Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Robert Cetrulo, May 10, 2007

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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KLEE: And uh Tom Hankins was uh Director Slate Carr of uh as myself uh uh, Charlie Towler was the main history teacher and his load got to heavy and that why they asked me to come in and take it over and he was teaching poly/sci, so I took over the poly/sci. I want to get some of that on tape so I'm going to start it right now. Okay. The following is a unrehearsed interview uh for the for the University of Kentucky Library Community College System Project. Uh, my name is John Klee. I'm interviewing Robert Cetrulo at his home in Ludlow uh, it is May 10, 2007.

CETRULO: Why don't we--

KLEE: Can you hang on a second?


KLEE: Well, let's start with a little bit of your personal background. Where you were raised, where you went to school, that kind of thing.

CETRULO: Well, I was raised in downtown Covington on Delmar Place right behind St. Elizabeth Hospital and uh, went to St. Benedict Grade 00:01:00School there and then went to high school in Cincinnati, St. Xavier and then Xavier University, uh pre-law, and then uh University of Kentucky College of Law.

KLEE: Okay. Uh, you were uh, uh there--was this extension at, were you aware of this extension, UK extension in Northern Kentucky?

CETRULO: At the time of my education?

KLEE: Well, I mean--


KLEE: When did you come aware of it?

CETRULO: Actually, I knew a little bit about it well after I graduated from law school in 1957, uh I knew of its existence and then uh I forgotten just how the contact was made someone knew me and uh I was uh had just begun practicing law uh and someone knew me and uh indicated that the faculty member that the Dr. Talburt, who taught history and poly/sci had become his, his, his workload had become burdened, overburdened and so they wanted someone to fill in and teach the poly/sci course uh and so I was delighted to do that and began in 00:02:001957, fifty years ago this October as a matter of fact and my first class was supposed to be on October the 8th, I remember, because that day was the day of the birth of my first child, Kathleen, and I end up at the hospital instead of class. (laughs) So I had to miss my first day of class, so I began there and I taught there for eleven years part-time every semester and taught a course in American Government, Constitutional Law.

KLEE: Uh, you were practicing law at the same time you were teaching?

CETRULO: Yes, I only had the one course uh every semester.

KLEE: Political science. And how did they set that up? Was it a night course?

CETRULO: No. It was a day course, as I recall, and uh I think maybe a couple of days a week, I've forgotten, but I could fit it and my practice was close and I just--

KLEE: Sure, whipped over there. What kind of students were going to the center uh in that time period?

CETRULO: Well, we had uh a mix, I suppose. We had you typical college age student who was just out of high school or going to college full time and then you had a lot of people who were working and uh, uh 00:03:00availing themselves of the services of the community college system.

KLEE: Uh, when you started, I guess what was it called, it was, what was it calling itself? Do you remember?

CETRULO: It was called the University of Kentucky, uh Northern Extension or Northern Community College. I've forgotten which. Maybe, Northern Extension.

KLEE: Northern Extension. And what were they, what was the curriculum like.

CETRULO: Well, they had a pretty full blown situation. You could take uh most of the liberal arts courses uh, certainly English and history and poly/sci and accounting and journalism. A good friend of mine who was a reporter for the Enquirer, where I had worked through undergraduate school as a copyboy and reporter, uh was Bob Rankin and he taught the course in uh journalism. So they had a lot of part-time people and they had a full-time faculty as well.

KLEE: Uh, centered strictly the first two years at one and two hundred level courses?


KLEE: Okay. Uh, so the intent was to uh allow these students mostly were thinking about transferring?



KLEE: And largely to UK?

CETRULO: I suspect that's the case. That would be my guess, based on people I knew.

KLEE: Right. Tell me about uh some of these individuals that you uh dealt with. You were there quite some time uh. Thomas Hankins?

CETRULO: Delightful man uh administrator, very effective, very cordial, uh very person oriented, uh, just a very good teacher and administrator. Loved by the students and the faculty.

KLEE: Okay. What about uh some of these other people that I mean that we, I'm looking at a staff list from '59-'60, uh were there, was there any other people that stood out in your mind?

