At the Red Mile, horse racing’s ‘evolution’ looks like a casino

September 26, 2015
Instant racing machines in Lexington's first legal gambling parlor at Red Mile. Photo by Charles Bertram

Instant racing machines at the Red Mile. Photo by Charles Bertram

 

I went to the Red Mile last week to check out what the 140-year-old harness track calls “The Evolution of Horse Racing.”

It was sunny and mild, the kind of afternoon I hope for each April and October so I can slip away to Keeneland for a few hours. I love to watch the horses run, place a few bets and soak up the atmosphere.

This afternoon, the weather didn’t matter. Horse racing had evolved indoors. I found a cavernous hall filled with 902 machines that flashed and chimed amid pulsing background music.

The man at the front desk said this $42 million facility had been busy since it opened Sept. 12. I must have caught a lull. There were only a couple of dozen patrons, an even mix of men and women, blacks and whites. Most were older than me. A few had canes; at least two used walkers.

The next thing I noticed was there were no horses. Amazing! Horse racing had evolved to the point that horses were no longer necessary.

When I walked in, the man at the front desk issued me a “rewards” card on a red lanyard, an instruction sheet and a $5 voucher. I chose a machine with a comfy seat near the bar and got started.

That’s when I saw horses, or at least grainy images of them. They were in videos that flashed briefly on the machine’s tiny screen after I placed a bet and pushed a few buttons.

The machines looked like slots. The hall looked like a casino. I had to remind myself that this joint venture of the Red Mile and Keeneland was really The Evolution of Horse Racing, presumably “as it was meant to be.”

What distinguishes these machines from slots, proponents say, is that they are forms of pari-mutuel wagering, and winners are chosen by the outcome of thousands of previously run horse races rather than by random number generators.

I placed a bet on the machine and chose my numbers — the order of finish for three horses that once raced against one another. To help me choose, I could look at charts indicating past performances of the horse, jockey and trainer.

I lost my first couple of free voucher dollars trying to figure out how the machine worked. On my third bet, lights flashed and bells clanged and the machine told me I was a winner. I printed a voucher and discovered I had won $84, although I’m not sure how.

I tried a couple more machines before deciding it was a good time to cash my voucher and call it a day.

The Family Foundation, a conservative activist group, has gone to court to challenge the legality of these “historical racing” machines. The case before Franklin Circuit Court is complex, and it likely will take a couple of years to decide.

The legal question comes down to whether these machines are pari-mutuel wagering, which is legal in Kentucky, or slots, which are not. Can something that looks and quacks like a duck actually be an evolved horse?

If the tracks lose in court, they may have recovered their investment by then. The General Assembly also could change the law. Legislators may not want to give up this new source of tax revenue, not to mention the 200 new jobs at the Red Mile and more at facilities near Henderson and Franklin.

I have nothing against gambling, when it is enjoyed responsibly by people who can afford it. But from a public policy standpoint, gambling encourages a “something for nothing” mentality among politicians and voters that a modern, progressive state can be created without raising anyone’s taxes.

Many horse people argue that expanded gambling revenue is essential to the survival of their industry. I understand their concern. Without the promise of this new facility, the Red Mile probably would have been redeveloped years ago. Neither harness nor Thoroughbred racing are as popular as they once were.

However, the experiences of other states show that when expanded-gambling revenue starts flowing, politicians lose interest in subsidizing the horse industry.

There are no easy answers to preserving Kentucky’s signature horse industry. But horsemen could take pointers from the once-struggling and now-thriving bourbon whiskey industry: Improve your product and do a better job of marketing to make it more popular.

Otherwise, it can be a fine line between evolution and devolution.


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.


New law, regulation mean slow start for commercial drone industry

August 30, 2015
This photo was pulled from high-definition video taken by an Unmanned Services Inc. drone camera high above Weisenberger Mill near Midway. Photo by Unmanned Services Inc.

This photo was pulled from high-definition video taken by an Unmanned Services Inc. drone camera above Weisenberger Mill near Midway. Photo Provided

 

MIDWAY — Standing beside South Elkhorn Creek with a remote-control device, Manfred Marotta uses joysticks and a video monitor to guide his small flying drone over and around a bridge, a waterfall and historic Weisenberger Mill.

The light is turning golden on this late-summer afternoon, and the tiny camera anchored to the drone’s belly captures stunning high-definition video.

Marotta is one of many people who think there is money to be made producing this kind of aerial imagery for a variety of clients, including utilities, real estate brokers, farmers, tourism promoters and news organizations.

But, so far, on-the-ground maneuvering with aviation regulators and government policy makers has been more complex than anything drone entrepreneurs face piloting their unmanned aircraft through the sky.

Marotta is chief executive of Versailles-based Unmanned Services Inc., which last month became the first Central Kentucky commercial drone operator to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

A drone operated by Midway-based Unmanned Services Inc. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Sky Drone Studios, owned by Lexington-based Post Time Productions, soon expects to get its FAA certification, known as a Section 333 Exemption, said Jeb Smith, one of the owners.

The field is likely to get more crowded, because of the growing popularity of relatively inexpensive drones and small video cameras. More than 1,300 FAA exemptions for commercial operators have been issued nationwide so far, including more than a dozen in Kentucky.

