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Kentucky by Heart: Giving thanks for the people who have made a positive, lasting impact on my life

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

Approaching this Thanksgiving Day, my favorite holiday, I believe it is a good time to remember and lend appreciation to people from my past who influenced me, either through direct contact or by example, in a lasting and positive way. I’ve made mention of some of them previously in this column. It’s not an exhaustive list, however, and to try to make it such would take me days. For now, except in a few instances, I’ll go lite on my most immediate family members, as that, in many respects, is a separate category.

Steve, ready for the Thanksgiving Holiday (Photo provided)

Let me note that though most of the mentions of gratitude may be only tangentially meaningful to my readers, so please allow me to encourage you to recall ones from your own life to share tribute and thanks. You might not be writing a column, like me, but some kind of outreach to ones who have blessed you can be a good thing. Trust me, I humbly submit that remembering those and sharing appreciation is a good thing. There’s something that feels “complete” in doing so.

Dorothy Schafer, known by most all in the community as the beloved “Mrs. Dorothy,” was my teacher at Grants Lick Elementary School some six decades ago. She exuded an almost angelic, humble dignity, and even better, she was able to project the same aura onto each student in her classroom. That was because we felt deeply appreciated and worthy while in her presence, and most of us avoided misbehaving around her. It wasn’t usually fear of punishment—though she was certainly firm—but the thought of letting her down was unimaginable. The image of Mrs. Dorothy relating to my classmates me in such a way is one I have carried with me throughout my own teaching career, and I am thankful.

Similarly, the encouragement I received from my seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Helen Gosney, in fostering my love for our state has significantly shaped both my teaching and writing. As a freshman at Campbell County High School, Mr. Robert Ward got me excited about the subject of math in his algebra class, and I believe that his enthusiasm presented a model that I subconsciously portrayed to my future math students. Ironically, I crossed paths with Mr. Ward in Berea many years later and shared with him my appreciation. Sadly, I learned later that he suffered an untimely death while still a relatively young man.

Dick Alexander (Photo from rightnowmedia.org)

Dick Alexander was my minister at the Plum Creek Christian Church, in southern Campbell County. He spent many hours with me as a young high schooler on the golf course at A.J. Jolly Park. He taught (or tried) to teach me the game, but more importantly, he mentored me in my spiritual life and led me to my baptism experience in 1969. I’ll be eternally grateful for his influence.

George Schnorr spent most of a day with me in the town of Winchester helping me find a place to live (and afford) after taking my first teaching job, this in the Clark County school system. This was after he helped celebrate my graduation from EKU with a scrumptious meal he paid for after the ceremony. He later became a relative by marriage, being the father of my brother’s wife. He was a Christian man who truly walked the walk. He died of brain cancer while still quite young. I am thankful for his kind gestures and I saw fit to dedicate my second book to him.

Any success I’ve had in my writing career can be traced, at least partially, to the influence of several individuals who encouraged me and who afforded me opportunities when my work was charitably mediocre. Back in the early 2000s, David Faust was the editor of the Christian magazine called The Lookout when I began seeking publication opportunities. He published my 100-word devotional pieces, and I was paid $25 for each. That gave me some confidence, and from there, I wrote some features for the magazine and ventured out to other periodicals, too. David meant a lot, though he’s probably forgotten what he did… but that’s OK.

Mike Embry (Photo provided)

I’ll always be thankful for Mike Embry, who, as editor of Kentucky Monthly in the early 2000s, gave me a chance to write some articles and shared some very helpful writing and publishing advice. His encouragement, and in subsequent years likewise with publisher/editor Steve Vest and his co-editor, Patty Randt, also at KM, were crucial. Publisher Judy Clabes and son Jacob, at KyForward and NKyTribune.com, have also been wonderful. In all cases, they might have just as easily ignored me, but I’m thankful they didn’t.

And lest I forget, my first book, Tim Farmer: A Kentucky Woodsman Restored, was largely made possible by my friend Roger Singleton, who both gave me the story and financed the publishing of the book in 2005. Roger was a blessing, as well as the tremendous support I received, and still do, in book promotion help from my cousin, Connie Mann, in Butler, Kentucky. Connie does it from the heart, and her believing in me is special.

I stand on others’ shoulders for so much of what I am today. And for all of you who regularly read Kentucky by Heart—and are blessed, even a little bit sometimes—you are an inspiration to me and I thank you from the bottom of my Kentucky heart. Happy Thanksgiving to each of you!

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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