Al and Becky Browning Christopher are all smiles at the dedication of the new event pavilion bearing their names.

Al and Becky Browning Christopher are all smiles at the dedication of the new event pavilion bearing their names.

A beautiful addition to Oak Hill – as functional as it is breathtaking – has enhanced the ability of Martha Berry’s historic estate to serve as a front door to Berry. The Christopher Browning Pavilion was dedicated at Alumni Weekend, a dream realized for two members of the Berry College class of 1961 who poured so much of themselves into it, Al and Becky Browning Christopher.

Made possible by a $1 million gift from the couple, the stunning 5,760-square-foot pavilion is nestled just down the hill from the Oak Hill home, only 100 yards from the site of the historic cabin where the vision for the Berry Schools was born. With its exposed juniper beams and full-lite exterior wooden doors, the structure is a showcase for Al’s considerable talents as an artist. In fact, he created many of the building’s most breathtaking elements at his woodworking shop in Florida, up to and including the cupola on the roof.

The resulting facility blends perfectly with its surroundings while accommodating up to 300 guests, depending on configuration. Features include a full catering kitchen and the ability to be used as an open-air pavilion or closed air-conditioned space.

Speaking for the couple, Al praised the educational experience Berry continues to provide and offered thanks to the many members of the project team who helped bring his vision to life, among them fellow alumni, college staff, current Berry students and external partners.

“One thing I have learned since being involved in several projects at Berry is that students are still being taught to use their heads, hearts and hands,” he said. “Becky and I do believe in what Berry is doing to prepare students for meaningful careers, and that’s why we’re involved alumni. I am honored and humbled for the credit given to me for having a hand in planning and building this building. It would be very selfish for me not to thank the many folks who made this possible.”

Al’s woodworking expertise will be featured in an upcoming exhibit at The Martha Berry Museum. Watch for more details in an upcoming issue.

One local planner described the new pavilion as “all the buzz” locally, with 35 events scheduled to date, including seven weddings. Call 706-368-6789 or email oakhillevents@berry.edu for details on reservations and scheduling.

Related links: Local news coverage; photo gallery.

Bookmark and Share

A leader in forensic drug chemistry research, a learned historian and dedicated Berry servant, an award-winning journalist, and a skilled woodworker and successful entrepreneur topped the list of award winners recognized at Alumni Weekend. The 2018 recipients of Berry’s Distinguished Alumni Awards included:

  • Dr. C. Randall Clark (67C), professor of medicinal chemistry at Auburn University, Distinguished Achievement
  • Dr. Jennifer Dickey (77A, 80C), coordinator of public history program and associate professor at Kennesaw State University, Berry campus preservationist, Distinguished Service
  • Al Christopher (61c), talented craftsman, enterprising founder of several businesses in construction and other fields, Entrepreneurial Spirit
  • Aitana Vargas (03C), Spanish-language journalist and broadcaster, holds master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, Outstanding Young Alumni
Kay Williams and Tim Howard

Kay Williams, Tim Howard

Other honors presented at Alumni Weekend included the following special distinctions bestowed by the Berry Alumni Association:

  • Tim Howard (82C) – Alumni Council Lifetime Membership
  • Kay Williams – Alumni Association President’s Award

Three classes also earned recognition for reunion giving, including an impressive trifecta by the much-heralded college class of 1958:

  • 1958C – Reunion Cup (percentage attendance), Viking Cup (giving participation) and Ford Cup (dollars given)
  • 1968C –  Martha Cup (percentage increase in giving participation)
  • 1948C – Heritage Cup (increase in planned giving commitments)

Special thanks to the hundreds of alumni and friends who turned out for Alumni Weekend, and congratulations to the classes of 1968A and 1968C, this year’s inductees into Berry’s Golden Guard.

Related Links: Alumni Weekend Class Photos

Bookmark and Share


Freemantown Cleanup

From left, Gary McKnight (61C), Dr. Jennifer Dickey (77A, 80C) and Dr. Susan Bandy (70C) assist with the Freemantown Cemetery cleanup during Alumni Work Week.

As a teacher at Berry Academy, Gary McKnight (61C, FFS) spent 20 summers roaming the slopes of Lavender Mountain with his bird-dog searching for the historic Freemantown Cemetery. This spring, he helped to clean up and restore the site as a participant in Alumni Work Week.

“I thought it was local lore,” said McKnight, one of approximately 150 alumni and friends who returned to Berry in late May for the annual celebration of Berry’s work heritage. Project sites ranged from the House o’ Dreams high atop Lavender Mountain to the Gunby Equine Center to the grounds of Martha Berry’s famed Oak Hill estate.

At the Freemantown site, McKnight worked alongside project lead Joe Ragsdale (65C), campus preservationist Dr. Jennifer Dickey (77A, 80C) and other alumni to clear briars and debris obscuring the cemetery from view. Freeman family descendants also were on hand to assist with the effort.

