Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with William B. Sturgill, May 14, 2003

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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 BIRDWHISTELL: All right. Well, Mr. Sturgill, it's already May 14, 2003.

STURGILL: Time's moving on.

BIRDWHISTELL: I'm telling you. I'm telling you. It's --

STURGILL: It's moving on.

BIRDWHISTELL: Almost too fast for me. Since we last talked, I think you attended your -- the first meeting of your most recent time on the UK Athletics Board.


BIRDWHISTELL: Got your name in the paper.

STURGILL: It wasn't intended. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Freshmen are supposed to be seen and not heard.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, well, you're hardly a freshman, I guess. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: But I was unhappy -- are we going to discuss that? [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, I thought I'd see what you -- get your reaction to it.

STURGILL: I was unhappy about two things about that meeting. First, they were taking some major steps without giving proper briefing to the board.



STURGILL: I did not have a single person from the administration or the athletic department come and discuss with me the details of the price increase of the tickets.


STURGILL: And I thought that was a major step for the University.


STURGILL: Likewise, I had nobody talk to me about the basketball coach increase in salary.


STURGILL: While I would have questioned both of them at length in a private conversation, it's not proper for me to go into a board meeting and object to the point of creating a problem. Because a good board member is supposed to 00:02:00support the administration, or he's supposed to resign, or change the administration.


STURGILL: I always work on the theory, if you've got a dog, you have to let it bark.

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And if you don't like the sound of the bark, get you another dog.

[Both chuckling] And that's simplistic enough, but it has some merit to it.

BIRDWHISTELL: So that's the situation you found yourself in.

STURGILL: Yeah. And -- but I couldn't help but inquire of those people how they would arrive at an increase in tickets when they had the poorest consistent record --


STURGILL: -- in the SEC. And the little boy jumped up and said, "Vanderbilt." I said, "Vanderbilt? They have other things to do in Nashville." And I said, 00:03:00"In Kentucky, recreation's at a premium."


STURGILL: "And the football game is not only a sporting event, it's a social event."


STURGILL: He didn't know how to handle that or what I was talking about.

BIRDWHISTELL: He didn't get it. [Both chuckling]

STURGILL: But it's true.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Well, it was a historic athletics board meeting in a couple of ways. Yeah. People will be looking at that one for a long time.

STURGILL: My feeling, off the record from the athletic department, but on your record, as it relates to the basketball coach, I would have supported it. But I'd inquire where would he have gone to get the salary he was getting without an increase?


STURGILL: It was hard for me to make my mind up, because I didn't think there 00:04:00was any place the guy could go and do any better, build any better program --

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. Any place that he would want to go that he --


BIRDWHISTELL: -- could do that. Yeah. Well, it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

STURGILL: Well, I hope that Dr. Todd hasn't given [Mitch] Barnhart free rein, but has some control over it, because I would imagine that I'll not be as -- now that I've made my inaugural appearance [chuckle-Birdwhistell], I don't imagine I'll be as close-mouthed as I was on the issues.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] How often do you all meet?

STURGILL: I don't know that we have a requirement. I think it's subject to call.

BIRDWHISTELL: I see. I see. What a -- well, let me ask you this before we get 00:05:00started back in time. If you're handicapping the governor's race, with just a few days to go in the race, how do you handicap it at this point?

STURGILL: I think Ben will win the Democratic nomination, and I think Fletcher will win the Republican nomination.


STURGILL: I am surprised, frankly, at the waves that Bruce Lunsford is making here in the end, either real or imaginative. I know Bruce well, and he's the most able guy in it.


STURGILL: But I think he got in it late. His name recognition was not very well recognized in east Kentucky and west Kentucky.



STURGILL: And his popularity in Louisville, so I'm told, is pretty low.

BIRDWHISTELL: Pretty soft. Can you imagine spending $7 or 8 million of your money on a gubernatorial race?


BIRDWHISTELL: I mean that -- even for wealthy people, that's a lot of money, isn't it? STURGILL: Sure. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] That's a lot of money.

BIRDWHISTELL: I mean that seems like a lot of money to me.

STURGILL: It's a lot of money in anybody's books, wealthy or not wealthy.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] I mean that's just -- it's hard for me to comprehend that sometimes, that you'd take $7 or 8 million of your own money --

STURGILL: What, we've got a week and three days to go?


STURGILL: And he put 290 in it yesterday or day before.


BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, it's --

STURGILL: He'll put another 300 or 400 in.


STURGILL: It is amazing. And to think, if he were the nominee --

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, he'd have to turn around and do it again. [Both chuckling]

STURGILL: -- what would happen in the fall?

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, I guess he figures if he were the -- if he got the nomination that -- well, but he's made a thing about being independent and using his own money.


BIRDWHISTELL: And certainly Mitch McConnell will come up with plenty of money for Fletcher, I would guess.

STURGILL: But Bruce probably knows more about the government and the workings of the government than Ben does.


STURGILL: He's smart, energetic.

BIRDWHISTELL: When -- let's go back in time a little bit. When [Wallace] Wilkinson became governor, and you all were business partners, developing 00:08:00Hartland, and co-owners of this company here, I suppose, for a while, and then you traded some coal mines in West Virginia, as I understand it. And so Governor Wilkinson put you back on the UK board, and I think that was in 1989. You'd been off for, what, four years probably?


BIRDWHISTELL: And `89 was going to be a tough year to be on the UK board. Tell me a little bit about the dynamics of that board when you got back on there, and sort of the growing tension that had erupted between [David] Roselle and Governor Wilkinson, and how you sort of viewed that from your vantage point.


STURGILL: Let me go back, if I may, Terry, to immediately after the election.


