members of each branch of Fee's grandchildren: Everitt Fee Hardin, Thomas R. Palmer, Kelly Fee McElfresh, Nancy Embree Sando and Jonathan Wilson. Anne Pirkle, great-granddaughter of James Williams Fee (Fee's brother) and a dedicated family genealogist, also received an award. Her son Mac Pirkle and two of the award recipients (Hardin and Sando) spoke about their experiences with Berea College and the stories that had been passed down through their family about Fee.

"In some ways it seemed like Shangri-La or Jerusalem," said Sando of the tales she had heard about the college. "When I actually saw it and there were real trees, and real grass, and brick buildings, I wasn't disappointed. In fact I was so happy that it was real, that there was a real Berea."

Fee's attending descendants ranged from great-grandchildren to 4th-great-grandchildren, aged from 94 years to 14 months. They came from Kentucky as well as California, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington state to be in Berea to honor Fee. While they were in Berea they were taken on tours of the campus and had a chance to visit the College Archives to learn more about Fee and their own genealogy, as well as visit and exchange information and stories with other family members, some of whom were meeting for the first time.

Fee's legacy has lived on in many of his descendants. "[They] have served in such notable roles as lawyers, educators, civil rights advocates, physicians, Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, physicists, and even Berea College trustees," said President Shinn in his opening speech.

Shinn also spoke about Berea's founder, John G. Fee, and drew from some of Fee's philosophies. "'…with nobler, higher, broader view,'" quoted Shinn, "'We must grasp in our embrace men of every clime and of every nation.'" The Black Music Ensemble bookended the speech and award ceremony with an inspiring arrangement of Negro spirituals which related to Fee's beliefs, and would probably have been sung during Fee's time.

This was the sixth annual Founders' Day convocation of the new millennium, and the first honoring Fee. The John G. Fee Award is a walnut box featuring a cast-bronze medallion of an African symbol called a "sankofa". The sankofa means, literally, "'Go back and retrieve'," said Shinn; it symbolizes the need to know and understand ones heritage. The box was designed and made by Berea College Woodcraft, and Berea artist Ken Gastineau designed and created the medallions. Each box contained a table runner woven by Berea College students.

The award, established in 2001, is primarily awarded to African American students of Berea College who attended between 1866 and 1904 and then went on to provide distinguished service and dedication to Fee's ideals and to the college's motto, "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth." It was only appropriate that Fee himself should be honored this year as part of Berea's sesquicentennial celebrations.

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