Bevin could show a conservative can care about conservation

November 14, 2015

Kentucky is blessed with a beautiful landscape and abundant water resources, and we have been trying for more than a century to ruin it.

Too often, Kentuckians have been presented with a false choice: We can either have jobs and economic prosperity or clean water, air and land — but not both.

That kind of thinking has left Kentucky near the bottom in national rankings of wealth, health and well-being. It is no coincidence that this state’s most environmentally damaged places are also its poorest and sickest.

Twenty-first century reality is the opposite of that false choice. Pollution may bring a measure of prosperity in the short-term, but it harms it in the long-term. Balancing commerce with conservation ensures that Kentuckians will be able to live, work and prosper here forever.

These issues are worth thinking about now because a new governor will soon take office. Many people who care about the environment fear that Republican Matt Bevin, with his business and Tea Party background, will make things worse.

I’m not so sure about that.

Kentucky’s environment has suffered under both Democrats and Republicans. That suffering has included irresponsible surface mining, industrial pollution, poorly designed sprawl and costly highway projects designed more to enrich land speculators, road contractors and developers than to meet real transportation needs.

A recent investigation by Erica Peterson of WFPL radio in Louisville used state records to show how polluters have faced less scrutiny during the administrations of Democrat Steve Beshear and Republican Ernie Fletcher than they did before.

At the same time, pollution increased. Under both administrations, there was much less funding for enforcement and less political will to go after polluters, especially when they were coal companies.

The consequences of that have been real. For example, more than 500 miles of streams in the Lower Cumberland basin were classified as fully supporting aquatic life in 1992. By 2012, that number had fallen to about 100 miles, state records show.

Big polluters — such as the people behind the “war on coal” propaganda campaign — try to make Kentuckians think that the only people who care about the environment are liberal tree-huggers. But that’s not true.

An increasing number of conservatives realize the importance of environmental protection, for a variety of reasons. Hunters, fishermen and farmers have been powerful conservation advocates for decades.

There is a growing Creation Care movement among conservative Christians, who cite Genesis 2:15 and other scripture. Influential groups include the Evangelical Environmental Network and Lexington-based Blessed Earth.

Christian environmentalists recently got a powerful ally in Pope Francis, whose encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, makes it clear that destroying God’s creation for profit is a sin.

Conservative businessmen such as Alltech’s Pearse Lyons have realized for years that there is a lot of money to be made in helping society become more environmentally responsible. He is a bright beacon for Kentucky’s future.

On the flip side, libertarians are speaking out against the crony capitalism that allows corporations to pay off politicians to protect their pollution and stifle innovation.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that solar and other renewable energy industries are growing rapidly as Appalachia’s coal industry shrivels and dies. But the coal barons’ money and power have kept Kentucky politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, toeing its line. At least until now.

Bevin seems to be a smart, independent man who doesn’t owe many people favors. That last attribute puts him in a unique position compared to his predecessors.

The self-funded candidate wasn’t put into office by coal magnates, highway contractors and developers. Coming from outside the political establishment, he isn’t steeped in the crony capitalism that has long corrupted state government.

Bevin is under less obligation than his predecessors were to protect Kentucky’s economic past. He has political cover to pursue new ideas and more environmentally friendly approaches to economic development.

Bevin could create a powerful legacy by showing Kentucky that conservative and conservation come from the same word. Does he have the courage to be different?


Demographics, politics could affect Kentucky’s jobs outlook

November 8, 2015

The creation of more jobs that pay well enough to support a middle-class family was an issue in last week’s election, and it will be a bigger issue in next year’s elections. So it begs the question: what are Kentucky’s job prospects?

The past year has been better than some campaign rhetoric would lead you to believe. Kentucky’s unemployment rate has fallen to the national rate of 5 percent, its best showing since June 2001.

Average weekly earnings have shown strong growth over the past six months — twice the growth rate of a year ago, and more than the national growth rate. The state has regained the 96,000 jobs lost during the recession and added a few more.

The biggest gains in the past year have been in education and health services, which added 7,600 jobs. It will be interesting to see if Governor-elect Matt Bevin’s dislike for the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion and Kynect, which provided health insurance for 400,000 Kentuckians, results in a hiring slowdown or job losses.

Kentucky manufacturing has rebounded, creating 6,500 jobs in the past year. That includes the new Lexus line at Toyota’s assembly plant in Georgetown.

Another growth area has been the hospitality, food service and arts sector, which added 5,600 jobs. Financial services created 3,800 jobs, while all levels of government added 3,700. Professional and business services added 2,300 jobs. Construction added 1,800 jobs — the same number mining and logging lost over the past year.

But there is one big caution for the future: Kentucky’s labor force is declining, mostly because of demographics. This state has a larger proportion of retirement-age people than the national average.

Ron Crouch, who crunches numbers for the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and is a leading authority on Kentucky demographics, has been warning of this trend for years. He noted that while the working-age population (ages 20 to 64) grew by 18,000 from 2010 to 2014, the 65-and-older population grew four-times faster, to 76,000.

Assuming this trend continues, Kentucky must make sure its working-age population has the education, skills and good health to fill not only the jobs being vacated by Baby Boomers but new ones that must be created for economic growth. That means we can’t afford to have so many working-age Kentuckians “lost” to idleness and disability.

This is especially important because two sectors that for generations provided good-paying jobs to under-educated Kentuckians — coal mining and low-skill manufacturing — are mostly gone and won’t be coming back.

The North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s sent a lot of low-skilled manufacturing jobs overseas and left many Kentucky towns with idle factories. The state’s manufacturing sector is now more high-tech, with large segments in the aerospace and automotive industries, and that requires more skilled workers.

Several uncertainties could affect the growth of manufacturing, from rising energy costs to the new Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, whose details are just now becoming public.

If Bevin and Republicans are successful in passing “right to work” laws — or, as union workers call them, “right to work for less” laws — wage growth could be hurt. Business groups say those laws make states more attractive to businesses that create jobs, but the result is lower average wages.

Kentucky politicians of both parties crow about being “friends” of coal, but the reality is the coal industry will never be very job-friendly again.

State officials reported last week that coal employment has dropped by half since 2011 — from 18,812 jobs to 9,356. But what people forget is that, since it peaked in 1981 at about 48,000 workers, the number of mining jobs has been in steady decline, mostly because of mechanization.

While some job losses in coal have come because of environmental concerns and regulations, the biggest factor by far has been cheap natural gas. Also, Eastern Kentucky’s coal reserves are dwindling, making it more costly to mine and less competitive with coal from other regions.

For Kentucky to prosper in the 21st century, leaders must be aggressive about exploring new economic opportunities rather than protecting dying industries. And they must help create a work force that is better-educated, better-trained, healthier and better-paid than it has been.

As you listen to politicians propose new policies, ask yourself which ones will make it easier to accomplish those goals and which ones will make it harder.


Transylvania University biology students study bats around campus; No, this isn’t a Halloween joke

October 27, 2015
Transylvania University biology student Kelli Carpenter makes notes while she and two other students work with instructor Josh Adkins to detect bats on Transylvania's campus. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Transylvania University biology student Kelli Carpenter makes notes while she and two other students work with instructor Josh Adkins to detect bats on Transylvania’s campus. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

When I heard that biology students were studying bats that fly around the Transylvania University campus, I knew there had to be a good Halloween column there. Could a punch line be much easier?

But what struck me was the fascinating technology used for this research. It is an example of how new and relatively inexpensive digital devices are revolutionizing science.

It was a dark and spooky night when I met Transylvania biology teacher Joshua Adkins outside a classroom building. We were soon joined by three biology majors: juniors Kelli Carpenter and Devin Rowe and sophomore Brandon Couch.

Kentucky has 16 species of bats. Many live in colonies in remote caves and forests. But other, more solitary species like city life, where street lights attract an endless buffet of insects for them to eat.

“A lot of basic, fundamental questions are unknown about many species of bat because they’re small, they’re nocturnal, they live in places you can’t easily access and they pretty much avoid or ignore people,” Adkins said.

Adkins and his students knew there were bats on campus. In their search for nooks in which to hide, bats occasionally wander in an open window. One flew into the orchestra room Sept. 9, causing quite a stir.

“I go to lacrosse games, which are usually at night,” Couch said. “I’ve seen a lot of them swooping over the athletic fields.”

Despite their creepy appearance and fictional association with vampires, bats are nice to have around, because they eat mosquitoes and other insect pests. Last year, Rowe and a student environmental group raised money to build two bat shelter boxes on campus.

“The idea really was to get a sense of where bats are most active and then use that information to place bat boxes in the most effective places,” Adkins said.

But since bats are small, dark and avoid people, how could the students figure out their favorite campus hangouts?

Luke Dodd, a bat ecologist who teaches at Eastern Kentucky University, told Adkins about a new $400 microphone that can detect the sounds bats make as they fly, most of which can’t be heard by the human ear.

150922TransyBats-TE061The Echo Meter Touch, made by Wildlife Acoustics Inc., plugs into an iPad and comes with software that records and can identify the species of nearby bats with about 80 percent accuracy.

Adkins got money from Transylvania’s David and Betty Jones Fund for Faculty Development to purchase a couple of microphones and iPads. One night a week since June, his three students have made three-minute recordings at a dozen locations around campus, and they have found a lot of bat activity.

Transylvania’s campus seems to have five species of bats: big brown, hoary, silver haired, Eastern red and evening bats.

On the night I walked around campus with them, they may have found a sixth. At one listening station, Rowe’s iPad detected a long-legged myotis bat, which normally is found in western North America.

“I’m not sure about that, but bats are migrating now,” Adkins said. “Maybe it could be lost.”

“Maybe he’s on vacation,” Carpenter joked. “Checking out Martha’s Vineyard.”

One species the students probably won’t find on campus is Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, which, like its namesake, prefers to live in forests.

Constantine Rafinesque was an eccentric biologist who was on the Transylvania faculty from 1819 until President Horace Holley fired him in 1826 because he was always off in the woods doing research and rarely on campus teaching.

Legend has it that Rafinesque put a curse on Holley, who was forced out of Transylvania and died the following year. Rafinesque died in 1840 in Philadelphia, but his body was dug up in 1924 and reinterred in Transylvania’s Old Morrison Hall. Rafinesque’s tomb is a popular campus attraction, especially at Halloween.