STURGILL: When Wallace came to me about running I said, "Wallace, I don't think you can win."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] I would have agreed with you.

STURGILL: "And you get in this thing, you'll spend a lot of money, and at the end of the day, you'll have nothing but ill feelings towards people who probably are your real friends."

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. That's a good point.

STURGILL: "But if you do run, I'm going to be for you." And, of course, when 00:10:00John announced, I immediately that day went to Wallace and Martha at their house and told them that I was going to support John Brown. And I know that I had said to Wallace that I was going to be for him, but John Brown's my friend in politics, and Wallace is a friend in business. And we have separated all of our business, except Harlan; I bought him out of Harlan later. And they took it pretty well. I mean I felt as though I needed to be up front about it.


STURGILL: I didn't say a word to John Brown.


STURGILL: And that was the way. They went their way and I went mine. And I 00:11:00worked for John Brown as hard as I knew how, did everything I could for him. And I watched Wallace in his climb. And he had J.R. Miller in his camp, if you remember.

BIRDWHISTELL: I don't think I knew that.

STURGILL: And the night before the election -- the day before the night of the election -- of the night before the election, J.R. called me.


STURGILL: And he said, "Bill, if we put a million dollars in this campaign, do you think Wallace can win?" I said, "Well, it all hinges on the Louisville vote, in my opinion. But I don't think a million dollars will help Wallace. 00:12:00He's got one big issue, the lottery issue, out here that is a winner."


STURGILL: And he said, "Well, we're going to do it." I said, "Well, J.R., I don't think you can get it out in the precincts, I don't think it can get placed in the hands of people who can --


STURGILL: -- do that kind of work in that short of time."

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, that's a tight turnaround.

STURGILL: He said -- well, he couldn't make a sentence without saying curse words.

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] "By God, we're going to do it." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] When he said that, I knew that Wallace was right there, right by him. He didn't say so. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] So the morning after the election Wallace called me. He said, "Let's play golf. I need to talk to you." And I said, "Fine." 00:13:00And we went out to Greenbrier. He lived in Greenbrier. We went out to Greenbrier, and we played golf. And he wanted to talk about people, and wanted to talk about moving people, and what to do, and what was important to Kentucky. And I told him what I knew, what I felt.


STURGILL: And he said -- when we were coming in, he said, "I'll tell you something. I know you're going to ask me to appoint you to the board of trustees, but that's one thing I'm not going to do." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] "You deserve to be appointed, you didn't deserve to have your term end, but I'm not going to reappoint you. It's a prestigious appointment, and I've got other 00:14:00people I'm committed to." I said, "You're not committed to me, Wal." I called him Wal. And I said, "I hope you make a good governor. I know one thing - you'll give it all you've got. And you'll know more about the fiscal affairs of Kentucky than any other governor we -- that I know."


STURGILL: And he did. He knew where the dollars were and how they were being spent. He was that kind of a guy. And when he called me, I was still across the road over here in that little office, and we were just getting -- we had all the improvements we could make in Central Rock except room. And I was getting 00:15:00ready to go see Dr. Laswell out at the dental college. And he said, "Are you standing up or sitting down?" When I got to -- I said, "I'm sitting down." I was standing up going out the door.


STURGILL: He said, "Well, I'm going to appoint you to the board of trustees."


STURGILL: And I said, "Well, I appreciate that. When's this going to occur?" And he said, "I'm having the order written right now." "Well," I said, "I appreciate that, Wallace. I'll make you a good trustee. And I thank you." He said, "I just wanted you to know."


STURGILL: Well, on the way to the dental college -- and that ended that conversation - --


STURGILL: -- I thought, "I didn't finish that conversation." So I got over to 00:16:00the dental college and I called him back from a little room in there, and I said, "Governor, I appreciate the appointment, but I need to ask you if there's any strings tied to it and what they are, and then I'll tell you if I'll take the appointment." "Well," he said, "there's no strings, I just want you to be my friend." I said, "I can. I'm your friend now. But if there's some ties that has to do with the university, you're at odds with a lot of people, and I don't know the facts, but I just wanted to make sure that there was nothing that you expect me to do that I don't believe in doing." He said, "No, no, no, no." 00:17:00Well, the rest is history, and it doesn't need any comment from me. But his desire to run Dave Roselle off was far different from mine because --

BIRDWHISTELL: In what way?

STURGILL: -- because I thought Dave Roselle was a good man and a good educator and good for the university. And I don't think Wallace had the votes on the board to get rid of Dave, even after he appointed himself.


STURGILL: I don't think his -- the boy who he put on there that was secretary 00:18:00of education, --




STURGILL: Jack Foster. I don't think he would have supported that effort. Jim Rose and I and Bill Young -- and Bill Young didn't go with us, Jim and I went over there -- Bill Young came in -- to see Dave Roselle on a Saturday afternoon before our Tuesday board meeting, and we told him that.

BIRDWHISTELL: What'd he say?

STURGILL: Well, he said he couldn't afford to stay here and take the chance of his record not being kept intact, and that he had a chance to go to Delaware. But he knew that we weren't just window dressing. And I don't know to where he 00:19:00and Jim Rose were as close as I then thought they were, because -- or how much confidence he might have had in Jim Rose.


STURGILL: But I didn't think he had -- Wallace had the votes to get -- ask him to leave. I still don't.


STURGILL: And I think that's why Wallace put himself on the board. But Dave Roselle did not want to take the gamble about his future.



STURGILL: And he didn't want to fight the battle.

BIRDWHISTELL: He put you all in a tough spot.

