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Kentucky by Heart: Kentuckians share their thoughts on what makes their college that ‘special’ school

Note: Following is the second of a two-part article about individuals sharing comments about their “special college” in Kentucky.

When the topic of special colleges in Kentucky is brought up, Erika Mahlbacher offers her Danville alma mater, Centre College, as a shining example.

Erika Mahlbacher

She loved the enthusiasm of her teachers. “My dreaded history class requirement turned out to be one of the most memorable classes I’ve ever taken,” she said. “My professor was a passionate storyteller who brought history to life in an unforgettable way. I found the same type of contagious passion in every classroom.” Mundane topics became scintillating. “My biology teacher was giddy about cell division; my physics professor was excited about the rate at which hair grows; and my music theory professor was fascinated with suspension chords.

“Centre offered me an opportunity to study in Strasbourg, France, where I was privileged to take Dr. Keffer’s famous Art of Walking class,” Erika continued. In France, she studied Kant, art, and art history guided by her teacher, and was inspired to “act out Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard play under real blooming cherry trees”

Not that the school is easy, according to Erika. “Centre is challenging. Sometimes it stretched me to my limits. The tests were hard; the papers were long; the projects were daunting. But I pushed through it, and similar to the shavasana pose at the end of a yoga session, my sense of accomplishment was so rewarding. My fellow classmates were just as knowledge-thirsty as me. The competitive, yet supportive nature of the student body sharpened my mind and created an atmosphere that I still get homesick for.”

Ashland Community College was practical fit for the family of Cathy Martin, now of Winchester and a retired teacher. “As one of five children, three of which were college age and two in elementary, it was special to our family. Eventually, we all graduated from UK.”

Scott Fitzpatrick

Barbara Buemi-Webster, Independence, was a non-traditional student at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), the first of her siblings to graduate from college. She set a good example, with several siblings following and one graduating from Chase Law School, on the NKU campus.

“I began college at NKU in 1982,” said Barbara. “I had seven children but was active in community issues.” Someone aware of her volunteerism encouraged her to stop doing so much volunteer work and to “get that piece of paper that will allow you to get paid for your work.” The advice ignited her. “I listened and was able to graduate with honors and received the Paul J. Sipes Award for service in the community and at NKU.” Other recognition came along, too, both extra-curricular and academic.

“I have nothing but positive experiences from my time at NKU,” she noted. “That’s one place where I could see the commitment and caring of professors.”

A small Baptist college in west-central Kentucky was golden for Breanne Ward. “Before coming to Campbellsville University (CU), I never imagined that one place could change my life in so many ways,” she said. “I didn’t just find a high-quality education taught be the best professors, I found a family filled with supporters and friends who pushed me to be the best that I could be and who showed me that family isn’t always blood. I found my life change at CU, and through that and strong faith, I prevailed.”

A high school classmate of mine, Jeff Spilman, headed to Bowling Green to Western Kentucky University (WKU) for his college experience, and he wasn’t disappointed. “I graduated from WKU in 1975 full ahead ready to go on with life,” he said. He knew little about the school before attending except for its noted mass communication department. “I wanted to learn about film and TV production. While there, I joined the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. I also learned how to explore many of the cave systems which taught me about dealing with tight situations. WKU was a very good choice for me. An even better school now.”

Amy Foreman

Southeastern Christian College was once a fixture in Winchester and being a student there made a good impression on Janice Winiger, who still lives in the town. “It was a small college with small classes, excellent teachers that took a personal interest in the students,” noted Janice. She later transferred to UK, where the classes were bigger. She succeeded there, too, and a final examination in public health which required written answers was later used by faculty as a study guide for other students.

Lexington author Doris Settles shared some interesting information about a college her husband attended which many Kentuckians might not know existed. It was called Kentucky Southern College, in Louisville, opening in 1961 and closing in 1969.

“They used an interdisciplinary teaching method called ID,” she explained. “He (her husband) remembers one of his finals asking students to imagine they were in a courtroom hearing charges against Nora (Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’) for breaking social convention. Different attorneys and jury and judge were various historical and fictional personalities. Their job was to give opening statements, verdict of each juror and judge’s final sentence.”

Apparently, the school promoted a high level of performance and got results. “The GRE was mandatory for graduation, or other post-graduate qualifier. Most graduates went on, most to a Ph.D. or professional degree. Most faculty were Ph.D.s and young…so very invested in subject and students.” According to Doris, the Southern Baptist Convention “decided there were too many Baptist colleges here, so the most recently opened went away.”

Another person is sold on the challenging and invigorating experience he received from his time at Georgetown College (GC). Scott Fitzpatrick, Vice-President of Advancement of the Bluegrass Foundation, commented that the combination of my parents not attending college and “high schooling” in a time where information technology wasn’t nearly as advanced “caused me to enroll at Georgetown College essentially sight-unseen. I was a good Baptist boy, and Georgetown seemed to be the obvious choice.”

Scott figured GC would be milquetoast, an “extension of Sunday School;” he found otherwise. “I instead discovered a faculty that challenged every notion of what I thought I knew…‘parent tapes,’ as one beloved professor called them. It was uncomfortable at times, to be sure, but a nurturing faculty provided constant assurance that the end result would be worth it.”

At GC, Scott joined a fraternity and gained lifelong friends, acquired his first job–as an admissions counselor–at the school, and it was where he met his wife of 26 years. “Their desire was for me to grow in all areas, and they knew that the spiritual growth required discomfort to allow me to own my faith. Georgetown, for me, is more than the place I went to school. It, in many ways, IS me, and I’m thankful for that ‘non-decision decision’ many years ago.”

Could it be that college life makes good marriages? A marriage that’s lasted 43 years started when Tony Trapp, Grants Lick, met his wife, Valerie at Morehead State University. The school prepared Tony for a long career in teaching at Campbell County High School, where he had graduated from in 1969. JoAnn Spivey met her future husband in 1949 at Asbury College and the two spent over a half century together. Justin Evans followed his parents in getting a degree from UK and the now Panera Bread restaurant manager held off on his loafin’ enough to land his wife, Katie, there.

An Owensboro resident, Amy Foreman, related a tender story on why being at Kentucky Wesleyan College (KWC) will be eternally remembered by her. “When KWC moved from Winchester to Owensboro, my daddy was a teenager,” Amy explained. “He would become a masonry contractor but at that time, did not know how to lay brick and worked on the site as a hod carrier. I thought he was going to bust the buttons off his shirt the day I graduated. He kept saying over and over that he never dreamed when he was working that job that he would one day have a child graduate from the college.”

Seems there are all kinds of “specials” being served at Kentucky’s colleges!

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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One Comment

  1. Rae wagoner says:

    A refreshing read. Thank you, Scott.

    Rae Wagoner

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