Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with William B. Sturgill, June 4, 2002

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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 STURGILL: -- lose my driver's license. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] So I know it's June the 4th.

BIRDWHISTELL: Mr. Sturgill, it is June 4th, 2002, and we're out here at your company on Manchester Street, Central Rock, and we're beginning what I hope will be a series of interviews on your life and career. I was telling you before we turned on the tape recorder, it's a daunting task to prepare for a life history of Bill Sturgill, because [chuckle] it's -- the list of activities, both business and your involvement in public life, and all the things that you've done over the years is so very, very impressive. And what I hope to do today is -- and I know you've been interviewed many times over the years, and what I'd like for us to do is just take our time and work through this and give all the time necessary to get the story pretty thoroughly, in terms of your life and 00:01:00career. And I know you've had encounters with people who are writing history [chuckle] and people who are writing newspaper articles and --

STURGILL: Some good and some bad. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Some good and some bad. And the nice thing about oral history, Mr. Sturgill, is that it gives you a chance to tell your story in your own words, as they say on TV these days, but I think that's a very important part of this, and so I'm very pleased to be here and to be talking with you today. And as I said, I know you've gone over some of this before with other people, but I thought we'd maybe -- what do they say, "go over some plowed ground" this morning, and that is to talk about your early life and childhood. And of course, you were born in 1924. And I guess you were born in --


STURGILL: Lackey, Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- Lackey, Kentucky. And that's in Floyd County, right?

STURGILL: Floyd County. Right Fork of Beaver Creek.


STURGILL: My father was a merchant.

BIRDWHISTELL: Like a country store merchant?

STURGILL: Uh-huh. He had a clothing store, a bolt dry goods store, and a grocery, originally. He soon eliminated the groceries. They came from Knott County. Both my mother and father and their side of the family are from Knott County. And Dad had gone to W&L when he graduated. He was the first graduating class of Hindman Settlement School.


STURGILL: And he -- in his sophomore year, he got hit in the eye with a baseball. That's his story. So his mother wanted him to come home to Hindman, 00:03:00Kentucky. And my father had a -- my grandfather had a store, which was a dry goods store, ready-to-wear clothing, as well as he was the president of the Bank of Hindman. He had organized the Bank of Hindman in 1904.


STURGILL: And we -- I still have stock in it today.

BIRDWHISTELL: What's your grandfather's name?

STURGILL: William Sturgill.

BIRDWHISTELL: William Sturgill. And your grandmother's name?

STURGILL: Was Cora Perkins.


STURGILL: She was a Perkins on my father's side.

BIRDWHISTELL: How many children did they have?

STURGILL: They had about eight.

BIRDWHISTELL: Eight children.

STURGILL: They're all dead. And I can get their names and will do it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Good. It would be nice to have a -- sort of a family tree [inaudible].

STURGILL: And then on my mother's side, she was a Maggard. And her -- and she 00:04:00was an early graduate of the Hindman Settlement School and went to the old Louisa Normal School.


STURGILL: And then she went back to Knott County and taught in a one-room school for about three years prior to her and Dad getting married.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. What year did they marry? Do you remember?

STURGILL: Those are facts I don't know. I'll have --

BIRDWHISTELL: That's all written down somewhere. I just thought I would ask you while we were talking about it. Did they talk much about going to Hindman Settlement School?

STURGILL: Yes. It was a -- in my early childhood, I remember very well they talked about their days at Hindman Settlement School and Professor Clark, --


STURGILL: -- who was the generalissimo of getting that up -- everything started. And now we see today how it's grown and continues to grow.


BIRDWHISTELL: So there's a thread throughout your family's history, at least the part we've talked about so far, of obtaining an education, making sure that -- make use of the opportunities that are there to get education.

STURGILL: My mother was a great believer in getting her children educated.


STURGILL: She was a Maggard. And she had four brothers, and three of them were college graduates.


STURGILL: Two of them went into education, and one of them was a dentist.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's impressive, because --

STURGILL: And they had a rough row to hoe.



STURGILL: But my grandfather and grandmother on my father's side, they didn't push their children as they did on the Maggard side --


STURGILL: -- about going to college.

BIRDWHISTELL: So was your father the only one who --

STURGILL: He -- no, they -- he had a brother that was a doctor.


STURGILL: And I think he graduated from the University of Louisville and immediately came back and practiced up at the mouth of Dry Creek in Knott County.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Really?

STURGILL: And maintained an office there until the coal companies started moving into Right Beaver, and then he set up practice and was a company doctor down at Garrett, Kentucky, for the Elkhorn Coal Corporation.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you know him pretty well?

STURGILL: Yes, I did. He was -- as a child -- we lived in Garrett after we 00:07:00lived in Lackey. He was a fine fellow.

BIRDWHISTELL: So where did the Sturgills come from? Where -- how far back do you know your family history?

STURGILL: Well, I never did shake the closet too hard. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] You didn't want to look too close.

STURGILL: I was afraid what might fall out. [Chuckle] But what I do know is that soon after the Civil War my grandfather came to east Kentucky and settled in Whitesburg.


STURGILL: North Carolina.

BIRDWHISTELL: North Carolina.

STURGILL: And he was a land agent for a timber company.


STURGILL: And he soon set up a store at the foot of Pine Mountain and built a house there, and the house stood up until the mid-`30s. And his first wife was a Blair woman who lived and was a native of Letcher County. And that union had 00:08:00four children. And for some reason that we do not know, the Blair woman died and left him with those four children. And for whatever reason, he left Whitesburg and moved to Hindman, just at the turn of the century.

BIRDWHISTELL: And nobody knows --

STURGILL: And we have no records, or can't find any records, and of course, at the time we were growing up, my older sister and me were the only ones interested in finding out. And by this time, the records are -- and the people have gone to the four corners of the world. We really didn't have any way of knowing. But he then organized the Bank of Hindman in 1904.



STURGILL: And that's where we originally came from. And my father, having gone in the store with my grandfather, I guess he wanted to try his luck on his own. Floyd County was developing into a new coal country. Big companies were -- in those days, big companies were moving in. So he moved to Lackey with my mother. And my older sister was born in Hindman.

BIRDWHISTELL: What's your older sister's name?

STURGILL: [Gwendolyn Dingus?]. She's deceased. But my younger sister, who's older than I am, I think she was born in Hindman, too. And -- but we all grew 00:10:00-- started our school life in Lackey.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you did start school there.

STURGILL: Yeah. And then we moved to Garrett. I went to the first grade at Lackey, and the second and third grade at Garrett. And then in 1933, Dad was elected circuit court clerk of Floyd County and we moved to Prestonsburg.

BIRDWHISTELL: Moved to town.

STURGILL: Moved to town. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Moved downtown.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Were those one-room schools you were in, or --


BIRDWHISTELL: With one teacher and all the grades --

STURGILL: One teacher and all grades in my first four years. Then Prestonsburg -- no, I guess in the 5th year we just had one teacher.

BIRDWHISTELL: In Prestonsburg?

STURGILL: In Prestonsburg.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that right?

STURGILL: And then in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, we changed classes and had more teachers.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. With -- [inaudible] the schools in the smaller 00:11:00communities, there was just that one class for all ages. When you went to Prestonsburg, there were -- each grade had its own teacher.

STURGILL: Each grade had its own teacher.

BIRDWHISTELL: All right. So how many brothers and sisters were --

STURGILL: I've got two sisters and one brother.

BIRDWHISTELL: Two sisters, one brother.

STURGILL: My brother's four years younger than I am, and he's a lawyer in Prestonsburg.


STURGILL: Barkley. And he's a graduate of the University and W&L.

BIRDWHISTELL: He was sort of following you around, wasn't he?

STURGILL: Yeah. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: I picked up on that. Everywhere you went, Barkley showed up a little later. [Chuckle-Sturgill] What was your -- I guess first of all, let me ask you, there's a -- obviously a business ability that runs through your family 00:12:00history. I mean everybody -- I mean, it's a country of opportunity, but not everybody becomes successful business people. But your grandfather and your father, you know, were able to establish businesses that were successful. Can you talk much about that in terms of what that means in your family history?

STURGILL: We were successes, but struggling successes.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, no, I didn't mean to overstate it, but I mean in terms of what you -- the opportunity -- they took advantage of the opportunities that were there, so to speak.

STURGILL: Yeah. Yes. They did. The older brothers of my father strictly devoted themselves to politics.



BIRDWHISTELL: That was their life.

STURGILL: They were like Dad. They would rather do something for somebody else than do it for himself. And they practiced that. And --


BIRDWHISTELL: So did they serve in offices, or --

STURGILL: Oh, Uncle John, who was my favorite uncle because he had all the traits of being a great man, but he didn't believe any further than the county line. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] That there's anything beyond the county line, it wasn't any good.

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And I don't guess, Terry, in his late years --


STURGILL: -- that he was ever out of Hindman overnight. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] No --

BIRDWHISTELL: No need to be anywhere else.

STURGILL: -- no need to be -- and he got up every morning at four o'clock and went down --


STURGILL: -- and stood in front of the courthouse.

BIRDWHISTELL: Why? STURGILL: And he watched people come and go to town. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Knew everybody in the county. Every time they had a child and who they were.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. So how did he make a living? STURGILL: He was the county clerk.

BIRDWHISTELL: He was the county clerk. [Chuckle]


STURGILL: Whatever that earned him.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Huh. And the other family members who were in politics, did -- what did they do?

STURGILL: Well, they held various offices off and on. Sometimes they got beat.

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And then after my father was circuit clerk, he was sheriff of Floyd County.

BIRDWHISTELL: Because you could only serve for four years.

STURGILL: Yeah, then. And then he was clerk of the House and the Senate --


STURGILL: -- for a period of time. Then he got in the insurance business --


STURGILL: -- and did well. And he was a good -- as I called him, a peddler of policy. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] He would lay one on you. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, there's another strain that seems to me to run through the family, at least the successful business people in the family, and I think it probably is a trait that helps in politics as well. And that is the ability to 00:15:00sell something to somebody. Whether it's a [inaudible] or whether it's produce or whether it's clothing or whether it's an insurance policy or whether it's an idea, or a candidate, right?

STURGILL: Well, yes, that's true with him, particularly. He loved the mercantile business and should have stayed in it, because he was a good merchant. He at one time had stores in Lackey and Garrett and Betsy Layne.


STURGILL: And Betsy Layne was a growing community on the Pike County -- Pike-Floyd border, and the old Pike-Floyd Coal Company was there. Built camp houses up those hollows. And that was a good store. And I can remember when it burned down.


STURGILL: Nineteen twenty-eight.


BIRDWHISTELL: Now, was this the same time that the Dawahares were setting up a company in that part of the --

STURGILL: No, the Dawahares came later.

BIRDWHISTELL: That was later? I couldn't remember.

STURGILL: Yeah, Old Man Dawahare was a pack peddler --


STURGILL: -- which was very common in east Kentucky. And I can remember the old man --


STURGILL: -- coming through the neighborhood and setting up his little stand and selling his wares, and then moving on.


STURGILL: No, he carried them on his back, and then he had a little --


STURGILL: They're quite a family.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was trying to remember when they -- I've read some articles about them and business people in that same area, but later, okay.

STURGILL: They came later.

BIRDWHISTELL: So the moving around when you were younger, I guess that didn't 00:17:00bother you much or disrupt your life too much?

STURGILL: No, because I felt as though we were moving up. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Every time you kind of agreed with the move. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: I really didn't, at the time, think -- I just thought there were more opportunities, better playground, more opportunities for libraries, and more things to do.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. What was -- how would you describe your home life, whether it's in Lackey or Garth?

STURGILL: Garrett.



BIRDWHISTELL: Garrett or Prestonsburg?

STURGILL: Well, our -- my life in Lackey and Garrett was the life of a coal camp kid.


STURGILL: Everything was revolved around the company commissary and the company theater, such as it was. Not much playground equipment. Very good people 00:18:00teaching school, but not much preparation for teaching. And I always felt like that each time we moved, there'd be something better.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Opportunity.


BIRDWHISTELL: And I guess you were right.

STURGILL: But our life was a good life. We had a good family life. We went to Sunday school and church and --

BIRDWHISTELL: What church did you belong to?

STURGILL: Methodist Church.


STURGILL: And it was a good life. Someone asked me if I grew up poor.


STURGILL: I said, "Yes, but I didn't know it." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And that was a literal -- literally an answer that was true.



STURGILL: Because my status in life was about the same as everybody else's.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was your house connected to the store, or --

STURGILL: Yes. We had a -- it was not connected, but we had a walkway --


STURGILL: -- over to the store, both in Lackey and Garrett.

BIRDWHISTELL: A walkway, meaning a --

STURGILL: A walkway made out of wood --


STURGILL: -- that you could go across the -- well, in Lackey it was literally from here to the front door.


STURGILL: But at Garrett we had a yard between the house and the store.

BIRDWHISTELL: I see. You know, I interviewed Louie Nunn. And his family ran a little store up in northeastern Barren County. And people who grow up around 00:20:00those stores, there's an opportunity to meet people, hear things, be a part of conversations. Even as a kid, you're around. Was that the case with you and your brothers and sisters?

STURGILL: Oh, yes, we -- I always stayed close [chuckle-Birdwhistell] because you heard great stories. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] You heard things about people, you would know who they are, and their family, and what happened, and it was an interesting part of being there, is to hear the stories.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yeah, I would imagine. And --

STURGILL: And everybody came to town on Saturday. If it was Garrett, they came to the commissary, and they gathered in that little nook where the activities were.