STURGILL: Well, yes, he did, and he should have -- he had a perfect out, I thought, if he did get -- if Wallace did have the votes. He could have said, "Well, I did my best and it'll prove that in the end, and there's no need for any further discussion."

BIRDWHISTELL: It's -- was there a -- any larger case of political interference with the university while you've been associated with it than that time?


BIRDWHISTELL: That was the, you know, worst?

STURGILL: Dr. [Otis] Singletary, he had a friend in each and every one of the 00:21:00governors, some better than others.


STURGILL: But no, that was the biggest interference I've known of a governor having with the university where I knew about it and was associated with it.

BIRDWHISTELL: What was Foster Ockerman's role in this?

STURGILL: He did what Wallace wanted done.


STURGILL: And he's a friend of mine.


STURGILL: And I've told him that. I -- of course, he and Charlie Wethington didn't want me to be chairman, didn't want me to be on the executive committee, didn't want me to do -- so I just sat there.

BIRDWHISTELL: And they didn't want you because of why?


STURGILL: Well, they didn't want me because I had said to Charlie, "I think this is all wrong, and you're the only one that can stop it. You shouldn't be a candidate for the interim appointment because everybody with walking-around sense knows who's going to be the next president. It's not only going to hurt your position with the faculty, it's going to hurt your position with your associates across the country. And I don't think you ought to -- ." He was sitting right here in this room. And he got up and he said, "Well, you're with that Bob McCowan crowd that kept me from being president before, and it's my turn and I'm going to take it."


STURGILL: And he got up -- we had lunch sent in. He got up and left without having lunch. [Both chuckling]


BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, goodness. Goodness.

STURGILL: But Wallace interfered more. He wanted to -- if you remember, he didn't want the graduate students to be teaching classes.


STURGILL: He wanted the professors to teach classes. He was going to do something about that. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] I said, "That's part of the educational process."


STURGILL: I don't believe a trustee or a governor, even though he may be qualified, should sit in that position and teach Latin or Spanish or chemistry or whatever course it may be. That's not his job.

BIRDWHISTELL: Since you knew Governor Wilkinson so well, were you disappointed 00:24:00in this activity in regard to the university that you'd worked so hard to build up?

STURGILL: Very disappointed. Wallace had had no reason for that. He didn't have a genuine dislike for anybody in the university --


STURGILL: -- except Roselle. I don't know how Roselle offended him. I never did know that story.


STURGILL: But I just -- I was disappointed that it all happened.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. And, of course, you had the athletics problem all intertwined with this. And as a board, you all asked to hear the preliminary report of the investigation. You're quoted as saying that it's -- I think you were quoted as saying, "It's about what we expected. It sounds like everything 00:25:00was done according to proper procedure." Right?

STURGILL: Yep. That's what I felt.


STURGILL: But I -- and Wilkinson, when he -- of course, it started before him, but he didn't enter that phase of it as actively as you might have thought, or it might appear -- the record might show.


STURGILL: Roselle handled that, and handled it well.


STURGILL: Did the right thing. And I applaud him for it; said so then publicly.

BIRDWHISTELL: The thing that's hard to sort out, it seems, in regard to Charles Wethington is he did finish second to Roselle in the previous search. And 00:26:00Governor Chandler made an impassioned plea for his being named at that point. So in some ways, it was only natural for Charles Wethington to feel like he was the heir-apparent if Roselle left. And, of course, the people who didn't support Charles Wethington pointed to his long friendship with Wallace Wilkinson; that this was going to skew the thing. You knew both men very well. Were they that close of friends that that was a part of the process in Charles Wethington becoming president? Or was it just Charles Wethington lining up the necessary votes he needed?

STURGILL: It was a combination of both of those things.



STURGILL: But I would say that the emphasis would be on Charlie's activities in behalf of himself.


STURGILL: And Wallace just came along. The fact that they were from the same county and same town helped the matter.


STURGILL: Because Wallace was very sensitive to the fact that somebody from Casey County was going to be president of the university.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. So that was all in the mix.

STURGILL: It was all in the mix, but I'd say that the driving force in all that was Charlie himself.

BIRDWHISTELL: The actual meetings where these votes took place on whether to name Charles Wethington interim president and, of course, later to name him president, those were tense meetings, weren't they?


STURGILL: Well, I was not on the board. See, Martha Layne [Collins] removed me right in the middle of that.

BIRDWHISTELL: No, I'm talking about in `89. In the `89 vote, where Roselle leaves, and you have to decide who's going to be the interim president.

STURGILL: No, I don't think there was any tension about that.


STURGILL: I'm trying to recap my steps now and retrace them.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Larry Forgy was involved in it.

STURGILL: I was there --



STURGILL: -- when Roselle left. Was my term over before Charlie was -- no, no, I was there when Charlie took over.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. See, you came on that year when all this happened, and so you were there during the first part of the Wethington -- you were there for both the vote to be -- for the interim presidency and for the vote on the --

STURGILL: New president.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- on the new president.

STURGILL: And the interim president.


STURGILL: No, after Ockerman got in the chair, there wasn't much tension.


STURGILL: Those of us who felt we didn't have the votes saw no reason to create a furor that would hurt the progress of the university.



STURGILL: You get a division going on your board, it's hard to repair it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. They're still trying to repair it out there, I think, aren't they?

STURGILL: Yeah. And the -- well, it proved in the fiasco with Chellgren --


STURGILL: -- and the crowd on the other side.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, Billy Joe Miles.

STURGILL: Billy Joe Miles. I couldn't think of his name.


STURGILL: That was some spread in the paper about Steve Reed Sunday, wasn't it?

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure was. Sure was. It was quite an article. During this time that Wilkinson is governor, Brereton Jones is lieutenant governor, and they just 00:31:00stayed at each other the whole time, calling each other liars and carrying on. And it was a very difficult time for the governor and the lieutenant -- it makes the current situation seem like a cake walk because they just ignore one another, but back then they were actually going after one another. And, of course, Wilkinson's main thing was he wanted the succession amendment.


BIRDWHISTELL: I mean that was -- he put all his effort into that, didn't he?

STURGILL: He was a cocky -- did you know him?


STURGILL: Wallace.

BIRDWHISTELL: I knew him a little, yeah.

STURGILL: He was a cocky little guy.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Well, he -- you know, anybody that gets in that chair in Kentucky, the constitution by itself makes him a big man.

BIRDWHISTELL: Makes him a powerful man.

STURGILL: And then what he can do by -- otherwise, you know, but the 00:32:00constitution makes him big. And he thought he could pass that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, he came close.

STURGILL: And he came close.

BIRDWHISTELL: They put that amendment on it that if there was a succession amendment, there'd also have to be a runoff election, and he wouldn't go for that.

STURGILL: No, he -- was there an amendment on there also that the present governor couldn't succeed himself?

BIRDWHISTELL: They wanted that, but he got that one out of there, but he couldn't accept the one about the runoff.

STURGILL: I had forgotten that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. And it seems to me that he --

STURGILL: Oh, in the next -- when Brereton passed it, he put in --

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. Now, there was discussion about that when Wilkinson was pushing for it, but I think he got over that hurdle, but it was that second one 00:33:00that sort of stopped him. And that was the one Brereton Jones was pushing, because they got off to a bad start in the beginning because they both had large campaign debts. And then when -- all Brereton Jones wanted to do was be governor, and so then when Wilkinson said, "I want to run again," that sealed their fate, didn't it?

STURGILL: Oh, yeah. Well, there wasn't much to seal. It was already completely broken.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] So as the `91 election approaches, we have an interesting dynamic. We have Brereton Jones, who's been running all four years for governor, and then Wilkinson has gotten KERA [Kentucky Education Reform Act] passed, and he's gotten the -- I guess the state's largest tax increase in history passed. But he can't run, and so Martha Wilkinson's going to run. How do you maneuver between that -- in that minefield?


STURGILL: Well, my maneuvering about that was that I did not think Martha should run. I thought Wallace should go on back to the bookstore and let whomever was going to be governor be governor, and start all over again with a pretty good record. But he couldn't do that. And he had an apartment down at the Radisson, and that's -- I went down there one day and had lunch with him, and that was the only time we ever discussed Martha.


STURGILL: Only time it was ever mentioned. And that's what I told him.

BIRDWHISTELL: Told him she shouldn't have run.

STURGILL: And that went over like a lead balloon. And he convinced me that he 00:35:00thought she could win, that his record -- and Wallace was a good governor, except he wanted to know what time John went to the bathroom and what time he got back.

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] But his life after his governorship always puzzled me.


STURGILL: Well, I knew these guys were loaning him a lot of money. In fact, I used to loan Wallace money. Not in the amounts that these guys that you know about and was publicized. But when he bought Annapolis bookstore, I loaned him the money. When he bought Texas A&M, I loaned him money. When he bought DePaul University, I loaned him money. And the only reason, his requests kept getting 00:36:00higher and higher, and I said, "I can't play in that league."

BIRDWHISTELL: So he -- well, he would borrow money and would you all then become investors? Is that --


BIRDWHISTELL: It was actually just a straight personal loan?

STURGILL: Straight personal loan. And to his credit, he paid me back on the day that he agreed to with the interest on each and every one.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, that's good.

STURGILL: Every one. And --

BIRDWHISTELL: And would you --

STURGILL: -- and confidentially, --


STURGILL: -- I was on the board over at Citizens Fidelity, and they started turning Wallace's paper down. And I'd speak up and want to know why, and didn't 00:37:00get very much of a public answer. So Dave Grissom called me one day in the office and he said, "Our determination is that Wallace is overextended. And he's on time, and he doesn't keep much money here, but -- we've got good collateral in the sense that it's supposed to be good, but we're not going to extend any more credit to Wallace. And a little birdie's been telling me --" -- and I'm sure the birdie was Wallace -- that I was loaning him money.


STURGILL: And so he said, "I think he's skating pretty close to the edge. So 00:38:00don't do it."


STURGILL: So I quit.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, when you loaned him money, was that for -- was that a business decision, or were you just doing it as a personal favor?

STURGILL: Personal favor, but I thought the bookstores were -- but he paid me, and I had no collateral on the bookstores.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. Why does a -- why would a businessman like Wallace Wilkinson, who had made lots of money, --

STURGILL: Lots of money.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- why would you put yourself in financial risk of losing it all? I mean you never have done that, and Mr. Young hasn't done that. I mean people who made money in Kentucky have --

STURGILL: Here's the thing that I have never -- in the culture we live in, in the society we live in, you can't spend $418 million. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] I 00:39:00mean you take his houses and his boats and his company, --


STURGILL: -- even his children, if they were expensive, and they say they were.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. It'd take a long time to run through that, wouldn't it?

STURGILL: You can't do it. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And when I looked at that number, I -- it's just something you can't do.


STURGILL: You know, we all know the boundaries of what we can do and what we can't do, and the culture we live in dictates a lot of it.


STURGILL: I don't have a big airplane like Wallace has, but I have an airplane that's very comfortable, takes me where I want to go, gets [inaudible], and I 00:40:00used it Saturday, I'm going to use it to fly to the beach. You know, that's all we can do.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. So what was it about Wallace Wilkinson that made him different than other people who generated wealth and protected it?

