On February 14, 1915,
the night Gayle Faulkner Lawson was born, wintry weather
forced the doctor to ride horseback over a frozen river
to reach the family home in Knox County, Kentucky.
Looking back over Lawson's extraordinary life, such a
dramatic beginning seems only fitting.
Lawson began her
professional life in 1937 as a teacher in Knox County.
In 1953, she moved to Harlan, Kentucky, and continued to
teach. In the mid 1960s, she earned a master's degree
with a focus in special education and curriculum from
the University of Kentucky, and in 1966 she joined
Southeast Community College, where she served until she
retired in 1980.
But these are only
milestones on a resume, the barest outline of a life
brimming with accomplishment. In addition to each of
those jobs are hours and days, months and years of extra
work on projects for such organizations as the Harlan
County Committee on Aging, the Harlan County Justice
Center, the Harlan County Recycling Center, the American
Red Cross, and the U.S. 119 Pine Mountain Task Force.
Throughout the more than two decades since her
retirement, Lawson has kept up long hours working for
Her tireless public
service earned Lawson the 2001 John D. Whisman Vision
Award from the Development District Association of
Appalachia, an organization of local economic
development agencies. Named after Lawson's fellow
Kentuckian John Whisman, this honor is given to an
individual who has provided exemplary service and
leadership in the Appalachian Region.
At the moment, the
U.S. 119 Pine Mountain Task Force, a citizens' advisory
panel appointed by the governor to study the
reconstruction of U.S. 119 over Pine Mountain in
southeastern Kentucky, is at the top of Lawson's list.
It has taken about 25 years of negotiations, dozens of
committee meetings, and no telling how many headaches to
bring the effort this far, but she is determined to get
the road completed in a way that is financially and
ecologically advantageous for the county.
"She's never let it
drop," says Gladys Hoskins, executive secretary of the
Harlan County Chamber of Commerce. "When people get
discouraged, Gayle is still there. She follows through.
She's well prepared. And she will take it as far as it
needs to go to see that it's completed."
of U.S. 119 is more than a safety issue. Proponents
consider the road, a tie between U.S. 23 and U.S. 25,
the missing link for economic development and tourism in
Harlan County and neighboring Letcher and Bell Counties.
"Gayle understands the road will provide a whole new
world of access to the county," says John L. Bruner II,
executive director of the Cumberland Valley Area
Development District in London, Kentucky. "She has
pumped new life into the project and promoted it. You
can't find a politician at any level—congressmen,
senators, the governor—who doesn't know of her interest
in U.S. 119. And if she could get to George Bush, he'd
know about it, too."
In the early 1990s,
Lawson focused her energies on establishing a permanent
home for the Harlan County Committee on Aging's senior
citizens center in Harlan. As the former chairman of the
committee and a board member, she was tired of seeing
the center jockeyed between temporary homes in church
halls and old buildings. A downtown property caught her
eye—just a hull of a brick building with mud still on
its floors from the flood of '77—but she saw its
potential. She helped the group secure the building for
$35,000 with funds from a bank loan, private donations,
and proceeds from bingo fundraisers and the sale of
quilts and crafts made by seniors.
Today, after an
extensive renovation with a Community Development Block
Grant, the building—estimated to be worth more than
seven times its purchase price—houses the spacious,
handsomely appointed eight-room senior citizens center,
plus several rental spaces for small businesses. The
center's 20 employees provide personal care, light and
heavy housekeeping, respite for caregivers, and meals,
both on-site and delivered throughout the county. The
center also offers a small computer lab and exercise
classes and frequently hosts speakers.
On any given
weekday, as many as 50 people gather in the activity
rooms and dining hall for games, a hot lunch, and
fellowship. It's an important gathering place and
outreach center for older community members, and Lawson
plans to do whatever she can to keep it that way. "I
want to help keep them in their own homes as long as
possible," she adds. "They need the food and fellowship
to keep their bodies and minds strong."