STURGILL: And they had a killing every Saturday night.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? It was violent?

STURGILL: Literally.


BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Some of the questions I'll ask might seem -- might make me appear naïve, it's just I don't know everything about all this. Now, in running the store, did your father compete with company stores then, in terms of --

STURGILL: Certain items he did. And he had about the same clientele. But everybody didn't work for the company. There were people who worked for the railroad and did other work; farmers, very meager farmers.


STURGILL: But yes, he competed with the company stores.

BIRDWHISTELL: That reminded me. I was going to ask you, around your house, did you have enough land to have some animals and -- like chickens and farm animals of any kind?

STURGILL: We always had a cow.


STURGILL: And Mother always milked the cow. And from the time I was in the 00:22:00second grade, my job was to go get that cow.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] From the time you were in the second grade?

STURGILL: I hated to get that damn cow. I had to go in the rain and --

BIRDWHISTELL: Whatever condition, you had to --

STURGILL: What -- and we even had a cow after we moved to Prestonsburg.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you really?

STURGILL: And we had chickens.


STURGILL: But we never had any hogs.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] So just cows and chickens and dogs and cats, I guess.

STURGILL: And dogs. We didn't have any cats.


STURGILL: But I hated that cow. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] When they passed an ordinance in Prestonsburg, I guess I was in 7th or 8th grade, that no livestock could be within the city limits, [chuckle-Birdwhistell] well, I wasn't -- didn't know exactly what we was going to do, but we had to -- Mother had to find a place for her cow.


STURGILL: And she had a -- had talked to a Shortridge woman; I remember her 00:23:00name. And they had a place up Trimble Branch, which is a tributary coming into the river, and a rather long branch, but it was -- part of it was outside the city limits.


STURGILL: And it wasn't very far from our house. So Mother made a deal with a Ms. Shortridge for me to -- for her to take that cow. So she told me that I had to go with her to take the cow, which I did. And on the way up there I said, "Mother, let's sell this damn -- ." I didn't say damn, but I said, "Let's sell this cow to Ms. Shortridge and just buy milk from her [chuckle-Birdwhistell] and butter." "No," Mother said, "we have to have a cow." Said, "You can -- we can go up there and we'll keep it up there, and you and I'll go -- ." Well, I could 00:24:00see that cow being back on that ridge, [chuckle] and me have to go get it.

BIRDWHISTELL: This made it worse, not better. Right. Oh, that's funny.

STURGILL: And so we kept that cow up there, I guess, another year and then sold it to the people.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. Milking cows.

STURGILL: I got a cow business. But my life at that age was typical of other kids' lives who lived in that kind of community environment.


STURGILL: We might have had some things better, but not much.

BIRDWHISTELL: There wasn't a wide discrepancy between the --

STURGILL: Haves and the have-nots.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- haves and the have-nots.

STURGILL: No. [Chuckle] There was no silk-stocking avenue.


BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] What were your favorite things to do as a child when you weren't in school?

STURGILL: Well, I was the king of the marble players.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, were you?

STURGILL: Yeah. In grade school --


STURGILL: -- I had a lard bucket full of marbles. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And me and a kid named Bobby Salisbury, --


STURGILL: -- who was a -- later a dentist over at Mount Sterling, since died, why, we would -- we were the king of the marble country.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] You had a reputation.

STURGILL: We -- all the schools had little marble tournaments you played --


STURGILL: -- played [Ram and Fatty?]. And we'd go from -- we'd have to walk to whatever school -- down to Auxier, up to Denwood, we would go and play marbles on a Saturday or Monday afternoon.


STURGILL: And then I played sports, both in high school and college. I played 00:26:00football and basketball.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you played football at Prestonsburg High School?


BIRDWHISTELL: And basketball. Did they have a baseball team? STURGILL: No, we didn't field a baseball team.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you all play sandlot baseball when you were growing up?

STURGILL: Umhmm. We had one tennis court in town.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, you did?

STURGILL: Yeah. And we -- four or five of us played a lot of tennis. I played on UK's tennis team.

BIRDWHISTELL: I didn't know that.

STURGILL: Yeah, and [chuckle] Dr. [Harold Hardesty] Downing was the coach. And that tennis court was in the lower end of Prestonsburg, just close to where our house was. So we kept it up pretty well, but we occupied it, too. [chuckle-Birdwhistell] It belonged to Judge [Stevenson?].


BIRDWHISTELL: Were there a lot of books in your home when you were growing up, things to read, magazine subscriptions of any kind?

STURGILL: The normal ones. I don't know that Mother and Dad ever kept any particular books for us to read as children.


STURGILL: Mother was a great reader in her late years.


STURGILL: But she -- no. We don't have them like we have them today in our libraries for our kids.

BIRDWHISTELL: But a lot of kids in your generation, when they would get a hold of a book, it would be like a western or a --

STURGILL: Generally.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- adventure -- some type of adventure story of some kind. And there was a movie -- you said there was a movie theater up in town.


BIRDWHISTELL: So you'd go on Saturday afternoon probably? STURGILL: Saturday afternoon and Friday night.

BIRDWHISTELL: Friday night.

STURGILL: It was always a western. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Tom Mix or --


BIRDWHISTELL: Hoot Gibson, wasn't it?

STURGILL: Hoot Gibson came along about that time.


STURGILL: I was never much a shoot 'em-up guy. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: I assume you did well in school.

STURGILL: Yes. I was better than average.


STURGILL: I was in the top percentile of the class each and every year, but not the top.

BIRDWHISTELL: And, you know, usually if somebody's a leader in college the way you were, they were probably a leader in their high school. And then among your peers there in Prestonsburg, you would have been a leader of the group, basically.

STURGILL: Yeah, we -- I don't recall whether we had senior class presidents [inaudible] our junior and senior year. But I was -- my senior year, I was the 00:29:00class president.


STURGILL: Scared to death when I had to -- at the commencement, I remember, I had to make a speech, or I had to --

BIRDWHISTELL: Do something, right?

STURGILL: -- do something. And I was petrified. Absolutely -- [chuckle -- Birdwhistell] started the day before.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] It wasn't just for the moment. It was -- you drug it out.

STURGILL: We lived in an old, big white house, clapboard house, and I had a room in the back. And I'd go up in that room and I'd write and re-write. And Mother would come up, "What are you doing?" And I said, "Well, read this and read that."

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] She said, "You're not going to be able to go. You're going to be exhausted before you ever get there." I remember it was four o'clock in the afternoon --



STURGILL: -- the time this started. And I didn't think four o'clock would ever come.

BIRDWHISTELL: But you lived to tell about it.