Aviation policy and privacy laws have struggled to keep up with drone technology, which has made big leaps thanks to military research and development investment during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Drones are limited to low-altitude flying, generally considered 400 feet or below. Ironically, though, commercial operators face far more FAA scrutiny than hobbyists, who usually have less skill and experience.

The FAA plans to announce new drone pilot training and certification rules in January. Currently, hobbyists flying small drones don’t need certification. But people flying drones commercially must have a civilian license to pilot manned aircraft.

Military drone pilot certification doesn’t count, although Unmanned Services has applied for an exemption until the new rules are issued. Until then, the company must hire a licensed pilot to do commercial jobs, but not free demonstrations.

150813Drones-TE011Marotta, 35, said he spent five years flying drones in the Navy and another three as a government contractor. Chris Stiles, 30, president of Unmanned Services, said he has a decade of drone pilot experience, as a government contractor and before that flying Army drones for battlefield surveillance during two tours of duty in Iraq. They said that, combined, they have logged more than 7,500 hours of drone flight time.

Marotta and Stiles met while they were government contractors. They started their company in 2011 and moved two years later to Versailles, where Marotta grew up before moving to Pennsylvania. His father, Manfred Marotta, played football for the University of Kentucky in the early 1970s.

Their business partner, Weston Amos, is learning to fly drones, but has no military or commercial drone experience.

“For the past two years, we’ve spent a lot of time building up potential clients,” Marotta said. “In the past month, we’ve been able to go out and actually have customers.”

So far, Marotta said, they have done commercial jobs for real estate agents and a television station. A typical job costs clients between $150 and $500.

In addition to high-definition video, from which still images can be made, Unmanned Services’ cameras can do video downlinks for live television broadcast and infrared and thermal imaging, which are useful in utility line inspection, field and crop analysis for farmers and search-and-rescue operations.

Marotta thinks a big market can be developed in utility line inspection, which must be done annually.

“We don’t believe that the drone can take over the entire market,” he said. “But it can sure save them a lot of money and save them a lot of time rather than using manned aviation.”

The Unmanned Services partners also are spending a lot of time meeting with government policy makers to try to prevent legitimate concerns about safety and privacy from resulting in what they would consider bad laws and regulations.

“Talking to the right people and finding those right people has been a lot of our workload,” Marotta said. “We’re trying to protect the industry and ourselves.”

Chris Stiles of Unmanned Services Inc. caught a videography drone as it came in for a landing. It was being controlled by Mickey Marotta, right. They were filming a demonstration video at Weisenberger Mill near Midway. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Chris Stiles of Unmanned Services Inc. caught a videography drone as it came in for a landing. It was being controlled by Mickey Marotta, right.  Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Mickey Marotta of Unmanned Services Inc. flew a drone shooting video high above the Weisenberger Mill near Midway. The control device is visible at lower right, and the drone at right surrounded by trees. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Mickey Marotta of Unmanned Services Inc. flew a drone above Weisenberger Mill near Midway. The control device is  at lower right, and the drone at right surrounded by trees. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Mickey Marotta of Unmanned Services Inc. controled a drone that is shooting video high above the Weisenberger Mill near Midway. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Marotta operates the drone controls while standing beside South Elkhorn Creek.  Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Demonstration video by Unmanned Services Inc.


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.


Centennial celebration planned Saturday for historic Duncan Park

August 25, 2015
A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past an entrance to Duncan Park at the corner of Fifth Street. Many young people are moving into neighborhoods around the park and fixing up long-neglected old houses. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past an entrance to Duncan Park at the corner of Fifth Street. The park originally was a wealthy merchant’s estate. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

There’s a party Saturday to celebrate the centennial of Duncan Park, a piece of land that has reflected the changing character of Lexington for more than twice that long.

Four nearby neighborhood associations are sponsoring the public celebration from 3 to 7 p.m. at the five-acre park at North Limestone and East Fifth Street. There will be live music, food trucks, family activities and exhibits by community organizations.

“We just want people to come out and enjoy the park,” said James Brown, the new First District member of the Urban County Council.

Duncan Park has a fascinating history.

It was part of 20 acres that William Morton acquired in the early 1790s. He built one of Lexington’s first mansions there in 1810, and that mansion dominates the park. The federal-style house has oversized proportions to make it look good from a distance.

The Englishman, who came here in 1787 and opened a store, became a wealthy merchant and financier. Because of his aristocratic bearing, everyone called him “Lord” Morton, but probably not to his face.

Morton gave away a lot of his money, creating Lexington’s first public school. He also was a benefactor of what is now Eastern State Hospital and Christ Church Episcopal.

Two years after Morton died in 1836, his property was bought by Cassius Marcellus Clay, the fiery emancipationist who published an anti-slavery newspaper, The True American, and was Lincoln’s ambassador to Russia during the Civil War.

Clay sold the place in 1850 to his wife’s uncle, Dr. Lloyd Warfield, who subdivided three-fourths of it to create the neighborhoods now north and east of the park.

The house and five acres were bought in 1873 by Henry T. Duncan, editor of the Lexington Daily Press and the city’s mayor. Because of how well he and his wife maintained the grounds, it was known as “Duncan Park” long before their daughter, Lucy Duncan Draper, sold it to the city as a park in 1913.