Lawson still lives
in the house she designed and had built when she and her
husband, Carl Lawson, moved to Harlan in 1953. He was a
high school chemistry and physics teacher who later
became a process operator for the Tennessee Eastman
Corporation; he died in 1968. They had two children, a
daughter and a son, who both have pursued professional
careers in Kentucky.
Traveling across the
state to meetings and conferences at her own expense,
Lawson has put thousands of miles on her Ford Bronco. On
a recent trip to Benham, Kentucky, she met with W. Bruce
Ayers, president of Southeast Community College, at the
Benham School House Inn, a converted high school that
overlooks another Lawson accomplishment: the Kentucky
Coal Mining Museum. She's quick to qualify that she
wrote only the original grant proposal, but it was the
beginning of a process that evolved into the current
At the inn's Apple
Room Restaurant, she and Ayers are joined by F. Nicey
Hazen, former mayor of Cumberland and Fleming-Neon and
the chairman of the college's board, and Reecie
Stagnolia, a local banker and former superintendent of
schools for Harlan County. Over lunch, they talk about
politics and projects-the road, of course, and the new
Justice Center for Harlan County (for which Lawson
serves as a citizen advisor, appointed by the county
judge-executive); and ongoing projects at Southeast
Community College that Lawson had started during her
15-year tenure there.
One such project was
a community resource center, which was started with a
grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and was the
forerunner of the college's Office of Community and
Business Development. Lawson systematically contacted
public officials and representatives of organizations
throughout the service area, working with them on
community projects and economic proposals. Not only have
these associations informed and facilitated her long
years of service following her retirement, they
established a strong connection between the college and
public officials and community leaders.
"Gayle helped us see
that we needed to partner with the community, and
because she had already established so many working
relationships, her work saved us a lot of time and
effort," Ayers says. "Once we formed the new Office of
Community and Business Development, we became very much
involved in issues related to infrastructure, economic
development, and community expansion—issues all
critically important to eastern Kentucky. We help
communities with strategic planning, which is one of our
primary purposes, and we are heavily involved in
industrial recruiting. We have a full-time recruiter who
works with the college, and we are always looking for
businesses and industries that are compatible with the
"We provide a whole
menu of services, and Gayle started it all. Many people
today still ask about her. She's our 'elder
statesperson,' and she speaks with a moral authority
she's earned from all the years she's worked in the
While Lawson is
passionate about projects such as the road
reconstruction and the senior center, hers is a broad
perspective, punctuated by pet programs but never
limited to them. Other community organizations she
serves include the board of the Cumberland Valley Area
Development District, the Cumberland Valley Resource
Conservation and Development Council, the Legislative
Research Commission's Special Advisory Commission of
Senior Citizens, Kentuckians for Better Transportation,
the Harlan Baptist Church Women's Missionary Union, and
the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce. The roles may
vary, but she is consistent with her uncommon patience
and energy, helping to bring together a wide range of
people for the greater good.
probably better than most of us, that we are all
interconnected," Ayers adds. "It's not only a matter of
eastern Kentucky, but indeed the entire world. She
understands that and can articulate that vision in a way
so as not to alarm people, but to convince them that
this is something that is worthy of their attention.
She's a remarkable person. I don't think we shall ever
see another quite like her."
This article appeared in Appalachia magazine.
Becky Anderson has
traveled many roads in mountainous western North
Carolina. This is her home, now and always. She grew up
here, in Canton, the daughter and granddaughter of
strong women who taught school. (Her mother later opened
the first woman-owned and -operated business in Canton.)
She raised her daughter and son here, and she has worked
here among the people for nearly four decades.
Anderson has a deep
sense of belonging here. She recalls times when
residents of communities where she was working left cups
of coffee in her car or followed her down off the
mountain to make sure she was safe.
"And it's the same now," she adds. "People tell me or my
staff to call after a meeting to make sure we got back
okay. It's a sense of being a part of these mountains.
