Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with William B. Sturgill, November 12, 2002

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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 BIRDWHISTELL: Mr. Sturgill, it's -- what is today? It's the 12th of November, 2002, and I thought today we'd spend some time talking about your service on the UK board. And as you were saying before we turned on the tape recorder, your relationship with UK goes back over sixty years, and we've talked about your time as a student there. We've talked about the role you played in the development of the community college system. I was reading an interview the other day with someone talking about the placement of the community colleges, and it gave you full credit [chuckle] for getting that community college put in Hazard, so they confirmed your story. [Both chuckling]

And it was fun as I was reading that because certainly you and I had talked about that. And you had been a candidate for the alumni seat on the board at 00:01:00least once, maybe more than once. But it's in 1972 that Governor [Wendell] Ford appoints you to a four-year term. Tell me about that. These UK board seats are one of the most highly coveted slots in the state of Kentucky. I mean if -- and it's still that way today, I think. But when the governor had complete control over those appointments, could appoint anybody he or she wanted, they were even more coveted, I believe. And how did it come about, at that particular time, that you secured a seat on the UK board?

STURGILL: Well, Ford and I have been good friends since the Jaycee days.



STURGILL: His participation in the Jaycees was great. You know he went on to become the national president of the Jaycees. And I didn't participate in the Jaycees all that much, but that's where I first met him. And I had talked to Breathitt, when he was governor, and to Combs before him, that east Kentucky needs some representation on the board of trustees at the University.

BIRDWHISTELL: Why didn't one of those guys appoint you? [Chuckle]

STURGILL: [Chuckle] You'll have to ask them.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] You don't know -- it wasn't because you told them not to, right?

STURGILL: No. [Chuckle] I did not tell them not to. And as you know, I -- in the Ford-Combs race, I was for Governor Ford -- I mean, for --


BIRDWHISTELL: Right, you were for Combs.

STURGILL: -- Combs.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, in the primary.

STURGILL: And, of course, supported Ford, and explained to Ford why.


STURGILL: And when the election was over -- the primary was over, Ford was lieutenant governor, Nunn was governor, and they came with Combs to dedicate the Mountain Parkway. And they did it at the Slade entrance tollbooth that used to be there.


STURGILL: And we had operations in Breathitt County. And I had worked all day in Breathitt County and tried to get there, and did. I got down to the dedication, and as their car pulled up Ford got out and came over where I was 00:04:00and shook hands and said, "What do you want out of this?" Said, "I need your help." And I said, "I'll help you any way I can." He said, "What do you want?" I said, "Are you asking me seriously?"

[Chuckle--Birdwhistell] And he said, "Yes." I said, "I want to be appointed to the board of trustees of the university." And he said, "You'll be my first appointee."


STURGILL: And I thanked him, and he walked back. And I don't think we discussed it again, Terry, --


STURGILL: -- until he called me after the legislature. He didn't appoint anybody until the legislature was over. And he said, "I want to appoint you to 00:05:00the board of trustees."

BIRDWHISTELL: And what'd you say?

STURGILL: I said, "Yes, sir. I thank you." [Both chuckling] Because I had wanted to be on the board. I thought I could represent east Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. It -- yeah, it was interesting to me because I knew that, you know, you had told me about the primary campaign and because of your loyalty to Combs, you know, having to be for him. And some would think that would make it a little awkward for you to be appointed to the board so soon in the Ford administration. But I guess that story explains it, that you all got back -- you all got together soon after the primary and --

STURGILL: Ford and I have always been good friends.


STURGILL: And he made a good governor, as I might have said to you before. And 00:06:00he made an excellent senator for Kentucky.


STURGILL: And I predict that when the annals of Kentucky political history is written, Ford will be at the top of the list.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. I think you might be right.

STURGILL: And I had met Dr. [Otis A.] Singletary, and I thought he was a perfect man to come into that slot. So he and I had a conversation.

BIRDWHISTELL: How did that go? STURGILL: Well. Well. And he and I have had a lot of knock-down drag-outs, but they've always been behind closed doors.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Right.

STURGILL: And I was elected chairman of the board my second year on the board.


BIRDWHISTELL: Right. That -- I think your first meeting where you're sworn in as a board member was May 9, 1972. How did you -- what did you do to get prepared for going on that board? Did you -- anything you had to do? Or you knew a lot -- you knew most of the people on this board, I believe, at that time.

STURGILL: Some of them I didn't know.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course, Albert Clay was chair of the board at that point, right? Yeah.

STURGILL: Albert was the chairman the first year I was on the board.


STURGILL: Yeah, I knew most all of them. But I imagine you'd be interested to hear about -- oh, what I did to prepare myself?


STURGILL: I just said be relaxed and take what comes, and [chuckle--Birdwhistell] I wasn't prepared for what did come. As you know, Scott 00:08:00Wendelsdorf, --

BIRDWHISTELL: Tell me about that.

STURGILL: -- who then was the president of the Student Government Association, and by virtue of the office, he's a member of the board.



BIRDWHISTELL: Did you know him before you went on?

STURGILL: I did not know him.

BIRDWHISTELL: You'd never met him, probably.

STURGILL: Singletary had told me that morning that he thought I might receive some comments that would get me fired up, and he advised me to not reply. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: He's trying to head this off at the pass. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: And Scott was pretty tough.


STURGILL: He said that he had talked to Ford, and Ford agreed that he wouldn't appoint an environmental war criminal --


STURGILL: -- to the board, and said he appointed the biggest one in Kentucky.


BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. This is right at the table during the meeting.