A month before the park officially opened, it was the site of a May 1915 rally by women seeking the right to vote. That was fitting: Clay’s daughter, Laura, was a national leader in the women’s suffrage movement.

Duncan Park was a happening place for more than four decades, with a baseball field, tennis courts, ping-pong tables and playgrounds.

The Lexington Leader reported in 1925 that three young girls were forming a girls’ club at Duncan Park. One of them was Elizabeth Hardwick, 8, who lived on nearby Rand Avenue. She later moved to New York and became a famous literary critic, novelist and founder of The New York Review of Books.

City officials have always struggled over what to do with the Morton house. Early plans called for it to become a museum or a girls school. More recent proposals have included a black history museum and an official home for Lexington’s mayor.

Instead, the mansion has always housed social service agencies. In 1914, it became a “milk depot” for Baby Milk Supply, a new charity. Now called Baby Health Service, the organization cares for uninsured children at a clinic beside St. Joseph Hospital.

The Morton house was a Junior League “day nursery” in the 1930s and then was the city children’s home until better accommodations were built on Cisco Road in 1950. In recent years, it has housed The Nest Center for Women and Children.

Until the 1950s, Duncan Park was only for white people. The city built Douglass Park on Georgetown Street for black residents in 1916. By the time city parks were legally integrated, a different kind of segregation was taking place.

Lexington’s suburban sprawl contributed to white flight from the neighborhood. In August 1972, 200 black people marched from Duncan Park to city hall to protest the closing of inner-city schools and the busing of black children to the suburbs.

As owner-occupied homes surrounding Duncan Park became poorly maintained rentals, crime soared. Things have slowly gotten better, especially since last year’s fatal shooting of Antonio Franklin in the park prompted his mother, Anita Franklin, to organize well-attended monthly “peace walks.”

Many people attribute the drop in crime to a renaissance in the North Limestone area. Many old houses are being restored and reconverted from low-income rentals to owner-occupied homes.

The Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association has focused on improving Duncan Park since 2001. Discussions are now under way about adding more features to the playground and basketball courts.

Travis Robinson, the association’s president, said the park is becoming safer thanks to better policing and more use by area residents. Regular activities include potluck suppers and story-telling programs for kids.

“It’s a community asset that has been underutilized,” said Vice Mayor Steve Kay, who lives nearby. “More people are coming to live in the neighborhood, and that is making a difference.”

A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past the old columned entrance to the 1810 Morton House in Duncan Park. Many young people are moving into neighborhoods around the park and fixing up long-neglected old houses. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past the old entrance to the 1810 Morton House in Duncan Park. Many people are moving into nearby neighborhoods and fixing up long-neglected houses.

The Morton House, built in 1810 and once owned by emancipationist Cassius Clay, sits in the middle of Duncan Park. Since the city bought the property in 1913, it has housed social service agencies. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The Morton House, built in 1810 and once owned by emancipationist Cassius Clay, sits in the middle of Duncan Park. Since the city bought the property in 1913, it has housed social service agencies.


A century ago, this Lexington boy ran away and joined the circus

August 23, 2015
E.C. Fain of Lexington, who was assistant manager of the famous Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey annex, or side shows, during a decade with the circus is shown in the ticket booth at left in this undated photo from the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Joe Petro III

E.C. Fain of Lexington stands in the booth at left while Zip the Pinhead performs at the Barnum & Bailey Annex in this photo from the early 1900s. Photos courtesy of Joe Petro III

 

It was a cliché of a more innocent age, a time when people didn’t travel much and before radio, TV and the Internet opened windows to a world beyond small-town America.

If a boy wanted adventure, he could run away and join the circus. And that is exactly what 17-year-old E.C. Fain of Lexington did in 1904.

What’s more, Fain kept running back to the circus for 14 seasons. For most of his career, he helped manage some of the biggest sideshow stars of the circus’ golden age.

The Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus makes its annual stop at Rupp Arena this weekend, so I thought it would be a good time to tell Fain’s story, or at least what I could find of it.

For years, Lexington artist Joe Petro III has collected vintage sideshow memorabilia. His collection has been shown at museums around the country, including the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Conn., and a 1997 exhibit at the University of Kentucky Art Museum.

E.C. Fain of Lexington, who was assistant manager of the famous Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey annex, or side shows, during a decade with the circus is shown in the ticket booth in this undated photo from the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Joe Petro III

E.C. Fain of Lexington was assistant manager of the Barnum & Bailey Annex, or sideshow, during its heyday in the early 1900s.

Petro, my first cousin, mentioned one day that he had some personal papers and photographs of a Lexingtonian who really had run away and joined the circus. He didn’t know a lot about Elmore Crenshaw Fain except that he spent several years as assistant manager of Barnum & Bailey’s famous Annex, as the sideshow was called.

Petro had postcards Fain sent home from his circus travels, first to his mother, then to his girlfriend who later became his wife, and then to their son. He also had vintage photographs of Fain working the Annex, some of which were taken by the famous circus photographer Frederick W. Glasier.

There were snapshots of Fain with some of the Annex’s biggest stars, including Zip the Pinhead (William Henry Johnson) and the giant George Auger.

