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McKinney Honored for Leadership at Appalachian Center

Dr. Gordon McKinney was honored on October 28 for his 10 years of leadership and dedication as the Director of the Appalachian Center as he moves on to his new position as chair of the History Department.

Gordon McKinney

McKinney received written messages from colleagues, friends and acquaintances, in addition to a plaque and gift from the Appalachian Center. The Berea College community, other Appalachian Center staff, regional presses, and colleges and organizations who worked closely with Gordon were in attendance.

We interviewed McKinney to get the inside scoop on his time here at Berea and some interesting facts about his life.

BCnow: What brought you to Berea College? When did you come to Berea?
McKinney: I am specialist in Appalachian Studies and Berea has the reputation of being an excellent school for Appalachian Studies and for having an outstanding collection of Appalachian material; so, it was very attractive. I came here in 1995.

BCnow: Where did you grow up?
McKinney: I grew up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

BCnow: What did you want to be when you grew up?
McKinney: Well, according to my high school yearbook I wanted to be a college professor. (laugh) I guess every once in a while things work out.

BCnow: What degrees do you hold? Where did you earn your degrees?
McKinney: I have a bachelors, a B.A. degree from Bates College and a Masters Degree and PhD from Northwestern University.

BCnow: What drew you to your field of study?
McKinney: I found that the study, the history of the American South, that the people in the southern mountains were most like the people I grew up with and so I just found it very attractive. I did my doctoral dissertation on Appalachian politics.

BCnow: What did you do before coming to Berea College?
McKinney: Quite a bit. Immediately before here I was the National Director of National History Day at the University of Maryland. And then before that I was a program officer for the National Endowment for Humanities in Washington, and before that I was the professor of history at Western Carolina University. Before that I was the professor of history at Valdosta State University in Georgia.

BCnow: How did you receive the position as Director of the Appalachian Center and why did you choose to accept the position?
McKinney: I was one of the persons they selected and I readily accepted the job, because Berea was such an attractive place for someone in my field and my wife and I were both looking for a change.

BCnow: What do you enjoy most about your job?
McKinney: Teaching the students at Berea I guess, having taught elsewhere including at Northwestern and the University of Maryland, as well as my two other teaching positions. I find Berea students much more motivated and the classes are small. When I taught at the University of Maryland my smallest class was 240 students. So, the opportunity to have well motivated students and small classes is very attractive.

BCnow: What is most challenging?
McKinney: Trying to organize all of the various pieces that I have. Being the head of the department, teaching, and the variety of committees I serve on.

BCnow: What is a day like in the life of Gordon McKinney?
McKinney: OK, I get up about 5:30 and I go over to the YMCA and run for two miles and come to campus, have meetings, teach, and do research and writing, and go home and collapse. Not really, I go home and do more research and writing.

BCnow: You mentioned writing, are you working on a book right now?
McKinney: Yes, but Iím working on a couple actually, but Iím in the every early stages of it. So, Iím really doing the research. But of course I have a book out which you know. ("Zeb Vance: North Carolina's Civil War Governor and Gilded Age Political Leader" published by the University of North Carolina Press) I had an article just come out about a week ago ("The Fractured Land of the Sky: The Image of Western North Carolina during the 1986 Nuclear Waste Controversy") So, you know, I continue to write, its just that Iím mostly in the research phase.

BCnow: How do you feel about being honored for your time as Director of the Appalachian Center?
McKinney: Well, Iím very humbled by it. As the people at the center know, they do the work. As director itís just making sure that there are no obstacles. They are terrific.

BCnow: What is a rare fact most people donít know about you?
McKinney: I won 8 varsity letters in high school.

BCnow: What has been your greatest accomplishment here at Berea College?
McKinney: Getting a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant which with the matching money that we had to raise it was about 2 million dollars. It created an endowed professorship at the center and it provides money for the tour of Eastern Kentucky by faculty and staff. And you know, those things are all going to continue long after I leave Berea, so, you know I think thatís an accomplishment.

BCnow: In life?
McKinney: Being happily married for 36 years. I feel very fortunate.

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