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Kentucky by Heart: A bucket list that’s already been fulfilled, sharing a deep sense of gratitude

Bucket lists get a lot of media play these days, and I’d like to offer mine, created Kentucky-style. But rather than suggest things on a list that I hope to do before I die, let me do a switcheroo.

Please allow this grateful fellow to share items that have already been fulfilled…Kentucky by Heart blessings that have, and are, riding high in the commonwealth. Let’s call it a “Kentucky Thanksgiving Bucket List Fulfilled (KTBLF).” In short, items I’ll share here give me a sense of gratitude…and are a large part of the reason I write my column.

Steve Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood trips orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state. “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”

Here goes, but know that the KTBLF is in no way an exhaustive one. Many items are well-known, heard about or seen regularly. Some on the list are simply my personal ones and not previously known by you. All of these, hopefully, can add a smile to any of our faces…Kentucky in its bounty.

First, attractive surroundings abound in the state. Beautiful horse farms and horse venues throughout the Bluegrass region are largely unparalleled. I love to show out-of-towners the red steeples of Calumet Farm, as well as point out such breath-taking views of farms like Overbrook, off Tates Creek Road, Spendthrift, on Ironworks, Mill Ridge, on Bowman Mill, and Lane’s End in Woodford County. That’s a few off the top of my head; many others are just as impressive.

The state is blessed with interesting topography, including picturesque hills, mountains and a sort of belt around the southernmost Bluegrass region, an area called the Knobs. Black Mountain, in Harlan County, has the highest elevation, over 4,000 feet. One of my favorite Kentucky recreational venues, the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Middlesboro, has wonderful hiking and provides for scenic views that include, besides Kentucky, the landscape of both Tennessee and Virginia.

Northwest of there, in east-central Kentucky, I love Natural Bridge State Park in the Red River Gorge area at Slade. Being a bit afraid of heights, I get nervous walking across either Natural Bridge or Chimney Rock, but the alluring beauty around it entices me to risk it.

Regarding the Knobs, I particularly enjoy the conical hills in the Nelson and Taylor county areas. Because the Knobs have the shape of huge anthills, I imagine the topography as perfect for a movie called “The Invasion of the Giant Ants,” and, in fact, used that imagery as an example when teaching my fourth-graders years ago.

Mike Embry

Mike Embry

And while I’m talking scenery, don’t forget the gorgeous highway corridors such as U.S. 60 between Versailles and Frankfort, U.S. 27 stretching from Lexington to Paris to Cynthiana, or a ride down Mountain Parkway starting near Winchester.

My filled bucket list includes a wealth of notable Kentuckians, starting with iconic president Abraham Lincoln, often pegged as America’s greatest president. There is politician Henry Clay, aka “The Great Compromiser.” Could we not use Mr. Clay’s common sense approach in our contentious, polarized country today? Less known is Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham, a Kentuckian from Kuttawa, near Eddyville. He is a humble and fair man who loves Kentucky and has written extensively about its history. I count him as a friend.

I have a harvest field of Kentucky friends who have supported my writing career in ways they’ll never know. Mike Embry, first at Kentucky Monthly, then in editing my Heroes books, is a prime example. He showed interest years ago when I was a pretty mediocre word scribbler, and he continues to show support in so many ways.

A big thank you is deserved for David and Lalie Dick, Byron Crawford and Steve Vest – who’ve helped me in my word adventures. Judy and Gene Clabes have given me a great writing platform here on KyForward and on its sister publication, NKyTribune.com. Terri McLean, the editor, is outstanding, too. The Kentucky Book Fair, held annually, has given me a treasure load of positive memories, with a host of friendships made in the process.

The Thanksgiving bucket has been filled in recent years with friends stretching all the way from Lexington to far ends of the state. People like Sandy Hart and Bonnie Bruner, who live in the westernmost part, in Wickliffe. I profiled Sandy and her daughter Bonnie in my Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series. Sandy established the Kentucky Veteran and Patriot Museum—an everyday Thanksgiving blessing in tribute to American military veterans. She also led in making it possible for sending hundreds of veterans to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. This 69-year-old woman is special! Bonnie and her husband, Kern, adopted seven children with an assortment of difficult familial backgrounds, along with serious health and learning challenges. The couple’s patience and bottomless well of compassion is a major inspiration for all of us.

Neil Chethik

Neil Chethik

I’m blessed to know Tim Farmer, the subject of my first book, Tim Farmer: A Kentucky Woodsman Restored. Tim lost the use of his right arm in 1984, but showed us what overcoming is like by hosting the long-running outdoors program, Kentucky Afield. He recently announced his retirement from the show (see KyForward story here, but I’ve got a feeling we’ll still see him around, continuing to inspire others.

Our state has a ton of good programs striving to help the vulnerable amongst us. One I particularly like is Josh Nadzam’s On the Move Art Studio in Lexington. Launching only a few months ago, it is billed as a “mobile art room created in a renovated 1969 Streamline Trailer designed to go into underserved neighborhoods and host free arts classes for kids…a nonprofit organization determined to empower at risk youth through visual arts instruction using a re-purposed vintage trailer.”

Charles and Elaine Fuerniss, Paris, run an amazing animal rescue program and founded a low-cost spay and neuter clinic, plus hold full-time jobs to help finance their compassionate work.

Another great outreach is Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. It works to change lives by promoting the magic of words. The program, directed by the dynamic Neil Chethik and a wonderful staff, is a resource “empowering people to explore and express their voices through imaginative learning and the literary arts.”

That might mean, simply, to teach people to read. At another level, it could mean helping accomplished authors to expand their boundaries, along with a myriad of other ways to enrich the community in a literary way. It is a beacon for good in Kentucky, and I’ve been personally blessed by the program—another fulfilled item in the KTBLF.

The Thanksgiving Game

The Thanksgiving Game

I recently found out about a nice family table game that Lexington friend Loui Stotz created, one called “The Thanksgiving Game.” Find it online at TheThanksgivingGame.com. A spirit of gratitude is the best practice tip to win in this competition. I plan to get one soon.

So…what items are in your Kentucky Thanksgiving Bucket List Fulfilled?

(All photos provided)

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. His new book, “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” has recently been released and is available for purchase here. Flairty is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, as well as a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Read his past columns for excerpts from all his books. him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or friend him on Facebook. (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

To read more of Steve Flairty’s Kentucky by Heart columns, click here.

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