Fain also worked with such sideshow legends as Skeleton Dude (Eddie Masher), the midget Princess Wee Wee (Harriet Elizabeth Thompson) and “the armless wonder” Charles B. Tripp, who signed souvenir photos in perfect penmanship with his feet.

People have always been curious about human oddities, and in those days it wasn’t politically incorrect to stare. And this was before America had much of a social safety net, so performing in sideshows and selling souvenir photos was a way for these special-needs people to make a living — sometimes a very good one.

So-called “freaks” were a big part of low-brow American entertainment from the early 1800s until as late as the 1960s. Petro’s collection includes a handbill from the 1836 North American tour of Eng and Chang Bunker, who inspired the term “Siamese twins.” They appeared in a dozen Kentucky towns, including Lexington.

Fain seems to have liked the traveling life of a seasonal circus manager, but his postcards indicate that it got harder each year to leave his wife, Ruth, and young son, White, back home in Lexington.

“How is Daddy’s little man?” Fain wrote to his son from Stamford, Conn. “Take good care of Mother until I get home.”

The Lexington Leader wrote a brief about Fain in 1908, saying he was on his way to New York’s Madison Square Garden for his fifth season with Barnum & Bailey. Fain was mentioned several times in entertainment industry magazines, such as The Player and The Billboard.

The Billboard’s last mention of him was on March 30, 1918, noting that Fain had left the circus business “and become interested in an enterprise in his hometown, Lexington, Ky.”

In December 1917, Barnum & Bailey executive Charles R. Hutchinson wrote a recommendation letter for Fain to the Chicago meatpacker Swift & Co., calling him “a man of education, refinement, of excellent presence and a gentleman at all times.”

Fain spent the rest of his working life as a Lexington-based salesman and manager for Swift, living at 217 Catalpa Road with his wife, son and daughter, Barbara. He retired in 1951 after 34 years with Swift and died in 1973 at age 86.

Fain’s Herald-Leader obituary mentioned his career with Swift, that he was a charter member and former treasurer of the Church of the Good Shepherd and that he belonged to the Oleika Temple Shrine and another Masonic lodge.

But it never mentioned that Fain had once traveled the country with midgets, giants and Zip the Pinhead during the heyday of The Greatest Show on Earth.

E.C. Fain of Lexington, who was assistant manager of the famous Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey annex, or side shows, during a decade with the circus is shown in the ticket booth in this undated photo from the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Joe Petro III

E.C. Fain of Lexington, right in ticket booth, at the Barnum & Bailey Annex.


Fifth book about Louisville’s Bingham family is the most revealing

August 22, 2015

The disintegration of the Bingham family’s Louisville media dynasty in 1986 prompted no fewer than four books about patriarch Robert Worth Bingham and the two talented but troubled generations he left in his wake.

Each book was revealing, but the basics were well-known: ambitious politico loses his wife in a tragedy and remarries America’s richest widow, who soon dies mysteriously. With his inheritance, he buys a newspaper and influence, which includes the ambassadorship to Great Britain. The Courier-Journal becomes a great newspaper until squabbling among his grandchildren prompts its sale to a chain.

150823Bingham002AThe juicy secrets revealed in previous Bingham books are nothing compared to those in this fifth one, the second written by a family member.

Emily Bingham’s Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham (Farrar, Straus and Giroux $28) is a thoroughly researched, well-written and frank biography of the great-aunt her elders never wanted to discuss.

Bingham, a Harvard graduate with a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina, will talk about and sign her book at 3 p.m. Sunday at The Morris Book Shop, 882 East High Street.

Henrietta Bingham was intelligent, beautiful and seductive. But she was forever traumatized by witnessing her mother’s death when a commuter train hit their car, and she could never escape the emotional grip of her narcissistic father.

She also was bisexual. Her most intense relationships were with John Houseman, who later became a legendary film producer and Oscar-winning actor, and the 1930s tennis star Helen Jacobs.

Other lovers included three members of England’s famous Bloomsbury set: writer Mina Kirstein, painter Dora Carrington and sculptor Stephen Tomlin. Then there were the actresses: Hope Williams and, probably, Tallulah Bankhead. And, possibly, black musicians of both sexes in Harlem.

Henrietta spent the Jazz Age and Great Depression living high on daddy’s money. Had she been straight, she, rather than her younger brother Barry, would have inherited the family’s media empire.

Instead, she lived a life of leisure, attracting lovers then pushing them away. Her only real accomplishment was a late-in-life career as a Thoroughbred horse breeder.

Despite years of psychoanalysis with Ernest Jones, a famous protégé of Sigmund Freud, Henrietta could never escape her demons. She died in 1968 at age 68 from the effects of alcoholism and mental illness.

Emily Bingham, author of "Irrepressible: The Jazz Age life of Henrietta Bingham." Photo by Leslie Lyons

Emily Bingham. Photo by Leslie Lyons

After reading this book, I had to ask Emily Bingham: what did the family think of her unflinching book?

“My generation has just all been fascinated,” said Bingham, 50. “We had only heard these sort of negative stories. It’s as if this whole part of our family tree is alive instead of shriveled.”

Her mother, Edie Bingham, and aunts, Sallie Bingham and Eleanor Bingham Miller, the last survivors of their generation, passed along photographs and heirlooms and have been very supportive of the book, she said.

