Lynda McDaniel

Writer & Writing Coach

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  I feel lucky that I've gotten to spend so much time interviewing people with such a strong sense of self.  They are living their mission, and their passion and pleasure are contagious!  Over the years, some of these people have been chefs, some volunteers, others corporate executives.  But I have to admit that my favorites are those unsung heroes who work long and hard so that others can have a better life.

My executive profile writing:

Always Leading

the Way

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...


Using Our Strengths: The Grassroots Leadership of Becky Anderson

Becky Anderson has traveled many roads in mountainous western North Carolina. This is her home, now and always...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.


Eula Hall: A Driving Force for Change


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...


A Passion for Education

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...



Appalachian Scene:

Always Leading the Way

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 the community.

Exemplary Service and Leadership


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."

The reconstruction 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.

Fostering Partnerships


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 museum.

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 community.

"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 trenches."

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.

"Gayle understands, 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.


Appalachian Scene:

Using Our Strengths: The Grassroots

Leadership of Becky Anderson

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 the region."

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 greenhouses.

HandMade in 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.

Anderson's 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 strengths.

"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."

HandMade's first 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 six weeks.
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.

In addition, 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 campus.

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 different perspective.

"They started 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.

Anderson is 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.

Appalachian Scene:

Eula Hall: A Driving Force for Change


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 far."

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 contaminated wells.

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 hard work.

Meeting the People’s Needs


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 "roadblocks."

"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 October 1984.

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 Center.

"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 dull moment."

Always on Call


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 the homebound.

"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.

Appalachian Scene:

A Passion for Education

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 would accept.

"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 very long."

White's own 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 Appalachian Ohio.

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."

Access to Higher Education


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 national rate.

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.

OACHE accepts 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," White says.

"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."

Sayre attributes 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 states."

A Passion for Helping Kids


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 West Virginia.

"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.

Sarita Gattuso, 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 it takes."

Joy Padgett, 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 Appalachia."

Momentum continues 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 Oklahoma.

Additional OACHE 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 college.

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.

"Appalachians 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.

Copyright © 2006, Lynda McDaniel. All rights reserved.