A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Kentuckians share more of their favorite interesting and noted figures from the state

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about some of the most “interesting” and noted Kentuckians throughout history and present, according to people around the state.

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

One of the finest poet-writers in the state is Frankfort’s Richard Taylor, Kentucky Poet Laureate in 1999-2001. Chris Helvey, also of Frankfort, said this about him: “He is an amazing teacher who has helped thousands of all ages see this world in a new and refreshing way, and taught us how to more fully express our personal visions.”

Richard Taylor (Photo from Transylvania University)

A retired Air Force loadmaster from Maysville, Chief Raymond Snedegar, served 32 years in service to America. George Stacey, of Washington Courthouse, Ohio, said that during Snedegar’s many years flying in combat, “he performed many heroic acts but none more heroic than on April 4, 1975. On this day, he was the chief loadmaster on the first giant C-5A starting Operation Babylift. This operation was to rescue Vietnamese orphans out of a rapidly deteriorating situation during the fall of Saigon. The aircraft was loaded with over three hundred orphans, volunteers, and crew members.”

Unfortunately, a crisis occurred when the aircraft sustained a rapid decompression, severely damaging the tail of the aircraft. “

While the pilots were trying to get control of the aircraft and make an emergency return to Saigon, Ray was busy getting everyone ready for an emergency landing,” George said. “Despite the heroic acts of the pilots, the aircraft crashed short of the runway. Ray was able to escape with injuries, (but) he kept returning to the smoldering wreckage and helped save many lives. Ray has made it a lifelong crusade speaking to aviation groups and anyone else interested on how to handle emergency situations involving aircrafts.”

Dr. Louise Hutchins (Photo courtesy Berea College Magazine)

Kentucky State Apiarist (beekeeper) Tammy Horn Potter thinks physician and First Lady of Berea College, Dr. Louise Hutchins, wife of Berea’s President Francis Hutchins (1939-1967), is overlooked for her contributions to the state and beyond.

“She was a pediatrician and even received a federal grant to provide vasectomies to men in Eastern Kentucky. I think only one man took her up on the offer,” said Tammy. “She was passionate about care for women and children and very vocal about family planning.”

When she came to Berea in 1939, she was the only pediatrician in town until her retirement in 1967, and after that, according to the Berea Magazine,“the Planned Parenthood supporter continued her devotion to the healthcare of children and indigent mothers.”

Tammy offered a humorous tidbit about a “First Ladies of Higher Education” picture that included Louise Hutchins. “Since she was running a clinic, she felt the time spent traveling to take a picture was frivolous. So, the picture shows about ten women perfectly coifed—and Louise in the middle with a scowl on her face.”

Louise Slaughter (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Another special Kentuckian Tammy mentioned was New York Democrat representative Louise Slaughter, from Harlan County. Slaughter also was a blues/jazz singer and microbiologist. She died at age 88 in 2018. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Rules Committee, called Slaughter “a force to be reckoned with, who always brought her spunk, fire and dynamic leadership to every meeting.”

For historic times, Richmond CPA David Shew considers Abraham Lincoln as his most interesting Kentuckian and for contemporary times, John Y. Brown, who, he said, “made Colonel Sanders an international hero.”

Henderson teacher Roy Pullam’s students interviewed hundreds of notable Kentuckians through the Bonnet program developed under Roy’s tutelage. His favorite subject was a colorful former Kentucky politician and Major League Baseball Commissioner.

“I loved Happy Chandler,” said Roy. “My favorite story he told me was (about) advice from his father: ‘Don’t go to girlie shows; you might see something you don’t want to see. I went, and I did . . .I saw my father.’”

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 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)

Roy took his students to see Chandler at his Versailles home every year. “He was so gracious, and so was Mama, his wife. Before we left, he always sang “My Old Kentucky Home.” It was so touching. Mama told me to not come at 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.” Roy asked why. “Happy loves that damn soap opera, Days of Our Lives,” Mama replied.

Later, Roy visited the icon when he heard he was ill, not knowing the seriousness of his condition. “Mama took me in to see Happy,” said Roy. “He didn’t have that famous million-dollar smile. He looked at me and said, ‘Podner, I just can’t go.’ It was truly sad. I left Versailles nearly in tears. Less than a month later, he was dead. It was like someone in my family died.”

I’ve always believed that Wendell Berry’s importance to our state is often overlooked by fellow Kentuckians. Here are words of tribute by Frankfort writer Michael Embry:

“Wendell Berry has been an important voice for farmers, conservationists, and pacifists through his writings and speeches,” said Michael. “He’s an internationally-respected poet, essayist, novelist, and critic. He is the recipient of the National Humanities Medal, Jefferson Lectures, and the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.”

John Hoffert always gets excited when talking about E.O Robinson, a land baron who owned about 15,000 acres in the interior rugged section of the Cumberland Plateau in eastern Kentucky. It was used for cutting timber for Robinson’s lumber company in Cincinnati in the early 1900s.

“He then donated the land to the University of Kentucky,” said John, “and 100 years later, it’s known as Robinson Forest and used for intense study of forestry issues. He also started a Robinson Mountain Fund that is still giving out college scholarships and other grants for the last 100 years.”

The E.O. Robinson story is of personal interest to John and his family, mostly because his family now lives in the former residence of Robinson in Highland Heights, Kentucky.

Harry Caudill (Photo from Pinterest)

Jerry Deaton grew up in Breathitt County, not far from a strong advocate for the rights of mountain people in Kentucky. He admires the person’s service greatly.

“Harry Caudill became one of Kentucky’s most vocal critics of the coal industry and big government as both entities took advantage and left behind thousands of indigent eastern Kentuckians during the mid-twentieth century,” said Jerry. “Harry was tireless in his efforts to make sure the people, the land, and the government of eastern Kentucky had a voice in what was happening to them. He is responsible for numerous policies and events that brought about better conditions for the people of the mountains.”

One thing is for sure. Kentucky has more than its share of individuals who, at the very least, are of high interest because of the often colorful lives they’ve carved out. Some are well-known, some unsung. The few shared here are but a start. Let me know of others that I might shine light upon in future columns.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment