1)Who are you, and what roles do you fill in your community?
I’m a grandson, son, husband and father to a family that still calls Hazard home. I’m a Hazard native that has grown up here and after completing my education chose to return in the spring of 2004. My most important role is being a father of three children (8,5,5 months) and working with my wife to make their lives better in the immediate and hopefully contribute to our hometown to make it a better place to grow up and possibly return in the future. In work, I’m the Executive Vice President of 1st Trust Bank in Hazard, a locally owned bank that opened its doors in 2004 and has since grown and expanded to Laurel and Madison counties as well.
Beyond work, I’m serving and have served on several boards (though admittedly sometimes as the token banker) and I have participated beyond the nonprofit world by coaching youth soccer teams and serving on the Hazard Independent School Board. I’ve purposefully withdrawn a bit in the past 6-9 months because of the arrival of our third child. I assumed I could be of some use around the house, though I struggle to offer real evidence that’s the case after 5 months.
2) What do you most appreciate about your community?
Its resilience and compassion. I don’t want to confuse resilience and stubbornness (and there is ample supply of both here in Eastern KY), but as Jennifer Weeber highlighted in her post, this community keeps fighting and bouncing back. Out of the darkness of this latest economic downturn, I do see hope and possibilities of new approaches that bode well for the community’s future. I think these approaches can continue and hopefully flourish both independent of and in partnership with the coal industry should it experience a bounce back, even if in a diminished state.
The compassion of my fellow community members inspires me. Recent big scale efforts include the response to the fire on Main Street in September 2015 that left buildings gutted and people homeless, to the recent community- led effort to reestablish the homeless shelter. These larger and more public efforts are always supplemented by the quiet moments you learn about through conversations and interactions—good deeds by neighbors and friends helping one another in times of need when they themselves aren’t fairing much better but won’t stand to see others suffer or go without. I fall short far too often on this front and can only work to match what is already being done in Hazard and Perry County.
3) What’s your vision for Hazard, and what’s a community project you’ve been a part of that makes strides towards that vision?
I wish my vision were more fully formed, but like my mind it is ultimately simple. My vision for Hazard is that the spirit of innovation, diversification and collaboration that has been kindled in the wake of the most recent economic downturn endures. It is the hope that we as a community continue to work toward truly understanding who we are, what we want to accomplish and that we plot our path forward, understanding that progress for our area isn’t a zero sum game. Like anywhere else, diverse ideologies exist and tempers flare but we all adore these mountains we call home for one reason or another. Let’s start there, and once everything is so good we can’t stand it anymore, then we can tear each other down based on Facebook posts and political affiliation.
Above all, invest in the community you are proud to call home, whether that is financially, through volunteer work or any other example that can be found. One way I’m investing in my community is being a small part of a group called Appalachian Connection. The group’s mission is to ease the financial burden of higher education for students that we believe can become the future leaders of Appalachia. The group is in its infancy but we awarded our first $10,000 scholarship last year to a graduate of Hazard High School and our goal is to expand the program to all of Perry County and eventually surrounding counties. We rely on donations and have been the beneficiaries of both local goodwill and those who have moved away from the mountains but have a desire to give back.
4) Who is a member of your community that you admire and why?
Beyond family members, I have a few that I hope to cover as quickly as possible. For long term service, Betsy Clemons and Janet Prater Smith. They are seemingly inseparable and unassailable in their efforts to improve our community through their various works in civic clubs, non-profit boards and charitable initiatives (this is beyond their day jobs). The force of their efforts and personalities alone bring more people into the fold, because as much as we all adore them, we are even more scared to tell them “No.” Every small town should be so lucky to have a Betsy and Janet combo.
The David Duff and Greg Wells families both found success in these mountains and reinvested in it through additional job creation (like mine!) and their public and private support of countless endeavors. From a younger generation, I admire Ben Fugate. He is a young pastor in our area and above all else, I admire his optimism. In times like these, he isn’t averse to exploring big ideas and the occasional leap of faith. So civic pride, the willingness to invest and optimism—they all share it and they have my admiration for it.