CETRULO: Well, Dr. Talbert was certainly a skilled historian and widely recognized and a friend of Dr. Clark and people like that, you know who were certainly preeminent in the field. Uh--

KLEE: You mentioned the Rankin who was in journalism.

CETRULO: Yeah. Uh Bob Rankin was a friend of mine. He was a reporter 00:05:00on the Kentucky Enquirer and I had worked with him where I began as a copyboy while I was at Xavier University in Cincinnati and became a reporter before I went away to law school and,-- here's Ed Freshney. Ed Freshney was an insurance uh person and later became secretary of state of Kentucky. Lived in Park Hills and ran for office and was elected secretary of state. Bob Knoff was a very well known musician affiliated with the University of Cincinnati as well as uh the center and uh affiliated with the uh Cincinnati Symphonic Orchestra. Uh, so we had a mix of very interesting people and many accomplished people uh--

KLEE: Did you have occasion to uh to uh have a lot of contact with these people or--

CETRULO: Yes, I knew, I knew some of them before, you know--and here's Nolan Charlie Dunn, he was a lawyer here in Cincinnati, Kentucky rather. He specialized in real estate and that was his field of teaching. Uh, so I knew of them before and others I got to know better through involvement with the faculty and we would have social events 00:06:00and we would attend the students' events and the dances and so forth and so it was, it was a collegial group of people.

KLEE: Tell me about the physical arrangements, you said you started in a location. Where was that at?

CETRULO: Uh, it was then one of the district grade schools and I've forgotten whether it was second or third district down on Sixth and Madison, Sixth and Scott Street, which was now called Three Rivers School and it was directly opposite of what is now the public library which wasn't at that location at the time. Uh, we were up on the third floor there and uh uh uh then the, in short order, the facility was built up on top of the hill in Park Hills there you know at the big bend of the Dixie Highway and it's shown on the cover of that uh brochure which I've --

KLEE: Tell me that again. That was a new building.

CETRULO: That was new building.

KLEE: And where was it at?

CETRULO: At uh, in Park Hills, off the Dixie Highway. You could enter off the Dixie Highway, at the big bend of the Dixie Highway, just at the beginning of Park Hills, where Covington joins-- and uh it was a nicely built building and had uh fine facilities. Uh, many classrooms, 00:07:00lecture rooms, and conference rooms and uh uh, much better obviously than what we had before.

KLEE: And that was the college that became at least for a very brief time, uh it was called Northern Kentucky Community College.


KLEE: You went, you were in this time period where it dovetailed, just took a name change but the structure and so forth didn't really change.

CETRULO: I think that is correct.

KLEE: Uh huh. Yeah. Uh, tell me about some of the student activities. I know that they did a lot of traditional kinds of things.

CETRULO: They did. Uh they had student associations and uh, and social events and activities depending on the interest of the student and where they thought they were going professionally with their lives. Uh, so it was pretty active group of people. As I say, considering some of them were full-time employees, some were part-time employees, many were full-time students. Uh huh, so it was a mix of student body.

KLEE: Were there any students in those years that stood out in your-- anybody you remember stood out in mind?

CETRULO: I've had many interesting enough over the years, you know 00:08:00as you know when you teach uh people come up and remember you more than you remember all of them and I've had jurors, or witnesses, as I practiced law, come up and say, "Oh, yes, you taught me such and such thirty years ago." A few have become lawyers, people I know and when uh, there are other faculty members there. I, one of the pictures I ran across, I was showing before we opened the tape here was I saw a picture of Peggy Birdlesman. And Peggy was teaching, she lived in Ft. Thomas and she was married to Bill Birdlesman, a lawyer friend of mine, and she was teaching English at the college uh, and uh Bill, her husband, later become, became U. S. District judge for the northern for this district, the eastern district of Kentucky, here in Covington. So, there were people there that I, both students and faculty, that I've known before or become acquainted with then and have been uh good friends ever after.

