On February 13, 2017, alumnus Charles Rayburn received the Berea College President’s Medallion. The award, first established in 1988 by then-President John B. Stephenson, is given at the discretion of the President as a way to honor those who have shown “exemplary service in the advancement of Berea College and its cause.” Rayburn is the first recipient of the President’s Medallion during President Lyle Roelofs’ tenure at Berea College and only the 15th honoree since the award was established.
In addition to being a life-long supporter of Berea College Mr. Rayburn has had a distinguished career as a physicist and inventor with 914 inventions protected by 78 U.S. Patents and also licensed in Europe and Japan. Many of his inventions were focused on electronic components used in radios, televisions, computers, and other electronic products. The manufacturing, marketing, and installing of these electronic products created jobs for many employees per year for more than forty years.
Mr. Rayburn came to Berea at age 14 to attend the College’s “Lower Division” (high school). His mother had persuaded Berea to accept him and she died just one month later. Rayburn states that Berea became like family to him. Completing high school, Rayburn attended his first year of Berea College before the outbreak of World War II prompted him to leave College to join the war effort.
“Berea is where I learned to work,” stated Rayburn. He had taken a course in electricity at Berea that qualified him for a production line defense job as final tester for miniature transformers used in aircraft communication equipment. This experience with General Electric was recorded in his military record and became a levitating influence in his military tenure. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps, moving through the ranks from Private to Captain. Specializing in B29 systems, Rayburn established, then operated facilities on Guam to enable the bombers to make the long bombing runs over Japan.
When Rayburn returned from the war in 1946, Berea was fully enrolled so he finished his undergraduate education at Morehead, then enrolled in the University of Kentucky where he obtained a Master of Science Degree in Physics.
During his career, Rayburn was an engineering manager for a classified military project within the National Bureau of Standards in Washington DC., focused on designing and automating construction of the first electronic integrated circuits. Later, his work was in the competitive electronic industry where his innovative skills led to the development of hundreds of components that serve people and provide employment. Rayburn estimates that his inventions have created more than 5,000 employee-years of jobs.
Now retired, Rayburn lives in New Mexico.
The first two medallions were presented at the May 1988 Commencement to Dr. Elise Asbury, a physician and the author of Horse Sense and Humor in Kentucky–the proceeds of which were donated to Berea College, and Mrs. Judy Stammer ’30, longtime volunteer director of the Berea College Appalachian Fund. Since then, there have only been 12 additional medallions given, with Mr. Rayburn’s being only the 15th in 29 years.