STURGILL: I lived to tell about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Do you remember what you talked about?

STURGILL: No, but I'll have to look up the old annual.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. How many students were in your senior class at Prestonsburg?

STURGILL: There was about eighty.

BIRDWHISTELL: Eighty? That's a pretty sizeable class.

STURGILL: Prestonsburg was a good school system.


STURGILL: Better than average. Had a good superintendent of schools named Ishmael Triplett. And he was a dedicated school man, as I learned later. I wasn't particularly fond of him at the time; [chuckle] that old fogy. [Chuckle] 00:31:00But that -- later on I knew what he was driving for.


STURGILL: But I realized, I guess, Terry, that if we were ever going to make any progress in east Kentucky, education had to be the leader.


STURGILL: You know, out in the county where I spent time because I'd travel with Dad, we'd find people who, when the school year was out, their kids went to work in the field or in the mines, and their families didn't encourage them to go to school.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right, because that was income.



STURGILL: And it's a great beginning for Kentucky. And this is something we 00:32:00can talk about later, I'm sure. But when the community colleges got rolling --


STURGILL: -- and Otis [Singletary] got the vision of the community colleges, and we had -- in the four corners of the state we had community colleges, that brought to Kentucky its first vision to the people of the value of education.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. And access.

STURGILL: And I think we've gone through a cycle here where we broke up the good part of it.


STURGILL: It's not broken so bad I don't think it can't be fixed, but it was good when the University of Kentucky had their finger on it in a growing way.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Umhmm. Hmm.

STURGILL: And that was not true when I was growing up.


BIRDWHISTELL: How many, or what percentage would you guess, of your graduating class went on to college or some type of additional education?

STURGILL: And finished?


STURGILL: Just went on.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- just went on, basically.

STURGILL: I'd judge 20 to 25 percent.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. And the rest would find employment somewhere there or go to Cincinnati or do something?

STURGILL: Well, it was fashionable by that time -- by the late `30s, early `40s, to go to Ypsilanti and Detroit and --


STURGILL: -- and the out-migration of the `40s during the war years was a great impact on east Kentucky.


STURGILL: I mean it was then, has been, and is now for this reason: The people 00:34:00who migrated, who got -- had pretty good jobs, were good workers. Productivity in east Kentucky, they rank us second to none. And these people are now retired. And they've come back home. And the old homeplace is rotted down.


STURGILL: So they've taken a dozer and cleaned that land up and put a trailer or two trailers on it. So trailers are everywhere in east Kentucky. It isn't -- the pace has now slowed down some, but through the -- particularly through the '6--- late '60s and '70s, that was going on every day.


BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. Reminds me of a story Bill Gorman told me about wanting to try and get the trailer manufacturers to manufacture trailers in Perry County and Hazard. And they went to visit them. And when they made their presentation, the people at the trailer manufacturing company said, "Well, if we manufacture them down there, how are we going to get them out?" You know that story? Bill Gorman said, "Same way you get them in." [Both chuckling] So --

STURGILL: I owned part of the bank down at Jackson. Judge Turner and I put the Citizen's Bank in Jackson --


STURGILL: -- in `61, `62. And we had a bank board meeting one day, and we had financed 38 trailers.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Thirty-eight.

STURGILL: I said, "Look, see that lot there? It's going to be full of -- 00:36:00instead of used cars that we've had to repossess, it's going to be trailers. And we haven't got that many people to live in them. Don't make any more loans." [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: You put a stop to that. [Chuckle] When you were in high school and growing up, did you work part-time? Or did you have --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- summer jobs? Or what kind of work did you do?

STURGILL: I worked at a filling station as an attendant. Pumped gas, repaired tires, and --

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, for people who are much younger who eventually listen to this, you actually cleaned the windows and took care of the car when you pumped people's gas.


BIRDWHISTELL: Young people don't have any idea what that's like.

STURGILL: You always cleaned the guy's car when you pumped his gas.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: And one summer -- and after school I drove an explosives truck.



STURGILL: Yeah, for an explosives company.

BIRDWHISTELL: What did your parents think of that?

STURGILL: Well, they were assured it wasn't going to blow up [chuckle] by me. I knew about as much about it as -- [chuckle] and then I worked one summer. I hauled explosives to the mines -- they use it to dislodge the coal -- and then I hauled it out to the gas wells for them to shoot the wells.


STURGILL: And I had a good job.

BIRDWHISTELL: How did you get a job like that?

STURGILL: The fellow lived next door to us that owned this little jobbing arrangement for the Atlas Powder Company.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that right?

STURGILL: Then I later worked a couple of years for Atlas Powder Company.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was going to say, after you get out of college, you go to work for them.


BIRDWHISTELL: And I was going to ask you later if there was a connection between the two.

STURGILL: Well, that was the beginning of my connection.



STURGILL: And then in high school my junior year, I worked for the American Youth Foundation.

BIRDWHISTELL: What's that?

STURGILL: It operates summer camps.


STURGILL: And I worked on a Camp Tippecanoe, right on the Indiana-Michigan border. The camp was owned by the Ball Jar Company people --


STURGILL: -- out of Muncie.


STURGILL: It was a plush camp. And I got the job through the Lexington YMCA.


STURGILL: I had gone to Camp Daniel Boone, which the Lexington YMCA operated over here on the Kentucky River --


STURGILL: -- in 1934.


STURGILL: Mother clipped my money in my watch pocket and put me on a bus.


BIRDWHISTELL: Put you on a bus.

STURGILL: I came to Lexington.

BIRDWHISTELL: The bus brought you all the way to Lexington?

STURGILL: Bus took me back. [Chuckle] I --

BIRDWHISTELL: You were ten years old?

STURGILL: Yeah, about ten or eleven.

BIRDWHISTELL: That would be quite an adventure.

STURGILL: It was an adventure. But I met all the Lexington boys who are now my friends.


STURGILL: Buddy Parker, Tommy Bell.


STURGILL: [Inaudible] and Tommy Kessinger.

BIRDWHISTELL: All from those camps.

STURGILL: All from those camps. I went two years.


STURGILL: And that's how I got acquainted with the American Youth Foundation.


STURGILL: Their leaders came into the camp, Camp Daniel Boone. And I was always impressed with it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, they must have been impressed with you, too.

STURGILL: I tell you what, that summer of my senior year in high school, Mother 00:40:00called me up and she said, "Bill, we know you're going into the service. We want you to come home." Boy, I didn't want to go. I didn't want to come home. But I felt like I should.