And I truly love it. I do it day and night and weekends,
because I have this great sense of being cared for in
Since 1994, Anderson
has served as executive director of HandMade in America,
an Asheville-based nonprofit organization with a mission
to celebrate traditional and contemporary crafts and
protect the resources and communities of this 23-county
region. In that time, she and her staff have published
two guidebooks to the handcrafts and gardens and farms
that thrive in western North Carolina; helped to promote
hundreds of artists and farmers; established craft
curricula in regional schools; and cooperated on the
creative use of methane to fuel craft studios and
America's success stems from Anderson's unflinching
resolve to involve whole communities in whatever she
does, says Wayne Martin, folklife director for the North
Carolina Arts Council in Raleigh. "She does grassroots
planning as well as anyone I know. It makes a big
difference when you speak to people throughout a
community, not just the elected decision makers, and
find out their ideas and then implement them in creative
ways," he says. "Becky was also one of the first to put
a living cultural resource at the center of heritage
development. Up to that point, much of heritage
development had been focused on historic preservation or
recreation, such as rivers, mountains, and old houses.
Becky broke that wide open and brought attention to the
fact that the region's living culture is perhaps one of
its most important assets." Living cultural resources
are at the heart of HandMade in America's mission to
celebrate and support working farmers, artists, and
artisans currently flourishing in the region.
leadership role at HandMade in America rests on years of
experience in the public-service sector. After
graduation from Western Carolina University in
Cullowhee, North Carolina, in 1962, Anderson began her
career of service by heading one of the first federally
funded day care programs in Asheville. Later, she would
oversee housing rehabilitation and write grants for the
Land-of-Sky Regional Council. While working with the
city of Asheville and the Asheville Area Chamber of
Commerce in downtown and industrial development, her
uncanny ability to realistically assess any situation
and see it for what it is—not what it ought to be or how
the community would like it to be—helped her envision a
new approach for the region. It is the same approach
that has helped make HandMade in America a success.
Anderson looked at the region realistically and saw its
"Our land base in
this region cannot support large industry, and we needed
to see that we are really an economy of small businesses
and small manufacturing," she says. "Even though we did
put 17 industries in place over a seven-year period,
people were furious with me for saying that we needed to
start thinking differently about industrial development.
But technology is just one of the new economies. I
believe America will eventually be made up of a whole
basketful of sectoral economies."
HandMade in America
plays to these regional strengths. In 1994 a three-year
grant from the Pew Partnership for Civic Change helped
the organization get off the ground. To date, HandMade
has received additional funding from more than 30
organizations, including the Appalachian Regional
Commission (ARC). HandMade now employ six full-time and
two part-time employees.
"We set out to
develop an entrepreneurial economy, using our strengths,
which for our community are craft objects and the farm
or garden," Anderson says. "That works for us because we
have a history of agriculture and crafts, and we have an
education base for it. You cannot lay claim to something
if you don't have that educational base, and we have the
universities, community college system, and private
craft schools such as the [John C.] Campbell Folk School
and the Penland School of Crafts."
book, The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North
Carolina, documents 350 historical sites and inns,
galleries, and artists' studios (many never before open
to the public) as truly handmade in the North Carolina
mountains. To date, the book has sold 40,000 copies, and
a third edition is slated for early 2003. HandMade's
latest book, Farms, Gardens and Countryside Trails of
Western North Carolina, sold 1,200 copies in the first
The impact of these guidebooks on the local marketplace
has been significant.
In traditional craft
and agricultural marketing, artisans and farmers take
their products to market. These books bring the market
to them. "That way the craftspeople and farmers can keep
working—they don't lose time going to market," Anderson
explains. "I think this will be a trend in the future
because of demographics—the baby boomers who are still
energetic and adventurous and have time to explore—and
the mood of the country—seeking something that resonates
as a simpler time."
Anderson's love of
this region and its way of life are expressed in such
other projects as the Small Town Revitalization Program.
With grants from ARC and other organizations, this
program has helped 12 towns that are too small to
qualify for the national Main Street Program to renew
and restore their main streets.
