Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 05: Administration – Board of Trustees

John B. Stephenson
Member, PMSS Board of Trustees

TAGS: John B. Stephenson Trustee; PMSS Board of Trustees ; Appalachian Center ; University of Kentucky ; Appalachian studies ; higher education ; social change ; Berea College ; Harvard University ; sociology ; donors ; Dalai Lama ; Tibetan Scholarship Program ; international students ; student diversity ; Jane Stephenson ; women’s rights ; women in Appalachia ; Berea Opportunity School ;

John B. Stephenson was a member of the Board of Trustees at Pine Mountain Settlement School for ten years.

John B. Stephenson was one of Kentucky’s “quiet stars,” said Robert F. Sexton, member to the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. This “quiet star”, however, left a blazing record of achievement. The years of contributions to the Pine Mountain Settlement School Board of Trustees was just one of the many significant contributions that John made to the region he was so devoted to. As a sociology professor and director of the Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky, John became a prolific writer on the topic of Appalachia and a consultant for those seeking advice on the region. He combined this intense Appalachian focus with a broad and deep understanding of higher education and while at the University of Kentucky became the first Dean of Undergraduate Studies. Here, as well, he excelled — but “quietly.” The combination of his passion for Appalachian studies and his active engagement of social change was just right for Berea, but it was also of profound importance to Pine Mountain and its sustainability of mission.

Following his retirement in 1994 after ten years as the president of Berea College, he was invited to share his knowledge and to teach a course at Harvard University. It was a remarkable honor and confirmation of his accomplishments as the President of Berea College and his ability to model the integration of knowledge, scholarship and life among some of the country’s finest scholars and faculty. He looked forward to that crowning opportunity. Shortly after arriving at Harvard he suffered a major viral infection of the brain and died on December 6, 1994. He had struggled with leukemia for many years and had less resistance to viral infections than most. The loss to Pine Mountain Settlement School, to Berea College and to all those who were privileged to have known him or worked with him, was profound. He was 57 years old.

His life began in Staunton, Virginia in 1937. He attended the College of William and Mary in Virginia and received his undergraduate degree in 1959 and his master’s degree in 1961 from the institution. He then attended the University of North Carolina where he pursued a degree in Sociology which he completed in 1961. He was an outstanding student and, later, faculty.

When Stephenson was appointed to a faculty position at the University of Kentucky in 1966, he was given the dual responsibility of leadership of the new Appalachian Center and as a sociology professor. While at the University of Kentucky he received many honors for his scholarship, including appointment as a Fellow of the American Council of Education in 1973-74 and a Fulbright grant as a Senior Research Scholar in 1981. The Fulbright scholarship took him to Scotland where he conducted research related to his growing interest in Appalachian studies. His modesty and competency soon caught the attention of the university’s administration and he became an assistant to the Chancellor and helped the university to develop the important Undergraduate Education program. He spent eighteen years with the University of Kentucky “quietly” and competently making a difference.

In 1984 Berea College recruited Stephenson to apply for the presidency of their institution. There was no contest for recruitment. It was a mutual recruitment. Stephenson once said that Berea was the only college presidency he ever wanted and at another time he remarked that he had prepared for that position all his life. It is easy to imagine him with that much focus and determination. His presidency at Berea was a congruence of goals that was, again, extraordinary. The record of his achievements at the institution is lengthy and would give pause to any administrator in a similar role.

Stephenson led by example and his passion for the mission of Berea was obvious and catching. The donors caught the spirit and responded generously, He nearly tripled the endowment for the institution from $120 million to $360 million, putting Berea on the path to one of the highest endowments of a private liberal arts college of its size in the country. Under his leadership, he also expanded the international profile of the institution when he successfully brought the Dalai Lama to Berea for a visit after establishing a Tibetan Scholarship Program at the college. The scholarship program expanded the already robust recruitment of international students to the college and brought the institution national recognition for its diverse student body. He also established the Goode Professorship in Black and Appalachian Studies and raised the salaries of the faculty and staff while embarking on a major building campaign on the campus. The Hutchins Library and Computer Center, the renovation of the Hall of Science Building, new student family housing and the new fitness center, and the Seabury Center were all undertaken during his ten-year role as president. 

His marriage to Jane Stephenson brought him to another quiet crusade. This was one for women’s rights. He was an advocate for women’s rights but his time with his wife Jane only strengthened his resolve. Together, they worked to combine their interest into support networks for women in Appalachia and developed a strong alliance of Berea with women’s opportunity programs throughout Appalachia. It was an effort that was continued by his wife after his death and became known at the college as the Berea Opportunity School.

But, to return to the “quiet star”: He rarely took credit for his achievements, preferring to share the accomplishments with his colleagues and encouraging them to share with their colleagues. Around John Stephenson, everyone looked good and felt good. He was a model of compassion, intelligence, humility, honesty and faith. He was the best of human examples.

The record of his memberships and affiliations reflects the sincerity of his interests. He had many opportunities to become a member of prestigious organizations, but he kept his choices to those organizations that, while certainly prestigious, were not chosen to raise his profile, but to give back to the communities of interest.

The following are but a few of those organizations: He founded and was the chair of the Appalachian Studies Conference; served on the board of the Kentucky Literacy Foundation; was on the board of the National Elderhostel Association; was a member of the executive council of the Association for General and Liberal Studies; a member of the Society for Values in Higher Education; he co-founded the Shakertown Conversations on General Education; was appointed by Kentucky Governor Jones as Chair of the Kentucky Appalachian Task Force; and served as the only Kentucky college president invited to join the 33 member task force “Kentucky Tomorrow: The Commission on Kentucky’s Future.” He made a difference.

Stephenson continues to make a difference with the legacy of improvements he set in motion for his favorite geography, Appalachia. Pine Mountain Settlement School has always been privileged to have the Presidents of Berea College on its Board of Trustees, but it was especially privileged to have shared ten years with John B. Stephenson.


Jane Ellen Baudom was born in Banner Elk, North Carolina. She graduated in 1957 from Lees-McRae College with an associate degree. There she also met her future husband, John Stephenson. At University of North Carolina/Greensboro she received a B.S. She went on to earn two master’s degrees: an M.A. in Secondary Administration/Education from Appalachian State University and a M.S. in Business Education at the University of Kentucky. In 1995 she received a Higher Education Admininstration Berea College, Honorary Degree (LH.D.) from Berea College. 

The major focus of Jane Stephenson’s life work is on non-traditional students and lifelong learning. She began the New Opportunity School for Women in 1987 to improve the lives of low-income Appalachian women. 

She has written two books: Courageous Paths: The Stories of Nine Appalachian Women and Dear to My Heart: The Story of the New Opportunity School for Women.

Jane and John B. Stephenson have three children: Jennifer, Rebecca and David.


John B. Stephenson

Alt. Title

John Stephenson




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Helen Hayes Wykle

Subject Keyword

John B. Stephenson ; John Stephenson ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; PMSS Board of Trustees ;

Appalachian Center ; University of Kentucky ; Appalachian studies ; higher education ; Dean of Undergraduate Studies ; social change ; Berea College ; Harvard University ; College of William and Mary ; University of North Carolina ; sociology ; American Council of Education ; Fulbright scholarships ; Undergraduate Education programs ; donors ; Dalai Lama ; Tibetan Scholarship Program ; international students ; student diversity ; Goode Professorship in Black and Appalachian Studies ; Seabury Center ; Hutchins Library and Computer Center ; Hall of Science Building ; Jane Baucom Stephenson ; women’s rights ; women in Appalachia ; Berea Opportunity School ; Appalachian Studies Conference ; Kentucky Literacy Foundation ; National Elderhostel Association ; Association for General and Liberal Studies ; Society for Values in Higher Education ; Shakertown Conversations on General Education ; Kentucky Appalachian Task Force ; Kentucky Tomorrow: The Commission on Kentucky’s Future ; 

Subject LCSH

Stephenson, John B. — 1937-1994.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 05: Administration – Board of Trustees




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 05 ; Berea College, Berea, Kentucky ;

Coverage Temporal

1937 – 1994.

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Berea, KY ; Staunton, VA ; Lexington, KY ; Cambridge, MA ; Williamsburg, VA ; Chapel Hill, NC ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of John B. Stephenson as they apply to Pine Mountain Settlement School ; clippings, photographs, books by or about John B. Stephenson ;




“John B. Stephenson: Biography.” Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers, Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“Berea’s First Ladies” exhibit, Hutchins Library, Berea (KY) College. “Berea’s First Ladies” exhibit, Hutchins Library, Berea College, 
June 2019. – Sharyn Mitchell, Curator. On-site resource.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2014-01-14 hhw ; 2017-07-12 aae ;



Obituary, Lexington Herald-Leader.

Memorial program.

Haley, Alex, John B. Stephenson, and John G. Fee. Once Upon a Vision: The Berea Story, 1854-1904. Washington, D.C: Council for Positive Images, 1990.

Keefe, Susan E. “Urbanism Reconsidered: a Southern Appalachian Perspective.” City & Society. 7.1 (1994): 20-34. Print.

Stephenson, John B. If You Can’t Run with the Big Dogs, Go Lie on the Porch: A Despatch from Appalachia. Berea, Ky: s.n., 1988. Print.

Stephenson, John B, and Thomas R. Ford. John B. Stephenson, Appalachian Humanist. Ashland, Ky: J. Stuart Foundation, 2001. Print.

“Vascular Flora and Plant Communities of the John B. Stephenson Memorial Forest State Nature Preserve (Anglin Falls Ravine), Rockcastle County, Kentucky.” Castanea. 69.2 (2004): 125-138. Print.

Weatherford, Willis D. Willis D. Weatherford Papers. 1911. Archival material.

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