A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Reflecting on a life spent ‘Kentucky-ing,’ with no change in sight

Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

I don’t believe I’ll ever be “Kentucky-ed” to death. Never, it seems, do I get tired of “Kentucky-ing” around.

While thinking about it the other day, I pondered how much of my life has a Kentucky flavor to it. Turns out, quite a lot.

As for the traveling I do these days, it’s pretty much within the borders of my state, mostly chasing down subjects for my Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes book series. Am I a guy for whom it takes little to entertain, you say? Perhaps, but seeing the state’s scenic landscape, whether it be its mountains in the eastern region, the Knobs (which I’ve always considered uber-fascinating) in the Outer Bluegrass, the central area of the commonwealth with its horsey orientation, or the long stretches of the Pennyroyal with an easy-to-travel breeziness. There’s also a neat cosmopolitan “cultural feel” with being in the urban areas of northernmost Kentucky and Louisville. I’ve left out plenty, to be sure… and that being for the limitations of time and space.

All seven of my published books have “Kentucky” in the title. I write for Kentucky Monthly and KyForward, along with Northern Kentucky Tribune. This column, of course, is called “Kentucky by Heart.” The “K” in my alma mater, EKU, stands for “Kentucky,” and the school has me firmly entrenched as a big fan of their men’s basketball and football teams; a portion of my giving goes there. I’m a Kentucky Wildcat basketball and football fan, too, though more maroon than blue. I also root for the sports teams of all the other schools in the state when they’re not playing my two favorites.

Yep, I’m “all Kentucky-ed up.”

Most of the books I read are about Kentucky or are ones written by Kentucky authors. Who is John Grisholm… or J.K. Rowling? I devoured Kentucky books as a child, too, especially biographies of people such as Daniel Boone, Abe Lincoln, Henry Clay, and Kit Carson (who spent part of his life in Madison County.) Mrs. Gosney, my seventh-grade teacher, brought me the Sunday Courier-Journal on Mondays, and I especially enjoyed reading the folksy columns of Joe Creason, who really had the pulse of common Kentuckians. Creason nourished the “bug” I was developing for stories of such, and he still influences my writing today.

Even the local company I use to fertilize and do weed control on the family yard has Kentucky in its name, and I’m always attracted to Kentucky Proud items in my grocery stores.

Over the 22 years I spent teaching fourth graders in public schools, my favorite social studies unit was about Kentucky, and even today when I do substitute teaching in any grade, I use free moments to share state-related tidbits or engage in fun quizzes and give Jolly Ranchers as prizes.

Even my religion has a strong, historical connection to the state. I attend a Disciples of Christ church, and it got its start around the time of the Second Great Awakening when a huge religious revival broke out at Cane Ridge, in Bourbon County, in 1801. Wikipedia says that the event “has been described as the largest and most famous camp meeting of the Second Great Awakening”. . .and was arguably the pioneering event in the history of frontier camp meetings in America.” In 2001 I covered and wrote an article about a 200-year celebration of the Cane Ridge Revival for a religious magazine.

Ceramic figures Toddy and Lincoln (Photo provided)

Proud to say, too, that my mother, Alma Faye Fryer Flairty, grew up in The Fryer Home, a stone house built in the early 1800s in Butler, Kentucky and is listed today on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s now the site of The Pendleton County Historical and Genealogical Society. My family, on both Mom’s and Dad’s sides, has been around the Commonwealth a long time!

And speaking even more about Kentucky history, my wife, Suzanne, reminded me that her two vintage, ceramic figure Staffordshire dogs sitting on our living room mantel (acquired in an auction) were once part of the décor in the Helm Place in Lexington, a pre-Civil War mansion that Mary Todd Lincoln’s half-sister, Emilie Todd Helm, lived. By the way, Suzanne has pet names for the figures statues, Toddy and Lincoln. What’s more Kentucky-ed up than those two names?

I could go on, but you’re probably getting the idea… and I didn’t even get to the part about sharing what my favorite fried chicken restaurant is.

All Kentucky-ed up, for sure.

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Everyday Heroes Jody Keeley, Sister Juana Mendez and Tammy Spicer with Steve Flairty (Photo provided)

The last couple of Sundays, on August 18 and August 25, I hosted book events for my new book, Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5. They took place at Joseph Beth Booksellers locations in Lexington and Crestview Hills. Besides selling and signing books, it did my heart well to recognize and share the stories of a total of eleven of my “Everyday Heroes” in attendance. I’ve included pictures and identified them in today’s column. All told, I’ve been blessed to profile 115 special people since the book series was launched in 2008. For more information about the books or to enlist me to speak at your group gathering, email sflairty2001@yahoo.com.

David Lane, Dale Hatton, Rebecca Hurshman (Ky United Methodist Children’s Homes), Steve Flairty, Bruce Florence, Dave Scalf (glasses), Andrew Dunn, and Heather Nichols. (Photo 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. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a 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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