STURGILL: His ego.


STURGILL: He told me, said, "I like to be associated with people with deep pockets."

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] That was one of his favorite--

BIRDWHISTELL: Deep pockets. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Deep pockets.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, he was associated with a lot of people with deep pockets.

STURGILL: Yeah. And Jim McLaughlin, the guy who made a lot of money, and I know that he was worth a lot of money, he's a good businessman and tough, and 00:41:00for Wallace to con him into loaning him $114 million? How much money is that for a man to loan somebody?

BIRDWHISTELL: That's a lot. [Chuckle] You know, another thing comes to mind, Mr. Sturgill, is that if you look at your life and career as a businessman, there's a history of philanthropy, you know, the -- hang on just a second.

[End of Tape #1, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #1, Side #2]

BIRDWHISTELL: The -- you know, your record with the University of Kentucky speaks for itself. I mean the development building is named for you. Mr. Young has a history of philanthropy with several institutions and organizations. Wallace Wilkinson, he didn't have that same record, did he, in the same way that 00:42:00you and Mr. Young do?

STURGILL: I didn't ever discuss that with him.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. If it was, it wasn't public.

STURGILL: I don't think he did. We would know about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. That's what I'm thinking.



STURGILL: But he didn't think that way. He didn't think like I did, for instance, when I was saving my money to do something for the engineering college, because I was not an engineer, but I'd seen how badly we needed them in the coal business.


STURGILL: And I supported all their engineering programs. And Dr. Singletary convinced me, he had -- the development program was pretty much in its infancy --


STURGILL: -- when he came here. And he needed a place to put them all under -- 00:43:00in one room so he could get to them and have a good director. And I saw the need for that. And I put the other wing on that building.


STURGILL: It cost $250,000. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: But you did it.

STURGILL: I did it.

BIRDWHISTELL: But you did it.

STURGILL: But it's served its purpose. Now they've outgrown that, and they've got no room to build anything thing over there.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. But I was just trying to put that in some context, you know, in terms of sort of a historical profile of Wallace Wilkinson in terms of his attitude toward public service, toward --

STURGILL: I don't believe his mindset was ever on the things that make education go. It was just put the guy up there and tell him to do it. 00:44:00[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Not help him do it.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] So in this `91 campaign, you have Brereton Jones, Martha Wilkinson, Scotty Baesler, and you have connections to all three of them. And that's what makes Kentucky primary politics so interesting for a guy like yourself who's connected to everybody. You know, you'd already had to tell the Wilkinsons that -- you know, that after John Y. Brown got in that you were going to have to be for John Y. Brown. Now here's Martha Wilkinson running, you know; you're connected to Scotty Baesler because he's mayor of Lexington. Brereton Jones is the odds-on favorite to become governor. So how do you get through that?

STURGILL: Well, you have to really sit down and say, "Which will make the best governor?"


STURGILL: And, you know, I had watched Scotty be -- Man O' War is an example of vision.



STURGILL: We built the Man O' War [Boulevard].


STURGILL: I mean our company.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. I didn't know that.

STURGILL: And the second time I was out there -- and I saw Harold Watts out here a while ago -- I said, "Harold, this road should be six lanes." I said, "The traffic's going to come from the east and hit this thing, and we -- it needs to be six-lanes." And I picked up his car phone and called Scotty. I said, "Scotty, I need to see you." So I went down to see him and told him, and had the map, and told him. I said, "Why don't you promote six-laning this road? 00:46:00It needs it, and someday you'll be sorry you didn't." "Oh," he said, "you're just looking for a job." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] I said, "No." [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: I can hear him saying that. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: "No, hell." I said, "I've got plenty enough work." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] "I'm thinking about your job now," [chuckle-Birdwhistell] "trying to do your work." No, he couldn't do that; had to put the money somewhere else. Now, go down --


STURGILL: -- just go down that road and see how many stoplights they've got and how crowded they are and what it did to the area to develop.

BIRDWHISTELL: It was sure a trigger for growth.

STURGILL: And then the arteries are just not big enough to handle it.


STURGILL: With that experience, I knew that maybe Scotty lacked the -- what it 00:47:00took in vision to be governor, although he's a good fellow, good administrator.

BIRDWHISTELL: He ran a pretty tough race against Brereton Jones.


BIRDWHISTELL: He came close.

STURGILL: We were going to Seattle, and the issue of whiskey on -- alcohol on Sunday --


STURGILL: -- was a big issue in Lexington --

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

STURGILL: -- at that particular time. You remember? BIRDWHISTELL: It was hot, yeah.

STURGILL: And I said, "Well, this is a good time for me to talk to Scotty." So we were in the airport in Chicago, I think. Scotty was sitting over there by himself, and I eased over by him. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And I said, "Scotty, I have been on the side of the drys every -- when I lived in east Kentucky in each 00:48:00town I lived in because I've believed that the community couldn't handle it. It would do more disruption than it would good. And I drink. But I want you to understand that the wet-dry issue in Lexington is going to do something for the economy, and your tourism and convention business will increase greatly if you go ahead and pass this thing."


STURGILL: He said, "I'm not going to do it." [Both chuckling] He said, "I just believe it's wrong, know it's wrong, and my preacher won't like it." I said, 00:49:00"Well, a lot of things my preacher don't like, but you need to do this." And he just kind of fluffed me off.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, he -- once he makes up his mind, he's --

STURGILL: Oh, yeah. That's two things that I personally know he didn't have the vision.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. So Brereton Jones wins that primary, and he's facing Larry Hopkins in the general election. Did you have much contact with Hopkins?