HandMade's reputation as an inclusive organi-zation (its
bylaws mandate partnerships) encouraged people like Stan
Steury, coordinator of the Blue Ridge Resource
Conservation and Development Council, to share their
ideas. He approached Anderson about ways of using what a
feasibility analysis determined to be a 10-to-12-year
supply of methane fuel from an abandoned landfill in
Yancey County, north of Asheville.
"We took our plans
down to show Becky, and we got an immediate response,"
he recalls. "She was so excited about the whole concept
and told us our parking lot was too small because more
people would be visiting than we could imagine. She
energized the project with her enthusiasm, and is the
most dynamic and hardest-working woman I have ever met."
At the resulting
EnergyXchange campus near Burnsville, four greenhouses
and a craft business incubator with glass-blowing
furnaces and pottery kilns are now heated totally free,
an average savings of $1,000 a month for a glassblower
or potter. The greenhouses, which grow endangered native
plants, have opened new opportunities for tobacco
farmers and allow on-the-job training for high school
interns. In early 2003, a greenhouse for aquaponics—a
symbiotic relationship between plants grown
hydroponically and fish grown indoors—will open on the
Steury says they did
need to enlarge their parking lot because the project
has attracted national attention, as has much of what
Anderson has envisioned and accomplished over the years.
Her work has garnered numerous awards and honors, such
as a 2000 award for environmental sustainability from
Renew America, Inc.; the Regional Citizenship Award from
the Land-of-Sky Regional Council in 2000; and in 2002,
the National Park Service's National Outstanding
Partnership Award for Education, received for work with
the Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative.
In 1999, Anderson
was also cited as one of 18 "American innovators" by
U.S. News and World Report.
Anderson is at home in front of an audience, patient yet
eager to share how the HandMade model can help any
mountain community whose extraction-based
economy—whether it is coal, timber, steel, tobacco, or
textile—is no longer thriving. Like her grandmother, who
was a circuit-riding teacher in North Carolina and a
role model for the lead character in the movie Christy,
Anderson has traveled throughout every mountain region
in the United States, except for the Ozarks. She
recently met with people in Missoula, Montana,
challenging them to rethink their situation from a
telling me all the things they didn't have, and I told
them I didn't want to hear that. I want to know who they
are and what their strengths are," she says. "I told
them that we cannot wait on the outside world to save
us. One, it isn't going to. Two, we don't need it to.
And three, it won't do nearly as good a job as we can do
ourselves. Within a few hours we had a long list-timber
homes, metalworking, fireplace screens, gates, doors,
brands, all kinds of restaurants and log lodges. That's
Missoula, Montana, and that's what it should be."
As several new
HandMade institutes for the creative economy, such as
the Community Solutions Institute, attract people to
western North Carolina, Anderson hopes she will be
spending more time at home in Asheville, where she lives
with her husband, Ed. "We want to bring them here—just
like the guidebooks do—and teach them by example. They
need to be in our small towns. They need to meet the
people. They need to see it in action and learn how we
did things, step by step," she adds.
Other future plans
include the promotion of small tour packages that link
bed-and-breakfast inns, local chefs, gardeners, and
farmers in creative "getaway" weekends; and cooperation
with the North Carolina Arts Council on the publication
of two new tourism guidebooks that explore traditional
music of the Blue Ridge and the traditions and history
of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
enthusiastic about helping communities realize their
potential. It's something she's done for decades, only
now her skills are even sharper, says Ken Michalove,
former city manager and mayor of Asheville.
"Becky has worked in a variety of service areas, and all
that experience has now come to fruition in the service
to HandMade. She has a unique gift for taking those
former experiences and blending them into what she's
doing now," he explains.
"She is so original
in her ideas and has the ability to work with people and
get them excited about where they can go and what they
can do themselves."
This article appeared in Appalachia magazine.
Eula Hall was only nine
years old when she first dreamed of a clinic. It was a
vivid dream, a response to more suffering than any
little girl should see—babies dying from dysentery,
young lives lost to tuberculosis, and her own mother
almost bleeding to death as Hall stood by, helpless.