The cemetery, which few people are aware exists, marks the site of a once-thriving African-American community established by Thomas Freeman in 1871. Freeman, a blacksmith and Union Civil War veteran, acquired 300 acres of what is now Berry’s mountain campus after his emancipation. He died in 1893, and his wife, Henrietta, and 12 children eventually sold the land to Martha Berry in the years between 1916 and 1926. While the buildings and church have been lost to time, the cemetery remains.

“I never thought it would be up in these trees,” McKnight said, “They’ve grown up in the last 50 years and covered everything.”

Ironically, the trees growing between the graves prevented erosion and helped preserve the cemetery.

Archeologists from the Georgia Historic Preservation Division surveyed the cemetery earlier in the year using ground-penetrating radar. Analysis of that data will help to reveal unmarked graves and determine boundaries for the site. Read more about the survey.

Already, the perimeter fence has been adjusted to incorporate a recently discovered headstone outside the original boundary. A new entrance will be constructed later this summer. Freeman descendants will hold a reunion at the site in August.

Related News: Berry Alumni Work Week reunites roomies; Around Berry photo gallery

By student writer Lauren Higdon

Bookmark and Share

Ouida Dickey Birthday Challenge Banner

Ford Auditorium Rendering

Architectural rendering of Ford Auditorium renovation.

Dr. Ouida Word Dickey (50C, FFS) didn’t set out to become a Berry legend, but 72 years after she first arrived on campus as a freshman in 1946, it’s impossible to imagine the college without her. As the former student, faculty member, administrator and president of the Berry Alumni Association prepares to celebrate her 90th birthday later this summer, family and friends have come up with a unique way to honor her that also benefits Ford Auditorium, another Berry icon turning 90 in 2018.

The $500,000 Ouida Dickey Birthday Challenge has two goals – to name the Alumni Center living room for Dr. Dickey and to generate support for the planned $5.3 million renovation of Berry’s signature venue for music performance and education. Gifts of any size will be matched by the generosity of an anonymous donor, doubling their impact.

The goal is to complete the challenge in time for Dr. Dickey’s birthday July 27. Make your gift today by visiting berry.edu/gift and choosing “Ouida Dickey Birthday Challenge” in the drop-down menu or mailing a check to Berry Advancement Office, P.O. Box 490069, Mount Berry, GA 30149-0069. Contact Scott Breithaupt (91C, 96G) at sbreithaupt@berry.edu or 706-238-5897 for more details.

Bookmark and Share

Graduates embrace at Berry's 2017 spring commencement.For three decades, Dr. Kathy Brittain Richardson challenged, encouraged and inspired students and colleagues alike, first as a faculty member in Berry’s communication department and later as college provost. This spring, the honorary Berry alumna took a brief respite from her duties as president of Westminster College in Pennsylvania to offer words of wisdom to the Berry class of 2018, daughter Lauren Richardson (18C) among them.

Citing sources as varied as researcher and author Sherry Turkle, communication alumnus Andy Wood (94C), singer/songwriter Paul Simon, and former Saturday Night Live comedian Mike Myers (by way of alter-ego Linda Richman), Richardson encouraged the graduates to draw upon Berry-developed “soft skills” such as “clear expression, respectful listening, critical thinking, effective collaboration and creative problem-solving” as they make their way in the world.

“Trust me,” she stated. “You can learn or relearn technical skills along the way – and you’ll have to, because technologies and processes change – but you will be able to adapt to such change quickly because of your soft skills, if you continue to use them.”

Richardson placed particular emphasize on the value of earnest conversation in an increasingly technology-driven age, noting, “Civil dialogue and critical conversation may be the most effective prescriptions for social meaning, empathetic connection and professional accomplishment that we can find as a culture and as individuals.”

A total of 403 graduates earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees this spring. Click here to get a sense of where they’re off to next and to hear remarks from student speaker Payton Stone (18C).

Related coverage: Around Berry Photo Gallery; A father’s influence drives Berry graduate

Bookmark and Share

Tom Dasher and Mary Niedrach

Tom Dasher and Mary Niedrach, the 2018 winners of Berry’s Martindale Awards.

Mary Finley Niedrach (75A, 97G) and Dr. Tom Dasher are renowned by students and respected by colleagues, so it was fitting to see them recognized with Berry’s 2018 Martindale Awards of Distinction. These honors are presented annually to those who promote continuous improvement, implement innovative approaches to problem-solving and inspire others to extraordinary achievement. Both 2018 recipients are retiring this year, Niedrach after 25 years as a kindergarten teacher at Berry Elementary and Middle School, Dasher after 18 years as college provost and later department chair of English, rhetoric and writing. Read more.