STURGILL: Yeah. Oh, I knew Larry well in the state senate, but I took the route of being a Democrat in that race --


STURGILL: -- and supporting the Democratic nominee.

BIRDWHISTELL: And, of course, Governor Jones set out to repay his campaign debts.


STURGILL: Yeah. That was his big issue. [Both chuckling]

BIRDWHISTELL: I think the last fundraiser he had was a -- some function down at the Radisson you attended. I think that's the last one he did, put him over the top.

STURGILL: I was for Brereton. I thought Brereton brought to the table an effort about education that was good. And the road-building he didn't understand. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Hmm. He seems different than a lot of the others.

STURGILL: Well, let me tell you, Terry. In my opinion -- and I wasn't close to his administration -- after he had that helicopter accident, I think he had a 00:51:00lack of energy, a lack of vision, a lack of effort --


STURGILL: -- to do the things I thought a governor ought to do.


STURGILL: And I thought Paul Patton made a good governor. I thought he was on his way to being a good governor. He had -- I've been -- I disapprove of what he did to higher education. I think it's wrong. He dismantled the community college system, and the only growth he got, and it was the technical schools, he added that to their enrollment. Now, what, $54 million overspent their budget?

BIRDWHISTELL: Somebody was telling me the other day that the growth in the 00:52:00administrative structure of that community and technical college system is just through the roof.


BIRDWHISTELL: I mean they've got -- they just don't -- the amount of people they're adding to that administrative structure is unbelievable.

STURGILL: And most of them are from out of state. I think the head of every one of the divisions, or whatever they call them, is an out-of-state person.


STURGILL: There are people in Kentucky that know how to do this. We had 44,000 students -- the university was administering 44,000 students in the four corners of the state, and ninety percent of them would not have gone to college if it hadn't been for the community college system.


STURGILL: And some guy wants to disrupt that?

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Is that the old saying, "Don't fix it if it ain't broke"?


STURGILL: Well, I don't like the expression, but that's -- I talked to him right down at the Radisson and that's exactly what I told him. And he said, "I need your help about this." I said, "I'm unalterably opposed to this effort."

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. But he got it through.

STURGILL: And I don't know how, except he's a pretty good schemer.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's [chuckle] -- some people have --

STURGILL: And he didn't get any real opposition to it. Guys like me didn't really go to battle about it. We just lay there and talked about it. But man, how it hurt. I saw it in eEast Kentucky, in Prestonsburg and Hazard, 00:54:00Whitesburg, Cumberland.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, exactly. Let's talk for a minute about your businesses. You started out in coal, got into tobacco warehousing, horse racing, horse breeding, I guess, horse business, all types of businesses. Later on you become a developer, then you have Central Rock, you become a contractor. Of all the businesses that you've been involved in, which ones have you enjoyed the most?

STURGILL: Oh, Terry, by far I've enjoyed coal.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. That's where it all --

STURGILL: You have an opportunity to do. You go out and find a piece of land, 00:55:00and you develop a coal mine, that's yours. And satisfaction, I got a lot of satisfaction. And the building of the company -- I started with a shovel and wheelbarrow, as I used to say. [Both chuckling] And we built a three-and-a-half-million ton company. That was unheard of when they were deep-mining.


STURGILL: And I realized in the late `50s, in the mid-`50s, that there was a lot of coal left on the properties in east Kentucky, particularly in Hazard where I knew about it, --


STURGILL: -- that you could mine from the outcrop. And I didn't know what I 00:56:00was talking about really. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And we started auger mining. A fellow from up in Ohio brought a little old [McCarthy?] auger to me down in east Kentucky. And I put it to work. And that thing would mine 75 tons an hour.


STURGILL: Well, I had other properties, and we -- and I had a business associate who was an engineer, fellow by the name of R.H. "Dick" Kelly, had a pretty good reputation in the coal business. He'd been in Hazard a long time, had not done much, because he didn't want to work. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And we 00:57:00got in business, and he was a graduate engineer from the University of Virginia, both electrical and mechanical engineer. And he taught at UVA. When we got in business together he had a company, had equipment and reserves, and I had a company over here with two tipples in it, in the days of just buying and selling coal.


STURGILL: And he had much more to offer to the partnership than I did, and he said that up front. But he said, "You can put the money in it to make up some of the difference, and I'll put some money in it," into what we called Kentucky Oak Mining Company. And he said, "Now, I'll make two promises -- three promises 00:58:00to this partnership that I want you to know from the get-go. One, I won't sign any bank notes. You're going to have to borrow money, you're going to have to have connections, and you'll build those. And you're going to have to have a lot of equipment; I'll not sign equipment notes. And I will not work." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And he lived up to all three of them.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Of all the people that were in the coal business at the time you got into it, what made you so much more successful than those others? What is it about Bill Sturgill that separated you from the pack?

STURGILL: I guess I was scared and afraid that what I had, somebody was going 00:59:00to get it and take it away, so I just kept going.

BIRDWHISTELL: Just kept pushing.

STURGILL: When we had the big auger, which you see up there somewhere, --

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. I've seen that.

STURGILL: -- that was the talk of the industry. And I used to say to myself, "This can't last. We can't mine this coal as cheap as we are."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] This can't last.

STURGILL: And I knew we had to do other things, and so -- but I just kept going. And I was scared all the time.

BIRDWHISTELL: Running scared.

STURGILL: I -- for instance, I knew we couldn't push this material from the Number 9 Seam level, which is 1,870 feet from sea level, over to the creek bed. 01:00:00I knew that. I used to tell Bert Combs that. And I said, "Bert, we need to do something about it. We need -- other people are getting into the business. Other people are doing what I'm doing, and they're not trying to be responsible. Neither am I, because I don't have any regulations." He said, "Go over there and talk to Henry Ward." I said, "I'm not going to talk to Henry Ward, I'm talking to you."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] "I'm talking to you."