The students’ bat research will be winding up soon, because bats hibernate after the first frost of winter kills most insects. Adkins hopes to get funding to continue their work next year, and to expand it to include a study of campus insects that bats eat.

“Given that we’re a college right in the middle of Lexington, this is a perfect setting to determine what are some general patterns of bat activity in a city,” Adkins said. “Once these guys collect more data and present their results, I hope it will help take away that negative stereotype bats have.”

Carpenter, left to right, Brandon Couch and Devin Rowe stood with biology instructor Josh Adkins, right, outside the Haupt Humanities Building, one of a dozen campus locations where they have been surveying urban bat populations using a high-tech microphone hooked up to an iPad.

Carpenter, left to right, Brandon Couch and Devin Rowe stood with biology instructor Josh Adkins, right, outside the Haupt Humanities Building, one of a dozen campus locations where they have been surveying urban bat populations using a high-tech microphone hooked up to an iPad.

Adkins, left, works with Carpenter, Couch and Rowe to listen for and record bat sounds using a high-tech microphone hooked to an iPad.

Adkins, left, works with Carpenter, Couch and Rowe to listen for and record bat sounds.


Workshop has documented small towns, trained photojournalists for four decades

October 26, 2015

Frankfort: A Kentucky Welcome from mountainworkshops.org on Vimeo.

 

FRANKFORT — When I was a freshman at Western Kentucky University in 1976, two professors took several photojournalism students I knew to the Eastern Kentucky mountains for a week to document the state’s last one-room schoolhouses.

The following fall, they turned their lenses on a scruffy neighborhood at the end of Bowling Green’s Main Street. That led to trips the next two years to Land Between the Lakes and a remote town in the Tennessee mountains.

I was impressed by the pictures my friends returned with, and how much they learned while making them. But that annual field trip grew into more than any of us could have imagined.

Each October, the Mountain Workshops convenes in a different small town in Kentucky or Tennessee to teach visual storytelling through an intense week of documenting the stories of average people in photos, video, sound and writing.

“We have one goal: to become better storytellers,” said James Kenney, the workshops director and head of WKU’s photojournalism program. “We want to change the way they see.”

The program celebrated its 40th anniversary last week in Frankfort. As always, it was a major production.

About 40 WKU staff members and students arrived at a vacant call center building on the edge of town last weekend and unloaded a truck filled with audio-visual equipment, tables and chairs.

With 89 new Apple iMac computers loaned by a sponsor and several miles of network cable, they created temporary multimedia labs for photographers, videographers, picture editors, graphic artists and writers.

On Monday, an all-volunteer corps of 56 faculty and staff members arrived from across the country. They included some of the nation’s best visual journalists from places such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Time magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The workshop’s 73 participants arrived Tuesday to literally reach into a hat and pull out the name of a subject whose story they would spend the next four days figuring out and learning how to tell.

Most of the participants were WKU students, but others were from universities across the nation, including Harvard and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Others were working professionals, who came to learn new skills and rediscover their passion.

Over the next few days, they would spend hours making photographs, shooting and editing video, conducting interviews and writing.

In addition to workshops in documentary photography and video, there were smaller ones in photo editing, time-lapse photography and “data visualization” — translating numbers into understandable print and interactive online graphics.

By the time everyone leaves for home Sunday morning, they will have created a website (Mountainworkshops.org) with dozens of word, picture and video stories, a book of more than 100 pages and a framed gallery show.

Nobody will have gotten much sleep.

“The point of the workshop is not to make the best images you’ve ever made, but to prepare you to make the best images you’ll ever make,” said Rick Loomis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer at the Los Angeles Times.

Loomis began his career as a WKU student at the workshop and returns almost every year as a photo coach.

I joined the faculty in 1995 as a writing and story coach. I have helped with 16 workshops, and I have seen how it has changed participants’ lives and careers.

Leslye Davis is a good example. I met her in 2009 when she was a shy WKU sophomore from Greensburg in the photo editing class. She returned the next two years as a video and photo student.

Davis, 25, is now an outstanding videographer at The New York Times. She was back at the workshop last week as a confident, insightful video coach.

Davis said the workshop was pivotal in her career development. It taught her a range of skills by doing them on deadline in real-life situations.

“It teaches you that you can work longer and harder than you ever thought,” she said. “People keep coming back because they know how good it is for the future of the profession.”

 

Frankfort: Finding Time from mountainworkshops.org on Vimeo.

 

Western Kentucky University junior Katie Roberts photographed A Little Bit of Heaven Riding Stables in Frankfort last week. She was a participant in the 40th annual Mountain Workshops, a documentary photography workshop. Photo by Nina Greipel

Western Kentucky University junior Katie Roberts photographed A Little Bit of Heaven Riding Stables in Frankfort last week. She was a participant in the 40th annual Mountain Workshops, a documentary photography workshop. Photo by Nina Greipel

Richard Jones and his 1-year-old grandson, August, represent the fourth and sixth generations to live at Happy Jack's Pumpkin Farm east of Frankfort. Like August, Jones' sons grew up playing and working on the farm, which has transitioned away from tobacco to vegetables and livestock to keep it going strong. The Jones were a story subject during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops last week. Photo by Maura Friedman

Richard Jones and his 1-year-old grandson, August, represent the fourth and sixth generations to live at Happy Jack’s Pumpkin Farm east of Frankfort. Like August, Jones’ sons grew up playing and working on the farm, which has transitioned away from tobacco to vegetables and livestock to keep it going strong. The Jones were a story subject during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops last week. Photo by Maura Friedman

 

Polly Wilson, 7, lies in the family hammock with her favorite Americana breed chicken, also named Polly. The Wilsons have more than 70 chickens that produce eggs the family sells at the Frankfort Farmers Market three times a week. The family was a story subject last week during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops in Frankfort. Photo by Laura McClintock

Polly Wilson, 7, lies in the family hammock with her favorite Americana breed chicken, also named Polly. The Wilsons have more than 70 chickens that produce eggs the family sells at the Frankfort Farmers Market three times a week. The family was a story subject last week during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops in Frankfort. Photo by Laura McClintock

 


Photos from today’s Governor’s Awards in the Arts ceremony

October 22, 2015
Doug Crowe, a state videographer, lined up winners of the Governor's Awards in the Arts for a group photo after the ceremony Thursday at the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. Photos by Tom Eblen

Doug Crowe, a state videographer, lined up winners of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts for a group photo after the ceremony Thursday at the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Gov. Steve Beshear presented this year’s Governor’s Awards in the Arts at a ceremony Thursday in the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. This year’s winners were: journalist Al Smith of Lexington, the Milner Award for lifetime service; Bluegrass musician Sam Bush of Bowling Green, National Artist Award; fabric and bead artist Linda Pigman Fifield of Knott County, the Artist Award; Big Ass Solutions of Lexington, Business Award; Creative Diversity Studio of Louisville, Community Arts Award; Centre College music professor Nathan Link of Danville, Education Award; wood carver Willie D. Rascoe of Hopkinsville, Folk Heritage Award; Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau, Government Award; and Kentucky Educational Television personality Dave Shuffett of Nicholasville, Media Award.

Watch a video about each winner by clicking here.

Bluegrass music star Sam Bush, right, chatted with newspaperman Al Smith after the Governor's Awards in the Arts ceremony in the Capitol rotunda Thursday in Frankfort. Bush won the national artist award, while Smith won the Milner Award for his longtime service and advocacy of the arts in Kentucky. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Bluegrass music star Sam Bush, right, chatted with newspaperman Al Smith after the Governor’s Awards in the Arts ceremony.

 

Minnie Adkins, a folk artist from Eastern Kentucky, made this year's trophies for the Governor's Awards in the Arts. She carves and paints wood sculptures. The blue rooster is her signature piece.

Minnie Adkins, a folk artist from Eastern Kentucky, made this year’s trophies for the Governor’s Awards in the Arts. She carves and paints wood sculptures. The blue rooster is her signature piece.

 

Kentucky Educational Television personality Dave Shuffett, right, received the media award in the Governor's Awards in the Arts from Gov. Steve Beshear.

Kentucky Educational Television personality Dave Shuffett, right, received the media award in the Governor’s Awards in the Arts from Gov. Steve Beshear.


New phone app gives architectural tour of downtown Lexington

October 20, 2015

Richard Greissman remembers sitting in the State Theatre one Saturday in March 2008 as several hundred citizens urged developer Dudley Webb not to demolish 14 old downtown buildings for his ill-fated CentrePointe project.

“We’re all sitting there going, ‘How did CentrePointe happen? How do we prevent it?'” said Greissman, who was then a University of Kentucky administrator. “I’m thinking, what’s my small part in this?”

He decided that if more people knew about the architectural and cultural significance of Lexington’s historic buildings they would be more interested in finding ways to adapt and reuse rather than demolish them.

So Greissman, who has photographed downtown for years, emailed a picture of an elaborate stone cornice on a Main Street building to a colleague, cultural geographer Karl Raitz, and asked what he could write about it.

“Twenty minutes later I get back a perfectly formed essay,” he said. “We went out to lunch and I said, ‘What do you think?’ and he said, ‘When do we start?'”

The LexArch photo app for iPhone and Android will provide a virtual architecture tour of Lexington's historic buildings. The app was developed by Richard Greissman and Karl Raitz. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Seven years later, Greissman and Raitz are launching LexArch Tour, an interactive architectural tour of downtown. The free app for iPhone and Android phones is now available for download. A launch event is planned for noon Wednesday at the Fifth Third Pavilion at Cheapside Park.

The app’s initial version includes photos, text and narration about the old Fayette County Courthouse and a dozen surrounding buildings, which are pin-pointed on a GPS map. The app also has hotlinks to a glossary of architectural terms.

“We see this as just a first version, what could be done practically in time for Breeders’ Cup,” Greissman said, adding that material is almost ready for another 20 buildings.