“But if my grandparents (Barry Bingham Sr. and his wife, Mary) had been living, this would have been hard to do,” she acknowledged.

“I think they were quite understanding, actually, about that part of Henrietta’s life,” she said. “They also were the ones who bore the brunt of being worried for her, and the shame that came with that. People couldn’t talk about mental health, either.”

Emily Bingham said that every day growing up at the Binghams’ Melcombe estate she saw a framed photograph of an octagonal barn at her great-aunt’s horse farm, now the Harmony Landing Country Club at Goshen.

“I just remember being told she was an accomplished horsewoman,” she said. “It would be the one thing they would say and then the conversation would end. I got the feeling that she was sort of not very interesting. And that was obviously wrong.”

In an interview with her grandmother before she died in 1995, Mary Bingham finally talked about Henrietta.

Only after Emily Bingham and her husband, Stephen Reily, named their daughter Henrietta, because they liked the old-fashioned name, did her startled father, the late Barry Bingham Jr., discuss his aunt, whom he called “a three-dollar bill.”

He told his daughter there might be a trunk of Henrietta’s stuff in the attic. There she discovered personal possessions and old clothes, including one of Jacobs’ monogrammed tennis outfits. Then she found another trunk stuffed with nearly 200 love letters to Henrietta from Houseman and Tomlin.

That trunk, stored for decades above her childhood bedroom, led her to search out archives containing the revealing letters, diaries and memoirs of her great-aunt’s friends and lovers.

But Henrietta’s own voice is largely missing from this biography; she left no diary, and fewer than a dozen letters. She seems to have destroyed most evidence of her homosexuality.

“This project was like putting together a broken mirror and knowing that you were only going to see bits of the person in the end,” the author said.

Bingham would love to know more about Henrietta’s passion for black music in the 1920s and her relationships with famous performers she knew. She wishes she could have “been on the couch with her” during psychoanalysis, especially to understand more about Henrietta’s complex relationship with her father.

And, in a life with so many passionate, complicated relationships, she said, “I would want to ask her, ‘Who did you really love?”

Bingham thinks her great-aunt’s alcoholism and mental illness were fueled in part by social pressure to keep her lesbian relationships secret. Her efforts to live a lie included a brief, failed marriage in 1954.

Henrietta’s life could have been much different had she lived today, her great-niece thinks. She could have enjoyed openly gay relationships and become more independent from her controlling father.

Bingham hopes readers come away with a desire to find out more about the gaps and silences in their own family histories.

“They don’t not matter because they haven’t been talked about,” she said. “Often, they are creating some of the reality you are living with; you just don’t know how they shaped it.”


Fraternity’s ‘second mom’ remembered for her cooking, love

August 18, 2015
Baby Cook Pic

Grace Cook in her kitchen of the Sigma Chi house at the University of Kentucky. Photo provided

 

Elinor Grace Cook took care of the brothers of Sigma Chi for three decades. After she retired in 1994, they spent the next two taking care of her.

About three dozen alumni of the University of Kentucky fraternity were in the crowd that nearly filled Consolidated Baptist Church on Monday to say goodbye to Cook, who died Aug. 11 at age 90.

Each fraternity brother placed a white rose atop the casket of the short black woman who cooked his college meals and did so much more.

They recalled how Cook’s unconditional love touched them and hundreds of other white fraternity boys. Decades later, she could remember their names — not that she ever used them. She called each of them Baby, and they called her Baby.

In a eulogy, Darryl Isaacs, a Louisville personal-injury lawyer famous for his “heavy hitter” TV commercials, said he first met Cook when he was a scared 18-year-old pledge having a bad day.

Isaacs said he put out his hand, “and she said, ‘We don’t give handshakes. We hug.’ She said, ‘I love you, Baby.'”

“I’ll never forget that,” said Isaac, who later introduced Cook to his parents as “my second mom.”

“She loved you whether you were white, black, rich, poor, fat, skinny,” Isaac said. “Of everybody I’ve ever met, there’s nobody that stands out like Baby.”

Elinor Grace "Baby" Cook cooked at UK's Sigma Chi fraternity house for 30 years and became a second mother to many of its members. She is shown in 2012 at a reunion with some of them. Photo provided

Cook in 2012 at a reunion.

Cook also was a legend at Consolidated Baptist. She was an active member for more than 80 years and the church’s culinary minister. She was in her kitchen, cooking, when she suffered the fall that put her in a hospital for the last time.

The Rev. Richard Gaines said Cook was mentally sharp and in good spirits to the end, complaining about hospital food and saying she was ready to meet her maker.

“She lived a powerful life,” Gerald Smith, a University of Kentucky history professor and minister who grew up in Consolidated Baptist, said in his eulogy. “Everybody’s got a story to tell, because she had this infectious as well as contagious kind of spirit.”

Cook used to joke that she would write a book about all that happened at the Sigma Chi house. The guys joked back that she would make more money if she let them pay her not to.

After she retired and her husband, William Edward Cook, died, the brothers realized she could use their help. She had a large family that eventually included two children, four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Michael Dammert, an investment advisor in Covington who met Cook as a pledge in 1969, worked with Isaacs and others to organize the “Baby Fund” that alumni contributed to for 20 years. And they gave her more than money.

