At Saturday's commencement ceremonies, Transylvania honored three pioneers in integrating the college — two with honorary doctorates, one with a president's award.
The twist to their story lies in a detail kept secret for more than four decades.
In 1963, Transylvania students Patrick Molloy and Michael Mitchell decided that it was time for the liberal arts school, then called Transylvania College, to integrate.
The University of Kentucky had been integrated since 1949, when Lyman T. Johnson enrolled.
Molloy and Mitchell looked for a black student to break Transylvania's race barrier and found her — Lula Morton, a promising student at the top of her class at Bryan Station High School. Morton wanted to go to Transylvania, but her family didn't have the money for a private college education.
Cut to 45 years later: Lula Morton Drewes is a successful psychologist. She had a great experience at Transylvania, which provided her with lifelong friends and, she said, a liberal arts education that instilled intellectual discipline that benefits her still.
Drewes, who went on to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology at Vanderbilt, now specializes in the treatment of trauma, stress and crisis management, and women's and multicultural issues. She also served with the Peace Corps in Chad and now lives in Germany.
Drewes said she is "one of those people who find out early on what they want and enjoy it."
She praised then-Transylvania professors including Monroe Moosnick, Richard Honey and John Wright as "people who nourished my spirit, my soul and my mind."
Drewes assumed she had gotten a scholarship, for which she certainly qualified. Instead, Molloy paid for her college education. Mitchell disclosed it when he contacted Drewes five years ago asking if he could write an article about Molloy's role in her education.
It was a surprise to Drewes. Molloy had kept the information quiet for much of his lifetime.
Molloy's family owned Elmendorf Farm when he was a Transylvania student. He and Mitchell were seniors at Transylvania in 1963 and learned that Transylvania had lost the opportunity to obtain a Ford Foundation grant because the school was not integrated. Between Molloy, Mitchell and Lula Morton and her family, they brought Transylvania into a more diverse era.
Drewes and Molloy received honorary doctorates Saturday, while Mitchell received the president's award.
"I traveled only about one and a half miles, but to foreign land," Drewes said in a speech at Transylvania last fall. "I began to walk on paths which my ancestors were unable to tread and to enter halls of education, which for my people had been forbidden by laws of separation.
"For the four years that I was at Transylvania, I was very happy," she said in the speech. "I felt like a little Freedom Rider on a mission. I was happy in my small way to be joining the thousands across America struggling to bring down the walls of segregation and discrimination, to be on my way to becoming the first in my family to go to college."
Molloy said in a Transylvania interview that his mother, Betty Haggin Molloy, also helped pay for Drewe's tuition and books.
Molloy went on to spend more than 30 years as a federal prosecutor before retiring in 2013. He became United States attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky for four years as well the top federal prosecutor in Idaho. He also advised Eastern European countries on ways to improve their judiciary.
He is now a volunteer prosecutor in the commonwealth's attorney's office in Woodford County, which he said is enormously rewarding work.
Molloy, now 75, minimizes the importance of his contribution to Drewes' education: "It wasn't a big deal at the time. ... It was very important to do. It turned out successful beyond our dreams. Ours was the easy part. She's the one who had the challenge."
Mitchell, who went onto to graduate from Harvard Law School and later worked as a senior scientific systems analyst for LTV Aerospace Corp. and as a staff attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange commission, said that he was influenced by his stepfather in his efforts. Douglas Bell was a Disciples of Christ minister and fellow Transylvania graduate.
Mitchell said that Transylvania's integration went smoothly.
"Two years after Lula graduated, Mr. Pioneer (a popular designation voted by the students) was a black athlete at Transylvania," Mitchell said. "It was a far more liberal place than I envisioned it to be."
He doesn't think of himself as a hero.
"I think heroes are people who take risks," Mitchell said. "This wasn't a risk. ... It was going to come sometime. Why not then?"