Alumni President Conquers Communications and Coal Mines

By Renee DeHart, Staff Writer

Katherine Helms Cummings ‘83, president of the Guilford College Alumni Association Board (GCAAB), is reaching the end of her term, but leaves behind an impressive legacy.

Cummings’ professional work has included owning a small market radio station, editing a weekly newspaper, and leading a nonprofit statewide rural health organization. Most recently she has worked as a community organizer and environmental justice activist.

Karrie Manson, senior director of Alumni Relations, has definitely enjoyed working with Cummings. The two women were on campus together and formed a friendship that has stretched for over 30 years.

“Katherine was active in the Student Senate, while I was an officer of the Senate, so we worked together a lot then as well,” said Manson.

The two agree that in their time at Guilford, Carol Stoneburner, who helped establish the Women’s Studies program at Guilford, was a great influence.

“Katherine has performed strong employed, family and volunteer work and her job as chair of the Alumni Board is an extension of her patterns both while at Guilford, and as I have known her since her graduation,” said Stoneburner in an email interview with The Guilfordian.

Cummings and GCAAB have taken on a first-ever donor challenge at the request of the Advancement Office this year. The current GCAAB, together with board members who have served in the past 10 years, has issued a $25,000 matching challenge to alums who have never donated to the Loyalty Fund or haven’t donated in the past five years. The challenge has been well received and they may conclude the campaign in June even exceeding their goals.

Cummings’ leadership skills as a community organizer have grown significantly during the past six years. She has been an advocate in rural Washington County, Ga., where she has lived for 27 years with her husband, David, an ’82 Guilford alum. Following the announcement of Plant Washington, a proposed coal plant in her community, Cummings parlayed her knowledge of public health in rural communities as she learned how coal plants impact health outcomes.

“I admire her fortitude,” said John Suttles, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center where he leads the Clean Energy Litigation Team. Suttles said in an interview with The Guilfordian, “It is impressive watching how she engaged in this battle against politics.”

“My family’s farm has been here since 1787,” Cummings said. “We’ve raised two daughters here and now have grandchildren nearby who love going to our farm on the Ogeechee River with their cousins. Three years ago I was forced to choose between my work at the Georgia Rural Health Association and opposing Plant Washington as a private citizen on my own time. One of the most important things I learned at Guilford was being firm in one’s values. When I chose to quit my job with the rural health group to fight Plant Washington full-time, my friends from Guilford were the first to support me and cheer me on.”

Last week Plant Washington garnered new national coverage when The New Republic focused on Plant Washington’s developer, Dean Alford, and his close connections to the Tarbuttons, a Washington County family who owns the short line railroad required to move the 120 rail cars of coal Plant Washington would burn every day. A request for an interview with the developer had not been replied to by press time.

Manson said, “Katherine can see where she wants to get to, and she knows how to get there and she’s very focused in that way.”

Cummings said she’s ruffled some feathers on campus, but adds that she looks forward to serving as the past president of the Alumni Association soon, and supporting the work of Bradley Anderson’77, who will follow her as President next summer.

* Editors Note* You can visit Cummings’ blog at http://ruralandprogressive.org/

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