Greissman took the photos and Raitz wrote the text, which he narrates in small sections that can be chosen depending on the listener’s level of interest in each building. They each donated their time to the project. Beyond that, they had a lot of help. The app was built by Lexington-based Apax Software, and Prosper Media Group recorded Raitz’s narration. The $40,000 project, which includes money for updates and development over the next four years, was paid for by the mayor’s office and VisitLex, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau. Another partner is the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.

The app is designed for both tourists and locals, and the creators have big plans for expanding its functionality. “I’m hoping a lot of it is developed by folks saying, ‘What about doing this?'” Greissman said.

One model they have in mind is Street Museum, an app developed by the Museum of London in Great Britain. It allows users to hold their smart phone up to a location and see historic photos of what that place looked like over time.

The next step, they said, is to develop platforms that will let app users share their photographs and memories of downtown buildings on social media.

By next spring, they plan to have an update with many more downtown buildings, as well as historic photographs of those buildings and ones there before them. They eventually want to add video clips where appropriate.

Greissman and Raitz are talking with local game developers about how to integrate scavenger hunts and other interactive games into the app to make it more appealing to young people.

Raitz said one purpose of the app is to help people understand how cities such as Lexington are put together and evolve over time. They also want to increase architectural literacy among people who are interested in preservation but don’t know much about it.

“We want to get people out looking at Lexington in a different way,” Greissman said. “And then there’s the public knowledge and political capital it could provide for the next time some guy comes along and says, ‘Let’s tear this down.'”


Lexington one of six ‘university cities’; can it take advantage of it?

October 18, 2015
Mayor Jim Gray, right, greeted University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto at a Lexington Forum luncheon on Jan. 24, 2012. Photo by Pablo Alcala.

Mayor Jim Gray, right, greeted University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto at a Lexington Forum luncheon on Jan. 24, 2012. Photo by Pablo Alcala.

 

Lexington has been a college town for more than 200 years. But when Scott Shapiro, a top aide to Mayor Jim Gray, was benchmarking local data against other cities recently, he discovered something interesting: Lexington was one of six U.S. cities whose numbers place them in a unique category.

This group, which he calls “university cities,” have distinct characteristics that make them different from smaller college towns or major cities with big research universities. And those characteristics translate into big economic development opportunities in the 21st century’s knowledge-based economy.

“This is one of those ah-ha moments,” Gray said of the analysis.

So, how can Lexington capitalize on this insight? We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, let’s see what Shapiro discovered about university cities, which he defined as metropolitan areas of between 250,000 and 1 million people with students making up at least 10 percent of the population.

Each city has a diversified economy closely tied to a major urban research university. In addition to Lexington, the cities are Madison, Wis.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Lincoln, Neb.

Each city has an abundance of attributes that naturally come with universities, including educated people, talent, openness to new ideas, innovation, entrepreneurialism and a lot of arts and culture.

These cities seem to have more of these attributes than college towns, in short, because they are big enough that many students can stay after graduation rather than moving on to find economic opportunity.

But unlike major cities with universities, these six university cities have a lower cost of living, less crime and, in many ways, a higher quality of life.

Shapiro’s analysis found, for example, that 42 percent of adults age 25 and older in university cities have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 29 percent nationwide.

High education levels seemed to have a big influence on productivity and wages. When adjusted for the cost of living, Shapiro found that the median annual salary in university cities is only about $700 below that of the nation’s 15 largest cities.

Unemployment rates from 2009 to 2013 averaged 6.3 percent in university cities, compared with 8.7 percent in other similar-sized cities and 8.8 percent in the nation’s largest 15 cities.

Business starts averaged 16.3 percent higher in university cities than in similar-sized cities, and only slightly below the rate for the nation’s largest cities. The number of non-profit organizations, which often drive social entrepreneurship and improve quality of life, was almost double that of similar-sized cities.

University cities are much safer. Violent crime averaged 36 percent lower in the six university cities than in similar-size cities and 40 percent lower than in the nation’s 15 largest cities.

And university cities are more fun. They have 47.2 percent more arts, recreation and entertainment places per thousand residents than the average of similar-size cities. And while they average fewer cultural assets than the 15 largest cities, they have more of them per thousand residents — 25.7 percent more.

One key attribute of a university city is being the “right” size to balance economic opportunity, cost of living and quality of life. And therein lies a danger. While Austin is what many university cities aspire to become, the Texas capital has lost some luster as housing costs and traffic headaches have risen.

Shapiro has started a blog (Universitycities.org) to share news and ideas about university cities, and he is talking with the University of Kentucky about hosting a national symposium on the topic next year.

This subject isn’t just of interest to academics; it has a lot of practical application.

Lexington’s mayor sees the university city model as an important lens through which to view many things, from business recruiting efforts and workforce-development strategies to land-use planning and infrastructure investment.

“I think it helps us in the sorting and filtering process,” Gray said. “When you know who you are, you have a better chance of getting where you want to go.”

For one thing, he said, it shows that Lexington’s economic development strategy should be mainly built around leveraging assets that grow out of the presence of UK, Transylvania University and other education centers.

It also underscores the importance of making sure affordable housing is available and traffic doesn’t get out of control. It means Lexington should nurture cultural institutions and other quality-of-life infrastructure that talented, educated people and the companies that want to hire them look for in a city.

The next step, Gray said, is to benchmark Lexington’s data against the five other university cities to assess strengths and weaknesses.

“I think we’re poised for exploiting the knowledge economy in a better way than the industrial cities have been,” Gray said. “It’s a question of how do you really take advantage of that.”


New book explains history, mystery of the Bluegrass’ ancient trees

October 17, 2015
This bur oak on Gainesway Farm near Lexington is thought to be several hundred years old, pre-dating the first white pioneers and settlers in Central Kentucky. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

This bur oak on Gainesway Farm near Lexington is thought to be several hundred years old, pre-dating the first white pioneers and settlers in Central Kentucky. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Most of us pay little attention to Kentucky’s oldest living residents. They are huge, but to the untrained eye they seem to just blend into the landscape.

Central Kentucky and Middle Tennessee may be the only places on Earth with this unique assortment of centuries-old bur, chinkapin and Shumard oak, blue ash and Kingnut hickory trees.

When Daniel Boone blazed his trail into the Bluegrass in 1775, many of the same trees we see today were already here, and big enough to offer him shade.

We seem to know little about how to care for and preserve these rare trees, which are rapidly disappearing from the landscape. But with Tom Kimmerer’s new book, Venerable Trees: History, Biology and Conservation in the Bluegrass (University Press of Kentucky, $39.95), we can know a lot more.

Kimmerer is a forest scientist, former University of Kentucky professor and one of only two tree physiologists in the state. Now a consultant, science journalist and photographer, he founded a Lexington-based non-profit organization, also called Venerable Trees. It seeks to protect these old-growth species and promote the planting of native trees in the region.

While deeply grounded in science, this book is written with a general audience in mind. It is easy to understand and filled with interesting information and stories, plus useful maps, illustrations and dozens of Kimmerer’s beautiful photographs of the trees.

Tom Kimmerer, a Lexington forest scientist and author of the book, Venerable Trees. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Tom Kimmerer

Kimmerer explains why this mix of old trees is found only in the Inner and Outer Bluegrass regions of Kentucky and the Nashville Basin region of Middle Tennessee.

While some of these trees were part of forests, most grew up in pastures above deep limestone deposits. The largest remaining specimens are about 7 feet in diameter and more than 100 feet tall. Many are between 300 and 500 years old.

Why did these trees thrive here? For one thing, Kimmerer writes, crevices in the underground limestone allowed the trees’ roots to grow deep to reach groundwater and survive periodic droughts.

Another reason is that huge herds of bison once roamed the Bluegrass, before they were hunted to near extinction in the early 1800s. The bison’s periodic grazing helped keep the woodland pastures from becoming forests.

Early Kentucky settlers wrote about the enormous trees they found, many of which they cut down to build their structures. Lexington’s first building, a blockhouse where the downtown Hilton is now, was made from a giant bur oak felled by 21-year-old Josiah Collins in April 1779.

While settlement and development decimated many North American forests, hundreds of giant trees in Bluegrass pastures were kept to shade livestock or decorate the estates of wealthy landowners.

That explains Lexington’s many urban specimens. The finest collection of venerable trees is in Lexington Cemetery, where they have been nurtured since the 1850s. These trees escaped the fate of hundreds more like them cut down by 20th century real estate developers.

151018VenTrees001Kimmerer tells the story of what he calls the St. Joe Oak. It is the largest of what was once a grove of ancient trees that between the 1950s and 1970s became the St. Joseph Hospital complex. After neighbors protested plans to cut down the huge bur oak, it was surrounded by a concrete parking structure that may yet kill it.

But the author offers a hopeful example of how builders are beginning to view these distinctive trees as neighborhood signatures and amenities rather than obstacles.

Ball Homes hired Kimmerer to develop a preservation plan for what he calls the Schoolhouse Oak, a bur oak about 500 years old that dominates a hill over Harrodsburg Road at South Elkhorn Creek. Previous development plans for that property by other companies had called for the tree’s destruction.

Efforts to reproduce these tree species have met little success for many reasons, including urbanization and a lack of modern herds of grazing bison. Climate change will make this even more difficult.

Kimmerer offers good suggestions for preserving our venerable trees and replacing them with these and other native species that are more suitable than what is often planted.

Venerable Trees will likely become a classic among books about Kentucky’s natural history and environment, because it covers so much new information in such an accessible way.

These magnificent trees are as much a part of the Bluegrass landscape as horses, rock walls and four-plank fences. Whether or not you paid much attention to them before, this book will give you a greater appreciation of Kentucky’s oldest living residents.

If you go

Venerable Trees

What: Author Tom Kimmerer discusses and signs his book

When: 2 p.m., Oct. 18

Where: The Morris Bookshop, 882 East High Street.

More information: Venerabletrees.org


Annual conference could help make your invention ideas reality

September 27, 2015
Inventor-Con helps would-be inventors make their ideas into products and businesses. Photo provided

Inventor-Con helps would-be inventors make their ideas into products and businesses. Photo provided

 

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it has many fathers: ideas, money and collaboration, to name a few.

Would-be inventors may be able to find some of those things at Inventor-Con, a series of seminars Oct. 6 at the Lexington Public Library’s Central Library. The event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is recommended.