STURGILL: So I got out -- I told -- I gave them plenty of notice to replace me. I ran the waterfront. I gave them plenty of time to replace me, but when the time came I was going to leave, I left one afternoon -- one Sunday afternoon, and I thought I'd hitch-hike into Indianapolis.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hitch-hike to Indianapolis. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: And I've forgotten the name of that little town. But anyway, it was a little lake town. And I just got out and threw my -- the first car that came 00:41:00by stopped. And it had a man and a woman in it. And I had -- asked me where I was going. I said, "I'm going to Indianapolis and I'd appreciate a ride. I'll buy you some gasoline." And they said, "Well, where are you going after that?" And I said, "Well, you never heard of the place." And so the guy said, "Well, we're going on beyond Indianapolis," he said. Said, "We're going to Frenchburg, Kentucky."

BIRDWHISTELL: Are you serious? [Both chuckling]

STURGILL: And about the time I got my bearings -- so I bought their supper and a tank of gas for the ride. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: And rode into Frenchburg.

STURGILL: Frenchburg, and Dad picked me up there about two o'clock in the morning. That wouldn't happen again.

BIRDWHISTELL: Let me turn this over.

[End of Tape #1, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #1, Side #2]

BIRDWHISTELL: You talked about your uncle who never wanted to leave the county. 00:42:00Did -- other than the summer camps, did your family travel any? Or did you -- I guess the question I'd like to ask, Mr. Sturgill, is when -- as you were growing up, when did you start to see this larger world out there? I mean as a kid you just know -- you know, as a really small kid you just know your family and your little community. But how did you deal with this larger world as you grew and through high school?

STURGILL: Well, my father being in politics, we had an opportunity to come to Frankfort, --


STURGILL: -- come to Lexington. All health care had to be taken care of in Huntington or Ashland.


STURGILL: That was down the river.


STURGILL: So I guess that was the first place I was opened up to the outside 00:43:00world, because we didn't do any traveling.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. You wouldn't take a family vacation and head up to Washington, D.C. or something like that?

STURGILL: No. We never did.


STURGILL: And used to come to Lexington -- university football games. Dad was a great sports fan.


STURGILL: And we'd ride excursions down the Big Sandy River and go to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game. Get up at four o'clock in the morning and board a train.

BIRDWHISTELL: There in Prestonsburg?

STURGILL: Prestonsburg. Ride to Cincinnati and see a baseball game and come back and get off at four o'clock the next morning. [Both chuckling] And we'd make one-day trips to come see UK play football --


STURGILL: -- when I was in the 7th and 8th in high school.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, would you all drive up?


BIRDWHISTELL: That would be quite a drive back then, wouldn't it? STURGILL: 00:44:00Take three hours and a half coming and three hours and a half going.


STURGILL: But it was fun for us. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] My older sister was a very studious kind of a person. And she went to Eastern to college.

BIRDWHISTELL: Probably planning to be a teacher?

STURGILL: She was planning to be a teacher. She never did get there. But -- and my younger sister graduated from Morehead.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. So when you're in high school, you're a really good athlete then.


BIRDWHISTELL: Really good athlete. And are your teams successful in football and basketball?

STURGILL: Until we got ambitious, or our coaches did, and wanted us to play 00:45:00central Kentucky teams and Louisville teams. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: That will take care of that, won't it? STURGILL: That took care of our success. But, you know, in the conference we played in and the region, you know, we were a good -- Prestonsburg was a good ball club.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was just out watching my daughter play in the summer league games last night. And I was telling a guy that I played at Anderson County in the late `60s, and we'd do fine as long as we played Mercer County and Harrodsburg and those places. But we'd come over here and play Henry Clay and we couldn't get the ball up the floor. [Chuckle] But -- what position did you play in high school in football and basketball?

STURGILL: I played end in football, and I played guard in basketball.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really, you played guard? Hmm. So you had good hands.

STURGILL: I could catch it.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] And you liked basketball best?

STURGILL: Oh, yeah. I came down here on a football scholarship, Terry.


BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, you did? I didn't know that.

STURGILL: And they beat me to death. Freshmen couldn't play then.


STURGILL: And we were just fodder for the varsity.

BIRDWHISTELL: About like a tackling dummy? [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Then they suspended it and -- suspended football and basketball in `42, I guess, or `43. And when we went -- came back -- I'd already approached Coach [Adolph] Rupp about a scholarship to play basketball. And I worked out and we struck up a deal. And [chuckle] I remember [Bernie] Shively was going to be the football coach. They hadn't hired a football coach. And I met "Shive" over in old Alumni Gym, and he said, "Bill, we're going to start football 00:47:00practice next Monday." I said, "Not me, mister," or whatever I said.

BIRDWHISTELL: "Not me." [Chuckle]

STURGILL: But I did say, "Not me." And he said, "Why?" I said, "I'm playing basketball."

BIRDWHISTELL: I bet he was disappointed.

STURGILL: And he gave me a good cussing.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] From what I've read, you had a pretty good shot in basketball. Is that true?

STURGILL: Well, yeah, but -- oh, I played quite a bit when I was a junior.


STURGILL: But when I was a senior, [Ralph] Beard and [Wah Wah] Jones and [Alex] Groza and that crowd came. And hell, they were so much better as freshmen than we were as seniors that we couldn't compete with them.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, the gymnasium in Prestonsburg, did you all have a pretty good gymnasium down there? Was it small?

STURGILL: Well, it was a good-sized gymnasium. We had no locker facilities. 00:48:00Had no -- we used the balcony as a locker room.


STURGILL: Had one shower. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: But you learned to play basketball just playing out on the sandlot?

STURGILL: I used to put a coat hanger and bend it and put it up in my bedroom, and I'd roll some socks up.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, I've been there. [Both chuckling]

STURGILL: [Chuckle] That's how I started.

BIRDWHISTELL: I think that helps make good shooters, actually.

STURGILL: Then Dad built me a basketball court.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Was there a -- was there, like, Sunday afternoon baseball games there in the community?

STURGILL: Had a league, which was a big sporting event.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's why I was surprised you didn't play baseball, because in those kind of communities, baseball was a big community affair.


STURGILL: Big affair because the coal companies all sponsored a team. And it got to be bloodthirsty. [Chuckle]


STURGILL: But I never did play baseball. Oh, I played, but I didn't -- I never excelled at it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. So you're -- you have, from what I can tell, Mr. Sturgill, very fond memories of your high school years, of growing up there in Prestonsburg. It's a -- of course, nobody's life is storybook, but I mean, it was a good life for you.

STURGILL: It was a good life. And looking back over it, it was a normal life.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Were there any personal hardships? Were there things that happened that -- you know, it seems like things happen to people, things happen to families. Were there things that happened that made an impression on you, that sort of gave you moments to pause and think about things? Or was it pretty much just positive?

STURGILL: In 1939, my father got defeated for circuit court clerk, and he 00:50:00didn't have his store and he didn't have anything else to do.


STURGILL: And his life was -- for the next two years was rather rocky from abuse of alcohol.


STURGILL: And it posed a hardship for our family.


STURGILL: In a way, I resented it at the time.

BIRDWHISTELL: You were still in high school at that point?

STURGILL: Still in high school. I didn't graduate until `42.

BIRDWHISTELL: Forty-two. Okay.

STURGILL: And it was just a period when Mother had to go to work, and my older sister did, too.

BIRDWHISTELL: At like an office situation there in town or something?

STURGILL: Yeah. Mother worked for the state --



STURGILL: -- in the child welfare program. And I drove her up in the county to make her calls. And that -- those were the toughest years of my life.



BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. That would make -- when a man loses his livelihood, it -- they react in different ways sometimes.

STURGILL: And Dad finally got a state job. And then the next political cycle, he was elected sheriff. I didn't think he could be elected, but --


STURGILL: -- he made it.

BIRDWHISTELL: How come he lost that election?

STURGILL: For the same reason that started him on his downward spiral. He got acquainted with the bottle, --


STURGILL: -- in excess. And it -- he caused some hardships in our family.


BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, that'll do it. That'll do it. And, of course, you were at the age where I guess you felt like you had to step up a little bit.

STURGILL: Yeah. And there wasn't much stepping you could do. I --

BIRDWHISTELL: That's what I mean. But you felt the need to, though, is what I'm saying.

STURGILL: After school I clerked in Francis's store --


STURGILL: -- and swept the damn thing out. And then I -- then that summer I got that job with -- driving the explosives truck.

BIRDWHISTELL: So after your father was elected sheriff, did his -- did he improve? Did things get better?

STURGILL: Oh, yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: He sort of got stabilized?

STURGILL: Yeah, he stabilized.

BIRDWHISTELL: And your -- probably your relationship with him improved at that time.

STURGILL: Oh, greatly.


STURGILL: Had he not improved, we probably would have -- well, I speculate.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. So -- well, that's what I -- you know, that's why I 00:53:00asked you the question, because you know, when you're looking at a life history, there are -- for all of us, there are wonderful memories. But there -- everybody's challenged at some point, and some more times than others, you know. And family situations can be some of the most challenging there are. What did you learn from that?

STURGILL: Look about your business. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: Look about your business.

STURGILL: I think that alcohol's a disease. And I just have to be on my guard.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. What about this -- as you're in high school, this 00:54:00international situation? You're following that on the radio, I guess, and people from Prestonsburg and Floyd County are going off to the military. And then, of course, the question everyone gets asked, you know, where were they when they heard about Pearl Harbor? Tell me some of your memories of the coming world war.

STURGILL: Well, of course, we were aware of the conflict going on. And we were in -- changing classes on Monday after Pearl Harbor when we realized that we were in the war.


STURGILL: And that was the summer Mother got me to come home from --



STURGILL: -- from working at Camp Tippecanoe.

BIRDWHISTELL: Because she thought you were going to be drafted?

STURGILL: Yeah. Well, it turned out that I was drafted. I first wanted to volunteer, and my family didn't want me to, they wanted me to go through the draft. And not having -- being a physical specimen that I was, I went to Huntington to the induction center, like all other kids, on a bus. They put you through the line, and I got checked out, "Get out of the line." And to make a long story short, I had a pilonidal cyst on my rump or in my -- the base of my spine. And they didn't accept you for that.


BIRDWHISTELL: Did you know you had it before that?

STURGILL: Didn't know I had it and never heard of it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Yeah. I'm not familiar with it.

STURGILL: And Mother and Dad thought I was going to die the next day. I'd had typical childhood diseases, but nothing major. I never had a -- even my appendix out. And so they bundled me up and brought me down to Lexington to a cousin of ours who was a doctor here. And he said, "Well, the normal thing -- reason you didn't get in the army is that the -- these are disastrous cases, and it creates big liabilities for the government because you have to ream those things out. But my advice to you is not to ream it out." So I went on back 00:57:00home and thought I would join the merchant marines.


STURGILL: And so I did that and went to St. Louis, and same thing, they wouldn't take me.


STURGILL: Well, I'd already gotten into the school year and I said, "Well, I've got to go get a job." So I went up to Dayton and I worked for the Frigidaire Division of General Motors building canteens.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Like with a punch-press type thing?

STURGILL: Yeah. And I stayed there three months and then came back and got in school.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. How did that make you feel? Here you'd been an athlete, 00:58:00you know, you'd been the --

STURGILL: Terrible.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- I mean, and everybody was going off to war, and there you were sort of stuck.

STURGILL: Terrible.


STURGILL: Like you were some kind of cast-out. You walked down the street and you [chuckle] -- but later on in life, I never gave myself an opportunity to be criticized by it. And if someone asked me, I told them.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. I knew it must be something like that when -- you know, when I was looking at -- in preparation for this. I didn't know what it would be, but it had to be something like that because, you know, a kid from Prestonsburg just wouldn't allow that to happen if they had any other alternative.

STURGILL: Well, then I thought about the V-12 program, and then the same thing 00:59:00would occur. So I decided that the best thing for me to do was to go ahead and look about my own self, get on with my life.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Were you --

STURGILL: But it did cause me some great pain.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. I'm not surprised. And it seems to me from talking to people of your generation who -- others who went through that type of situation, that I guess there were some in the community who might say things behind your back or something, but it's the way you felt yourself that really drove it, wasn't it? STURGILL: Oh, yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: I mean other people could understand if you had a problem, [and] you had a problem, but inside you had to deal with it.

STURGILL: It was tough.


STURGILL: It was tough because I was the leader of the football team and the basketball team and all the civic things that happen for young people. Bill was the one to --


STURGILL: And then here I couldn't go to war.



STURGILL: It wasn't the army, it was the war.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. Interesting, interesting. So, as you say, you went to St. Louis, and you worked three months in Dayton, and then you're back in Lexington after that.


BIRDWHISTELL: And -- so there was never any doubt you were going to go to UK? You didn't look at any other options?

STURGILL: Well, I looked at Vanderbilt, but I didn't have the resources to go to Vanderbilt. And I -- their scholarships weren't very attractive.

BIRDWHISTELL: Would you have played football at Vanderbilt as well?


BIRDWHISTELL: So how come you get a football scholarship and not a basketball scholarship, originally?

STURGILL: Well, it just so happened they needed football players. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] I --

BIRDWHISTELL: It was what the market would bear, right? STURGILL: Yeah, if it was ordinary times, I would not have gotten one. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: So you arrive -- you're recruited by UK to play football, or 01:01:00you're --

STURGILL: No, I walked on.

BIRDWHISTELL: You walked on. Okay. And I've read that you wanted to go to UK because your goal was to become an attorney. Is that --

STURGILL: That's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: Out of high school, that -- you thought, I'm going to be an attorney?

