Monday, May 14, 2012

Dad went to college?

Dad always told me he went to college.

Um-hmmm.  Dad, who always said he spent three years in 4th grade and finally had to be asked to leave.  Dad, who was not educated beyond 6th grade.  Dad, from the hills of eastern Kentucky where education was not always a priority and opportunity was just not there.
Chester Lee Clemens
On a recent genealogy trip to Kentucky, we thought we would broaden our usual route to include Berea College, where Dad said he attended.  Even if nothing panned out, we enjoy researching at college libraries, which can certainly be a treasure trove of information.
Berea College, from the web site

The first thing we noticed was the beauty of this community.  It was founded in 1855, and the trees and the buildings were stately on this autumn day. 

The second thing we noticed was the beauty of the students.  They were modestly dressed, dripping with manners, and they seemed so happy.  One of the things that sets this college apart is the work ethic.  Students may attend for free, but are expected to work a minimum of 10 hours each week in campus and service jobs. 

The college was the first interracial and coeducational college established in the south.  Its purpose was to help the youth of Appalachia gain education and better their lives.  There are now students from all over the world.  Every one that we encountered had a story to tell, and seemed to be grateful for the opportunity to attend there.

Although it took some effort, we found our way to the area where the student records would have been.  We weren't aware that we should have let them know ahead of time that we would be coming to look for our father's records, and that even some of those might not be available to us.

In the end, our trip was not in vain.  Dad was indeed a student at Berea College.

Chester L. Clemens' name is found just below the point of the pencil.

Unfortunately, Dad's stay at Berea College during the school year 1930-1931 didn't last very long.  He had been enrolled in the Junior High Program, Industrial Arts, but withdrew in the spring.  He went home to Olive Hill.  It was plantin' time.

Dad was never able to return to Berea.  And, the following year, in February 1932, he married my mother.

Both of my parents truly valued education.  They wanted their girls to have every opportunity to learn, and to keep on learning throughout their lives.  Mom and Dad tried - but times were different. 

They did the best they could...

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