"There was no health
care for anybody," Hall explains, her voice briefly
trembling from a memory more than six decades old. "I’d
pray to God that my family wouldn’t die, that we’d have
some place where people who knew something about health
care could help us." She shakes her head before adding,
"I never imagined my dream of a clinic would get this
Hall began building
her clinic in 1973 with donations of $1,400 and a
commitment from two local doctors. Today, the Mud Creek
Clinic in Grethel, Kentucky, serves over 7,000 patients
a year from a modern 5,200-square-foot facility. The
clinic is the only facility in Floyd County that
provides health care based on ability to pay. "There’s a
minimum charge of 20 percent of the bill," Hall
explains, "but nobody’s turned away. If they don’t pay
today, maybe they can pay something next time."
It takes more than
medicine, though, to keep body and soul together. The
Mud Creek Help Center, an adjacent 1,800-square-foot
building, houses the additional services of a dental
clinic, a food pantry that feeds more than 100 families
each month, a donated-clothing closet, and the Mud Creek
Water District, which provides potable water for a
community that 30 years ago averaged 90 percent
Eula Hall made it
all happen. Not alone, not without much-needed financial
assistance, but as a driving force behind progressive
change in Floyd County.
Clues as to how she
did it lie within her busy office. More than 60 pictures
of family and friends speak to her love of people.
Golden angels and framed blessings hint at her faith.
Personal letters from President George Bush, Senator
Mitch McConnell, and Representative Hal Rogers, among
other notables, vouch for her political savvy. A plaque
that reads "Footprints in the sands of time . . . are
not made sitting down" shares her sense of humor, for
surely it took a healthy dose of that to make this dream
come true. And the shovel and vacuum cleaner wedged
between filing cabinets? They represent a lifetime of
Hall’s first clinic
was in the Tinker Fork community, about five miles from
Mud Creek. But it soon became apparent that the facility
needed more space. "That first clinic was just too small
and isolated," Hall recalls. "We couldn’t get sick
people in or out. My house was bigger and more centrally
located." So Hall and her family moved to a small,
two-bedroom trailer, and the clinic moved into her
house. The three bedrooms were converted to six exam
rooms and the rest of the house was made into offices
and waiting rooms.
In 1977, the clinic
expanded again, this time by merging with Big Sandy
Health Care, Inc., which contributed welcome federal
dollars. "We just had to expand because the need was so
great," Hall says. "We’d done everything we could by
ourselves to meet the people’s needs." By 1982, the
staff had grown to about ten, and the clinic included an
on-site pharmacy and laboratory.
Then, in June of
that year, an arsonist burned the clinic to the ground.
Hall remembers the fire as the hardest thing she’s ever
faced, except for a death in the family. "And to me it
was a death in the family," she adds. "I had put every
minute I could into it. Trying to make a comeback was
the hardest work I’ve ever done."
But hardship was
nothing new to Hall and her community. The day after the
fire, she and a doctor turned a willow-shaded picnic
table into a makeshift clinic. Later, they patched and
puttied two second-hand trailers and carried on. Three
months later, a letter arrived from the Appalachian
Regional Commission pledging funds for a new clinic.
"That was the
happiest moment in my life away from home," Hall
recalls. "To know that I could take this letter and show
the staff that we’d be out of that little trailer. They
stayed on and endured that situation because they knew
brighter days were coming."
Some did doubt their
small community could raise the required matching
funds—$80,000—but Hall’s faith never faltered. "My
family thought I was talking out of my head. I told them
I’ll never know if I don’t try. We’ve gone about as low
as we can go, and the only way back is up."
She called a
community meeting, where 400 people pledged their
support. Some gave money, others donated quilts and
other items to be raffled. A two-day radiothon raised
$17,000; a chicken-and-dumpling dinner $1,300. And Hall
took to the road with one of her now-familiar
"I take a gallon
bucket with a handle," she explains, "and I put a sign
on each side of the railroad tracks that says ‘Please
help raise money for the Mud Creek Clinic.’ I stand on
the yellow center line with that bucket and make as much
as $1,500 in a day." Together, the community raised not
only the needed $80,000 but also an extra $40,000, which
paid for X-ray equipment when the new clinic opened in
Word has spread
about Hall and the Mud Creek community. A 1991 New York
Times story generated $25,000 in unsolicited donations.