This is the 10th annual Inventor-Con sponsored by the Central Kentucky Inventors Council, a non-profit organization that helps people with ideas for inventions bring them to market.

What began as a small regional conference now attracts inventors, entrepreneurs and service providers from across the country.

“We try to cover a lot of different areas, because there are so many pieces to the invention process,” said Don Skaggs, the council’s president.

The featured speaker is Stephen Key, author of the book One Simple Idea, who began his career as an inventor by helping develop popular 1980s toys such as LazerTag and Teddy Ruxpin.

The conference will have about 30 exhibit booths and eight breakout sessions. Other speakers include patent attorney Jim Francis of the Lexington firm Fowler Bell; Gordon Garrett of the Kentucky Small Business Development Council; and Doug Clarke, owner of Lexington maker’s space Kre8now.

Nick Such, a technology entrepreneur who works with the incubator space Awesome Inc., will discuss learning to write computer code. Ben Van Den Broeck of ArtLab KY will talk about using 3D printing to make prototypes. And the owners of the youth engineering education center Newton’s Attic will have a session for young inventors.

Skaggs said one of the most valuable things about the conference is that inventors get to meet and share their experiences with other inventors. Last year, the Inventor-Con attracted about 200 people.

“Inventors need to be around other people,” he said. “They don’t often succeed in isolation.”

The Central Kentucky Inventors Council was organized in 1996 as a networking and assistance organization for inventors and entrepreneurs. It is now one of the largest of more than 100 such organizations nationwide, and the only one in Kentucky.

The council has about 100 members. Membership is open to anyone, and the $40 annual dues entitle members to attend monthly meetings to discuss their inventions and get feedback from fellow inventors, who sign non-disclosure agreements.

“It’s sort of a brainstorming session on steroids,” Skaggs said. “Sometimes it can keep people from spending a lot of time and money going in the wrong direction.”

The council has a young inventors’ group in cooperation with the state’s Student Technology Leadership Program.

Skaggs said advances in technology have opened many new avenues for inventions, including iPhone applications and software development, and made the process more approachable.

Inventions aren’t always gadgets. Some of the most successful ones are simple, problem-solving ideas in areas where the inventor has knowledge and expertise. Sometimes, the finished product turns out to be much different than the original idea.

“It runs the gamut — everything from medical products to simple garden tools,” Skaggs said. One example: a council member with a background in the lawn care equipment industry invented a simple, commercially successful device for cleaning the underside of a lawn mower.

Some people have ideas for inventions they want to produce and market themselves; but most want to license their ideas to others.

“A lot of people have ideas for inventions,” Skaggs said. “But most of those people never act on them.”

If you go

Inventor-Con

What: Central Kentucky Inventors Council’s 10th annual free seminar for inventors and entrepreneurs

When: 3-8:30 p.m. Oct. 6

Where: Central Library, 140 E. Main St.

Information, registration: Ckic.org


Ashland event showcases little-known fact: 150 years ago, Henry Clay’s farm became the University of Kentucky’s first campus

September 22, 2015
The Mechanical Building at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky was located on the Ashland farm, about where Fincastle and Sycamore roads are now. The building was demolished for their construction in the 1920s. Photo Courtesy of UK Special Collections

The Mechanical Building at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky was located on the Ashland farm, about where Fincastle and Sycamore roads are now. The building was demolished for their construction in the 1920s. Photo Courtesy of UK Special Collections

 

The Ashland estate was more than the home of statesman Henry Clay. A century and a half ago, it became the first campus of the University of Kentucky.

That little-known chapter of history is among the things being showcased Saturday at Ashland’s annual Living History Event.

Artifacts from the university years are on display through Dec. 31. Saturday’s event will include Civil War re-enactors firing antique rifles and cannon, tours of the mansion, costumed actors, farm animals and period crafts.

Transylvania University was the first state-supported college, having been started in the 1780s when Kentucky was still Virginia. But state support of higher education in Kentucky has always been erratic. After a flowering in the 1820s, during which Transylvania became one of America’s best universities, it fell into decline.

After the Civil War, Transylvania was reconstituted as part of Kentucky University and a new sister institution, the Agricultural and Mechanical College, created by the federal Land-Grant College Act of 1862.

John Bryan Bowman Photo Courtesy of Transylvania University Library Speical Collections

John Bryan Bowman Photo Courtesy of Transylvania University Library Speical Collections

The force behind Kentucky University and the A&M college was John Bryan Bowman, the grandson of pioneer Abraham Bowman, for whom Bowman’s Mill Road in southern Fayette County is named.

“He was quite a visionary,” said Ashland Curator Eric Brooks. “He wanted to make education more egalitarian, accessible to a much larger spectrum of the population. He wanted it to encompass very academic subjects, but also to include business, agriculture and what he called the mechanical arts and we now call engineering.”

A decade before Clay’s death in 1852, Bowman studied law under him. Perhaps that is why, when searching for a campus for the new college in 1866, Bowman bought Ashland and an adjoining Clay family estate, The Woodlands. The 433 acres cost $130,000.

“He chose Ashland specifically because it was Henry Clay’s farm,” Brooks said. “It was the most recognizable piece of property around and he knew it would have instant credibility.”

As regent, Bowman and his wife lived in the Ashland mansion, which also served as the college administration building. He created a small natural history museum there, and some of the artifacts have been returned for this exhibit.

The Woodlands mansion, which stood about where the Woodland Park swimming pool is now, housed agricultural classrooms. Engineering classrooms and labs were in an imposing new building, which was constructed at what is now the corner of Fincastle and Sycamore roads.

The Mechanical Hall was built in 1868 with a $25,000 gift from G.Y.N. Yost, a Pennsylvania lawn mower manufacturer.

The cottage that still stands beside Ashland was an early dormitory. Brooks said it housed 16 young men — all of the students were young men until 1880, when the first women were admitted — who raised their own livestock and vegetables and hired a cook to fix their meals.

Bowman’s long-term goal was to relocate the rest of Kentucky University from Transylvania’s campus north of Gratz Park to the Ashland-Woodlands property.

But the church-state politics that had always plagued Transylvania kept getting in the way. Although a state institution, Transylvania had a long history of church affiliation, first with the Presbyterians and then the Disciples of Christ.

Amid these tensions, Bowman was fired in 1878 and the A&M college separated from Kentucky University. James K. Patterson was appointed college president, a job he held until 1910.

Worried that the college might move elsewhere in the state, Lexington donated its Maxwell Springs fairgrounds as a new campus. UK has been there ever since.

Kentucky University reverted to private, church-affiliated ownership and changed its name back to Transylvania in 1908. The A&M college, also called State College, officially became the University of Kentucky in 1916.

The Woodlands estate became a city park and surrounding subdivisions. Ashland was rented to tenant farmers until Clay’s grandson-in-law, Henry Clay McDowell, bought and renovated the property.

Most of the Ashland estate was subdivided in the 1920s into the Ashland and Ashland Park neighborhoods. The 17 acres that remained around the mansion went to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, which since 1950 has operated the house museum and park-like grounds.

The main artifact from Ashland’s college years, the Mechanical Hall, was demolished when subdivision streets were cut through in the early 1920s.

“It was an incredible structure,” Brooks said. “I wish we still had that.”


FoodChain expanding mission with kitchen, neighborhood grocery

September 20, 2015
Rebecca Self, executive director of Food Chain, an urban agriculture non-profit in the Breadbox building at West Sixth and Jefferson Streets, posed with greens being grown along with tilapia fish in a closed-loop aquaponics system. The greens and fish are sold to restaurants, primarily Smithtown Seafood in the next room. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Rebecca Self, executive director of Food Chain, an urban agriculture non-profit in the Breadbox building at West Sixth and Jefferson Streets, posed with greens being grown along with tilapia fish in a closed-loop aquaponics system. The greens and fish are sold to restaurants, primarily Smithtown Seafood in the next room. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

The urban agriculture nonprofit FoodChain is trying to raise $300,000 for its next two links: a food-processing and teaching kitchen and a neighborhood green grocery.

The effort will begin Oct. 2 with Relish n’ Ramble, an event featuring tapas by four guest chefs and tours of the proposed kitchen and grocery space in the Bread Box building at West Sixth and Jefferson streets.

Three years ago, founder Rebecca Self and her board raised $75,000 to create an aquaponics demonstration in a back room of the 900,000-square-foot former bread factory, which also houses West Sixth Brewing, Smithtown Seafood, Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, Bluegrass Distillers, Magic Beans Coffee Roasters and The Plantory, a shared office space for nonprofit startups.

Since September 2013, FoodChain has been producing about 30 pounds of greens and a dozen tilapia each week. The fish and most of the greens are bought by Smithtown Seafood. Blue Moon Farm distributes excess greens to other restaurants.

The aquaponics system works like this: waste grain from the brewery is fed to the fish, whose waste water provides the nutrients for lettuce and other greens to be grown under energy-efficient indoor lighting.

“You would never pinpoint this as a place to grow food,” Self said of the once-abandoned building. “But it’s actually a perfect fit.”

Sales of greens and fish have covered about 35 percent of FoodChain’s $100,000 annual budget, and virtually all of the cost of producing them, Self said. Funding for educational programs comes from donations and foundation grants.

To promote replication of its work, FoodChain has given more than 6,000 tours of its facilities, which also has provided revenue. “We’re unusual among nonprofits in that we have a revenue stream at all,” Self said.

This next phase will move FoodChain closer to its mission: developing systems to bring affordable local food to urban “food desert” neighborhoods, such as the West End.

Self’s husband, Ben, is one of four West Sixth Brewing partners who bought the Bread Box and have been renovating and leasing it. FoodChain’s kitchen and grocery will occupy the last 7,000 square feet of the building, the oldest part of which dates to the 1870s.

The kitchen and grocery will be on the west side of the building’s Sixth Street frontage, with the grocery in the corner. A lot of windows will be added to the solid-brick walls, bringing light and public visibility.

The kitchen will have an instructional area where neighborhood residents can receive food safety certification training for restaurant jobs and take classes to learn to prepare and cook their own meals with fresh food.

In the back half of the kitchen, FoodChain plans to partner with Glean Kentucky, other nonprofits and area farmers to collect, process and preserve food “seconds” that might otherwise go to waste.

