A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: ‘Good Works’ of the Kentucky Colonels remains a tradition state can be proud of

I sure got excited several years ago when a trip to my mailbox netted me a large, white and black certificate that had Governor Beshear’s name on it, along with these words neatly printed below his: ”Honorable Steve Flairty is commissioned a KENTUCKY COLONEL.” To this day, I don’t know who made the nomination, but it sure was a gesture I’ll always appreciate. I do know that the individual,...

Kentucky by Heart: Travis and Christie Lynch provide hope for young people who have nobody else

By Steve Flairty Special to NKyTribune   Spouses Travis and Christie Lynch each grew up as an “only child” in their homes. Otherwise, the family backgrounds were significantly different. But after meeting in high school as 14-year-olds and with their eventual marriage, the two walk today in unison in an amazing endeavor. For more than nine years, they’ve dedicated their lives to providing loving...

Kentucky by Heart: Historic furnaces harken back to time when state was a major producer of iron

Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared at KyForward.com June 14, 2016 By Steve Flairty KyForward columnist If you do enough traveling around Kentucky, particularly riding on back roads in rural areas, you’ll likely notice evidence of the state’s historical iron furnace industry. The furnaces resemble a stone-built house chimney, and some, despite the years of weathering, human defacement,...

Kentucky by Heart: Being prepared saved a life; books to help prepare for spring planting season

The wife and children of Jeremy Overton, of Ohio County, are likely feeling grateful today because they nearly lost Jeremy two years ago when he ran his truck over an embankment into a lake while swerving to miss a deer. Ironically, the driver was saved by another Jeremy, also the same age, 34, who happened to be a passenger with his daughter as she practiced driving on this 16-degree night, a night...

Kentucky by Heart: Deaths leave a void and legacy: Mountain Santa, Bob Wagoner each made mark

I was saddened by the recent passing of Mike Howard, aka “Mountain Santa.” He lived at Wallins Creek, in Harlan County, and since the mid-seventies, the wiry-built, talkative man became an icon to thousands in his community by playing Santa Claus, collecting and delivering Christmas gifts to the poor, largely transporting the gifts using pickup trucks. He did that with the support of a legion of...

Kentucky by Heart: The work of C-J’s Allen Trout offers ‘folksy’ look back at Kentucky in the 1940s

I picked up an interesting title on a recent visit to a used bookstore in Lexington. Published in 1947 by the Courier-Journal, it’s called Greetings from Old Kentucky, by Allan M. Trout. It’s mostly a collection of long-time C-J writer Trout’s columns with the same title, which originated in 1939. No doubt, some of the material Trout penned has its share of what easily could be construed as racially...

Kentucky by Heart: Irma Gall, Peggy Kemner join to ‘lend a hand’ to the less fortunate in Knox County

By Steve Flairty KyForward Columnist Irma Gall, amazingly spry to be in her mid-eighties, was only too happy to show me her cabin, one she built “on a wide space on the road” at the base of a steep hillside just a few hundred yards from Stinking Creek. “I’m a rock mason, and I believe in good foundations,” she noted, pointing out the intricate meshing of native stones holding together a split-railed...

Kentucky by Heart: Fond memories of mom bring a mixture of joy and sadness to the holiday season

The holiday season is, for me, a mixture of joy and sadness. It’s been a little over five years since Mom, a victim of cancer, passed. Many of you know personally the sense of loss that time only partly diminishes. It abides, and that’s where I am now; doing fine…but there are those difficult moments that come, especially at this time of the year. Looking back at our relationship, it honestly...

Kentucky by Heart: Mike Howard goes from ‘black sheep’ to beloved ‘Mountain Santa’

This story is taken from Steve Flairty’s 2013 book, Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #3. It was originally published in by KyForward on Dec. 24, 2014 By Steve Flairty KyForward columnist Mike Howard remembers with dismay the negative reputation he carried while growing up as one of 11 kids in an Eastern Kentucky town. Mountain Santa (Mike Howard) delivering presents with a volunteer (Southeast...

Kentucky by Heart: Seasoned journalist Michael Embry finds new voice through fiction in retirement

By Steve Flairty Special to KyForward For decades, journalist Michael Embry pretty much had what he wrote assigned to him; it largely depended on the news — often sports — that happened around him. He simply (and skillfully) reported. As an editor for a lengthy period at Kentucky Monthly, he did the assigning. Additionally, during those journalism years, he found time to follow his interests...