A Chicago-based company has sent a $50 check every month
for years. Volunteers gather from medical schools and
churches around the country, donating labor and
materials for projects such as the Mud Creek Help
"Eula’s a living
legend," says Robin Holbrook, who has served for nine
years as Mud Creek’s physician’s assistant. "The
experiences, the opportunities . . . there’s never a
Hall, who turns 72
in October, continues to work hard, six days a week, 52
weeks a year. From 8:00 A.M. until 8:00 P.M., she
counsels patients on disability claims and Social
Security benefits, arranges financial aid for food and
drugs, answers questions about food stamps and housing
opportunities, and attends civic board meetings and
hearings as far away as Prestonsburg, the county seat.
And it’s not
uncommon to see Hall and Holbrook climbing mountain
roads in Hall’s 1995 Chevrolet Blazer or 1992 Dodge,
both odometers having long ago rolled over 100,000 (and
all gasoline paid for by Hall). Like Mud Creek’s
personal 911 service, they answer emergency calls,
deliver food and medicine, and offer help and hope to
"They rely on us
because that’s been our pattern," Hall says. "But I
really enjoy what I do. It gets me up every morning. And
I’ve been blessed with good health."
This from someone with a heart condition, diabetes,
arthritis, and allergies—health problems that would put
an ordinary soul in an easy chair.
Yet, even after long
days of driving and ministering, she finds time to raise
a garden, cook for her husband, Oliver, and maintain a
close relationship with family and friends. Two of her
five children have followed her public-service model:
Nannetta directs the Betsy Layne Senior Citizens Center,
and Dean oversees the Mud Creek Water District. Her
three other children, though disabled in mining
incidents, lead active lives in the community.
Hall’s days are as
busy with legal issues as with medical matters, earning
her a reputation for being as good as any lawyer at
getting benefits for those in need. With only five years
of formal schooling, she wins approximately 90 percent
of her cases, an average of ten a month.
"I don’t have a lot
of education, but I put my heart and soul into what I
do," she says. "I learned by going to these hearings. I
take the charts, and I gather all the evidence that is
available. I work out every hearing the night before."
Hall receives no
money for her legal work, though she’s quick to add that
she’s amply rewarded. "You get a lot of happiness in
this job. When you get a case approved for someone who’s
disabled, and it’s retroactive for two years, you know
they won’t be doing without what they need anymore.
That’s joy, that’s real joy," she says with a big smile.
Beth Howard, the
clinic’s registered nurse and patient care coordinator,
says she is continually amazed by Hall’s devotion. "Eula
is a total patient advocate. She’s almost super-human
when you think of everything she’s accomplished."
As for retirement,
the mere mention of the word makes Hall wince. "I’ve
tried to put that out of my mind. I know it’s reality,
but this place right here is the first thing on my mind
when I wake up. I know my body’s not what it used to be.
If only it would function like my brain, I could triple
what I do every day. My mind is flying."
Besides, she can’t
stop now. Her dream isn’t finished. She’s planning a
24-hour emergency room with a 36-hour holding area.
"That way people wouldn’t have to be hospitalized," Hall
explains. "It wouldn’t be as expensive for the patients,
and we could take better care of them."
No ground has been broken, the first dumpling is yet to
be made, and, for now, the bucket is on the shelf. But
who can doubt that Eula Hall’s latest dream is as
certain to succeed as the one summoned by a little girl
some 60 years ago.
This article appeared in Appalachia magazine.
It's 3:30 P.M., and
Wayne White is eating lunch. That's about midday for
him, considering the 12-hour days he puts in as
executive director of the Ohio Appalachian Center for
Higher Education (OACHE). As he sips his coffee, he
finishes a story, one of hundreds in his repertoire,
about a speaker who once said, "The reward for serving
is having the strength to serve." That is what sustains
White as he travels from sunrise to sunset across 29
Appalachian Ohio counties, encouraging youths and adults
to pursue higher education.