Other faculty and staff members honored for excellence this spring include:

  • Dr. Ron Taylor, professor of mathematics, Vulcan Teaching Excellence Award
  • Dr. Casey Dexter, assistant professor of psychology, Dave and Lu Garrett Award for Meritorious Teaching
  • Dr. Lauren Heller, associate professor of economics, Mary S. and Samuel Poe Carden Award for outstanding teaching, scholarship and service to students and the college community
  • Dr. Tamie Jovanelly, associate professor of geology, Eleana M. Garrett Award for Meritorious Advising and Caring
  • Dr. Belinda Lady, lecturer in chemistry, SGA Faculty Member of the Year
  • Anna Sharpe, director of academic services, SGA Staff Member of the Year
  • Tom Harris, superintendent of beef operations, Rollins Center, John R. Bertrand Superior Student-Work Supervisor Award
Bookmark and Share

SAA trophies won by Berry teams in 2017-18

Berry softball seniors

From left, softball seniors Kassie Howard, Brittany Tuttle, Kylie Aiken and Elisabeth Federici show off the eight SAA championship trophies (four regular season, four tournament) won in their four years at Berry.

Eight – that’s the number of conference championships won by Berry teams in 2017-18, a new high for the program in NCAA Division III. The number is even more impressive when you add the 10 individual titles won by student-athletes in women’s golf, swimming and diving, and track and field. It has been a spectacular year by any measure, with national qualifiers in 10 different sports: football, volleyball, cross country, men’s basketball, women’s swimming and diving, women’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), softball, women’s golf, and equestrian.

It would take a year’s worth of Alumni Accents to list all of the highlights produced by Berry student-athletes since our last issue, but we do want to give a virtual “high-five” to the softball team, which won its first NCAA regional championship en route to a sparkling 39-6 finish.

Kudos are also due women’s golf, which earned a top-10 finish in its NCAA national tournament debut, and equestrian, which posted five individual top-10 finishes at western nationals. In addition, Alainna Chretien (18C) capped a stellar track and field career by qualifying for NCAA outdoor nationals – a first for Berry – shattering the school record at 1,500 meters in the process.

Not to be forgotten is the SAA regular-season championship won by Berry’s baseball team, another first in the NCAA era. The Vikings came tantalizingly close to a national tournament bid of their own before closing the season with a 29-13 record.

Visit berryvikings.com for complete coverage of all Berry athletics, including the many individual accolades claimed by Berry student-athletes this spring.

Bookmark and Share

HackBerry Lab Home Page
HackBerry Lab Open HouseIngenuity was the name of the game for approximately 90 students participating in this spring’s prototyping open house hosted by HackBerry Lab. More than 300 different innovations – each taking a half-semester to create – were displayed, incorporating everything from dance to video games to 3D printing.

Among the students showcasing new inventions were sophomores Joey Pratt and Paul VanWingerden, both majors in Berry’s innovative and fast-growing creative technologies program.

Intrigued by the concept of home automation, Pratt developed a device for residence hall doors that identifies the person entering and turns on the corresponding light. Now that he has a working proof of concept, he hopes to enhance his invention so that it not only controls the lighting but also sets the temperature to each individual’s preference.

VanWingerden, meanwhile, created “DJ Roomba,” a robotic vacuum cleaner (pictured) that is connected to a speaker so that it can flash in time to music as it rolls about the house. Inspiration was drawn from the television show Parks and Rec, but realization of the idea presented its share of challenges. Even on the day of his “reveal,” VanWingerden had to scramble to get his invention in working order after inadvertently destroying his lights while connecting them to a power source.

Zane Cochran, clinical instructor of creative technologies, was inspired by the collective creativity of the students participating in this year’s exhibition.

“It was, by far, our largest open house at HackBerry Lab,” Cochran said. “It has been great to see the creative technologies program grow at a record pace.”

Established in 2014, the program now includes 68 majors, ranking it 11th among all Berry majors. In the last year alone, the program grew 42 percent, and the average growth rate is 22 percent per semester. Learn more.

“I am delighted with the growth of the creative technologies major and pleased that we can provide a program that interests so many students,” said Dr. John Grout, Garrett professor of management and creative technologies. “We appreciate the support we have received from the college administration and the Campbell School of Business. The help of all the departments that offer courses in this interdisciplinary major has also been instrumental in meeting the growing demands of the program.”

Story and “D.J. Roomba” photo by student writer Kendall Aronson

Bookmark and Share

Valkyrie Magazine CoversValkyrie, Berry’s new student-produced lifestyle and culture magazine, transitioned from online-only to print during the 2017-18 academic year, establishing an important physical link on campus.

Featuring a wide array of content ranging from cultural commentary and recipes to fashion tips and in-depth coverage of campus life, the magazine provides fresh opportunities for Berry communication majors and others to gain relevant experience in writing, photography, design and publication development. It took the place of the Cabin Log yearbook, which was retired after many years of waning interest.

“Berry needed a publication that allowed for newsworthy creativity,” explained Sara Arms, who helped launch the magazine in late 2016 and in 2017-18 served as editor-in-chief.

Valkyrie is produced by a staff of 20-25 students responsible for all areas of production for three 60-page issues each academic year. Many staff members hold paid positions through Berry’s Work Experience Program. Opportunities for scholarships and credit hours are also available.

As Valkyrie continues to evolve, Arms imagines more first-person narratives and an expanded online presence featuring more interactive elements and blogs.

Click here to view the publication online.

By student writer Kendall Aronson

Bookmark and Share