“This is something that’s been talked about for a long time,” Self said. “We’re hoping that because we’re getting this food at pennies on the dollar on the seconds market that even once we’ve added in the labor costs it will still be at an affordable price for the store.”

In addition to fresh local food, the grocery will carry other foods and household necessities. Both facilities are being designed to meet the neighborhood’s needs based on focus groups conducted by the Tweens Coalition, a local youth nutrition and fitness organization.

The store and kitchen will create about a dozen jobs, and Self hopes to fill them with neighborhood residents.

“If there’s anything that comes out of the census data for this area it is the desperate need for jobs,” she said. “You can’t afford good food if you don’t have an income.”

Self said renovations to create the kitchen and store won’t begin until all of the money needed is raised. Ideally, she said, the kitchen would open in fall 2016 and the store in spring 2017.

“We’re just trying to show the viability of something like this,” she said.

If you go

Relish n’ Ramble

What: Fundraiser for FoodChain featuring tapas inspired by Indian, Latin and Asian street food from guest chefs Vishwesh Bhatt of Snack Bar in Oxford, Miss.; Ouita Michel of Holly Hill Inn; Jonathan Lundy of Coba Cocina; and Jon Sanning of Smithtown Seafood. Includes a West Sixth beer and souvenir glass and tours of FoodChain’s planned commercial kitchen and grocery spaces.

When: 6-9 p.m. Oct. 2

Where: Bluegrass Distillers in the Bread Box, West Sixth and Jefferson streets

Cost: $35 advance, $40 at door.

Tickets and info: Foodchainlex.org


Lexington Rotary Club celebrates 100 years, bucks national trend

September 19, 2015
At the Lexington Rotary Club's 100th anniversary celebration Friday night at Fasig-Tipton, Allison Barkley, her horse, Bo, and Adam Menker of the University of Kentucky Rodeo Team rode in with proclamations of congratulations that were handed to Rotary past president Jim Martin for Mayor Jim Gray and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr to read. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

At the Lexington Rotary Club’s 100th anniversary celebration Friday night at Fasig-Tipton, Allison Barkley, her horse, Bo, and Adam Menker of the University of Kentucky Rodeo Team rode in with proclamations of congratulations that were handed to Rotary past president Jim Martin for Mayor Jim Gray and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr to read. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary and other community service clubs are an endangered species in modern America. Membership has been plummeting for decades. It’s enough to make an Optimist pessimistic.

Then there is the Rotary Club of Lexington. It is the 21st largest of Rotary International’s 34,000 clubs worldwide. Each Thursday at noon, most of the club’s 344 members show up for the lunch meeting at Fasig-Tipton.

What makes Lexington Rotary work is not so much size, but effectiveness. It is not the lunch meetings, but the countless hours of public service the rest of the week.

For a century, this club has managed to create the right mix of volunteerism, business networking and inclusiveness that has made many of Lexington’s most influential leaders want to belong. Once there, they get things done.

Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

President Mary Beth Wright speaks at the 100th anniversary celebration.

“Rotary is often thought of as an old white male club,” said President Mary Beth Wright. “This one has a 36-year-old female president this year. It’s a great group of people who have a great calling.”

Wright and several past presidents presided over the club’s 100th anniversary celebration at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion Friday night that included Mayor Jim Gray and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr reading congratulatory messages.

Those proclamations were brought into the room on horseback by members of the University of Kentucky’s Rodeo Team. It was a nod to the club’s newest annual fundraiser, a sanctioned rodeo competition in June at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The club has raised the equivalent of millions of dollars for community and international service projects. Many of those have been big and ambitious, thanks to a philosophy of leadership continuity that makes multi-year projects possible.

“This club, more than any other civic organization, has had strong leadership,” said entrepreneur Jim Host, a past president and member since 1972. “It’s not just a luncheon club. It’s what are we doing different? This year, we started a rodeo.”

The rodeo and other fundraisers, including Dancing with the Lexington Stars, raise money for charity projects and an endowment that since 1978 has funded many local non-profits.

The club’s biggest cause is Surgery on Sunday, a non-profit group founded in 2005 by Dr. Andrew Moore. Local medical professionals donate their time and talents to perform outpatient surgery for low-income people who don’t have health insurance and aren’t eligible for government insurance. Rotary provides about one-third of the organization’s funding, for about 1,000 surgeries a year.

A decade ago, Rotary led creation of the Toyota Bluegrass Miracle League, a baseball league that serves more than 100 handicapped children and adults. The $750,000 project included a specially designed athletic field at Shillito Park.

“Why we can raise that kind of money is the credibility of this club,” said Darrell Ishmael, a former president. “The influence of this club makes a huge difference in this community.”

The Lexington club was the 182nd to join Rotary, which began as a businessman’s networking group in Chicago in 1905.

The Lexington club’s first black member was admitted in 1983. Women have been members since 1988, after the U.S. Supreme Court forced the national Rotary to change its men-only policy. The Lexington club now has more than 50 women members, and three have been president.

The Lexington Rotary has always focused on helping youth, with scholarships, winter coats, Santa gifts and international exchange programs. The club was a major force behind creating Cardinal Hill Hospital, which was originally for handicapped children.

In the 1920s, the club bought a Woodford County camp that served area Boy Scouts until the larger McKee Boy Scout Reservation opened near Mount Sterling in 1960. Rotary just took over management of the annual “Brave the Blue” Boy Scout fundraiser, where donors get to rappel 410 feet down the glass walls of Lexington’s tallest building.

At times, the Lexington Rotary has been an influential voice on community issues. Most notably, it began pushing for merger of Lexington and Fayette County governments more than three decades before voters approved it in 1973.

As they celebrated a century and looked forward to the future, Lexington Rotarians said their most important goal is maintaining the special chemistry that has made their club a vital force for good in the community.

“Everyone pitches in, and not just as a leader,” said Virginia Carter, a member since 2001 and retired executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council. “Even though everyone here is a leader.”

A 100th anniversary cake.

A 100th anniversary cake.

Past president Jim Richardson closed the anniversary program with a song he wrote about the club.

Past president Jim Richardson closed the anniversary program with a song he wrote about the club.


Paris Independent Schools celebrate 150 years of small-town pride

September 15, 2015
Kenney Roseberry, 92, asked her 9-year-old twin great-granddaughters, Kitty and Annie Berry, to guess the identity of the lady pictured in an old Paris High School yearbook. It was her as an English teacher in the 1960s. Roseberry graduated from Paris High and taught there for 35 years. Larry Shelt looked on at left. Photos by Tom Eblen

Kenney Roseberry, 92, asked her 9-year-old twin great-granddaughters, Kitty and Annie Berry, to guess the identity of the lady pictured in an old Paris High School yearbook. It was her as an English teacher in the 1960s. Roseberry graduated from Paris High and taught there for 35 years. Larry Shelt looked on at left. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

PARIS — For a century and a half, people here have been true to their schools.

The devotion is apparent in a new exhibit celebrating the 150th anniversary of Paris Independent Schools that will be up through Oct. 11 at the Hopewell Museum, 800 Pleasant Street. (More information: Hopewellmuseum.org.)

“We started reaching out to folks for memorabilia, and the community stepped up,” Superintendent Gary Wiseman said at an opening reception Sunday afternoon that attracted dozens of alumni.

“Paris High was a fantastic school,” said Hank Everman, a 1959 graduate who before retirement was a history professor at Eastern Kentucky University. “My history teacher, Helen Hunter, was better than any professor I had in college.”

Everman, whose books include a two-volume history of Bourbon County, said Paris Independent Schools have enjoyed both academic and athletic success.

Famous graduates include statesman and education advocate Edward Prichard; college and professional football coaches Blanton Collier and Bill Arnsparger; Basil Hayden, the University of Kentucky’s first All-American basketball player; and Donna Hazzard, the first Kentucky woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy.

“With an independent school district, you get much more of a family feel and community involvement,” said Jami Dailey, the principal of Paris High.

Paris’ first public school opened Sept. 11, 1865, soon after a Union Army hospital vacated the Bourbon Academy building, which had been a private school before the Civil War. The new public school began with three teachers, 130 students and a curriculum that included Greek and Latin.

Paris created a public school for black children in the 1870s, a time when many districts ignored them. By the 1890s, Paris Western was one of the few black public high schools in Kentucky. The district also was early to offer night classes for laborers, both black and white, and agriculture extension classes for farmers.

When Lee Kirkpatrick was superintendent in the 1920s, he paid top-dollar for teachers. The result was one of the best-educated high school faculties in Kentucky, Everman said. Many Paris students went on to success at Ivy League colleges, including Prichard, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law.

The greyhound was chosen as the high school’s mascot in the 1920s. The school colors of orange and black were said to have been inspired by the racing silks of Claiborne Farm when owner Arthur B. Hancock was chairman of the school board.

This professionally curated exhibit in one of Kentucky’s best local museums showcases the school system’s successes, including peaceful desegregation in 1964. There are many old photos, trophies, uniforms and other memorabilia.

Paris is one of 53 independent school districts left in Kentucky. Economics and the perceived advantages of school consolidation have prompted many other independents to merge into larger countywide school systems in recent decades.

Paris has always resisted the trend, despite a small enrollment. The elementary, middle and high schools have fewer than 700 students, including 204 in the high school. The surrounding Bourbon County school system is four-times larger.

Changes in the economy and its effect on city residents have been a challenge. Paris has more poor and minority students than the county system: 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch, 18 percent are black and 17 percent are Hispanic.

Paris schools have a new curriculum to try to boost lagging test scores, Wiseman said. Paris High students this fall were issued laptop computers for the first time.

“I think we have some things in place that will pay off,” he said. “We’re trying to help overcome a lot of the challenges our families face.”

Paris schools remain financially sound, Wiseman said, and the school board is committed to remaining independent, in part because of the system’s rich heritage.

“City schools have been good for the community,” said Kenney Roseberry, who graduated from Paris High and then was an English teacher there for 35 years before retiring in 1982. Now 92, she has two great-granddaughters in the system.

Many years ago, Roseberry said, she and other members of the League of Women Voters studied the school system and recommended that it be consolidated with Bourbon County.

“Fortunately,” she said, “nobody paid any attention to us.”