Some might consider
this a second career for White, following his retirement
in 1992 after 30 years in education as a teacher, an
assistant principal, and a superintendent, but it's
really a continuation of a life dedicated to children
and to equitable education. The year after he retired,
he was a volunteer for the Ohio Coalition for Equity and
Adequacy of School Funding when he received a call from
Clive Veri, then president of Shawnee State University
in Portsmouth. Veri offered him the leadership position
with OACHE—a newly formed organization aimed at
increasing the number of Appalachian Ohioans who go to
college. It may have taken a couple of tries to convince
him, but anyone who knew White never doubted that he
"Kids are first with
Wayne, no matter what the circumstances," says James
Payne, superintendent of the Dawson-Bryant Local School
District. "It doesn't make any difference to him if it's
one o'clock in the afternoon or morning; he's always
helping someone else. Around here, we say that if you
don't know Wayne White, you haven't been in the business
education began in a one-room schoolhouse on Greasy
Ridge, a community of family and friends in southern
Ohio. It was there, high atop the Ohio River Valley,
where he was surrounded by rolling hills, a loving
family, and dedicated teachers, that White's life's work
first began to take shape. Encouraged by his high-school
principal to apply for a teaching scholarship at Ohio
University, White earned a B.S.Ed., graduating with
honors. He later earned an M.Ed. from Morehead State
University in Kentucky. After graduating from Ohio
University, White was recruited to teach at Waterloo
Elementary School, near Greasy Ridge, beginning his
30-year career as a teacher and administrator in
Greasy Ridge comes
up often in White's conversations and motivational
speeches. He wants to remind himself and others where he
came from and how important it was in his development.
"Sometimes people are embarrassed about where they came
from," he explains, "and low self-esteem is the main
reason most people in these counties don't attend
college. People often believe that poverty is the
number-one barrier to higher education, but not having
the money to go to college is only a problem if one
considers college [in the first place]. We had too many
parents and children that seemed to have come to an
independent decision that college wasn't for them—it was
for other people."
OACHE, a consortium
of ten public colleges and universities, was established
in 1993 in response to the findings of the Appalachian
Access and Success project that only about 30 percent of
high school students in Appalachian Ohio went on to
post-secondary education, about 10 percent below the
statewide rate and more than 30 percent below the
OACHE's goal is to
raise awareness of and access to higher-education
opportunities. It works toward that goal through grants
to member institutions and to schools for projects aimed
at increasing college-going rates through a variety of
activities. Visits to college campuses with trusted
teachers and counselors help reduce the intimidation
some students feel. Career fairs introduce students to
the rapidly changing job market and to technology-based
opportunities, and counselors assist with college
applications and financial aid forms. Banquets and
simple handmade posters of who's going where after high
school draw attention to achievement and possibility.
White encourages everyone, from teachers in the hallway
to merchants in town (who provide funds and services to
aid OACHE's programs), to work together.
project proposals every two years from regional schools
and school districts. White gives each district or
school free reign to develop creative initiatives that
reflect its unique needs for encouraging students toward
post-secondary education. To date, 49 schools and school
districts have successfully competed for OACHE grants,
with 22 K–12 projects and 10 college programs slated for
school year 2000–2001.
Shirley Sayre, K–12
counselor for the Southern Local School District, and
James Lawrence, superintendent of the district, met
White about five years ago. He encouraged them to apply
for an OACHE grant, and the district received its first
grant in the fall of 1996. Since then, the number of
students from that district who attend post-secondary
education has jumped from 59 percent to 88 percent.
"That clearly shows that without a lot of dollars and
with the talents of local people and the community
coming together, students can see college as an option,"
"We're looking to
move children along a path where they realize they can
do this. But it takes time," White says. "The first
campus visit, they are very respectful and don't ask any
questions. By about the third visit, and assuming the
other activities are taking place at the schools, you
can see a sparkle come into their eyes."