STURGILL: I wanted to be a lawyer.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. Was that because of lawyers you knew in Prestonsburg, or people you met in Frankfort? Or --

STURGILL: Well, I thought it fitted my background and my acquaintance with people. I was a people's person. I knew people, and I thought I'd make a good lawyer.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Umhmm. And, you know, in a small town, there's only so many professional people to emulate, the minister, the attorney, or those type -- the doctor, and so you're sort of drawn to those things. I don't guess you ever wanted to be a minister?


STURGILL: It's funny you'd ask me that.


STURGILL: I did at one time.


STURGILL: And it was when I was at summer camp.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. That would be a setting, wouldn't it, to --

STURGILL: We had a chaplain on -- at the camp who was a good friend of mine.


STURGILL: And he had a right good insight on what made a good life.


STURGILL: And it was the religious life. And he was killed in the war.


STURGILL: And I knew it would be a confining life, but that summer I wrestled with it some.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Now, was your public speaking issue just with graduation, 01:03:00or did you not like public speaking in general?

STURGILL: [Chuckle] Oh, I overcame it. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] My next fright was when - and then this was a real fright - was when they were seeking the money to build the Memorial Coliseum.


STURGILL: Coach Rupp came to me and he said, "By God, Bill, they're looking for somebody to represent the student body with a little basketball background to talk to the legislature." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And then Frank Peterson called me, --

BIRDWHISTELL: Frank Peterson.

STURGILL: -- and he wanted me to do it.


STURGILL: And I was petrified. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: But you did it? STURGILL: I did it.


BIRDWHISTELL: You did it. That's funny. That's funny. I had a question there, but it -- a follow-up question there, but it went away. Oh, now, when you were in -- growing up in Prestonsburg, they called you Billy probably.


BIRDWHISTELL: And you still went by Billy at UK.


BIRDWHISTELL: Billy Bartram --

STURGILL: Bartram Sturgill.

BIRDWHISTELL: And Bartram is a family name, right?

STURGILL: Family name. That was the middle name from my father.

BIRDWHISTELL: Your father's middle name. Okay.

STURGILL: My grandmother on my father's side was a Perkins. And their families were all lawyers.


STURGILL: And she always said that was an English name. There was a Lord 01:05:00Bartram who was a great jurist.


STURGILL: That's where that name came from. Now, I don't know. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, Billy Bartram Sturgill's a nice name. I mean, you've got to give it some credit. [Both chuckling] I was talking to a friend of mine who's an attorney in town, and he grew up over in Frankfort, Franklin County, and he was known as Jimmy. And he was saying when he went off to college, he left Frankfort and changed his name. He became Jim. [Both chuckling] You have to almost leave the -- leave your [inaudible].

STURGILL: Well, I was over -- last week I was over at the Pain Center having my back -- a procedure done on my back. I've been having a lot of back trouble. And they were deadening the ends of the nerves. And as I was leaving, I had to go in this office to get a schedule of when my next appointment would be and so 01:06:00forth. And this girl handed it to me and said, "Here Billy." I said, "Where'd you come from?" She said, "Well, I've heard my mother refer to you."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Yeah, it's -- yeah, you know, you've got William B. Sturgill and William T. Young, and you're both Billys. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Yeah. [Chuckle] Bill said one night -- they'd honored him out at Keeneland -- --


STURGILL: -- and he came back and I was sitting with him, and he said, "I just wish somebody would have called me Billy tonight." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] I said, "Damned if I do. I'm tired of that." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] My sister always called me Billy.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised. Yeah, I was surprised when I -- in the UK yearbook you're listed as Billy Bartram Sturgill. Because I was looking for William or Bill, but you kept it through college. So 01:07:00did you go to Frankfort with your father then, as you said, when he was clerking or --

STURGILL: No, he went down there and boarded and traveled back and forth.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. And he would have been down there, what, in the `30s?

STURGILL: No, he didn't start going until the `40s.

BIRDWHISTELL: In the `40s. So you were already --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- in college. Did -- I know another question I was going to ask you. Before you go off to college, your family being so politically involved there locally and regionally that, you know, I guess people wouldn't believe it now, but politicians actually came to your town and might speak from the back of a truck or a wagon or something like that. And this would have been the years of Alben Barkley and "Happy" Chandler, and you know, Chandler and Barkley running against one another in `38. And, I mean, for a family that loved politics, it wouldn't get any better than that, would it?

STURGILL: Oh, yeah. And I went to the courthouse to many a speaking.


BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. Do you remember any of them that made a -- more of an impression on you than others?

STURGILL: Well, Alben Barkley always made an impression on me. He and my father were pretty good friends.


STURGILL: And my grandfather --

BIRDWHISTELL: That's not why your brother's named Barkley, is it?




BIRDWHISTELL: I thought it might be.

STURGILL: My grandfather managed his campaign. Or he's one of -- I don't know whether he was the campaign manager --

BIRDWHISTELL: But he was involved.

STURGILL: -- when Barkley ran for governor in `24.

BIRDWHISTELL: Twenty-three.

STURGILL: Twenty-three-`24.

BIRDWHISTELL: Twenty-three. Yeah. That was a tough race because Barkley was against horse racing and everything everybody liked, I think. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: And Cam Cantrill beat him. Oh, I can remember those old -- those 01:09:00politicians coming to town, but more importantly, the -- throughout east Kentucky, and still today, they have -- in the fall of the year commencing in August they have associations of these churches. They get together and they have Saturday and Sunday services, and a big crowd. And politicians come. And they used to have political speakings. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Had a state senator named Ernest Moore.




STURGILL: And you could hear him from one side of the ridge to the other.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, you had to be heard, that's for sure. You had to be heard. You know that -- of course, when you went to hear Alben Barkley, you didn't know how long you were going to be there; it might be two days before he finished, right? Ed Prichard used to tell that story that Barkley talked 01:10:00forever, and then he took out his watch fob and looked at his watch, and somebody yelled from the audience, "If that watch has run down, there's a calendar on the wall behind you." [Both chuckling] Those were different days in Kentucky politics. And politics meant so much to those communities because it was jobs. And it was control of those small communities in lots of ways, right?

STURGILL: Well, I have said for years that politics is Kentucky's biggest business.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. The school systems being the second.

STURGILL: Still is today. Because school -- politics -- the school system is politics. And they're the biggest employer in most of the counties in Kentucky.


STURGILL: School board. They were talking about all the killings this year. The battle of Clayhole and Breathitt County, over a school board election, there 01:11:00was eight people killed.


STURGILL: And that's been in the -- in my lifetime.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Did you ever find yourself in any danger when you were growing up because of the violence in the larger community?


BIRDWHISTELL: Pretty much stayed out of that kind of stuff.

STURGILL: I was going to school one morning in Prestonsburg and a city policeman and a fellow had a shootout.


