Berry College alumni from across the United States are making the school their home this week as they participate in Berry Alumni Work Week.
This is the 30th annual work week, where alumni not only reconnect with their former classmates but give back to the school. They stay on campus in the dorms and help with a variety of work around the campus, including landscaping, cooking, construction, weaving, quilting and chair caning.
“I’ll be helping to feed the 200 people here this week,” said Ginny Douglass, Berry College Class of 1968. Douglass will be working in the kitchen, organizing the meals for the alumni.
She’s been attending the work week for 15 years, she said, traveling from Ohio for many years and from Florida this year.
Douglass said she continues to make the trip because of her love for the school.
“I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it,” she admitted. “I just believe in what they do. The whole concept of educating people and preparing them to go out into the world, it means so much.”
Bill Bethea, a member of the Berry High School Class of 1945, relaxed in a chair at the alumni center Sunday and enjoyed the view.
“It is a really beautiful place,” he said. “I’ve traveled from South Carolina, more than 300 miles, to be here. I do think I might be the oldest one here.”
Bethea will be caning chairs this week — something he learned to do during one of the 22 work weeks he’s attended.
Some of the alumni were still waiting for their assignments.
“I just hope I’m not running the lawnmower,” said a smiling Ouida Dickey, Berry College Class of 1950.
Dickey is an alumni historian, a retired Berry professor and administrator and the author of “Berry College: A History.”
“It is always fun to see people I’ve taught and worked with,” she said.
The alumni will be working on about 20 projects this year, according to coordinator Joe Ragsdale, Berry College Class of 1965.
“The biggest project will be clearing trails and building a dock at Oak Hill,” he said.
Two Berry students who are helping out, Bethany Karnowski and Kaleigh Carpenter, said they are enjoying visiting with the returning alumni.
“It makes me want to call my grandfather,” said Karnowski.
Carpenter said she likes hearing the alumni tell stories about campus life when they attended.
“I like it when they tell me that this building or that building was something different or maybe wasn’t here at all,” she said.
Two women who know all about some changes on campus are Elaine Overman Harris and Becky Browning Christopher, both from Berry College’s Class of 1961.
“We used to have to wear uniforms,” said Harris. “Underclassmen girls wore pink shirts and blouses and seniors wore blue. Boys wore blue shirts and jeans as underclassmen and senior boys wore white shirts and jeans.”
The uniforms were fitted on the students’ second day at the school and made on campus, she added.
Christopher said communication and transportation were both a little less accessible back then.
“There was one pay phone in each of the dorms,” she said. “Also, not many students had cars then. If you wanted to go to a movie in town, you had to go to the pay phone and call a cab.”
The two have stayed close friends over the years, often visiting each other. Harris lives in North Carolina and Christopher in Florida. They make the trip to Berry every year for the camaraderie.
“Just getting to see everyone is so much fun,” said Harris. “And the food is always good, and there is always something great to take home with you. We spend all week making the cane chairs and the quilts and you always end up buying something.”
Christopher, with a smile, added that the purchases can often be unique.
“Last year, my husband bought a five-legged stool,” she said. “He told me it would be something different and we’d be the only ones with a stool like that. I just nodded.”