STURGILL: And Singletary said I sat there and my face got red and I puffed up. [Both chuckling] Of course, after it was over I walked up to Scott and I said, "Young man, you don't know me, nor do I know you, but I'm sure we'll get together and exchange views. And you'll find I'm not here on this board to protect the environment, but to promote education." So when Scott left the board, I haven't got the exact wording, but he apologized to me.

BIRDWHISTELL: He did? STURGILL: Umhmm. Publicly.

BIRDWHISTELL: I didn't know that.

STURGILL: I'm sure it's in the records somewhere.

BIRDWHISTELL: I'll have to go look at that. Yeah, I didn't know that, so I 00:10:00didn't know to --

STURGILL: And I've always seen him -- I've seen him around several times, and I've always -- we've been very pleasant.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] That's a rough start, though.

STURGILL: But that was a rough start. And I don't remember who -- now who was sitting beside me, but they kept hold of my arm. [Both chuckling] But it was a -- it was not what I wanted, of course.


STURGILL: But I tried to accept it for what I thought he was trying to do, promote himself and not the cause.

BIRDWHISTELL: It was a -- of course, you know, the late `60s, and in `70 with Kent State, and Gov. [Albert B. "Happy"] Chandler punching the student after a board meeting, board meetings had changed a lot from the days of the `50s and 00:11:00early `60s where, you know, the trustees would go to dinner, decide what they were going to do and then come in the next day and have a meeting, you know, for the public and go home. I mean it was -- things had become more contentious in public. I mean it would -- ten years earlier, you wouldn't have thought of any kind of event occurring like that at a board meeting.

STURGILL: Well, we had more -- we had the student representation, had the faculty representation that was not on the board ten years before that. And then the community college representation came later.

BIRDWHISTELL: Came even later. Yeah. And then staff representation finally came, too.

STURGILL: And the staff, even after I left, came. Terry, being active on the 00:12:00board of trustees was one of the highlights of my life.


STURGILL: And I give full credit to Otis Singletary, because he wanted to make the chairman part of the decision-making process.


STURGILL: And he kept us advised and informed about what decisions he was wrestling with, and what he wanted to do. And I had a theory that I was there to either support the administration and the president, or get another one, or leave.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] In that order.


BIRDWHISTELL: Right. I mean because the president works for the board.

STURGILL: That's right. And --

BIRDWHISTELL: People forget that sometimes.

STURGILL: -- and I've had differences with other trustees over the years who 00:13:00want to teach chemistry or physics or [chuckle--Birdwhistell] coach football.

BIRDWHISTELL: Coach football. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: But that's not the job of a trustee. It's to support the guy who runs the university, and that's the president.

BIRDWHISTELL: Because he's your guy.

STURGILL: And we put him there, or the board put him there, and we should support him, actively. And that's always been the position I've taken.

BIRDWHISTELL: Since you joined the board shortly after the governor went off the board, was that a hard transition for the board to -- having gone from years and years of gubernatorial leadership on the UK board to citizen leadership?

STURGILL: I don't think so. I was opposed to Ford doing that. But I don't 00:14:00think it was a tough decision for any institution to accept, because his attendance was not regular and somebody else was generally the acting chairman.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. That reminds me of a comment I was reading that Mr. Young made in one of his interviews. He said, "I generally chaired the cabinet meetings because John Y. [Brown] never came." [Chuckle] We'll talk about that later.

STURGILL: That's true.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] I didn't doubt it for a minute. Well, if you hold them at seven a.m. over at the governor's mansion, it ain't likely he would be there, is it? [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Even if he's upstairs.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Not at seven a.m. Tell me about how the board worked 00:15:00at that point. I've always understood that at this point, even with the open records and open meetings and all this stuff, that the board would have a dinner the night before the meeting and sort of make every -- make sure everybody was on the same page about what was going to happen, what the agenda was going to be, what the issues were. Is that sort of the way it worked, in a sense, that sort of an organi--- pre-meeting type of thing?

STURGILL: Yes. The dinners got to be luncheons.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, they did?

STURGILL: And we had a luncheon before every meeting.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you'd do it all in one day.

STURGILL: Oh, yeah.


STURGILL: And at that luncheon, Dr. Singletary reviewed the agenda for the 00:16:00meeting for everybody. He and I generally met that morning and went over the agenda. And then he explained it to the board, what each item was at that luncheon. And there they had a chance to express themselves.


STURGILL: And was encouraged to do it publicly.


STURGILL: Or discouraged, whatever the case may be. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Whatever the [chuckle] --

STURGILL: But I judge that 95 percent of the issues and controversies on the issue were approved after Dr. Singletary explained them. And if you look at the buildings out there, and you look at the curriculum, and you look at the expansion you had --



STURGILL: -- at the university, they came during his eighteen years of service.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure did. Sure did. If he thought something was not going to pass or would be too controversial, he'd take it off the table, wouldn't he?

STURGILL: Well, he grinned -- he put his teeth into some things that took more than one meeting. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Tell me about when you went on the board. As we said, Albert Clay chaired the board. Tell me about his leadership on the board. What was it like and --

STURGILL: Albert was a good chairman. He was a good representative for the board because of agriculture.


STURGILL: And he had an understanding of how the board worked. And he came to me and asked me would I like to succeed him, that he didn't want to be chairman 00:18:00anymore. And that's really how my interest about being chairman --

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Why do you think he came to you?

STURGILL: I don't know. I don't know. I never did ask him.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. I mean it's a good choice. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: [Chuckle] He was a good friend.


STURGILL: And made a real contribution to the university.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Were there other people on the board who aspired to be chair at the time you were elected chair?