 

Norma Adair, a 1939 graduate of Paris High School, talked with Ron Carter.

Norma Adair, a 1939 graduate of Paris High School, talked with Ron Carter at the opening of an exhibit honoring the school district’s 150th anniversary.

 

Old photos of cheerleaders from Paris High School and Western High School, which was closed when it merged with Paris High in 1964 as part of peaceful desegregation. The photos are part of an exhibit at the Hopewell Museum in Paris marking the 150th anniversary of Paris Independent Schools.

Old photos of cheerleaders from Paris High School and Western High School, which was closed when it merged with Paris High in 1964 as part of peaceful desegregation.

 

Gary Wiseman, left, superintendent of Paris Independent Schools, chatted with Lindrell Blackwell, a 1981 graduate of Paris High School, at the Hopewell Museum on Sunday at the opening of an exhibit honoring the school district's 150th anniversary.

Gary Wiseman, left, superintendent of Paris Independent Schools, chatted with Lindrell Blackwell, a 1981 graduate of Paris High School, at the Hopewell Museum on Sunday at the opening of an exhibit honoring the school district’s 150th anniversary.

 

The Hopewell Museum exhibit honoring Paris Independent Schools' 150th anniversary pays tribute to former band director Tom Siwicki.

The Hopewell Museum exhibit honoring Paris Independent Schools’ 150th anniversary pays tribute to former band director Tom Siwicki.


Broke Spoke shop celebrates 5 years of recycling unused bikes

September 13, 2015
Carl Vogel, right, measured the seat post tube of a high-end bicycle frame donated to Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop held by Andy Shooner. The shop's mission is to refurbish old bikes for use as basic transportation for people who need it, so this frame likely will be sold to raise money for other bicycle parts. Photos by Tom Eblen

Carl Vogel, right, measured the seat post tube of a high-end racing bicycle frame donated to Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop held by Andy Shooner. The shop’s mission is to refurbish old bikes for use as basic transportation for people who need it, so this frame likely will be sold to raise money for other bicycle parts. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Five years ago, Lexington cyclists Brad Flowers, Shane Tedder and Tim Buckingham wanted to open a different kind of bicycle shop.

Lexington was well-served by commercial shops that sold new bikes and accessories and had mechanics on staff to make repairs. But they wanted to organize volunteers to refurbish old bikes — like the ones gathering dust in your garage — and get them to people who need them for affordable transportation.

Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop has accomplished many of those goals. And, thanks to community support and a dedicated group of volunteers, the mission keeps growing.

“It has exceeded our expectations,” Buckingham said. “There has always been a consistent stream of folks dropping in to help out. And the really committed volunteers are what keeps the shop going.”

Jessica Breen, a doctoral student in geography at the University of Kentucky, adjusts a derailleur on an old French 10-speed bike donated to Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop. Breen recently started a women-only volunteer night at the shop.

Jessica Breen, a doctoral student in geography at the University of Kentucky, adjusts a derailleur on an old French 10-speed bike donated to Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop. Breen recently started a women-only volunteer night at the shop.

Broke Spoke now has dozens of volunteers, who celebrated the shop’s fifth anniversary last week with a bike progressive dinner.

You can celebrate, too, at Broke Spoke’s annual Savory Cycle fundraiser Sept. 27.

Participants ride routes of 25, 50 or 65 miles and enjoy food and beverages from Chef Ouita Michel’s restaurants, West Sixth Brewing and Magic Beans Coffee Roasters. The rides begin and end at Holly Hill Inn in Midway, and non-riding tickets are available for those who just want to eat. Space is limited.

Broke Spoke opened in November 2010 in a small room behind Al’s Sidecar bar at North Limestone and West Sixth streets. It quickly outgrew the space.

When the four partners who own West Sixth Brewery began renovating the Breadbox building at West Sixth and Jefferson streets in 2012, Broke Spoke became one of their first tenants. The shop’s current space is five-times larger than the original one, and it now has eight work stations instead of two.

Broke Spoke volunteers refurbish and sell about 30 donated bikes a month for between $50 and $300. The average bike sells for a little more than $100. Customers who can’t afford that can earn “sweat equity” for up to $75 by volunteering at the shop at a credit rate of $8 an hour.

Buckingham said Broke Spoke’s customers range from college students and young professionals to people from the nearby Hope Center and other shelters.

The shop is open to customers 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Volunteers also work on bikes in the shop 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

Jessica Breen started a women-only volunteer night the fourth Monday of each month to help them become more comfortable with repairing bicycles.

The shop accepts donated bikes when it is open. Donors also can drop off bikes and parts at the Habitat for Humanity Restore, 451 Southland Dr., and Pedal Power Bike Shop, 401 S. Upper Street.

“Some of our biggest supporters are the local bike shops,” Buckingham said. That support includes donated parts and referrals of customers who bring in old bikes that aren’t economical for the commercial shops to fix.

“I think it has been a good thing,” Pedal Power owner Billy Yates said of Broke Spoke. “The more people there are out there riding, the more visibility cyclists have and the safer it is to ride.”

Broke Spoke doesn’t sell any new merchandise, so it isn’t competing with commercial shops, volunteer Eileen Burk noted. By creating new cyclists, it can create future business for commercial shops.

A new section of the Legacy Trail recently opened beside Broke Spoke, so the shop will soon be sprucing up its entrance. A water fountain will be added, Buckingham said, as well as a bike repair station donated by the Bluegrass Cycling Club.

Broke Spoke’s operating expenses are now covered by bicycle sales. But the cycling club and the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeways Commission have made donations for several special projects. Individuals have given more than $12,000 to Broke Spoke through the annual Good Giving Guide.

Pop cellist and singer Ben Sollee, who often travels to concerts by bicycle, has played several Broke Spoke benefits. “He’s probably helped us raise more than $10,000,” Buckingham said.

Future plans include more formal training in bike maintenance and repair for volunteers and customers.

Broke Spoke also wants to attract more volunteers so the shop can open more days each week, said Allen Kirkwood, a steering committee member. A special need is bilingual volunteers to improve outreach to Latinos and other immigrants.

“We have plenty of ideas for additional programming,” said volunteer Andy Shooner. “But it really takes having volunteers who get familiar with the shop and say, ‘Yeah, I want to make that happen.'”

If you go

Savory Cycle

When: Sept. 27

What: Fundraiser for Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop

Rides: Choice of three routes — 25, 50 or 65 miles — with food and beverages.

Where: Holly Hill Inn, Midway.

Cost: $100.

Tickets and more info: Savorycycle.org

Tim Buckingham, left, board chairman of Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, and Andy Shooner discussed volunteer schedules at the shop in the Bread Box complex at the corner of Jefferson and West Sixth Streets. The shop is celebrating its fifth anniversary.

Tim Buckingham, left, board chairman of Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, and Andy Shooner discussed volunteer schedules at the shop in the Bread Box complex at the corner of Jefferson and West Sixth Streets. The shop is celebrating its fifth anniversary.

A stack of wheels donated to Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop. Donors can bring old bikes to the shop when it is open, or to Pedal Power Bikes on Maxwell Street or the Habitat Restore on Southland Drive.

A stack of wheels donated to Broke Spoke. Donors can bring old bikes to the shop when it is open, or to Pedal Power Bikes on Maxwell Street or the Habitat Restore on Southland Drive.

John Klus works on an old Schwinn bicycle donated to Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop.

John Klus works on an old Schwinn bicycle donated to Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop.

Eileen Burk, a water quality specialist for Kentucky American Water Co., removes a seat from a child's bicycle donated to Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop.

Eileen Burk, a water quality specialist for Kentucky American Water Co., removes a seat from a child’s bicycle donated to Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop.

Eileen Burk, left, and Jessica Breen work on bicycles donated to the Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop. The 10-speed Breen is working on will be repaired for a second life. But Burk is dismantling the cheap children's bike she has for parts.

Eileen Burk, left, and Jessica Breen work on bicycles donated to the Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop. The 10-speed Breen is working on will be repaired for a second life. But Burk is dismantling the cheap children’s bike she has for parts.


Circus surrounding Kim Davis case attracts plenty of political clowns

September 12, 2015
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee greeted the crowd Tuesday after being released from the Carter County jail. Photo by Timothy D. Easley/AP

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee greeted the crowd Tuesday after being released from the Carter County jail. AP Photo by Timothy D. Easley

 

Every circus has clowns, and the carnival surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ claim that her religious beliefs should trump the rule of law and the civil rights of the people she is paid to serve has attracted more than its share of them.

The most shameless has been Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate, Baptist preacher and former Arkansas governor and Fox News showman.

Huckabee’s campaign organized a rally for Davis in Grayson last Tuesday, the day U.S. District Judge David Bunning released her from jail there. She spent five nights behind bars for contempt of court after she refused the judge’s order to let her office issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Brushing his face repeatedly for the TV cameras, as if wiping away tears, the Huckster blasted the judge — a conservative Catholic, George W. Bush appointee and son of former Republican Sen. Jim Bunning — for doing his job and enforcing the law.

Huckabee then emotionally offered to take Davis’ place in jail, claiming she was being punished for her beliefs rather than for her illegal behavior.

The second-biggest clown was another Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He showed up at the rally and shook hands until a Huckabee aide blocked him from taking the stage.

Although they haven’t come to Kentucky for photo ops, GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal also have voiced support for Davis’ defiance of the judge’s order and the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

I find it frightening that four presidential candidates of a major political party are so dismissive of the rule of law. I would be even more frightened if any of them had a chance of being elected president.

More disturbing, because they do have a chance of being elected, are similar stands being taken by Matt Bevin, the Republican nominee for governor, and state Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville, the GOP nominee for attorney general.

Do they have that little understanding of America’s system of laws and justice? Even if they are just pandering for the votes of conservative Christians, everyone else should be alarmed.

This case isn’t difficult to understand. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Decades ago, that same clause was interpreted to guarantee black people’s civil rights.

Under our system of justice, such a ruling invalidates conflicting federal and state laws, such as Kentucky’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

The bedrock American principle here is that minorities have the same civil rights as everyone else, regardless of how majorities of voters would like to limit them.