OACHE's success to White's ceaseless dedication. "He's
one of a kind. He never misses a chance to encourage.
He'll stop at the gas station and ask the attendant if
he's been to college," she adds with a chuckle. "He
knows so many people, he can effectively network to get
things done. And he's not satisfied with this program
only being in Ohio; he's helping to move it into other
White's vision has
overflowed the banks of the Ohio River and now extends
deep into the coal communities of West Virginia. He
helped establish the West Virginia Access Center for
Higher Education (WVACHE) at Bluefield State College
with the support of Bob Evans, the well-known sausage
king and restaurateur and an early OACHE promoter.
Evans, who at age 82 is still active in a number of
civic projects, recalls a recent visit with White to
"The kids just
flocked around Wayne. He talks their language," Evans
says. "He tells them he's from Greasy Ridge, and they
figure if he could do it, they can, too. It may take
years, but I don't see any other way of turning things
around. You can't make a living with a pick and shovel
anymore. Education is the answer."
Homer Hickam and
Willie Rose agree. These West Virginia natives, two of
the six "Rocket Boys" whose inspirational story was made
into the popular movie October Sky, have also lent their
support to WVACHE.
executive director of WVACHE, appreciates White's
support, and speaks in glowing terms of her mentor.
"Wayne is so patient and full of wisdom from his years
of experience," she says. "I've never seen anyone with
such a passion to help kids. You meet a lot of people
who have a vision, but that's it. With Wayne, he sees
the big picture, and he's behind the scenes doing what
director of the Ohio Governor's Office of Appalachia,
adds: "Wayne White has been an extraordinary asset to
the people of southern Ohio for 40 years. He is living
proof that one person can make a big difference in
to build, moving the OACHE model in a national
direction. Two similar programs—one focusing on Hale
County, Alabama, and one targeting 23 Appalachian
counties in eastern Kentucky—have recently received
start-up funding from the Appalachian Regional
Commission and other organizations. White also hopes to
start an outreach program for Native Americans in
projects include Project CARE, which links educational
institutions with a distance learning system; GEARUP
ROAD:MAP 2005, which encourages disadvantaged junior
high school students to work toward attending college;
and the Ohio Appalachian Educational Opportunity Center,
a program that helps adults entering and re-entering
But none of this
would happen, White says, without the 22 employees of
OACHE, dozens of volunteer counselors, hundreds of
teachers, and thousands of students and parents who are
now working together. As he talks about changing
attitudes and increasingly positive statistics, about
businesses sharing resources and revenues, his voice
rises with excitement. Then he stops, catches his
breath, and shakes his head. "Can you see now why I say
I have the best job in the world?" he asks. "How could
you not just work and work?"
Back in the OACHE
headquarters in Portsmouth, somewhere in the stacks of
letters of thanks and articles of recognition, there's a
reference to the world needing more "Wayne-White types."
Though White is nowhere near retirement again, those he
works with are trying to learn from his example and
follow his lead.
"He's always been
there for me, and I really respect his willingness to
share," says school superintendent Payne. "I'm trying to
carry on the legacy that Wayne White has set forth—being
open and available when the kids need me."
White lives with his
wife, Neomia, in Coal Grove, Ohio, not far from Greasy
Ridge. Two children and three grandchildren live nearby.
Whenever White returns to the green rolling hills of
Greasy Ridge, he feels a deep connection—to his family,
the earth, and everyone on it. Standing high above the
valley on a sunny day late in summer, he breathes in the
crisp morning air and rejoices in exactly who he is and
where he came from. That, in turn, has helped hundreds
of people discover who they are.
proud, rugged, honest, dependable, hard-working . . .
the list goes on." White says. "But we have our
challenges, and certainly low educational attainment is
one of them. OACHE's mission is to address this issue,
and with the continued support of parents, businesses,
and communities, this uncommon partnership between
colleges and partner K–12 schools will lead students
along a path out of poverty and to a better quality of
life. Then, as successful adults, they can more fully
contribute their talents to society."
This article appeared in Appalachia magazine.