STURGILL: I don't know about at the time, but there were other people who said, "When are you going to quit?" [Both chuckling] And I knew what that meant. And I would have -- in fact, I insisted we put a limitation on the person who was chairman, and that we rotate it every two years. And a board member said to 00:19:00me, after the fifth or sixth time I'd been elected, said, "You do a good job of rotating." [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Term limits, huh?

STURGILL: But I did feel that way. But Dr. Singletary -- some issue was generally up when we had -- in the fall of the year when we elected officers. And he said, "We can't afford to show any disunity in the board, and that would appear to be disunity." So I served ten consecutive terms. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. Right. Let's see, on the board when you went on was Floyd H. Wright. That's [Rasty?] Wright, isn't it? Who is he?


STURGILL: Mr. Wright was a tobacco man. He had tobacco warehouse holdings in Lexington, and was recognized as kind of the leader in the tobacco warehouse business.


STURGILL: And was really the person who -- I had a desire when I came here to get in some kind of business or other that would associate me with the Bluegrass.


STURGILL: I just didn't want to be another coal operator who came from east Kentucky and settled in Lexington. So he suggested I look at the tobacco warehouse business. And so I mentioned to Walt Hillenmeyer that I would like to get into something associated with the Bluegrass or central Kentucky, and he 00:21:00said, "Well, Clarence LeBus and Doug Parrish want to sell Fourth Street Tobacco Warehouse Company," --


STURGILL: -- and, "Why don't you go look at it?" And he called Mr. LeBus after a board meeting at the bank, and I drove out to Fourth Street --


STURGILL: -- that afternoon and looked at it, knew absolutely nothing about it, [chuckle--Birdwhistell] and liked what I saw. The building was in a hell of a shape, and I was always used to keeping things maintained and painted --


STURGILL: -- and polished. So I looked at it for about two weeks, I guess. 00:22:00And the radio station that I owned in Hazard, I decided to sell. I was living here, and it was there, and didn't take a lot of time to run it, but I nonetheless felt as though I wanted to sell it. And I sold it. And the next day I used those dollars to buy Fourth Street. Same amount of money.

BIRDWHISTELL: And you became a tobacco warehouseman.

STURGILL: And enjoyed the business. I eventually had five of them.


STURGILL: And it was good to me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Where were the other four located?

STURGILL: I had two in Paris, and I bought Gentry out on Broadway. Then we had one in Lebanon, and then we leased the Marshall Warehouse over on Angliana Avenue.


BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. Is that one over on Broadway the one that Blanton told you you ought to give to the University? Isn't that one -- we were driving across there one day and there was some -- didn't you tell me a story about having some land over there? STURGILL: Still got that land. That's on Broadway.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. And that's the one Blanton said you ought to just give to --


BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] I'll never -- that was funny. I remember that. So that's the warehouse that -- that's where that warehouse was. Floyd -- [Rasty?] Wright's always associated with "Happy" Chandler, isn't he?

STURGILL: He and "Happy" were buddies, but I don't know that he's associated with him.

BIRDWHISTELL: Seemed like his name used to come up a lot in --

STURGILL: They were great friends.


STURGILL: Played golf together.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Now, when you were appointed -- let me go back to that for a second -- the other person appointed at the same time you were was Stanley --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- Burlew. And you all replaced Chandler and Nichols.


STURGILL: I remember the Chandler --

BIRDWHISTELL: What did "Happy" say about being replaced? Did he ever say anything to you about that?

STURGILL: Well, his greetings to me, because he was at a luncheon the day that -- it was in Maxwell Place.


STURGILL: And I walked in the door -- he called me "Billy Boy".

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: He said -- in his loud mannerisms, he said, "Billy Boy, if I was going to be replaced, you were the ideal guy to replace me."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] If I were going to be replaced --

STURGILL: If. [Chuckle] And, of course, when I opened up my certificate or whatever you call it and saw "Replace Albert Benjamin Chandler," I thought, 00:25:00"Man, I'll hear from that." [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: It's funny that that would be the one you got, isn't it?

STURGILL: And I did not hear from Governor Ford that he was going to replace "Happy". But "Happy" was an opinionated fellow when I dealt with him. And I guess he was all of his life.


STURGILL: But he didn't cause us too many heartburns. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] He was on the elevator one day, Terry, and he said -- I got on the elevator and he said, "Billy Boy, you're wrong about --" whatever we were into it about. I 00:26:00said, "Well, it's funny I was wrong, Governor." I said, "You were the only one that voted against it." "Well," he said, "it wasn't the vote that mattered." He said, "You were on the other side." [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] It doesn't matter how many, right?

STURGILL: Yeah. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Who was -- who's Stanley Burlew?

STURGILL: Stan Burlew was from Owensboro.


STURGILL: I did not know him until that day and until later. And I've forgotten what business he was in, --


STURGILL: -- but he and Ford were friends.

BIRDWHISTELL: They were tight. Yeah. Yeah, I don't know him. Don't know much -- I don't know anything about him.

STURGILL: Oh, I think -- I haven't seen or heard from him in a long time. I think he might have left Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did he? When you sold your radio station in Hazard, had you considered buying into the media market up here? Or was it just too expensive?


STURGILL: No, I did not.

BIRDWHISTELL: You didn't go talk with Garvice Kincaid about a media empire? [Chuckle]

STURGILL: No, I did not. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Now, Garvice Kincaid comes on the board during this period, doesn't he?

STURGILL: Julian [Carroll] appointed him.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, it was Julian, not Ford. There's a story about that, isn't there?

STURGILL: Well, I don't remember the story exactly the way I think it should be told.