Davis has a First Amendment right to free exercise of her religious beliefs. But her rights stop at the point where she, as a public official, infringes on the 14th Amendment rights of gay couples seeking legal marriage licenses. Justifying her actions “under God’s authority” doesn’t cut it.

Do Kentuckians really want a governor and attorney general who either don’t understand our legal system or think some people should be exempt? Just think of the legal expenses they could rack up for taxpayers fighting losing battles over mixing church and state.

This isn’t a fight between conservative values and liberal values; it is a fight between those who understand and respect the rule of law and those who don’t.

*****

As a side note, I have seen one positive thing come out of the Kim Davis circus: Same-sex couples from across the country have come to Morehead to get married.

If those couples spend much time in Morehead, they will see that it is not the ignorant backwater portrayed in some national media reports.

Morehead is one of Eastern Kentucky’s most progressive places. The city council in 2013 voted unanimously for an ordinance banning discrimination against gays and lesbians, becoming only the sixth Kentucky city to do so.

It also is home to Morehead State University, whose respected academic programs range from music to space science. Morehead is not just a place where people preach about their ideas of heaven; it is a place where scientists are exploring the heavens as some of the leading pioneers of small satellite technology.


Started in a Lexington basement, Int’l Book Project marks 50 years

September 8, 2015
Lisa Fryman, right, executive director of the International Book Project and Ridvan Peshkopia, who earned a doctorate in political science at the University of Kentucky, watched as Merritt Rohlfing, left, and Brian Reagor load a pallet of books bound for the university in Kosovo where Peshkopia now teaches. Photo by Tom Eblen

Lisa Fryman, right, executive director of the International Book Project and Ridvan Peshkopia, who earned a doctorate in political science at the University of Kentucky, watched as Merritt Rohlfing, left, and Brian Reagor load a pallet of books bound for the university in Kosovo where Peshkopia now teaches into the back of a tractor-trailer truck. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

When Ridvan Peshkopia was earning his doctorate in political science at the University of Kentucky, he stopped by the International Book Project‘s used-book store at 1440 Delaware Avenue to check out the selection and soon became a regular customer.

By the time he left Lexington in 2011, he had found much more than a supply of personal reading material; he had found a literacy partner.

When Peshkopia took a teaching job in his native Albania, the Book Project helped him stock his university’s 75,000-volume library. He was back in Lexington last week, watching as several pallets of books he had chosen were loaded onto a tractor-trailer.

They are among thousands of volumes headed to the library of a university in the Republic of Kosovo where Peshkopia now teaches. More shipments are planned in December and March.

“We need good textbooks,” he said. “In my part of the world, we lack medical books, especially, because they are very expensive.”

The Lexington non-profit is on track this year to ship more than 230,000 books to schools and libraries in more than 60 countries around the globe, up from 220,000 last year.

The Book Project will mark its 50th year in 2016, and the celebration begins Sept. 12 with a fundraising party at Arts Place.

The organization has come a long way since Harriet Van Meter traveled to India in 1965 and saw people waiting in lines for hours to get books. She was so moved by what she saw that she placed an advertisement in an English-language newspaper in India, offering to send books to people who needed them. The response was huge.

Van Meter set up an office in the basement of her home on Mentelle Park and started boxing and shipping books overseas. The next year, she formalized the effort as the International Book Project.

“There is still a huge demand for books,” said Lisa Fryman, the executive director.

Estimates are that more than 785 million adults worldwide are illiterate, and two-thirds of them are women. Education is one of the biggest factors in enabling children to rise from poverty and live longer, happier and healthier lives.

The Book Project partners with organizations and individuals, such as Peshkopia, who have connections with schools and libraries in needy parts of the world.

Those schools and libraries form multi-year partnerships with the Book Project, filling out online forms describing the kinds of books they need. The books are given free, but partners are asked to help pay shipping costs as they can.

“We don’t really have any shortage of books,” Fryman said, and they come from a variety of sources. “Our main blocking factor is funds for shipping.”

The Book Project receives donated books from people in Lexington and across the country. For example, a woman in Oregon organized a collection of medical textbooks, many of which will soon be shipped to Liberia.

Other books come from publishers, bookstores, libraries and school systems. The Fayette County Public Schools recently cleaned out its warehouse and donated 15,000 textbooks. Kennedy Book Store donates college textbooks it can no longer sell.

Books that wouldn’t be useful overseas are sold to the public in Lexington for between 50 cents and $5 each at the Book Project’s store, which is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Money from book sales, donations and grants covers the organization’s annual budget of about $390,000, which pays for shipping and staff costs.

Last week, as Peshkopia’s pallets of books were going out the door, smaller shipments were waiting to be sent to Macedonia, Mongolia and Latin America, which receives only Spanish-language books. Each recipient school or library will report back with thank-you notes, photos and videos when the books arrive.

Many of the organization’s books stay in Lexington. The Book Project provides each family that earns a Habitat for Humanity home with a bookcase and about 100 books. It does the same for refugees resettled by Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

The Book Project also gives books to the Lexington-based Race for Education’s Starting Gate after-school program and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Books & Badges outreach program.

The Book Project recently began two pilot projects distributing electronic readers to schools in South Africa and Ghana. E-readers have the potential to cut shipping costs, but they have their own challenges, including electricity and durability.

“The jury’s kind of out on seeing how that works,” Fryman said. “I think we’ll still be shipping books around the world for some time.”


No, Kim Davis, your beliefs don’t outweigh America’s rule of law

September 8, 2015
Jeffrey Shook preached to the crowd outside the federal Courthouse in Ashland during Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis' contempt of court hearing. Photo by Charles Bertram.

Jeffrey Shook preached to the crowd outside the federal Courthouse in Ashland during Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ contempt of court hearing. Photo by Charles Bertram.

 

U.S. District Judge David Bunning did the right thing by sending Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to jail until she agrees to either obey the law and allow her office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or she resigns.

Bunning had no choice. His job is to enforce federal law and court orders, and Davis refused to obey. “In this country, we live in a society of laws,” he told her.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of Davis’ beliefs, or those of her colleagues in Whitley and Casey counties. Their interpretation of Christianity considers homosexuality a sin and gay marriage wrong. They have every right to believe that.

But this dilemma should be their problem, not ours. This battle should be playing out in their consciences, not among lawyers and judges, couples seeking marriage licenses and self-serving politicians.

“Jailed. For her beliefs,” tweeted Whitney Westerfield, a state senator from Hopkinsville who is the Republican nominee for attorney general.

No, Senator. Davis was jailed for refusing a federal judge’s order to obey the law. Someone seeking to become state attorney general should know better.

If these clerks, or other government officials or employees, cannot in good conscience obey the law and fulfill the duties of their public-service jobs, they should resign. They owe it to the taxpayers they serve, including the Rowan County couples suing Davis for refusing to issue them marriage licenses.

Davis’ case has attracted national attention in part because she isn’t a very sympathetic figure, even among many Christians. She wants to pick and choose, take parts of the Bible seriously and literally, and ignore other parts.

There is no evidence that Davis, an Apostolic Christian who has been divorced three times, has denied marriage licenses to divorced people and adulterers. The Bible has a lot more to say about them than it does about homosexuals.

A couple of generations ago, divorce was considered a socially unacceptable sin. If divorced people are given a pass now by fundamentalist Christians, why are gay people singled out for righteous discrimination?

If Davis can’t do her job in good conscience, why doesn’t she just resign? Maybe, like so many politicos, she feels entitled to her $80,000-a-year job. Her mother was the Rowan County clerk for nearly four decades. Davis now has her son on the payroll.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but for activists who want laws and the government to reflect their religious beliefs, that isn’t good enough.

They seek “religious freedom” laws such as the one the General Assembly passed in 2013 over Gov. Steve Beshear’s wise veto. The main goal of these laws is to make it easier to discriminate against gay people.

Several Republican candidates have urged Beshear to call a special session of the General Assembly — which typically costs taxpayers about $60,000 a day — to find ways to accommodate the clerks’ religious objections.

But accommodation is a slippery slope. What if a clerk started denying marriage licenses to previously divorced people or accused adulterers? What if a Muslim clerk wouldn’t issue drivers’ licenses to women?

Could Baptist officials refuse to issue state liquor licenses? What if surface-mining permits were blocked by government employees who believed the destruction of God’s creation is immoral? Where does it end?

Kentucky officials have wasted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on losing legal battles to post the Ten Commandments on public property. Would they be just as agreeable to displaying verses from the Quran? Statues of Hindu gods? An atheist’s monument proclaiming there is no god?

I respect everyone’s right to their beliefs. But I do not respect people who try to force their beliefs on others, especially when they are acting with the power of government in an increasingly diverse, multicultural society.

If there is one thing world history can teach us, it is that mixing church and state causes nothing but trouble. The sooner Kentuckians learn that lesson, the better.

 

 

 


Writers Crystal Wilkinston, Ronald Davis reopen Wild Fig Books

September 8, 2015
Writers Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis are reopening their Wild Fig Books in a renovated turn-of-the-century house on North Limestone after closing an earlier store in Meadowthorpe. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Writers Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis are reopening Wild Fig Books on North Limestone after closing an earlier store in Meadowthorpe. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Writers, partners and book-lovers Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis struggled to run Wild Fig Books in the Meadowthorpe Shopping Center for nearly four years before they shut the doors for good in February.

“There was such an outpouring when we closed,” said Wilkinson, who also is Appalachian Writer in Residence at Berea College. “People were so upset.”

But those people were thrilled when they heard Wild Fig Books & Coffee was opening this week in a renovated turn-of-the-century cottage at 726 North Limestone.

Still, some friends wonder if Wilkinson and Davis have lost their minds. In a retail landscape dominated by Amazon.com, e-readers and chain stores, few business niches are tougher these days than the independent bookstore.

“We get these earnest looks,” Wilkinson said. “People cup our hands and say, ‘You are so brave!’ We just roll our eyes.”

Wilkinson and Davis hope things will be different this time, thanks to a new business format and location.

150901WildFig-TE023The first Wild Fig was a reincarnation of Morgan Adams Books, a used bookstore Mary Morgan ran for more than 20 years on Leestown Road. The couple bought her store in June 2011 as other shops and websites were becoming competitors. The big blow came when the chain Half-Price Books opened a second Lexington location.