Jay Rodes, who met her in 1981, took her meals and kept her sidewalk salted each winter. His wife drove Cook to doctor appointments. Someone mentioned in a group email that she needed a railing outside her house; one appeared within days.

When UK’s largest fraternity moved to a bigger house in 2012, a plaque was placed in the new kitchen declaring it “Gracie’s Place” in honor of “Sigma Chi’s beloved cook and sage.”

The meals Cook prepared in the old house’s small, hot kitchen were amazing, the men said, leavened with plenty of butter and sugar. And she always had time to hear their troubles and secrets, and give them advice about girlfriends and life.

Cook wouldn’t put up with foolishness. A boy who once thought it would be funny to bring a rubber snake into her kitchen narrowly missed a rolling pin to the head.

“If you acted up, she made you come to Consolidated Baptist Church with her,” Dammert said. “I was on that list.”

“She had a cuss jar,” Ted Tudor recalled. “It was always full of money.”

As Consolidated Baptist’s pastor looked out over the crowd at Cook’s funeral, he saw her family and friends from church and the Radcliffe-Marlboro neighborhood. He also saw successful businessmen, prominent lawyers, a UK vice president.

“On most Sundays, you don’t see this kind of cultural diversity,” Gaines told the crowd. “But here we are on a Monday afternoon in church, and look at what God has done. Thank God for the lives she touched.”


Former EKU VP’s retirement job: piloting the Valley View Ferry

August 16, 2015
James Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry. Street has always loved boating and earned his maritime licenses, so since he retired as an Eastern Kentucky University vice president he has worked a few days a month piloting the ferry across the Kentucky River between Madison County and Fayette and Jessamine counties.  Photos by Tom Eblen

James Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry. Street has always loved boating and earned his maritime licenses, so since he retired as an Eastern Kentucky University vice president he has worked a few days a month piloting the ferry across the Kentucky River. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

VALLEY VIEW — Some executives dream of retiring to a big boat on a big body of water, and that is just what James Street did.

Since retiring as Eastern Kentucky University’s vice president for administration in July 2013, Street and his wife, Stacey, have spent a lot of time on their 34-foot Beneteau 331 sailboat on Kentucky Lake and their Catalina 22 on Cave Run.

But several days a month, Street pilots a less glamorous craft: the Valley View Ferry.

The ferry is a small tugboat lashed to a barge and tethered to an overhead cable. It goes back and forth across the Kentucky River more than 100 times a day, carrying a maximum of three vehicles between Tates Creek Road in Madison County and Tates Creek Road on the Fayette-Jessamine line.

Valley View, the last of dozens of ferries that once plied the river, is Kentucky’s oldest continuously operated enterprise — seven years older than the state itself. The ferry’s first owner, John Craig, got a charter in 1785 from Virginia’s governor, Patrick Henry.

The three counties bought the ferry from private owners in 1991 and operate it with local and state government funding. Passengers are a mix of tourists and commuters crossing to jobs in Lexington, Nicholasville and Richmond.

“I’ve always wanted to be a captain since I was a little kid,” said Street, 60, who got his first sailboat at age 19.

Street last year earned Coast Guard certification to pilot ferries and charter boats. So Roger Barger, a Madison County magistrate who pilots and manages the ferry, asked him to help when he could.

“Oddly enough, you still need a full license to pilot a boat on a rope,” Street said.

Piloting the ferry is a 14-hour workday — 12 hours of operation and an hour on either end for maintenance.

Usually, the pilot has help from a Madison or Jessamine jail trusty, who secures the barge to cleats on each shore’s ramp so cars can load and unload. But when a trusty isn’t available, the pilot does that in addition to running the boat and recording each car’s license information and number of occupants.

Piloting the ferry is very different from the fast-paced, high-pressure jobs Street had at EKU for two decades. And that is what he likes about it.

“I don’t miss answering the phone and email and text messages,” he said, noting that Valley View is a cellphone dead zone. “It’s a real change-up from what I did for most of my professional life.”

Before joining EKU, Street was Lexington’s commissioner of public works.

“I actually administered the purchase of this boat,” he said of the John Craig, which was filling in for a newer tug, the John Craig II, which was having mechanical trouble. “Talk about coming full circle.”

Street prefers chatting with ferry passengers to wrestling budgets, employees and deadlines. “I grew up in Madison County,” he said, “so I see people here I’ve known all my life.”

The free ferry carries 200 to 400 vehicles a day, operating 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends. It often is shut down for days at a time because of high water in the spring and summer, and ice in the winter.

What Street enjoys most about this job is the beauty of Valley View. Some mornings, especially in the early fall, the river is shrouded in fog until the sun rises from surrounding hills to burn it off.

“I love getting down here and watching the dawn break,” he said. “There’s a subtle palette. The light is never the same; the mist is never the same.”

Between the morning and afternoon rushes, there are times when Street is alone on the river. He shuts off the tug’s noisy diesel engine and enjoys the silence.

“It’s so peaceful here,” he said, nodding toward a flock of geese swimming nearby with their goslings. “I enjoy watching the geese grow up.”

As the morning rush subsides, Street and I talk. He suddenly realizes it has been 10 minutes since his last trip. He steps into the pilot house and kills the engine — just as a car appears across the river looking for a ride.