STURGILL: Except I do remember the story about him not being reappointed.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, really? What's that story?


STURGILL: And Julian -- or whoever told me, I don't say it was Julian, but Garvice always wore a big scarf --


STURGILL: -- buttoned up around his neck. And [chuckle] so he goes to see Julian, walks in, runs everybody else out. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] And said, "Why didn't you reappoint me?" Said, "Singletary didn't want you."


STURGILL: And Garvice just got up and walked out. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] Next place he landed, it was over in the Administration Building.

BIRDWHISTELL: And we know whose office too, right?

STURGILL: And he said, "Why didn't you want me?" And Singletary is supposed to have said, "Wasn't me, it was Sturgill that didn't want you." [Chuckle]


BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] So did he come to your office?

STURGILL: No. Garvice said, "That's a damn lie." And so Garvice leaves, and Otis calls me in my office downtown in the Union Bank building.


STURGILL: And he said, "Come to Maxwell Place as soon as you can." [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] "We need to talk."

STURGILL: Garvice never did mention it to me.


STURGILL: He mentioned several things to me, [chuckle] but not that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Not one of them. That was pretty quick thinking on Dr. Singletary's part, wasn't it?

STURGILL: Yeah. [Chuckle] He --

BIRDWHISTELL: He figured you could take it.

STURGILL: Garvice -- I've forgotten how I got to be chairman of the finance committee of the board, but it was before I ever moved here. I guess it was the 00:30:00first year I was on the board.

BIRDWHISTELL: It was. You -- I forget who was the finance chair when you first went on, but then you moved right into that slot, I think.

STURGILL: And Garvice said one day -- and Dick Cooper was on the board, Albert was on the board, and I've forgotten who else. And Garvice said -- looked over at me and he said, "What the hell does a country boy from east Kentucky know about the finances of the university?" [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] Said, "You're nothing but a damn coal man." I said, "That may be right, but while I've got this job I'm going to do it."

BIRDWHISTELL: "You're nothing but a coal [chuckle] -- ."

STURGILL: "Well," he said, "First Security's had the university's account for fifty years." And said, "We're not going to leave this meeting until Central 00:31:00Bank has it, or part of it." I said, "Mr. Kincaid, you're in for a long afternoon."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] So it didn't happen.

STURGILL: It didn't happen. But we sat there for two hours, I guess. Albert [both chuckling] [inaudible] --

BIRDWHISTELL: Fidgety. [Chuckle] Oh, goodness.

STURGILL: But we supported -- those ten years we supported Otis, and did not have but one or two trustees who was adamantly opposed to most -- not all, but most of the progressive ideas and programs that he advanced.


BIRDWHISTELL: And you'd put Mr. Kincaid in that category?





STURGILL: Not all.

BIRDWHISTELL: Not all, but most. I would assume you'd be sensitive to this, you know, being a businessman yourself who's been often misunderstood and charged with things that weren't fair. Garvice Kincaid, he's hard to get a handle on, historically. You know, people who look back on the history of Lexington, his role in Kentucky, his service on the board, what -- how would you describe him to someone who's trying to understand what made Garvice Kincaid tick?

STURGILL: Garvice had a terrible inferiority complex.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that what it was?

STURGILL: And to overcome that, he tried to just assume the other role, being a superior.



STURGILL: Garvice Kincaid did a lot of good for Lexington. That downtown area down there is Garvice. That airport out there is Garvice.

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

STURGILL: I -- when Garvice died, I ran into Foster Pettit on the street. He said, "Do me a favor." He said, "You mentioned to me that you wanted to get active in things down here." Said, "I'll appoint you to the airport board to succeed Garvice."


STURGILL: And that was, Terry, when we were in a planning stage for this airport, just piece by piece.


STURGILL: And the whole thing, when I got there, it wasn't those guys there had 00:34:00done it, it was Garvice.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? I didn't know anything about that.

STURGILL: And it took me some time to convince those guys to pick up those pieces --


STURGILL: -- and let's build. And that's what's out there.


STURGILL: Garvice did the biggest part of the financing --

BIRDWHISTELL: He did? STURGILL: -- in the early days, and where to go and what to do.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Well, he sure put together an empire locally --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- with media, banking --

STURGILL: Insurance.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- insurance. I'm not sure what else he had going on, but he never seemed to get in the inner circle of things, it seemed like.

STURGILL: Well, I think he didn't know how -- it's my guess and my belief he didn't know how to mix and mingle without feeling as though he was giving 00:35:00something away.


STURGILL: Garvice was a good thinker.


STURGILL: But he was domineering as hell if you let him be. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] He and I had several bumpers, but at the end of the day, we were always friends.


STURGILL: And I think it was because I stood my ground with him.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] I was sure thinking it was Governor Ford who appointed him to the board. I'll have to check that.

STURGILL: No, I think it was Julian.

BIRDWHISTELL: No, here he is, in June -- his term -- he was appointed for a term to expire June 30th, 1974.

STURGILL: That his first appointment? BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.


STURGILL: Well, did Julian reappoint him?

BIRDWHISTELL: That might be -- he might not have. Now, see, the story I heard about his appointment was that Dr. Singletary was called down to Frankfort, or some version of that, and he's told that Garvice is going on the board. [Chuckle] And I think there's some questioning about why. [Chuckle] And it had to do with political support, so to speak.

STURGILL: Oh, I remember now. J.R. [Miller] and Garvice --


STURGILL: -- had some obligation that had to be paid.


STURGILL: And J.R. intervened. That's right. Wendell did appoint him, I guess. But I thought Julian reappointed him.


