Three Berea College alumni will be recognized with special awards during this year’s Summer Reunion. The Rodney C. Bussey Award of Special Merit will be presented to Virgil Burnside ’74 and Jackie Grisby Burnside ’74. The Berea Alumni Loyalty Award will be presented to Peter S. Thoms ’55. These three alumni will be celebrated during the Alumni Awards Presentation and Reception at 10 a.m., Sat., June 15 in the Boone Tavern Event Center. RSVP to attend the Alumni Awards Presentation and Reception here.
Each year the Berea College Alumni Association recognizes achievements of alumni with considerations given to professional accomplishments and service to their alma mater.
Virgil Burnside graduated with a degree in political science from Berea College in 1974. He earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Kentucky in 1992 and completed several courses in the Higher Education Policy Studies and Evaluation program while at UK. He is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Society.
He was employed by Berea College in 1980 as an admissions counselor and continued in that position for 10 years before serving the College in various other capacities, including as a student development counselor, residence hall director, assistant to the vice president for labor and student life, Title IX and disability service coordinator, assistant to the president, director of residential life collegium, and most recently as vice president for Student Life, from which he will retire this summer.
Throughout his tenure at the College, he has volunteered with many civic clubs and service organizations, such as the Berea Kiwanis Club (past president), and on the boards of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Bluegrass, United Way of Madison County, Campus Child Care, Leadership Madison County (graduate of 1995 class), the Berea Hospital Auxiliary Benefit Committee (past chair), and the City of Berea Board of Ethics. He also served as a member of the Berea City Council for 17 years.
In recognition of his contributions to the College and to the city, Burnside was awarded the Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for Community Service in 2000 and the Distinguished Alumni Leadership of Madison County award in 2001. He is an elder and trustee of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Berea.
Jackie Burnside is a native of Alabama and a 1974 alumna of Berea College. She served as an Army sergeant with a tour of duty in the Panama Canal Zone from 1976 to 1979. After the Army, she attended graduate school at Yale University where her doctoral dissertation entitled, “Philanthropists and Politicians: A Sociological Profile of Berea College, 1855-1908,” was an organizational analysis of Berea College as an interracial educational institution during the 19th century.
She currently is a professor of sociology and chair of Academic Division III at Berea College. Her extensive research, particularly in this history of Berea College and the wider Berea community has resulted in several notable publications. Burnside is the author of Berea and Madison County, a 2007 documentary photo book in the Black America Series by Arcadia Publishing of Charleston, S.C. From 1999 to 2002, Burnside was project director and writer for “Kentucky’s African American Heritage: Historic Black Berea: An Interracial Community 1866-1900s.” The project was funded by Kentucky African American Heritage Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Berea College, and produced a historical map with CD narration developed by a college-town volunteer committee. She also led the development of a website, Early Black Berea, that chronicles influence of African Americans on the origins of Berea College and the town of Berea. Among other publications, Burnside authored several entries in The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, published in 2015 by the University of Kentucky Press.
This year marks Dr. Burnside’s 18th as a member of the Berea Independent School Board, where she serves as vice chair. In 2014, along with her husband, Dr. Burnside received the John G. Fee Award from the Berea Human Rights Commission. After decades of service to Berea College and the city, she also received the Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for Community Service at the 2019 Berea College Commencement.
Dr. Peter Thoms, a 1955 graduate and son of medical missionaries in Muscat, Oman, knew from a young age that he wanted to be a doctor. After graduating from Berea College with a bachelor’s degree in biology, he earned a medical degree at the University of Michigan before interning at Hurley Hospital in Flint, Mich. Thoms was a family medical practitioner for 57 years before retiring in 2017. During his career, he served as a Christian Medical Society member; president of the Genessee, Lapear, Shiawasee Chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians; and teaching associate for the Hurley Hospital School of Nursing, Department of General Practice.
In addition to his service to the medical profession, Thoms has displayed exemplary dedication to Berea College for decades. He served on the Alumni Executive Council for four years. He set a goal of increasing giving to the College among his classmates and led a campaign of letter writing and phone calls resulting in the class of 1955 rising to the No. 1 rank in contributions in the 2017-18 President’s Report on Philanthropy, with a rate of 38.9 percent giving. Thoms next goal is to achieve 100 percent giving by his classmates.
His desire to see Berea’s alumni give generously to the College prompted the idea to involve students in philanthropy while they are still enrolled at the College. Thoms’ concept sparked what is now known as the Berea Patrons program. As of May 2019, 1,024 of Berea’s 1,600 students are part of the patrons program, giving back a small portion of the funds they receive from their labor positions on campus. In 2019, 80 percent of the graduating class were Berea Patrons.