Bluefield College recently presented the school’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards for exemplary service and character to an outstanding graduating senior and to an alumna and community leader.
Ellen Johnson, a psychology, criminal justice and forensic science triple major from Little River, South Carolina, received the graduating senior Sullivan Award. Connie Mayberry Saunders, a tireless public servant from Bluefield, West Virginia, received the community Sullivan Award.
Established by the New York Southern Society in 1925 in memory of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, a southerner who became a prominent lawyer, businessman and philanthropist in New York City in the late nineteenth century, the awards seek to perpetuate the excellence of character and humanitarian service of Sullivan by recognizing and honoring such qualities in others.
Born in Indiana in 1826, Sullivan rose to success in New York as a respected lawyer and a man who “reached out both hands in constant helpfulness” to others. After his death in 1887, the New York Southern Society sought to honor him by establishing an award bearing his name. The award was first presented in June 1925 at the George Peabody College for Teachers, now a part of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Funded by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, the awards stem from the New York Southern Society’s wish to establish a permanent reminder of the “noblest human qualities as expressed and followed in the life of Sullivan, and to do so in a manner which will perpetuate the influence of such a man, not so much as an individual, but as a type.”
The prestigious awards are given only by “carefully selected colleges and universities,” including Bluefield College, who recognizes one graduating senior and one alumnus or community member during Spring Commencement each year. An Honors Program graduate, Johnson received the award for her “exemplary character,” “humility,” and “consistent habit of putting others before herself.”
“Ellen is a young woman of exemplary character who possesses a gifted intellect, but yet demonstrates humility in her consistent habit of placing others before self,” said BC president Dr. David Olive. “Her teammates speak of her with appreciation and respect as she quietly leads through her actions.”
While a student at BC, Johnson has served as vice president of the Student Government Association, treasurer of Alpha Delta sorority, a study leader for Pursuit Women’s Ministry, and a member of Psi Chi and Alpha Chi national honor societies. She is also co-captain of the Lady Rams volleyball team, a three-time National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) First Team All-Mideast Region selection, a two-time NCCAA Scholar-Athlete, a two-time Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) All-Academic Team member, and a Second Team All-Conference choice.
In fact, Johnson uses her volleyball gifts to serve and mentor youth with Beyond Sports, a world leader in providing service-learning sports clinics to disadvantaged youth. She also served twice on BC Spring Break student mission trips to Panama.
Saunders received the community award as a result of her “selflessness,” “generosity,” “nobility,” “integrity,” and “spirituality,” which is most evident through her work with West Virginia Community Services for Women, also known as Women in Search of Empowerment (WISE), a non-profit organization she founded in 2004 that provides business clothing, professional programming, and a career center to disadvantaged women in southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia. WISE also provides referral services to domestic violence shelters, Drug Court, Workforce Virginia and West Virginia, community colleges, and area employers and businesses.
“Connie is a former Bluefield College student and community member who exhibits Sullivan’s ideals of selflessness, generosity of service, integrity, and character,” said Dr. Olive, “as evidenced by her spirit of love and helpfulness of others.”
She is also the founder, owner and president of Saunders Staffing, which is approaching 30 years of operation, and is a past chair and board member of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Lions Club of Bluefield. She is currently secretary of the Board of Directors for the Bluefield State College Foundation and a member and past president of the Rotary Club of Bluefield. In addition, she is a member Christ Episcopal Church, and she helped launch Bluefield College’s New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW), serving as the inaugural chair of the NOSW Advisory Council.
“Having known Connie since my arrival to Bluefield College nearly 11 years ago, I have come to realize she is one of a few constant individuals in our community who exemplifies a servant spirit,” said Dr. Olive. “She finds time — yet more accurately stated, makes time — to give of herself in service to the community. I cannot think of another individual in this community who deserves this award more than Connie. She truly models servant leadership.”
Both Johnson and Saunders received award medallions, which the New York Southern Society says “are perpetual reminders of Sullivan” and his “continuous expression of those high qualities which ennoble and beautify living and bind man to man in mutual love and helpfulness.”