STURGILL: Then he didn't reappoint him.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- I'm not sure. His term -- it says here his term was going to 00:37:00expire on -- I should know this, I'm sorry I don't -- it was going to expire June 30, 1974. No, maybe he --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- filled a short term.

STURGILL: He was on the board -- we opened the stadium in `76.

BIRDWHISTELL: So he was still on. So he was reappointed.

STURGILL: He was on the board then.

BIRDWHISTELL: So at any rate -- it might have been Dr. Singletary who told me that story. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Well, he would know. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: Because it fits in this context of what we're saying, because it was very important to Dr. Singletary, and to you as chair, to make sure this board worked well. And for a board to work well, everybody's got to have sort 00:38:00of a common goal and an understanding about how it's going to work, right? And a guy like Garvice Kincaid may or may not participate in it that way.

STURGILL: Well, Garvice was not a participant unless he called the shots. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] And you had to be very careful the subjects you brought up with Garvice.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Hmm. Let me turn this over.

STURGILL: Who was the -- Evelyn was Mr-- . Dr. Singletary's secretary, and there was another lady in the office, it was an older lady, Ms. Nichols?

BIRDWHISTELL: I don't know.

STURGILL: She was a good reader of people.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, she was?


[End of Tape #1, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #1, Side #2]

BIRDWHISTELL: I guess the other thing about university service on the board is 00:39:00that it's much more difficult for it to work well if people bring their own personal ambitions or business ambitions to the board, like if you're -- if you own a bank, and one of your goals as a board member is to get the university's account in your bank. That is the problem, isn't it?

STURGILL: Big problem.


STURGILL: And Robinson Forest. I knew more about Robinson Forest than anybody in Kentucky. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] I was mining right across the hill from Buckhorn Creek and all the tributaries of it. But I knew that the university 00:40:00couldn't go on record as wanting to lease Robinson Forest, even though I had proposed to Frank Dickey that he lease it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, really? But you knew by that time that times had changed.

STURGILL: Well, I knew it wasn't time. I knew it couldn't be sold. And I knew it'd be injurious to the university.


STURGILL: So I didn't encourage it with Dr. Singletary. And he was enough of a reader of public sentiment to know that it couldn't be done, without any encouragement from me.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Going on down this list of people who were on the board when you came on, there was Jess Alverson from Paris, Kentucky.

STURGILL: He was a newspaper publisher.



STURGILL: Was a great "Happy" Chandler fellow. Jess was a good board member.

BIRDWHISTELL: I guess he was a Nunn appointment, maybe?

STURGILL: I think he just served his term out and was not reappointed.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, that was probably Louie Nunn if he was a Chandler person.


BIRDWHISTELL: And then, of course, Dick Cooper was on the board.

STURGILL: Dick Cooper from Somerset was a banker.


STURGILL: And the fertilizer business. He was a good board member. He was a fellow you could depend on.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was going to say, he stuck with you guys.

STURGILL: Oh, yeah.


STURGILL: He was a great Singletary guy.


STURGILL: Great Sturgill guy.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. There you are. And then the only -- well, I guess there 00:42:00were two women members of the board by that time, but -- Mrs. Rexford Blazer from Ashland. Tell me about her.

STURGILL: Mrs. Blazer was the wife of Rex Blazer, who was chairman of Ashland Oil, and was a nephew of Paul Blazer who founded Ashland Oil. And Mrs. Blazer was not a very forceful board member, but she was always steady in the boat.


STURGILL: Understood most of the issues. But she was never controversial in any way.


STURGILL: I can remember when Dr. Singletary wanted to put coed dorms on the campus.



STURGILL: And I had discouraged him from bringing it up two or three board sessions. And he finally said, "This is an issue that's got to be met. Everybody else in the country is doing it, and we've got to do it." So I brought it up, and he explained it. And after he finished -- I've forgotten whether we were going to do it in two phases or whether we were going to just take a dorm and -- we were going to do it in two phases.

BIRDWHISTELL: You're going to phase it in, yeah.

STURGILL: And Garvice Kincaid said, "Sturgill," said, "You grew up in east Kentucky. Are you going to advocate starting public whorehouses?" [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: That was helpful. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: And I thought Mrs. Blazer was going to faint. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell]


I don't know why I happened to be looking at her.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Where was Garvice Kincaid from? You keep --

STURGILL: Beattyville.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was going to say, he kept calling you an eastern Kentuckian. I thought he was from eastern Kentucky.

STURGILL: He was from east Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Well, you were from a metropolis compared to Beattyville.

STURGILL: Yeah, country boy, he used to say. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] But Mrs. Blazer was a fine lady.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. She sort of held the Ashland Oil chair on the board.


BIRDWHISTELL: I mean there's always been an Ashland Oil representative on the board, seems like.

STURGILL: And Mrs. Blazer educated me, Terry.

BIRDWHISTELL: In what way?

STURGILL: When Mr. Blazer died, the day of the funeral in Ashland, it snowed like nothing else. And Dr. Singletary and Mrs. Singletary and Eloise and me 00:45:00were planning to go that morning. And we got up early to start, and the damn snow was terrible. And I had to have a jeep brought to us to go on.


STURGILL: And we got up there. Either Eloise or Mrs-- . or Gloria didn't go, I think it was Eloise. And Pete Bosomworth went with us.


STURGILL: And after the -- we got there just as the service started, and they gave us a seat and ushered us down. And afterwards, they had a reception and open house at the Blazer home. Of course, I'd been to many of those, but I'd 00:46:00never been to one with a bar on each end of [both chuckling] -- of the patio and one in the middle. I said, "What is this?" And Singletary said, "Well, we're supposed to dig in!"