STURGILL: And we turned the corner at a service station to go up the street, and the Baptist Church was here on the corner, and this guy was anchored over in the Baptist Church shooting across at the filling station. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, gee. That's close enough.


STURGILL: That's close enough.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] That's crazy.

STURGILL: Of course, we'll get into it later, I'm sure, but I had a lot of reservation about my safety when we were going through all that problem with the broad form deed.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, I -- when I was going through the -- your files, I -- you know, the articles and -- it was very contentious.

STURGILL: And I purposefully traveled by myself. And the picketing -- we had those labor problems, --


STURGILL: -- the Roving Pickets, `62.


STURGILL: That was the only time I was really concerned about my safety.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you arrived at UK -- when's the first time you were on campus, 01:13:00then, to -- as a student? STURGILL: I came on campus in the winter quarter of `44.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay, so that would be -- you'd come down from Dayton, and then it's the winter quarter when you arrive. You're on the quarter system then. And you're familiar with the campus because you'd been there --

STURGILL: Many times.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- often, down to Stoll Field, the playing stadium, watching -- probably over at Alumni Gym watching the basketball games, if you could get in. They were pretty packed. Was it a difficult adjustment getting settled into college, getting a place to live, getting your course work set up? Did you feel pretty confident about what you were doing?

STURGILL: Well, yes.


STURGILL: I was able to get me a place to live. Able to register, go through 01:14:00the line over in the old Alumni Gym. It was the beginning of something great for me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. It was a door opening, and it was a big door opening for you wasn't it?

STURGILL: Big door.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. So many people of your generation, Mr. Sturgill, if they could get to college, you know, and get into that life, then everything -- so many more things were possible. And that's what you've known and worked for during your adult life, is educational opportunity for people.

STURGILL: That -- as I indicated a while ago, that door pretty well closed until the community colleges came along.

BIRDWHISTELL: Except for people like yourself, whose families, you know, made it possible, and your own ambition to seek it.


STURGILL: I had more money when I came to college, of having earned it, than my family had given me.


STURGILL: And I had a hell of a lot more when I left. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: So you knew when you were -- you weren't -- when you spent your money, it was your money, right? I mean you had to watch that, I guess, for a while. Where did you live first? Did you live on campus?


BIRDWHISTELL: Over in the quadrangle?



STURGILL: Kincaid.


STURGILL: I remember.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's the one that faces Funkhouser Drive, yeah.



STURGILL: What were the other dorms called?

BIRDWHISTELL: Governor [Edward T. "Ned"] Breathitt and Harry Caudill lived in Breckinridge. They would later live in Breckinridge together in the next building over. And then there's Bowman.


STURGILL: Bowman's the one I was thinking about.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's the one that opens up onto Washington. That was the last one built, I think. And --

STURGILL: Then I moved to the basketball house over on the corner of Washington, right across from the clinic, --


STURGILL: -- where you make the clinic -- there's a yellow building that -- I don't know what it's housing now, it's --

BIRDWHISTELL: Right there on the corner?


BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. I know that. The -- I think the -- I think it's the Donovan program is there now.

STURGILL: That used to be a -- a lot of people on campus didn't like it.


STURGILL: Dean [Sarah B.] Holmes said that we -- she called me one day and I 01:17:00went to see her.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Now, you could get in trouble with Dean Holmes if you weren't careful.

STURGILL: And she said, "William," said, "I understand girls have been coming to the basketball house." I said, "Now, Dean Holmes, I don't know anything about that." [Chuckle] So I -- she said, "I'm going to ask you and commission you to report." I said, "I can't report. But if it's going on, I promise you I'll try to stop it."

BIRDWHISTELL: Were you able to?

STURGILL: Well, I got those guys together and I told them about -- told them accurately. "Oh, don't bullshit us, Sturgill. We know you're a big shot." Said, "We know that you've got the ear of the dean. But don't give us all that 01:18:00crap." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] They laughed me [chuckle] down the stairs.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sarah Holmes looked after her girls pretty --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- pretty well. Now, who was the dean of men then? Was it still Bert Combs' --

STURGILL: T. T. Jones.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- Bert Combs' --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- uncle. Yeah. That was funny.

STURGILL: Dr. Downing was the tennis coach.

BIRDWHISTELL: So what did you make of this college after that first year? Did you like it?

STURGILL: Oh, yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did it sit well with you?


BIRDWHISTELL: Enjoyed the classes.

STURGILL: Enjoyed the classes; had a class under Dr. [Thomas D.] Clark.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, you did?

STURGILL: I enjoyed it. Hell, I had classes every year under him.


STURGILL: Had a political science professor named Shannon.


BIRDWHISTELL: Jasper Shannon?

STURGILL: Jasper Shannon.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. You had some good professors. He was -- he wrote a lot about Kentucky politics, --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- too. And you decided to major in political science?

STURGILL: Yeah, I did major in political science.

BIRDWHISTELL: There's some things written about you that said you were a business administration major.

STURGILL: I was a political science major.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, because you were still going to law school.

STURGILL: And I ran out of money and interest in law at the same time.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Not sure which came first.

STURGILL: No. [Chuckle] So I decided to go to Harvard School of Business.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah, I read that.

STURGILL: And while I was doing that, I had to skip actually a full year.


STURGILL: And I took that job with the Atlas Powder Company. And I'd done 01:20:00pretty well. I was calling football games and basketball games as an official --

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, you were?

STURGILL: -- in the Big Sandy Valley.

BIRDWHISTELL: I didn't know that. I've not seen anything about that.

STURGILL: And [chuckle] I think they paid me $15 or $25 a game. I was busy -- during the winter months with basketball, I was busy every night.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. You know, Wendell Ford was a referee.

STURGILL: No, I didn't know that. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, he was. Yeah, he was; basketball referee.

STURGILL: And then I had an opportunity to go and get in the coal business. And I never looked back.

BIRDWHISTELL: Never looked back. I guess in retrospect, Mr. Sturgill, it was not a bad decision. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Well, the coal business is tough, Terry.

BIRDWHISTELL: It is tough.

STURGILL: Tough business.


STURGILL: But I've always said I've been better to the coal business than it 01:21:00has to me.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Well, we've gone an hour and a half. It's noon. Do you want to go -- push on? Or do you want to stop at this point and then we'll pick up there next time.



STURGILL: Let's just stop and go get us some lunch and --

BIRDWHISTELL: Let's do that. And we'll -- we still have you in college, and we'll -- I want to hear more about Mr. Rupp and the football team and working your way through college. And it's -- again, it's your generation that comes to college. And as you said, you brought more money you'd earned on your own than your parents sent with you. And I've interviewed people who get in these rooming houses and start the fire every morning, and they've got jobs downtown, and everybody's scrambling to make this work. So we'll pick up there next time and --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- see if we can get you through college.

[End of interview]