Welcome to Preserving our Voices. This program is inspired by Story Corp’s National Day of Listening project. The National Day of Listening was conceived as an encouragement to listen to and record a loved one telling his or her stories.
WKMS set out to listen to people with stories to tell in October, and we collected more than 30 recording sessions held at public libraries. In this program, we hear selected conversations from Madisonville, Paducah, Murray and Hopkinsville. The stories range from love, fear, and service.
(See photos from these conversations in the slideshow above.)
Ginny Lawson and Hilda Howard have been neighbors and close friends in Hopkinsville for decades. Hilda hails from the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and… a big family. Whom she can thank for this story…
Rolf Pitsch also comes from a large family. The German immigrant spoke with Kentucky New Era Opinion Editor Jennifer Brown in Hopkinsville. Pitsch’s family members were refugees after World War Two and their story is about separation and escape.
Pitsch has lived in Hopkinsville since 1978 and has written letters to the Kentucky New Era editor for almost just as long. They met that way. Jennifer Brown wrote a story about Pitsch, his letters and coming to America in 1951.
While Pitsch had a family, lost it and found it. Mary Tripp-Reed never really thought she would have a family of her own, but today she is the single mother of her adopted daughter Maya. The College lecturer tells her friend Stephanie Nutter-Osborne in Murray that her change in plans began with the question. “What would you do if you couldn’t fail?”
The Year was 1958, Elvis Presley was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas and life guarding at the Officer’s Club. Barbara Flechtner learned how she could get to meet him. Perfectly coifed and "fresh from Dallas" Flechtner tells her granddaughter Megan Whitfield in Madisonville about her rendezvous with “The King.”
The SR-71 Blackbird is the U.S. Military’s fastest plane. It cruises at mach 3.2, just over 2,400 mph at altitudes in excess of 80,000 feet. Relatively few people have flown in this plane which was used for reconnaissance during the Cold War. Thomas Schmittou of Almo is among the small group of pilots and reconnaissance officers that flew combat missions aboard the SR-71. Schmittou, now 80 years-old, flew 30 combat missions in the blackbird and talks to his daughter Denise about his experiences.
Madisonville’s Parvin Gibbs also had a cold-war era story. Gibbs retired from United States Air Force in 1979 as Senior Master Sergeant. He was a crew member on the Emergency Airborne Command Post. It was an elite assignment due to its national security impact: the president and vice-president of the United States could use this plane to command nuclear forces from the air during a national crisis. Gibbs’ 26 year military career placed him in other challenging situations as well, like the one he describes next:
Madisonville attorney Randy Teague remembers his aviator father Ralph T. Teague. The senior Teague’s personal effects include flight logs from his service for the nation flying over the Himalayas. Teague didn't know much about his dad's accomplishments until chatting with a friend one day.
Dawson Springs in its heyday was referred to as the “health resort of the upper south.” The long and lanky Dr. Herbert Chaney was new to the community and didn’t know about some of the town’s unique offerings. He remembers how he first learned about Hamby's Well Water.
Carl and Ruth Buzzard
Governor Steve Beshear was among notable students when Carl Buzzard taught science and industrial arts at Dawson Springs High School. Buzzard grew up in Dawson and enjoyed the bustling train traffic of the town in its heyday. Its downtown would come alive nights on the weekend...
Jesus and Shirley Menendez
Paducah real estate broker Jesus Menendez was born the town of Sagua La Grande, a commercial center on the north coast of Cuba. When Fidel Castro led the movement against President Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s it was a town in crisis. At 17 years old Jesus and his family were faced with a tough decision. Jesus speaks with his wife Shirley.
For some, starting a family is a relatively simple process. Meet someone, fall in love, and start having children. But David and Jennifer Bryson of Murray turned to adoption when medical issues prevented them from having children of their own. In 2005 the Brysons identified a child to adopt in Kazakstan, and they tell about the frustration and fear they experienced when they went to meet her there, including a run-in with the local mob.
For 6 years Kenneth Thomas of Murray worked as the prison psychologist at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville. But before he could help others cope with their mental and emotional problems professionally, he had a personal obstacle to overcome. Kenneth tells his daughter Elizabeth Thomas also of Murray about how a woman in a red dress led him to victory over alcoholism.
This has been Preserving Our Voices, an original WKMS production celebrating the National Day of Listening. Our thanks to staff members at public libraries in Madisonville, Paducah, Hopkinsville, Murray and Paris TN. We also thank Jennifer Brown of the Kentucky New Era. WKMS staff members produced these recordings with our generous storytellers.
Remember to take the time to record the stories of someone you cherish, or – just take the time to listen!