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Cold day, take advantage of it, yeah. That's interesting.

STURGILL: That's the first one of those I'd ever witnessed.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, did she later marry Mr. Norris, the newspaper --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- guy up there? And then they moved out to Arizona or somewhere.

STURGILL: Somewhere.


STURGILL: John T. Norris.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah, I interviewed him years ago.

STURGILL: He had a great history of the Big Sandy, didn't he, the valley?

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. I was -- I think I interviewed him about Fred Vinson, maybe, you know, because -- all those guys up there, there was a -- oh, a guy 00:47:00named Kit Carson Elswick down in Louisa and Judge Lycan, all those guys up in there. The next guy on this list was an active board member, Gene Goss.

STURGILL: No. He wasn't a very active board member. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, he was active on certain things.


BIRDWHISTELL: He got in a big controversy there when his son was in school. I don't know if you remember that story.

STURGILL: Yeah, I remember.

BIRDWHISTELL: The book was Black Spring; he didn't like it.

STURGILL: He was commissioner of highways under Nunn.


STURGILL: Was from Harlan and was a trial lawyer; made money in workman's 00:48:00compensation. But he didn't participate very much in our board meetings.


STURGILL: And his attendance wasn't too good.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, really? Hmm. Hmm. I just assumed because of some of the things he got involved with, he was probably an active member. Of course, we mentioned Stanley Burlew. And then the next person and another great friend of Dr. Singletary's is George Griffin --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- from London.


BIRDWHISTELL: Wholesale grocer, I guess, is --



STURGILL: Yeah, he's a wholesale grocer, but he's a banker.


STURGILL: He owns interests in banks in London and Manchester. George was a good board member. And he wasn't afraid to take on issues if Singletary asked 00:49:00him. [Both chuckling] He was a Singletary man. And it's as it should be. As I said, you're there to support the president.


STURGILL: And you either support him, or you get a new one, or you leave.

BIRDWHISTELL: But when you look at this list of people that Dr. Singletary had in his inner circle, so to speak, would be Albert Clay, you, George Griffin, and probably Dick Cooper.

STURGILL: Yeah, that's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: That would be the group that he would feel were the core of his support.

STURGILL: And when I left, Bob McCowan came on the board. And Bob McCowan took my place in that inner circle.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. Umhmm. I was reading an interview the other day where a 00:50:00person claimed that [Charles T.] Wethington orchestrated Bob McCowan being kicked off that board later on. I'd not heard that story before. Didn't sound right to me.

STURGILL: No. Wethington didn't like my reappointment to the board.


STURGILL: I started to not take it because of him.


STURGILL: Well, when Wethington was a candidate for the board, I felt he would do the University a disservice. Being the insider, everybody knew Governor [Wallace] Wilkinson was going to appoint him. That was knowledge by grade school kids, everybody knew that. I felt like he should be the acting president 00:51:00and go through the process, rather than going through the process from the beginning. So I called him, and -- in fact, he was the first meeting I ever had after I built this room.


STURGILL: He sat right there and we had lunch. And I suggested that. And he said, "No, I'm not going to do that. It's my turn, I've waited for it. I should have had it before, and I'm going to take it. And you can go back and get in with Jim Rose and Bob McCowan." I said, "Charlie, I'm not with anybody." [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] "I'm giving you my best shot about the university."


STURGILL: "Now, you can either take it or you can't." And he left.


STURGILL: He's pretty -- he was -- he had a streak of vengeance in him. He 00:52:00took my basketball tickets.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh! [Chuckle] He took your basketball tickets? STURGILL: My two basketball tickets that I'd had since I left the board were the next row above the trustees --


STURGILL: -- on the end, Row 9. I guess I'd had them ten years. Never did sit but in two places. And I had those seats down front, and I had seats up behind me that I paid for. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] And the first year, he took them.

BIRDWHISTELL: Took your basketball tickets.

STURGILL: Said they weren't -- they were board of trustee tickets. I said -- I was coming out of a Markey Center meeting one morning. I didn't get the 00:53:00tickets. I said, "Mr. President, I'm short a couple of tickets." He said, "Yes, I reallocated those tickets."

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, I will be.

STURGILL: I said, "Well, I've got news for you. They're not the only two seats I had." [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] He said, "No, you've got fifteen more." So when I was appointed to the board, Wallace called me. I didn't know -- I thought for a minute, and I said, "Is there any strings attached to this?" He said, "No. I would know better than to attach strings to you." I said, "Well, I don't need 00:54:00to think about it then, with that understanding."

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. What kind of strings did you think might be attached? STURGILL: Oh, I thought he'd have something about Charlie or --


STURGILL: -- something about himself. And he did appoint himself, you know.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. So after you get reappointed by Governor Wilkinson, what does Charles Wethington say to you then?

STURGILL: Oh, we were very friendly, but I sat way down on the end of the table. He and Foster and those guys ran it.


STURGILL: They didn't dare invite me into the tent. [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] And it got kind of amusing and noticeable. They didn't even put me on the executive committee.


STURGILL: I had more knowledge about it than anybody else around the table.



STURGILL: And I should have resigned, but I didn't want to cause any flap.


STURGILL: But it wasn't a pleasant tour of duty.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Not like the first one.

STURGILL: Not like the first one. Not like -- I felt as though I wasn't making any contribution. And I never did like to be on a board and just occupy a warm seat.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. We're kind of -- we skipped ahead here. But on -- in that second tour of duty, it's Foster Ockerman -- who's on the inside there? It's Foster Ockerman and -- was it that guy -- what's his name, Burnett? Or --

STURGILL: No, he came later.


