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Berea Learns of ''Anonymous Angel'' Benefactor

With the death August 1 in La Jolla, California of Margaret Anne Cargill, one of the wealthiest women in America, Berea College learned the identity of a generous benefactor whose anonymous philanthropy is helping Berea preserve and celebrate traditional Appalachian arts.

Billionaire and Berea College supporter Margaret Anne Cargill.

Cargill was consistently listed on the Forbes list of America’s wealthiest citizens and had a net worth of nearly $2 billion. She was the granddaughter of William Cargill, who in 1865 founded the private company now known as Cargill Inc., an agri-business giant. Ms. Cargill chose to live a simple life, with few outward signs of her wealth. In giving away more than $200 million during her lifetime, she focused on what her inherited fortune could do for others, supporting causes close to her heart while avoiding the limelight that often surrounds those of her financial stature.

In 2005 and 2006, through the charitable trust she established, Ms. Cargill gave large grants to Berea for programs related to traditional Appalachian music and dance. Cargill heard about Berea’s interracial and coeducational history and service to low-income students from a close and trusted friend who is a Berea alumna of the 1950s. The College’s crafts program also was of interest to Cargill, who studied weaving for a time.

Cargill never sought credit for her gifts, instead insisting on total anonymity as she contributed to a carefully selected group of institutions. Berea College was the only college or university she supported. The others included the American Red Cross, San Diego Humane Society, American Swedish Institute, Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and the Nature Conservancy. Ms. Cargill made provisions for her generous philanthropy to continue after her death and Berea anticipates receiving additional support for programs through the trust.

Cargill’s grants to Berea have already had an impact. Since September 2005, the funding has greatly increased the ability of Berea’s Hutchins Library to preserve and make accessible hundreds of traditional Appalachian music recordings. The library also has been able to hire a full-time preservation assistant, obtain high-quality equipment used to digitize aging analog music recordings, and fund the successful Appalachian Music Archives Fellowship program, which has attracted international scholars, musicians and composers. In additional to engaging in research using local resources and Berea’s collections, Fellows assist with preservation activities, web site development, and interpretive/educational writing about the recordings.

Enhancement and expansion of traditional Appalachian music and dance programs at the College have also been made possible through the grants. Student internships and apprenticeships centered on traditional music and dance are now available along with funds for additional performances in the region by Berea’s traditional music and dance ensembles.

Cargill’s support also enabled music instructor Al White to start a new traditional music group, the Country Dance Ensemble, which plays at the rehearsals and performs with the Berea College Country Dancers. Additional private lessons for students interesting in playing traditional Appalachian instruments and the purchase of high-quality traditional instruments, including banjos and mandolins, for student use are also being funded by the grants.

For more information about programs funded by the grants, contact Harry Rice, sound archivist at Hutchins Library Special Collections (859)985- 3262; Al White, music instructor and director of Berea’s Bluegrass Ensemble (859)985-3401, and Susan Spalding, director of dance programs (859)985-3142.

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