Back when it wasn’t in the coldest days of the winter, I walked around the former Sue Bennett College in London, Kentucky. In operation from 1897 through 1997, the college was affiliated with the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, the national organization of the United Methodist Church. It began as an elementary school before becoming a two-year college.
The religiously-backed school was much like others in Kentucky, a necessity for those in the impoverished regions of the eastern and southern part of the state where public schools were far and few between. Hazel Green Academy, Frenchburg Presbyterian College, Erie School and others were all in small towns far from the major cities and served their purpose well until they declined in importance due to the advent of public elementary and high schools. Some closed, while others, like Sue Bennett, became colleges.
Sue Bennett College was a viable institution for years, educating thousands, but poor financial maintenance took a toll on the school’s long-term viability. The mid-1980’s saw steadily declining enrollment and the replacement of some full-time students for commuters, who paid less tuition and had no room or boarding fees. In the early 1990’s, an athletic program was added to boost enrollment, but the gamble did not pay off and only increased administrative costs. Planning began to offer four-year degrees, but financial issues stopped that pursuit. By 1995, debt was being used to cover student financial aid and vendors were complaining about not being paid.
In 1997, Sue Bennett’s accreditation was stripped and the remaining students were transferred to neighboring schools to finish their education. The Internal Revenue Service placed a lien on the college for long unpaid bills and for unpaid withholding taxes. Despite some fundraising efforts, Sue Bennett College closed on November 26 after 101 years of operations.
London-native Jim Hayes, the eldest son of former president Earl Hayes, acquired the former Sue Bennett campus in early 2014. Hayes’ goals were to reuse the Administration Building for an antique store, and for an alumni suite, clear out Helm Hall of its dormitory supplies, and secure the Belle Bennett Auditorium. Hayes also planned to lease the swimming pool in the Scoville Building to the London-Laurel County Rescue Squad for $1 per year.