STURGILL: He came during that -- he wasn't very much for -- I can't remember --


BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, I'll go -- we can talk about that later because I'll look that up. Because that's -- I think that's interesting. And so --

STURGILL: That second tour of duty, as you refer to it, wasn't near as satisfying or productive for me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Umhmm. Well, the first one had been so productive --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- and so satisfactory.

STURGILL: I thought -- we're going to talk about Wethington later, I suppose.




STURGILL: -- he did not do the University any big favors, --


STURGILL: -- in my opinion.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Yeah. Okay. Alumni members of the board, James Pence 00:57:00from Louisville, did you know him very well?

STURGILL: No, I didn't. I don't remember him.

BIRDWHISTELL: And then of course, Tommy Bell.


BIRDWHISTELL: He was a well-known guy.

STURGILL: He was a good board member, too.




STURGILL: He was active in things. He -- we needed somebody to run the Fellows program one year, and I had mentioned Bell. And Bell said, "I'll do it." [Both chuckling] Otis said, "Will you blow the whistle?" [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] Made a good chairman.

BIRDWHISTELL: Wow. And then a Mrs. Robert Clark from Glasgow.

STURGILL: She was a good board member. She was secretary of the board for 00:58:00several years.

BIRDWHISTELL: And then the two faculty members when you came on, Paul Oberst and Paul Sears; two different kinds of guys.

STURGILL: Two different kinds of guys entirely.


STURGILL: Paul Sears -- Paul Oberst was more boisterous and more liberal, not willing to be very adventuresome, more of a status-quo guy. But Paul Sears was wanting to go.


STURGILL: Great Singletary man.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yes, he was. Yes, he was. And then, of course, we already talked about Scott Wendelsdorf and your all's first [chuckle] encounter.


STURGILL: You -- if I could find it, you'd be interested in the news account --


STURGILL: -- that was in the Herald-Leader, or was in either the Herald or the Leader.

BIRDWHISTELL: I'll go look that up next time. I'll look that up. And then the next year after you're on the board, Zirl Palmer joins the board. And I think he might be the first African American on the board, which makes that, you know, sort of a historic situation. How does that -- how was -- how did that go?

STURGILL: He was received well. I don't remember that he made any waves at all. He --

BIRDWHISTELL: He was a pharmacist here in town, wasn't he?

STURGILL: Yeah. He was one of them we -- would go along.


BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. And then John Woodyard from Covington joined the board. Woodyard? And James Sutherland from Bloomfield, who owned Sutherland Mills, I think, wasn't it? Or Sutherland --

STURGILL: No, he was county judge of --


STURGILL: -- he was county judge of Mercer County.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of -- that'd be Nelson.

STURGILL: Nelson County.

BIRDWHISTELL: Nelson County. I guess I always thought he was connected with that milling company down there that --

STURGILL: He was. His family --

BIRDWHISTELL: That was his family's?

STURGILL: But he was county judge all the time he was on the board.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's -- I didn't realize that.


STURGILL: We used to go over to My Old Kentucky Home Golf Course and play golf with him once a year, --


STURGILL: -- and then go to the outdoor theatre there.


STURGILL: And he enjoyed that.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Then of course, John Crockett joined the board from Louisville, Kentucky, a grad--- UK grad and a banker in Louisville. Did you know him very well?

STURGILL: Very well.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. He'd been a -- he's been a big supporter of the university for a long time.

STURGILL: Yeah. And John Crockett made a good trustee --


STURGILL: -- at a time when we needed a good trustee in Louisville.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Why did you need a good one in Louisville? Because of the changing nature of the --

STURGILL: Yeah. Louisville had -- Swain just came there and he was gaining popularity, and I really was glad to see John appointed. I supported the appointment. I supported [A. Stevens] Miles's appointment while he was on the board.



STURGILL: He came on with -- about the time I did or a little later.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, must have been a little later. I don't see him on here. And then there's Homer Wendell Ramsey from Whitley City, Kentucky. Who's that?

STURGILL: He was an attorney down there. Good guy, good board member. I think he was an appointee of Louie Nunn's. And he -- but he was interested in the university and what they were doing and how they were growing.


STURGILL: The progressive things about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. He must have been a Ford appointment. His term was due 01:03:00to expire December 31, '77, and he wasn't on there when you came on, so --

STURGILL: No, he wasn't.

BIRDWHISTELL: Then an alumni member who joins the board that second year is William Black from Paducah.

STURGILL: Bill Black.


STURGILL: He's in the construction business. He was a good board member.


STURGILL: Non-controversy in any direction you turned him.


STURGILL: Just a good guy.

BIRDWHISTELL: And as you were saying, it's important to have a good trustee from Louisville; it's also good to have good trustees from out in the western part of the state because that's a -- that helps so much.

STURGILL: Terry, it's good to have a trustee that's good from any part of the state, but that's interested in the university --


STURGILL: -- and in support of the administration.


STURGILL: You know, the university can't afford to have too much discord--



STURGILL: -- in any part of the state.


STURGILL: And that was one reason I hated to see [Paul] Patton take the position he did about the community colleges. It didn't give the university the cohesiveness that it had through the community colleges. At the time Patton took them, there was 44,000 students. You're in a state where the per capita income is under $20,000. And 44,000 students in college in Kentucky? Never an opportunity like that again. And I said to Walter Baker the other day, I said, "Walter -- ." Walter's got -- he's head of the committee that's going to talk 01:05:00about revamping the system and getting a new leader. They fired [Gordon] Davies. I said, "You ought to make an accounting of your stewardship. I think they're $58 million under budget -- over budget, I mean." Under water.