The old Wild Fig had a stock of about 20,000 mostly used books, which it bought from customers. Davis said the new store, a much smaller space, will have maybe 4,000 books, most of them new literary titles.

The new store also will have a coffee bar run by their daughter, Delainia Wilkinson, who has worked four years for Pat Gerhard at Third Street Stuff & Coffee.

“We’re going to be a very niche market here,” Wilkinson said, more along the lines of the successful Morris Book Shop in Chevy Chase. “We’re going to have what I call a literary boutique — books, clothing items or bags that have literary themes. We’re not going to try to compete with the big-box stores.”

Davis said that while the Leestown Road location was convenient to their home in Meadowthorpe, many customers told them they lived in the redeveloping neighborhoods along North Limestone.

“So, after about three years of that, we said, apparently we need to be somewhere near Limestone,” he said.

Soon after the first Wild Fig closed, they began talking with entrepreneur and marketing executive Griffin VanMeter about an old house he had just bought to renovate and lease at the corner of North Limestone and Eddie Street.

150901WildFig-TE007The couple thinks the neighborhood is a good fit for their ambitions. For the past seven years, Al’s Bar down the street has been home to Holler Poets, a popular monthly series of readings organized by poet Eric Sutherland.

“There’s already sort of a literary community,” Wilkinson said. “So many of our art and literary friends are either over here or clamoring to get over here. There’s a happening.”

Wilkinson is already planning readings, literary classes and public discussions that could be held at various places in the neighborhood. “We know we won’t necessarily have the space, so we’ll have to collaborate, which is also exciting,” she said.

Davis just published a book of poetry and art, Caul & Response (Argus House Press, $18). Wilkinson is a widely published poet and short-story writer who was among the founders of the Affrilachian Poets group. In March, the University Press of Kentucky will publish her first novel, The Birds of Opulence.

One decision the couple faced when resurrecting Wild Fig was whether to change the name, which is taken from a 1983 poem, “Wild Figs and Secret Places,” by the reclusive Lexington writer Gayl Jones, one of Wilkinson’s favorites.

Because the old store and new one will be so different, they considered other names. Playing off the North Limestone area’s new moniker, NoLi, Davis suggested calling it NoLiBrary. But, after much debate, they stuck with Wild Fig.

“We’re artists who own a business, and we’re trying to figure out how to make that work,” Wilkinson said, noting that writers have a natural affection for bookstores. “We couldn’t imagine ourselves, as much as we like ice cream, having the same passion for owning an ice cream parlor or a tire-changing place or a laundromat, although we probably would make more money.”


If we can’t face facts about the Civil War, how can we ever deal with modern issues?

September 1, 2015

You have to wonder: With all of the challenges our state and nation faces, why do we still spend so much time arguing about the Civil War? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that Americans have an uncanny ability to believe what they want to believe, regardless of facts. No chapter in our history has been more mythologized than the Southern rebellion that officially ended 150 years ago.

If you want to understand the facts, a good place to start is Ken Burns’ 1990 television series, The Civil War. For five consecutive nights beginning Sept. 7, Kentucky Educational Television will show a high-definition version of that acclaimed series, which has been digitally re-mastered for its 25th anniversary.

I remember when the series first aired — and a record 40 million people watched. I lived in Atlanta, where the Civil War remained an everyday presence. It seemed like the whole city was sleep-deprived that week; people stayed up night after night, mesmerized by a compelling history lesson told simply with narration, old photographs and music.

If you have time to see only one episode of The Civil War this time, make it the first one. I watched the original again this week and was impressed by how well it explained the war’s causes, which generations of myth-making tried to obfuscate.

While there were a few side issues, the Civil War was all about slavery. White supremacy was the Confederacy’s core belief. Read every state’s secession documents. Read the politicians’ speeches. There is no doubt.

The other reason the Civil War still resonates is that deep divisions of race and class in America have never gone away; they have just become more subtle and complex. And each time it feels like our national wound is healing, the scab is torn off.

A white racist slaughters black worshipers in church. A black man assassinates a white deputy sheriff. White police officers shoot unarmed black men. A black man videotapes his murder of two TV journalists. So many white people find it so easy to hate a mixed-race president with a foreign-sounding name.

JeffDavis1

A participant in a Sons of Confederate Veterans rally at the state Capitol in July takes a “selfie” with the Jefferson Davis statue. Photo by Charles Bertram.

This ugly reality has refocused attention on Confederate symbolism, which has always been racially divisive. In Kentucky, the hottest debate is over the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis placed in the Capitol rotunda in 1936.

Like most Confederate monuments, including the statue of Gen. John Hunt Morgan in front of Lexington’s old courthouse, Davis’ statue was erected decades after the war, largely at taxpayer expense, by a Confederate memorial group as part of a well-organized effort to reinterpret the South’s racist rebellion as a noble “lost cause”.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, both candidates for governor and other prominent Democrats and Republicans have called for moving Davis’ statue from its symbolic place of honor in the Capitol to a museum.

That view was endorsed Monday by 72 historians from 16 Kentucky colleges and universities, who sent a letter to Stumbo and members of the General Assembly.

“The statue is not a neutral evocation of facts, but an act of interpretation that depicts Davis as a hero with an honorable cause,” the letter said. “Virtually no respected professional historians embrace this view — a perspective that minimizes the significance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War, downplays the human suffering of millions, and endows the southern cause with a nobility it does not deserve.”

But a recent Bluegrass Poll found that 73 percent of Kentuckians think the statue should stay in the rotunda. The all-white Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission agreed by a vote of 7-2, but recommended adding a plaque with “educational context.” Myths are stubborn things.

What I find most disturbing about this debate is the willful ignorance of so many white people who insist the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. They ignore the fact that Confederate symbolism has always been a tool of racial intimidation. They remain oblivious to the pain black people feel toward veneration of Confederate heroes.

As the historians’ letter pointed out, this discussion isn’t about “erasing” or “rewriting” history; it is about making history more accurate. It is about no longer honoring people whose actions and beliefs are now considered despicable by a more enlightened and inclusive society.

With so many people so willing to ignore facts about the Civil War’s cause, it is no wonder we have trouble discussing race relations, economic justice, climate change and other issues that now threaten our future.

When willful ignorance and ideology replace facts and logic, it produces the kind of dangerous polarization that America saw in the 1860s — and that we see far too often a century and a half later.


African American Encyclopedia reveals untold Kentucky stories

August 29, 2015

Gerald Smith and his co-editors spent most of a decade working on the newly published Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. It wasn’t just research, writing and editing; they had to raise much of the project’s $400,000 budget.

In addition to courting big donors, they gave dozens of fundraising presentations in small-town libraries, churches and community centers across the state.

Those presentations often led to conversations, driving tours, stashes of newspaper clippings and walks through cemeteries with the keepers of community history.

smith

Gerald Smith and co-editors Karen Cotton McDaniel and John A. Hardin and a staff of graduate students compiled  the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. Photo by Tom Eblen

The content of the encyclopedia (University Press of Kentucky, 551 pages, $49.95) is much richer for that process, Smith said. Many fascinating stories had never made it beyond the counties where they happened.

Amateur historians were an enormous help to Smith, a University of Kentucky history professor, and his co-editors, Karen Cotton McDaniel, a retired Kentucky State University professor and director of libraries, and John A. Hardin, a history professor at Western Kentucky University.

“I can’t tell you how many folks we met like Yvonne Giles,” Smith said, referring to the woman whose years of research have made her an authority on black history in Lexington.

“They could point out all the places, tell you the history of the buildings,” Smith said. “It takes special people like that who are working at the grassroots level.”

The editors also discovered small archives, sometimes in unlikely places.

Smith got a surprise when he spoke at the public library in Owingsville, the seat of Bath County, which Census records show now has only about 15 black residents.

“They had a nice clippings file on African-Americans; who would have ever thought?” Smith said. “That’s why we had to go to see what was out there, and to meet and visit and talk to people.”

That file included information about the Owingsville Giants, which helped prompt Sallie Powell, the encyclopedia’s associate editor, to research and write a detailed entry about Kentucky’s black baseball clubs between the late 1800s and 1960s.

Smith said the saddest part of editing the encyclopedia was recounting tragedies of racism, large and small.

There is the horrific story of Isham and Lilburne Lewis, nephews of President Thomas Jefferson, who in 1811 took an ax and in a drunken rage murdered a slave child they thought had tried to run away after breaking their mother’s pitcher.

More common were the pervasive acts of discrimination used for two centuries to keep black Kentuckians down.

For example, who knew there were black bicycle racers in Louisville in the 1890s?

The Union Bicycle Club may have been the largest club of black riders in the country during a decade when cycling became a wildly popular American pastime.

But the club’s success led William Wagner Watts, a white cyclist and Louisville attorney, to successfully lobby the League of American Wheelmen in 1894 to exclude blacks from membership. That move sparked national controversy.

What is amazing is that so many black Kentuckians found ways to succeed before the civil rights movement. “I didn’t realize there were that many African-Americans from Kentucky who went on to serve as college presidents,” Smith said.

Many had to leave Kentucky to achieve their goals; for example, George French Ecton, a runaway slave from Winchester, in the 1880s became the first black elected to the Illinois General Assembly.

“When you look at that, you think about how many African-Americans could have been governor or senator or the president of the University of Kentucky or Eastern or Western,” Smith said. “They had all the skills necessary to be successful but were denied the opportunity.”

The encyclopedia’s research files, many of which did not result in completed entries, have been turned over to University of Kentucky Special Collections so future researchers can use them.

The editors expect the encyclopedia to generate some controversy because of their decisions about what would and wouldn’t be included. For example, they had a bias toward telling new and little-known stories rather than rehashing some famous ones that have often been told in other books.

“It helps serve another purpose of the encyclopedia, and that is to generate new discussions and debates,” Smith said. “This is actually a beginning rather than an ending, because what this is going to do is churn up even more material. I’m hoping it will inspire more people to not only want to learn about Kentucky history, but to understand it and to preserve it.”

Book signing

What: Editors of the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia will sign copies, along with authors of other books produced by faculty of the University of Kentucky Department of History.

When: 5 p.m. Sept. 18

Where: The Morris Book Shop, 882 E. High St.