Kentucky by Heart: Judge Leigh Anne Stephens remains focused on community, despite hard times

Hazard District Court Judge Leigh Anne Stephens has an affinity for the welfare of kids in her community. That might be true mostly because she had so much fun growing up and playing with an abundance of kids in her Hazard neighborhood. Those experiences partly inspired her to lead in establishing Camp Promise, a week-long gathering of recreational activities and positive mentoring for young boys thought...

Kentucky by Heart: Dying with grace and dignity – who is your Mary Gay Lake?

Editor’s note: This tribute appeared previously in KyForward and was used as a dedication to Steve Flairty’s book, Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4, published in 2015. My first remembrance of Mary Gay Lake, from a distance, was the way she dressed—sharply and in classic style. Her attire fit smartly on her rather tall and well-postured frame, and she wore her dark brown hair in a neat,...

Kentucky by Heart: Thanksgiving brings back fond memories of friends, family and feasts of rich food

I’m in favor of the Thanksgiving season to be termed the most important holiday that Americans celebrate. The theme of gratefulness is a universal one, not held back by the narrow lines of religious, or other, differences. It’s a time when, at least theoretically, we show appreciation for the good things around us (the bounty) rather than to focus on what we’d like but don’t possess. Out of...

Kentucky by Heart: Writing, faith in God help Rita Setness cope with unexpected loss of son

By Steve Flairty KyForward columnist Writing a book called Surviving Child Loss was, for Nicholasville resident Rita Setness, part of her personal therapy in attempting to survive the loss of a child. In fact, her writing about son Jonathon began soon after his unexpected death at age 26 in December 2013. As one might expect, the emotional blow of her son’s sudden passing tossed Rita head long into...

Kentucky by Heart: Do you know an Everyday Hero?; share your Thanksgiving memories; and more…

I just returned from a trip to Hazard, in Perry County, where I interviewed District Court Judge Leigh Anne Stephens, whom I believe is a considerably inspirational person. Here’s the reason. Bemoaning the sadness of so many troubled young brought before her in court, she led in establishing a one-week summer camp to help boys receive strong, positive mentoring and wholesome activities to redirect...

Kentucky by Heart: I didn’t go to kindergarten, but learned my life’s rules close to home

By Steve Flairty KyForward columnist Author Robert Fulghum got a lot of mileage out of his 1988 book, All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In it, he identified 16 “rules to live by” learned early in childhood and applied them to real life situations, partly through a series of essays. For those practicing a “savor the moment and experiences” way of handling life—ones...

Kentucky by Heart: Harrison County’s friendly Cynthiana has always been a community of interest

By Steve Flairty KyForward columnist I figure I’ve passed through the town of Cynthiana, Kentucky, in Harrison County, a couple of thousand times in my life. For all the years attending college at Eastern, in Richmond, I drove back and forth on Highway 27 through the town. I also drove the same highway to my parents in northern Kentucky from homes in Winchester and Lexington for nearly four decades. Additionally,...

Kentucky by Heart: Biographies of humorist Cobb, iconic Still among newly released Kentucky books

By Steve Flairty KyForward columnist Every several months, I look forward to driving to the Kentucky Monthly office in Frankfort to obtain a selection of newly released Kentucky books to review for the magazine. I define “Kentucky books” simply as ones about Kentucky or written by a Kentucky author. For my taste, it’s grounds for salivating profusely without being taken to task. This batch seems,...

Kentucky by Heart: Hatton has an incurable need to help people, all with a smile on his face

By Steve Flairty KyForward columnist Reading Dale Hatton’s posts on Facebook are sure to put a grin on your face. He likes to share his light touch with some low-key humor, usually of the clean variety and always good-natured in content. As you read him daily, you’ll also likely find him to be a caring sort, one who has a genuine passion to help those in his Winchester community who “are having...

Kentucky by Heart: Woodford Quilt Trail allows community to give tribute to their heritage

By Steve Flairty KyForward columnist When Debbie Tichenor was growing up on a farm in Owen County, she spent a lot of quality time with her dear Granny Smith while her parents worked their jobs in Frankfort. “Granny was a quilter, she sewed, and she was a crafty person. She could do about everything,” noted Debbie. “She always had something for me to do and she loved my art and kept it displayed...