KLEE: What about as you uh taught there did you hear anything about uh the propriety of UK having classes in northern Kentucky. There's a 00:09:00Thomas Moore's here, there's colleges across the river uh, was there any feeling that you know this didn't have a role or was it filling a need?

CETRULO: You know I never heard that issue aired as if to my knowledge there was no dispute, there was no hostility, there was no, no competition in that sense of unhealthiness, uh, uh-- Thomas Moore College was and remains a small school, there were people who went to Cincinnati. Uh it certainly filled a niche for people who uh uh didn't want to go away at UK, uh live away from home, uh had families or economics were an issue. Uh, for a variety of reasons, it filled a niche for a variety of people with disparate situations.

KLEE: What kind of, what kind of enrollment did they have? What were you class loads like?

CETRULO: You know, I'm not sure I can put a good handle on that, but I can tell you that sometimes my classes were a great deal more that you 00:10:00would like. When you grade a social science subject, as you well know, and give uh essay type questions, which was, which is the hatred of teaching and I love teaching and I profited by it immensely, personally in terms of my personal growth experience--but, uh, grading was a problem, well, I probably, I'm sure there were times when I had 50 or 60 students and sometimes more in a class. Uh --

KLEE: That's quite remarkable.

CETRULO: That's too many.

KLEE: (laughs) Yeah, right. Particularly grading essays or papers or whatever. Uh, do you recall any of the politics or the transition from this extension to the community college, remember the name change or anything?

CETRULO: Not intimately because again I wasn't intimately involved with administrative aspects of the experience there. Uh, I was simply an adjunct professor and brought and taught the course in political science, American Government and Constitutional Law. I taught it as a 00:11:00constitutional law class because that's one of my great loves, one of my great courses in law school was constitutional law, under Professor Overster at UK and so I would teach cases and methodology and uh, federalism and uh all those subjects from the standpoint of reviewing the development of the legal system of the United States, civil rights, individual rights, uh etc.

KLEE: What about --was--when they opened this building, you said uh it was at Park Hills the, there at Dixie Highway ? Was the, was there adequate parking, I mean was, I mean did it serve the needs, had labs, library?

CETRULO: All of the above and had a great big parking lot overlooking Cincinnati on the hill there. Access was a bit of a problem. One of the main accesses was uh up the South Arlington Road and then down a private street, uh Park Hills had narrow streets and no sidewalks and parking on one side of the street and that was a problem. But then 00:12:00they had an access down directly to the Dixie Highway which was even more widely used to the comfort of the residents as well as the the people using the school. But there was adequate parking, they had laboratories, they had science uh labs, they had uh nice library, uh conference rooms. It was a nice facility.

KLEE: Could you see it beginning to burst at the seams in those later years?

CETRULO: Not really, it was fulfilling its need. It had a high enrollment, but and probably as I say somewhat limited faculty. There was a problem I suppose the student ratio was probably not the most desirable, but in terms of, in terms of the quality of the instruction and in terms of the facilities, they were I'd say more than adequate even the whole time I was there when I finally resigned because my practice just made it more difficult after eleven years to continue this teaching as much as I loved it. But uh, it was still serving its need.

KLEE: Uh as I said it was--when you left it was right at the time when 00:13:00the Northern uh, uh, what later became Northern Kentucky University, Northern Kentucky State College was born. Do you remember any of that discussion, I mean did any of your, any of the other faculty or the people there talk about what was going on and how it was going to work out?

CETRULO: It certainly doesn't stick in my memory and therefore I'm assuming it wasn't a burning topic of discussion.

KLEE: Yeah. Having lived in this area, did you, uh did you see a need for the four year institution uh--

CETRULO: Clearly, clearly the area has grown and uh as you well know being a member of the northern Kentucky community also at Somerset uh I mean at Maysville, uh and the growth has been significant and uh uh experience has demonstrated that uh the need was there and of course obviously people who then, many of whom would have gone to Lexington, 00:14:00uh now go to uh Campbell County.

KLEE: Right. The uh what did the, did the connection to the University of Kentucky mean anything to the instructors, to the students, uh to the community?