STURGILL: Then he -- but we never could get together because they -- the state didn't know what to do.


STURGILL: So we botched it, reclamation practices, and botched it. Never did get it to where it is today until somebody with a little knowledge got into it.



STURGILL: The administrators they put in were politicians.


STURGILL: And a guy named Elmore Grim brought the most knowledge to it.


STURGILL: And today they're eaten up with incompetency.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, do you still have mining operations today?



STURGILL: No. I sold all our -- my mining interests.


STURGILL: I led a group in Chicago. I did business with First National Bank in Chicago, and the guy I was doing business with called me and said they're going to merge with Detroit National Bank, and that they were negative on mineral 01:02:00growth and mineral loans, and were not very pleased for east Kentucky loans, and they suggested that I get in with their venture capital group that was going to split off from the bank and former a partnership that's called Madison Dearborn Partners.


STURGILL: And I met them. He took me over there, we had lunch, and I thought, well -- I was getting ready to buy Golden Oak back from -- I mean the property, they'd called it Reading and Bates, I had Golden Oak going different -- other directions because I had resigned as president of Reading and Bates Coal Company 01:03:00two years before this, and went in government with John Brown. And when I got in with these fellows, when we were buying our Reading and Bates Coal Company back, they put up some money equal to what Reading and Bates still owed me. And they owed me a big chunk of money, and I thought I -- the only way I could get it was to work it out.


STURGILL: And I wanted to do this.


STURGILL: So they gave me the financial arm to complete the deal.

BIRDWHISTELL: I see. If somebody from a business school invites you to come 01:04:00over and talk to young people who want to be in business, and they introduce you as Bill Sturgill, entrepreneur, what -- do you think of yourself as this term, entrepreneur?



STURGILL: I'm not a guy that sits and waits for deals to come. They come here all the time.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] I'll bet they do.

STURGILL: I like the banking business.


STURGILL: And I had those banks at -- over at Loretto, and had a bank in Marion County - what's the name of the county seat?


STURGILL: Lebanon. Lebanon. I enjoyed those years.


STURGILL: Made money. I didn't have good management, but I finally got some 01:05:00management, and I had an opportunity to merge those banks. But I like the banking business.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. If you were talking to a group of young people about business, about how to be successful in business -- have you ever given a talk like that where you sort of lay out what your philosophy is toward being successful in business?

STURGILL: No, I never really thought about it or attempted to outline what my thoughts were.

BIRDWHISTELL: I guess one thing would be hard work.

STURGILL: The first thing would be hard work.

BIRDWHISTELL: Because without the hard work, nothing's going to fly.

STURGILL: And you've got to know what subject you're dealing with, where it's real estate or banking or -- you've got to know something about it. You know, I 01:06:00can't -- one of my foremen said, "Bill Sturgill owns $30 million worth of heavy equipment and he can't screw in a light bulb." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Well, he pretty much told the truth. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Because my oldest son, Paul, he said, "Dad, you can't even run a dozer." I said, "I can't even start one." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] That's not my job. My job is to see that it starts.

BIRDWHISTELL: See that it starts. Know how much to pay for it.

STURGILL: And see what the guy can do to run it. And if I do my job, and he does his job, that's why I hired him, that's why I pay him.

BIRDWHISTELL: He gets paid and you make money. So hard work, and know what you're doing.

STURGILL: And being scared is a -- being scared in the sense that you're up and 01:07:00at 'em, you know, you're looking for new things, you're aggressive, and you have an idea that you want to go forward.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. That's interesting, Mr. Sturgill, because we're sitting here 33 years after you retired the first time. [Chuckle] And you couldn't just -- you couldn't let it go, could you?

STURGILL: No. That was the worst period in my life, attempting to sit down. I --

BIRDWHISTELL: It's hard to imagine that was 33 years ago.

STURGILL: -- I remember during that period I said to Walt Hillenmeyer, I said, "Walt, I want to get in some business in central Kentucky --


STURGILL: -- that will identify me with the area. I don't want to be another operator that comes to Lexington to sit on a barstool."



STURGILL: "Not going to do that." So in a couple of days he called me and he said, "Clarence Lebus and Doug Parrish want to sell Fourth Street Tobacco Warehouse."

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And that's how I got in the tobacco business. I enjoyed the tobacco business.

BIRDWHISTELL: See, that's the -- that's a theme that runs through your memory of these things, you know, like you enjoyed coal. I mean you really enjoyed coal. I mean that just shows when you talk about it. But you enjoyed banking, you enjoyed the tobacco business, and you know, you enjoy -- I think that's another factor in all of this, besides the hard work and knowing what you're doing, but the fact that you could find enjoyment in the work.

STURGILL: Well, I felt like that being in the coal business, Terry, I provided job opportunity --


STURGILL: -- for people who really needed it, at a time they needed it.



STURGILL: And I sacrificed many times with my bottom line to keep those people employed.


STURGILL: Many a guy jumped -- one -- the day before we had health care, for instance, and not paying all the money to the insurance company.


STURGILL: Many times a guy would jump off a dozer and say, "Mr. Sturgill," and he might be the same age I am, many of them -- always called me Mr. Sturgill, I only had one or two say "Bill," but that was fine with me, I don't care what they call me.

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And he'd say, "I've got to get my wife out of the hospital. I want $150, and I'll pay you back." And I bet I've loaned a bushel-barrel full . .

