Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Tena Messer, November 28, 1990

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Early life / college

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Partial Transcript: So why don't you just start by telling me your name and where you were born.

Segment Synopsis: Messer talks about her family's background, mentioning her parents' occupations and her father's immigration to America after World War I. She also talks about going to college at the University of California at Santa Barbara and how her desire for adventure grew throughout college.

Keywords: Adventurous experiences; Family background; Financial situations; Interest in teaching; Motivations; Student activism; Youth group activities

Subjects: Glendale (Calif.); Higher education; University of California, Santa Barbara

00:08:55 - Initial involvement in VISTA

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Partial Transcript: And I think, I think the decision to go into VISTA was a little bit of an adventure.

Segment Synopsis: Messer discusses her impressions of Appalachian Kentucky, her parent's reaction to her joining VISTA, and her initial experiences with VISTA, including training. She also mentions her perceptions of the AVs that were training her, commenting that some were naive and underestimated the difficulty of the situation.

Keywords: AV trainers; Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Community organizing; Eastern Kentucky; Family's reactions; Father; Flem Messer; Health concerns; Impressions; Lack of understanding; Perceptions; Relations; Stereotypes; Training; Transportation; VISTA; Volunteers

Subjects: Berea (Ky.); Volunteers in Service to America

00:25:05 - Tension between Flem Messer and other Appalachian Volunteers

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Partial Transcript: I saw it later especially after Flem and I started dating that, um, there was a resentment too between some of the Appalachian Volunteers and Flem.

Segment Synopsis: Messer talks about some tension between Flem Messer and other Appalachian Volunteers over his approach to community organizing. She also mentions that Flem and others clashed because of personality differences.

Keywords: Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Approaches; Community organizing; Flem Messer; Middle class families; Mud Creek project; Resentment

Subjects: Clay County (Ky.)

00:29:32 - Further training experiences

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Partial Transcript: So did you--is there anything else about the training period that you remember?

Segment Synopsis: Messer talks more about her experiences during training including her first field experiences during training in Pike County, Kentucky.

Keywords: Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Dan Fox; Flem Messer; Harvard professor; Hurricane Creek; Training experiences; VISTAs; Volunteer placement

Subjects: Pike County (Ky.); Volunteers in Service to America

00:34:03 - Permanent assignment in Floyd County, Ky.

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Partial Transcript: And then the last time they put into where they thought they were going to place you.

Segment Synopsis: Messer discusses her experiences working in a four room school in Floyd County. She talks about working with the teachers and the struggles she faced teaching underprivileged and illiterate students. She talks about two other Appalachian Volunteers in the area who did not get along with the community and were eventually asked to leave.

Keywords: Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Attitudes; Bathroom issues; Charles Clark; Experiences; Four room school; Relations; Ruth Jones; School library; School superintendents; Students; Teachers; Volunteer placement; Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA)

Subjects: Education--Appalachian Region; Floyd County (Ky.); Rural schools--Appalachian Region

00:42:41 - Further experiences working in Floyd County, Ky.

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Partial Transcript: Why don't you, um, go ahead and tell me a little bit more about what you did in the school.

Segment Synopsis: Messer further discusses her experiences working in a four room school in Floyd County, Ky. She talks about the teaching methods of the teachers. She goes on to talk about working outside the school on establishing a community center.

Keywords: Community Action Programs; Community development meetings; Community involvement; Corporal punishment; Eastern Kentucky; Flem Messer; Four room school; Learning abilities; Ruth Jones; Small group instruction; Students; Teaching methods; VISTAs; Welfare

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Economic conditions; Education--Appalachian Region; Floyd County (Ky.); Rural schools--Kentucky; Volunteers in Service to America

00:50:59 - Living in the community

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Partial Transcript: Where did you live during this time?

Segment Synopsis: Messer discusses what it was like living in Floyd County as a VISTA volunteer, mentioning that she felt accepted by the community as a teacher. She also talks about her relationship with her future husband Flem Messer.

Keywords: Acceptance; Flem Messer; Hamilton family; Living conditions; Living situation; Locals; Perceptions; Relations; VISTA "dollies"

Subjects: Floyd County (Ky.)

01:00:01 - Outpost education center

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Partial Transcript: So you were there for a year? Is that right?

Segment Synopsis: Messer talks about working as an Appalachian Volunteer in Floyd County, Ky. She and her husband started an outpost education center for drop outs and children that needed extra attention. The school eventually led to conflict with leadership within the public school system.

Keywords: Community centers; Community newspapers; Competition; Confrontations; Illiteracy; Mud Creek; Outpost education centers; Randy; School newspapers; School principals

Subjects: Education--Appalachian Region; Floyd County (Ky.); Rural schools--Kentucky

01:09:26 - Impact on the community / personal impact

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Partial Transcript: Did you feel like you made a difference in their lives?

Segment Synopsis: Messer discusses the impact she had on the community, mentioning that her greatest impact might have been on Ruth Jones who was a teacher at the four room school she worked in. She goes on to talk about how her experiences impacted her life on a personal level.

Keywords: Eula Hall; Mud Creek; Resiliency; Ruth Jones

Subjects: Appalachian (People).; Community development--Appalachian Region.; Floyd County (Ky.); Social reformers--Appalachian Region

01:19:25 - Various experiences after leaving Floyd County, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So where, um--when did you leave then, um, the outpost?

Segment Synopsis: Messer talks about moving around Kentucky after leaving Floyd County, speaking at length about her husband's political conflicts in Clay County over hiring practices. She also talks about how Flem's troubles disrupted their family life and at times affected their relationship.

Keywords: Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Community Action Programs; Conflicts; Controversy; Decline; Firing Flem; Flem Messer; Furniture refinishing business; Hiring policies; Impact on family life; Moving around; Mud Creek; Philosophical differences; Political battles; Rumors; Safety concerns; Water project

Subjects: Clay County (Ky.); Manchester (Ky.); Social reformers--Appalachian Region

01:38:23 - Leaving the anti-poverty movement

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Partial Transcript: So um, when you left to go to, um, was it Corbin?

Segment Synopsis: Messer talks about Flem and her decision to move to Corbin and leave the War on Poverty behind. She also talks about Flem's furniture business in Corbin. She also talks about going to the school board in Corbin about the class sizes in schools. She also mentions getting back into teaching while still in Corbin.

Keywords: Decline; Financial concerns; Flem Messer; Furniture business; Lost idealism; Motivations for leaving; Political climate; Return to teaching; War on Poverty

Subjects: Clay County (Ky.); Corbin (Ky.)

01:48:33 - Reflections on War on Poverty

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, as you look back on, um, the--your involvement in the War on Poverty...

Segment Synopsis: Messer discusses the shortcomings of the War on Poverty, mentioning that even the successful programs did not lead to long term changes. She also talks about the need to involve the whole family in the educational process. [interview is concluded]

Keywords: "Happy Pappy" programs; Anti-poverty programs; Education programs; Family involvement; Importance; Laura Ashley; Long term success; Possum Trot; Shortcomings; Work training programs

Subjects: Barbourville (Ky.); Jackson County (Ky.)