“Almost had some silence,” he said with a sigh as he restarted the engine.

James Street piloted the Valley View Ferry across the Kentucky River for Madison County commuters on their way to Lexington before sunrise on Aug. 7.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street piloted the Valley View Ferry across the Kentucky River for Madison County commuters on their way to Lexington before sunrise on Aug. 7.

James Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry. Street has always loved boating and earned his maritime licenses, so since he retired as an Eastern Kentucky University vice president he has worked a few days a month piloting the ferry across the Kentucky River between Madison County and Fayette and Jessamine counties.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry.

When James Street, a former Eastern Kentucky University vice president, pilots the Valley View Ferry, he usually has help from a prisoner trusty from Madison County. When they are unavailable, he must do everything, from piloting the boat to helping vehicles on and off.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

When Street pilots the ferry, he usually has help from a jail trusty. When one is not available, he must do everything, from piloting the boat to helping vehicles on and off.

Valley View Ferry pilot James Street waved to a friend driving onto the ferry. He grew up in Madison County, where he retired last year as a vice president at Eastern Kentucky University, so he knows many of the patrons.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street waved to a friend driving onto the ferry. He grew up in Madison County,  so he knows many of the regular passenger.

When James Street, a former Eastern Kentucky University vice president, pilots the Valley View Ferry, he usually has help from a prisoner trusty from Madison County. When they are unavailable, he must do everything, from piloting the boat to helping vehicles on and off.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street secures a safety rope on the ferry between trips.

While piloting the Valley View Ferry, James Street records the license information of vehicles that use the free service across the Kentucky River between Madison County and Fayette and Jessamine counties. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street records the license information of vehicles that use the free service across the Kentucky River.


Faced with old age and death, psychologist never stopped living

August 15, 2015
Else Kessler Bolotin is shown in early July in Quebec, Canada, where she spent a long weekend with her two sons. She died Aug. 8 at age 88 after impressing friends and family with her approach to life ÑÊand death. Photo by Glenn Kessler

Else Kessler Bolotin is shown in early July in Quebec, Canada, where she spent a long weekend with her two sons and their families. Photo by Glenn Kessler

 

Else Kessler Bolotin, who died peacefully at her Lexington apartment Aug. 8 at the age of 88, lived a life worth reading about.

She survived the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and immigrated to the United States in 1954 with her husband, chemical engineer Adriaan Kessler. She earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Cincinnati.

After they divorced, she married real estate broker David Bolotin and moved to Lexington with her three children. From 1975 to 1986, she and Allie Hendricks ran a counseling service called Women Inc. They helped Lexington women in that era of feminist awakening confront a society dominated by men.

But what family and friends talked about last week were Bolotin’s final years — the way she embraced life, stayed current, made new friends and refused to let a terminal disease stop her from living life to its fullest.

Medical science has made great progress. More people are living well into their 80s and beyond. But this often creates dilemmas. How do elderly people remain happy and fulfilled? How do they choose between length of life and quality of life?

I never met Bolotin, but I got to know her son, Glenn Kessler, 25 years ago in New York when we were covering the Eastern Airlines bankruptcy. He now writes the Washington Post’s popular Fact Checker blog, where he rates the accuracy of politicians’ statements using a scale of “Pinocchios”.

Kessler said his mother died the way she always lived: fully engaged.

“She had this remarkable ability of always being interested in people and things,” he said. “She was never afraid of anything new. She was very open-minded.”

In 1986, Bolotin and her husband moved to Seattle because they went on vacation there and thought it would be an interesting place to live. She started a new psychology practice and often testified as an expert witness in gender discrimination cases.

The couple later moved to Chapel Hill, N.C. When her husband died in 2012, Bolotin returned to Lexington to be near her daughter, Sylvia Boggs.

After living in a “seniors” community in North Carolina, Bolotin wanted no part of one in Lexington. She chose an apartment in the Beaumont area in a complex popular with immigrant professionals and families with children.

“As soon as she came to Lexington, she joined a book club and a health club and a mahjong group,” Kessler said. “She met people here and she met people there.”

At book club, Bolotin met Roz Heise, a retired social worker. They connected despite a 16-year age difference.

“We had so much in common in our professional lives, the way we thought about things, politics and theater,” Heise said. “We saw each other all the time.”

Heise organizes volunteers for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre each Monday night. Bolotin attended almost every show.

Two years ago, Bolotin was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, which had already spread to her lungs and lymph nodes.

“It was very difficult to treat, but they definitely could have done chemotherapy and things like that to control the growth of cancer,” Kessler said. “But her attitude was that’s not how I want to live the last years of my life.”

Bolotin’s views were influenced by her second husband’s lingering death after heart surgery, as well as Dutch attitudes about euthanasia. Rather than seek to prolong her life at all cost, she made the most of the time she had.

Bolotin was especially excited about spending the July 4 weekend with Kessler, her other son, Marc, and their families in Quebec City, Canada. When her doctor advised against the trip, she told him she was going anyway. She never seemed in pain, Kessler said. When asked, she said she felt fine and changed the subject.