CETRULO: I'd say it did. There was, there was a close relationship. Uh, uh, there was communion and intercommunion. I remember when I was, after I'd been teaching a couple of years and practicing a couple of years I was appointed by uh then federal judge Max Wenthrope from Cynthiana, who sat up here in Covington also in the federal court, to serve as U.S. Magistrate Judge for this district which was a part-time judicial position. At the time, you could still practice law and do that and uh I was appointed to that position and I got a congratulatory letter from UK President Dickie and people were very much aware of what was going on, who the faculty members were and what they were doing.

KLEE: That's interesting, yeah. Uh, I'm kind of running through my questions here uh, you're very succinct and to the point. You 00:15:00mentioned that how teaching affected you and aided in your growth. How--talk, talk about that a little bit.

CETRULO: Well, it's like the musical play says, isn't it true by our students we are taught, you know and uh I'm sure you've experienced that as a uh tenured professor and many years experience that uh the interaction with students--the more you go over material, the more insights you obtain, and the more personal growth through study and participation you experience and so uh I found it very rewarding --

KLEE: You had to do research to do you lectures.

CETRULO: Exactly.

KLEE: Yeah. You mentioned that there were some subjects, I guess they gave you some leeway in offering some things?

CETRULO: Oh, they did. My course was always titled as Basic Poli/Sci, you know, but you can teach that any number of ways, and you know and you've probably had experience with that and so I taught it not only as a functions of government, executive, judicial, uh legislative 00:16:00branches and federalism, state, central government, distribution of powers. I also taught it and used the opportunity to teach 'em about decisions of the Kentucky Supreme Court. I still have my binder with the decisions that I used in all those various fields and development of the constitutional jurisprudence uh and I think they enjoyed that.

KLEE: I'm sure they did. What kinds of changes did you see in students? You started in the late '50s and you were right in the middle of the '60s there uh did, does that, any of that stick in your mind as far as they was they dressed, they way they act, how prepared they were--

CETRULO: Not really. I think that by the time I retired it probably would have been on the cutting edge of what we refer to as they social revolution, you know and I didn't experience any of that. But it's not just the time, it's the location. This was community such that 00:17:00uh where traditional values have attained, you've probably experienced that in your community as well. This is not uh New York City or San Francisco uh and still isn't. And certainly was parochial in the better sense of the word. Uh, and I didn't see much change in the students the eleven years I taught there.

KLEE: More traditional, conservative type students.


KLEE: Didn't have a lot of student discipline problems?

CETRULO: I'd say not.

KLEE: Yeah.

CETRULO: I'd say not.

KLEE: Uh, as I said I'm pretty well through my list of questions. There was uh we mentioned on the phone when I talked that Paul Shot was the person that was familiar with the college for a long time. Did you have contact with him?

CETRULO: I did. Now, Paul was secretary as I recall, to uh Dr. Hankins uh who was the administrator of the school, uh at the time and director he was called, his proper title. Uh, and uh, so I would see Paul with 00:18:00some frequency and I haven't seen him for years though.

KLEE: I'm going to try to check into it and see if I can talk to him. Uh, can you think of anything in reference to your teaching time there, the people, or the location that I've failed to ask you about?

CETRULO: No. Uh, I think it was a, in my own personal life was a very unique and rewarding experience. I hope I made a contribution to the student body uh, and it was a well received institution in this community.

KLEE: You said that uh you know you run into some of these people and they talk to you. Did they seem to have pretty good success when they went on to other places?


KLEE: I mean academically you think?


KLEE: So the two years gave 'em a good preparation.

CETRULO: Indeed.

KLEE: Uh, what about the the politics of the area as far as uh --you 00:19:00know you had to, they built this, I guess Northern, they added U of L later, but northern is I guess the most recent full blown college that was created uh and as I said that late '60s period was the time that happened. Were there some movers and shakers here in the area that kind of prompted that?