BIRDWHISTELL: I'll bet you have.

STURGILL: -- of money on that basis, and most all of them paid me back.


BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. And I guess the other aspect of your business career, as we touched upon it earlier, as you were -- even as you were getting your coal business up and running in Hazard when you were a young man, when the time came to try and make sure that there were educational opportunities in Hazard and Perry County, the community college system, you went to bat, you worked hard to make sure that that came. Now, that didn't necessarily help your coal business.

STURGILL: No. It helped me get -- maybe get -- you know, when they start -- let me -- I'll address the community college coming to Hazard. First let me tell you, the vocational school at Hazard, and a guy named [Hays?] ran it.


STURGILL: And he was succeeded by a fellow whose name I can't recall. And I 01:11:00went to him and talked to him about, "I'm going to send you people, and you train welders and mechanics, and do all the things you can do to give them the technical help. And every one you train, I'll hire."


STURGILL: And, of course, I didn't get them all because they wanted to go to work for their uncle or their --


STURGILL: -- somebody else. But I got seventy percent of them.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Seventy percent.

STURGILL: And even got better quarters for them because I needed them.


STURGILL: And I needed that training they had, particularly mechanics.


STURGILL: Electricians.


STURGILL: There was somebody that -- you couldn't start out putting complicated machinery together, and it was complicated more and more all the time.


STURGILL: The community college is the best thing that ever happened to east Kentucky, other than the Mountain Parkway.



STURGILL: I'm -- when the idea -- I didn't have the idea, Combs had the idea. And he passed the bill, and he wanted to put one at Prestonsburg. And I said, "Well, are you going to put one in each Kentucky River Valley?" He said, "Yes." I mean each valley in east Kentucky. "Well," he said, "I'm committed to the one in the Kentucky River Valley, to Whitesburg." And I said, "Whitesburg's not the place to put it." He said, "Where?" I said, "In Hazard. It's the trading center for the three-four county area, it's the population growth, it's the center of education."



STURGILL: I said, "Remember, they have -- the Kentucky River Education Association meets there every year. They don't meet in Whitesburg, they meet in Hazard." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Well, that didn't do any good. It was Whitesburg. And I said, "I'm going to fight you on this issue." He said, "Well, you can't win." He said, "I'm going out of office, and Breathitt's committed just like I am." [Chuckle-

Birdwhistell] So I put on a big drive in Hazard to -- we raised the money to buy the land to build the college. And by this time [John W.] Oswald was on the scene. And he and I got along pretty well. I liked him. I was not on the board, but I liked him. And we have a civic club night in Hazard that I had started, so I invited Jack up to be the speaker at civic club night. And he 01:14:00brought Rose, and she was a hell of a person. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell]

She got -- it was on Saturday night and I said, "How do you want me to introduce you? Is it Mrs. Oswald or Rose or -- ." She said, "Introduce me as Mrs. Oswald or Rose or Rose Nell, or Rosie." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Said, "I'm a rancher from California, and we get drunk every Saturday." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And here we are at this table, [chuckle] and I started laughing.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, that's funny. That's funny.

STURGILL: She was cute. Well, I got him on my side. And then Bert kept 01:15:00plugging from the outside, "You don't want to do that. You're going to make a lot of people mad." So it finally got to be a board of trustee question.


STURGILL: Where are they going to put the community college that belonged to the University of Kentucky? And I said, "Well, ain't nothing for me to do but lobby that board." So I did. And the end result was it came to Hazard.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's great.

STURGILL: Cost me a lot of money because I had to -- we couldn't get the building completed to put -- we had to recondition the lower Broadway school, the old grade school building, and I had to send my crews up there and do it.


STURGILL: And Dick Kelly, who was the fellow I was telling you about, --


STURGILL: -- he said, "Which one of these rooms you want me to teach in?"

[Both chuckling] We were walking through there one day.


BIRDWHISTELL: That's funny.

STURGILL: So that's how the community college started in Hazard.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Well, it's all -- what I like about your story, Mr. Sturgill, it's all connected. It's all connected, you know, in terms of what you set out to do and --

STURGILL: Well, I've worried -- afraid I haven't given you what you want.

BIRDWHISTELL: No, you've done great. And I think we've about come to the end, actually, of our story, and -- unless later on, you know, if you think of a topic that you want to go into in some more detail again. We'll eventually get these transcribed, you'll be able to take a look at them, and that way we'll have a better idea if there's any holes we need to fill and stuff like that. But it's been a great pleasure for me to hear your life story, and it's a fascinating story, and it's a --

STURGILL: Well, I haven't told you all of it and I'm not going to. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Well, that's okay. That's all right. But certainly 01:17:00you've spent a lot of time sharing with us your life and, you know, your public life and your interest in public policy and education and business. And you've known so many of the major players on the stage, and it's just been a pleasure for me to be able to do this.

STURGILL: Well, I've always thought that -- from the time I graduated from college in `46, I always thought that if east Kentucky was ever going to get ahead, we had to have education.


STURGILL: And as I've told you before, the value of education was not well thought of -- if that is the proper language -- in Kentucky until Dr. Singletary arrived. And he was really the fellow who brought to Kentucky, through the 01:18:00university, the value of education.

BIRDWHISTELL: You and Otis Singletary made a great team.

STURGILL: Yes, we -- well, I always -- I thought he gave me, as his board chairman, the kind of inside stuff he -- I felt, in the beginning, he wanted me to know. Then I realized he -- I shouldn't know a lot of stuff. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] But he certainly was the key to a lot of things I was interested in.

BIRDWHISTELL: All right. Well, thank you again.

STURGILL: Thank you, Terry.

[End of interview]