Kessler took a picture of his mother at a Quebec restaurant, dressed up and smiling with a raised glass of wine. But the trip weakened her. Doctors put her on oxygen and she insisted on a portable oxygen tank so she wouldn’t be confined to her apartment.

The week she died, Bolotin went to book club on Tuesday and lunched with friends on Wednesday. Heise brought pizza and ice cream to her apartment Thursday night so they and another friend could watch the GOP presidential debate together.

“Else was running commentary the whole time, completely involved in the debate,” Heise said. “She was a politics junkie and a committed Democrat and kept up to the minute with what was going on.”

When the debate ended, her friends went home because it was late. Bolotin stayed up to watch Jon Stewart’s last night as host of The Daily Show. On Friday, Bolotin went to her mahjong group and won three games. The next morning, she died.

“She would often tell me, ‘You know, Roz, I don’t understand people in this country; they won’t talk about death,'” Heise said. “They pretend it’s not going to happen. But dying is a part of living.”

Bolotin was always reading, watching TV, listening to public radio and music, surfing the Internet, going to the theater, lunching with friends.

“My mother was, like, crazy on Facebook and caught up on all the latest technology, in part to keep up with and engage with her grandkids,” Kessler said.

Kessler’s son, Andre, recently became a software engineer for SpaceX, the space exploration company started by entrepreneur Elon Musk. “She went out and bought a biography of Elon Musk so she could read about it and have a conversation with her grandson,” he said.

“She was just interested in people and she didn’t want to have that spoiled by having to constantly go for cancer treatments,” he said.

The lesson Kessler, 56, learned from his mother’s last years is that it is “really important that you not act like you’re old. I look at how many friends my mother made in just the last couple of years and I feel like I’ve got to step up my game.”


CentrePointe deal looks promising, but city must scrutinize details

August 11, 2015
CentrePointe

CentrePointe is bounded by Main, Limestone, Upper and Vine Streets. Photo by Charles Bertram.

 

At first blush, this deal would appear to have the potential to write a dream ending for Lexington’s biggest downtown development nightmare.

Two young men with finance and development experience and access to big money say they are taking over CentrePointe, the mixed use project that after seven years of false starts is nothing more than a giant hole in the center of the city.

But due diligence is needed, because dreams often don’t come true.

Investor Matt Collins and Atit Jariwala, who heads the New York development firm Bridgeton Holdings, seem to be saying all the right things to try to turn this disaster of a project into a civic asset.

Collins said he and his family aren’t just invested in CentrePointe; they have an agreement to take over the project. (I’m holding my breath until all of the papers are signed.)

Property owner Joe Rosenberg and Dudley Webb, the previous developer, will no longer have control or decision-making roles, Collins said. They will only be minority equity partners, reflecting the current value of their investments.

“We’re calling the shots,” Collins said.

Collins and Jariwala also are thinking about renaming the development, since CentrePointe and its pretentious spelling carries a lot of baggage. Good idea.

The partners said they want to make this project a landmark, an iconic piece of architecture, but one that looks like it belongs in Lexington. Another good idea.

This was one of Webb’s mistakes. He had a chance for great architecture with the design developed by Studio Gang of Chicago and later adapted by Lexington’s EOP Architects. But Webb’s sixth and latest version of CentrePointe’s design was barely better than his first three attempts, which were generic and forgettable.

I hope, though, that Collins and Jariwala won’t limit their vision to a look that mimics Lexington’s historic buildings. To be a landmark, a contemporary structure needs to be contemporary, not a riff on architectural history.

Collins and Jariwala said they plan to stay with plans for an underground garage, hotel, apartments, shops and restaurants. But rather than a commercial office tower, they want a new government center, which the city would lease.

Lexington needs a new government center to replace the old Lafayette Hotel building, which badly needs renovation and would be better suited for a hotel, condos or apartments.

City officials have been exploring the idea of selling the old hotel and constructing a new government center on city-owned land downtown. Would it make sense to lease from a private developer instead? Maybe, if the numbers work.

With Webb essentially out of the picture, there is no political reason not to consider incorporating city hall into this development. But Collins and Jariwala will have to negotiate a long-term lease that makes financial sense for taxpayers.

Mayor Jim Gray and the Urban County Council will have to look closely at those numbers, and at something else: Collins and Jariwala said they may want the city to guarantee $25 million in tax-increment financing bonds to build the garage.

City officials weren’t willing to guarantee those bonds for Webb, viewing the risk as too great. If these men want the city to do it for them, they will have to make a case that they are a better risk and structure a deal that protects taxpayers.

After several years of work in banking and international development, Collins said he moved to Lexington two years ago to attend law school at the University of Kentucky. When he finishes school, Collins said he wants to make his home in Lexington, where his Frankfort-born father, international financier Tim Collins, spent part of his childhood.

I think local ties are important. I agree with Collins’ belief that Lexington has a lot of untapped potential, and that it needs a more vibrant downtown to achieve it. I also agree that a landmark building on the CentrePointe block would be a catalyst.

CentrePointe doesn’t just need new financing — it needs new vision, talent and leadership. I am hopeful that Collins and Jariwala can offer that. But city officials must evaluate this deal and its many complexities with open eyes and a clear head.

The big mistake Lexington leaders made seven years ago when CentrePointe was announced was to take everything Webb said at face value. We can’t afford to make that mistake again.