Inspired by Berea: An Honorary Trustee’s Passion for Higher Education

Published Originally in the Winter/Spring 2012 Issue of Berea College Magazine

Lindsay Roe, ’14

Elissa May Plattner is a teacher by profession, but a learner by nature. At an early age, she began learning about higher education, growing to appreciate the value of academics. As a result, Elissa May has dedicated her life to inspiring students. She first discovered her love of learning in Berea, when she was 10 years old.

That day, she was treated by a family member to lunch at Boone Tavern on Berea College’s campus. One can imagine the conversations that must have taken place in the shade of the hotel’s iconic front porch: talk of President Frost’s commission of the building, of student workers forging bricks, and disadvantaged communities. That day, she discovered that “Berea is a place of magic.”

In Plattner’s own words, “the world has turned over many times” since her first visit to Berea. Since then, she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky and graduate degrees from Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati. She taught at a K-12 school in Franklin County, Kentucky, and she currently teaches English at the Clermont campus of the University of Cincinnati.

In 1995, she established the Denny C. Plattner Writing Awards at Berea College. Assisted by Sidney Farr a friend and former editor of the Appalachian Heritage literary quarterly, Plattner and her husband, Kenneth, decided to launch the awards in honor of their late son, Denny. Denny adored writers and language, just as his mother appreciates the power and beauty of words.

“One of the most important things you can do,” she says, “is believe in intellectual strengths and abilities and talents.” Just as Berea believes in the potential of disenfranchised youth, Plattner believes in the talent of undiscovered writers.

Plattner watched her writing award inspire young authors to continue their craft. She continued to support Berea, praising strong leadership within the administration and faculty.

In 1994, Plattner began serving on the Berea College Board of Trustees. She comments that, during her participation on the Board, the leadership within the administration and faculty has been the driving force of the College’s success, and that President and Mrs. Shinn have been distinguished leaders throughout the past 18 years. In June of 2011, for her dedication to Berea’s mission of affordable education, she was named an Honorary Trustee. Eagerly, she accepted.

Her smile is audible as she talks about her new duties to the College. The job she is most excited about is that of a student recruiting officer. She searches for young minds that can benefit from Berea’s mission, just as its mission has fueled her passion for education since she was ten years old.

When asked why she is so passionate about a school that she did not attend, after some reflection, she says, “A college education is about living a bigger, stronger life and then giving all of that back to others. Berea is making our young people stronger in this way. It’s a place where great thinking is honored, where big ideas are futuristic, and where every student knows their ability to make a difference in the world. It is giving Kentucky a great future.”

Categories: News, People
Tags: Commitment, education, Elissa May Plattner, trustees

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 41 states and 76 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.