BIRDWHISTELL: Fifty-eight million?

STURGILL: And I played with that number because it's big, but I think that's the cumulative number.

BIRDWHISTELL: Who's overspent $58 million?

STURGILL: The secretary of education and community college system.


STURGILL: Post-secondary education.


STURGILL: They took that energy center over, you know, the old building? And 01:06:00it was nice offices. I mean that suite of offices I had as secretary of energy was nice. But, boy, they're plush today.

BIRDWHISTELL: Are they really?

STURGILL: Yeah. And I understand all the offices are like that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that called reform?


BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Higher ed reform. [Chuckle] It's funny you bring that up. I had a meeting with somebody the other day, a staff person out there. I didn't know that's where they were. I didn't know they were even out there.


BIRDWHISTELL: Said they've just been growing like crazy out there.

STURGILL: When I was head of the coal council --


STURGILL: -- we had our meetings out there. And it was a convenient place to go. They had little old offices over on Millpond somewhere. And so we went out there and had our board meetings. And I called out there one -- called the girl 01:07:00out at the coal council one day and I said, "Make arrangements for us to go to the energy center to have our board meeting." She said, "We can't do that, Mr. Sturgill." Said, "They won't let us." [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] I said, "Who in the hell said we couldn't go?" "Well," said, "I think Davies said we couldn't." [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] So I called Gordon, and he wouldn't talk to me.

BIRDWHISTELL: He wouldn't?

STURGILL: Uh-uh. Never did return my call.

BIRDWHISTELL: Are you serious?

STURGILL: Dead serious.


STURGILL: But I didn't have any guff with him about anything else but that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Um-um-um-um.

STURGILL: Of course, I did say something to him one night at a dinner. And I 01:08:00guess he thought that's what I was calling him about; [chuckle--Birdwhistell] that I noticed he was hiring everybody from out of state to be part of his administration, and I thought there were pretty competent people in Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] What did he say? "Thank you?"

STURGILL: Didn't say anything. I thought he was pretty weak, myself. Everybody talked about how strong he was. He wasn't strong.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. That's interesting.

STURGILL: And I think Patton has a deep regret. Of course, I guess he's got a lot of regrets about everything. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: I was going to say, they're stacking up on him. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: But about the community colleges.

BIRDWHISTELL: You think he does?


BIRDWHISTELL: Has he told you this?


BIRDWHISTELL: But you just sense that?

STURGILL: I just sense that when we talked -- the last time I talked to him was 01:09:00about the budget, and he brought it up.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. Well, that can never be put back together again.

STURGILL: Well, it's one of the things that I have a deep resentment over because I think that the university needed that.


STURGILL: And I would encourage whoever's governor to look at it. The money may be a problem in the near term. And by near term, I mean until such time as it's got momentum of its own.


STURGILL: All they did was take the vocational schools -- and there was 28 of 01:10:00them -- and put them into that program. And that's how they increased their enrollment, Terry.


STURGILL: And even then, they dropped people with poor economy.


STURGILL: You know, if I were a student and -- or you were a student in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and going to the community college, and your diploma said whatever it says on those now, rather than the University of Kentucky --

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. Frank Ramsey joins the board. Frank Ramsey was a well-known person in Kentucky, I guess.

STURGILL: Well-known.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: As most basketball players are.


BIRDWHISTELL: I was going to say, wasn't he --

STURGILL: Except those of us who sat way down --

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, I was going to tell you, I went on the Internet the other day and I did a Google search for William Sturgill, and it has your career stats as a UK basketball player. So you're out there.

STURGILL: I'm out there, but those stats --

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] You wish they'd take them off.

STURGILL: -- those stats look like I should have stayed home. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: You're too hard on yourself. [Chuckle] There's too many of us who would have loved to play for the University of Kentucky for you to pull that off. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: No, the year I was a senior [chuckle] I went to Coach Rupp and I said, "Look, Coach, I'm not making much contribution here. I'm president of the student body, I'm this -- ."


STURGILL: "I'm this big shot and that big shot, and I want to quit."

BIRDWHISTELL: I've got other fish to fry. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: He said, "By God, you quit and you won't have many." [Chuckle--Birdwhistell] He had a little old office you had to duck to go in. I 01:12:00just ducked and went out. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] So Frank Ramsey comes on the board. What's he like?

STURGILL: Well, he was a little standoffish at first, which surprised me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Yeah. I wouldn't think that.

STURGILL: And then he got active, and he and Jean were very congenial. Frank was a good board member.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that's good. That's good. Well, we're about out of tape. I guess that's a good place to stop for today, Mr. Sturgill. I appreciate you going through the board like that because I'll never forget, one day I was telling Tom Clark that I'd been interviewing all the former presidents, and a lot of -- getting some stories about the board members. And Tom Clark looked at me and said, "Well, are you talking to any of the board members?" [Chuckle] "Maybe you should get their point of view." And so it -- 01:13:00I think it really does sort of round out the history of the place to have an opportunity to interview board members like yourself and some others, and sort of see how the board works, and see what the contributions are of people.

STURGILL: Sure. They -- we had a good board.


STURGILL: And the ones who were controversial, and the ones who were non-progressive, we didn't isolate them, but we made sure that they understood we didn't like it. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] And I know --

STURGILL: Talking about Tom Clark, I'm going to go get you a letter that he wrote me after his birthday party up at --

BIRDWHISTELL: Maxwell Place?

STURGILL: -- Maxwell Place. It was a prize. I want you to see it.

BIRDWHISTELL: All right. Let's stop here.


[End of Interview]