CETRULO: There were. Uh, of course, the main thrust uh that developed into the Northern Kentucky University as you know occurred under the administration of Louie B. Nunn in 1963. Uh but uh I'd say that the, it's predecessor institution about which we're speaking, had the, enjoyed wide support uh and was apolitical in the sense of the word, although great latitude was given, I would bring in people occasionally every semester to speak to the student body, to expose them to a wider uh exposure. I recall some that stick out in my mind, one time I brought in uh Bob Taft, Jr. that's the uh father of the most recent 00:20:00governor when he was U. S. senator from Cincinnati and uh, I brought in also Ned Breathitt, who was a friend of mine from uh later became, was running for governor at the time. So there was democrat and republican and I used to bring in those kind of people to uh expose the student body.

KLEE: Uh, you I guess, that's quite significant, you were lucky to get those people to come up here, uh. Did students react pretty positively?

CETRULO: Oh, they did. These were politicians running for office so they were happy to have the exposure as well you understand. (laughs) But they made contributions to uh the student body.

KLEE: Oh, sure. Of course, Breathitt was the fellow that helped, I mean that's where Maysville came from, uh that was during his administration that Maysville became a community college or at least was uh --

CETRULO: Classmate of mine in law school had gone to name Tom Sawyers is now dead, but he'd gone to practice at that firm and later become became a judge down in Christian County uh and was a partner of Ned's who was younger, but uh my age and Ned's considerably older than I am, 00:21:00now dead, of course. But uh the--

KLEE: So he had that contact to be able to bring him in.


KLEE: Uh. When, in that time period when you were, were you, did you conduct your classes in a pretty traditional format lecture, reading books, etc.?

CETRULO: Pretty much so. Pretty much so. Uh, there'd be dialogue and questions and student participation but I'd say it was pretty standard lecture format.

KLEE: And students found it pretty, uh they were pretty agreeable to it, I guess.

CETRULO: They expressed interest. No, I hope it's real. I had the impression it was.

KLEE: Right. Yeah, yeah, those uh of course you know that's the way we were taught and the way most of us still teach in the college setting.

CETRULO: Right. As opposed to law school which is more saccadic and uh. But I tried to do that a little bit.

KLEE: Sure. Uh now the extension center and then Northern Kentucky Community College that was all that was there at that building?

CETRULO: That was it.

KLEE: Now did it later become, uh I mean did they have the law school 00:22:00there for a while when they?

CETRULO: They did.

KLEE: Okay.

CETRULO: They did first.

KLEE: At that --

CETRULO: Before, before that it became part of the uh Northern Kentucky University and then it became the sole location of the law school for a time. After the law school moved from Cincinnati as you know, Simon P. Chase was an affiliate of the, of the YMCA there in Cincinnati and night school primarily, and it moved over here and its first main location was at uh at this facility where I taught.

KLEE: You said you left in '69 that's when as I said Northern started. Did you, did you make contact, did any of these people that were at the center, did they dovetail into Northern that you are aware of?

CETRULO: You know, I, I sort of lost contact with the official structure and activities of the organization of the facilities and therefore, I really can't say that, I don't know.

KLEE: Yeah, I can check that in other places. I was just curious --

CETRULO: We had another very interesting faculty member I forgot to mention to you. He is not on this list because he had gone by this 00:23:00time. Uh, and suddenly I'm having a senior moment, his name escapes me. The fellow who wrote the book, "The Hustler".

KLEE: Oh my --

CETRULO: And he was an English professor, young fresh English professor at the Northern Center with me and the--

KLEE: Is that right?

CETRULO: Yeah. And --

KLEE: I'll look that, I'll look that up.

CETRULO: And he uh achieved, of course, instance notoriety and wealth as you know when he sold his book rights. He asked me to do some research to find out a tax friendly jurisdiction to establish residence and I lost contact with him and uh he left teaching and --

KLEE: Yeah (laughs). That's the way it would be. Yeah, I'll check that out that's really interesting. Well, I appreciate you talking to me.

CETRULO: Happy to do it. Thank you for coming, appreciate your interest. I think it's an important project that you're making a connection between the present and the past and uh the contributions 00:24:00made by a lot of these people.

KLEE: Right. Thank you.

[End of interview.]