Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with J. Phil Smith, June 11, 2007

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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KLEE: -- unrehearsed interview by John Klee for the University of Kentucky Community College System Project. The interview is with Mr. J. Phil Smith, and we are at the First National Bank in Jackson, Kentucky. It is June the 11th, 2007. Mr. Smith, let's start by you discussing or telling me a little bit about your personal background, your parents and --

SMITH: Well, I was born in Hindman, Kentucky, in Knott County, and went to the Hindman Settlement School. And my father was an attorney who practiced law there for fifty years.

KLEE: Uh-huh.

SMITH: And I graduated from high school in 1942, and -- right after the war started. And while I was still seventeen, I went straight to UK, 00:01:00(laughs) trying to get in as many hours as I could.

KLEE: Yes, sir.

SMITH: And -- but I didn't -- I got in two quarters. They were on quarter ----------(??) system. And then I came home, and I thought surely -- I'd turned eighteen in August -- that they would take me, but they didn't.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: So finally I volunteered in July of 1943.

KLEE: Okay. Hang on just a second. Tell me about what Hindman Settlement School was like and why that choice was made. Was that where a lot of kids were going to school in Hindman?

SMITH: Well, it originally was the only real school in Knott County. It 00:02:00started in 1902. Of course, it had a predecessor of Buckner Academy, which my father attended. And then he went on to Washington and Lee and got his law degree. But all the people in town -- children in town attended the Hindman Settlement School. Now, it was a boarding school, but the people in town didn't board. And it was just in walking distance of my home.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: And incidentally, Hazard Community College has bought the home where I was born.

KLEE: Oh, is that right? (laughs)

SMITH: (laughs) I don't know what they're going to do with it. (Klee laughs)

SMITH: It looks -- they bought that this year, I think. And I told them I wanted an award put up, "This is where J. Phil Smith was born."

KLEE: (laughs) Right.


SMITH: So anyhow --

KLEE: Were those teachers pretty capable? Did they prepare you pretty well for UK?

SMITH: These people, all up until my time -- and some are still there -- came from the Seven Sister schools. You have Vassar and Wellesley and Holyoke and all that.

KLEE: Eastern -- Ivy League schools then.

SMITH: That's right. They'd all had the tour of Europe and all that kind of stuff. (laughs) They came there, you know, as missionaries. And they were wonderful.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: I really appreciated the secondary education I got at the Hindman Settlement School.

KLEE: Really opened up -- I guess these people, as you said, were well educated and well traveled and opened up new --


SMITH: New vistas for us. Yeah.

KLEE: Right. Had your parents -- you said your father was a lawyer. Did they encourage education all along? I mean, was it -- would -- you just assumed you were going to go to college at some point?

SMITH: Yeah, we never thought anything else. (Klee laughs) There were ten of us.

KLEE: Oh, I see.

SMITH: And I was the tenth. (laughs) So -- and when I came back out of service, why, I came at a bad time, so I started auditing at UK. And my brother-in-law was coach of -- head basketball coach at Morehead, and he was dying with what we call Bright's disease. And he was only in his 30s. And he called me in Lexington and asked me if I would come up and live with them -- they had one little boy -- and live with my sister. And he died about three months after I moved up there. So -- 00:05:00and I fell in love there, and of course, I stayed at Morehead and I'm glad I did. I enjoyed it. (Clears throat)

KLEE: Let me take you back just a second. You volunteered for the service. What role -- what did they have you do there during World War II?

SMITH: I didn't do anything. I had -- I was in limited service.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: Seemed like all I did was dig ditches. (Both laugh) But I didn't go overseas.

KLEE: They kept you busy, huh?

SMITH: They put me in limited service, because of a -- I can't turn this arm ----------(??), and I couldn't hold the rifle with a strap on it.

KLEE: Right.

SMITH: And -- but anyhow, it was --

KLEE: So when did you go to Morehead? What year -- do you remember what year that was?

SMITH: '45.

KLEE: '45?

SMITH: Uh-huh.

KLEE: The war was over, and you met someone there. And who was that?

SMITH: Yes, uh-huh. I met Barbara Hogg. Her family were quite prominent 00:06:00there. And her father was a lawyer, and her brother was commonwealth's attorney. And we started -- . [machine noise] Yeah, so I graduated from Morehead. And Morehead has honored me all through the years.

KLEE: Yes, sir.

SMITH: Back two or three years ago, they gave me a doctorate. And so --

KLEE: So you've maintained a love for and a relationship with Morehead over the years?

SMITH: Yes, uh-huh. (Clears throat)

KLEE: And they've shown their appreciation, too.

SMITH: That's right.


KLEE: So what happened, then, after college? You were married and had a family?

SMITH: Well, I moved straight here from college --

KLEE: Did you? Uh-huh.

SMITH: -- as soon as I graduated.

KLEE: Was that a decision your wife --

SMITH: No, she had nothing to do (laughs) with it.

KLEE: (laughs) Did she agree to it, I guess?

SMITH: Oh, yeah. But my father, after he retired from practicing law, a friend of his, Governor Willis, asked a lot of old friends to come and serve in his cabinet. And he asked my father, who was a lay banker, to be commissioner of banking.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: And I worked in the office in the summertime, and I had no idea what I was going to do. And one day we were driving around, my father 00:08:00and I, and he asked me, and I said, "Well, I thought about law." And he said -- he discouraged it because people were taking cases for $25. And ----------(??). (Both laugh) So I said, "Well, I like banking." And that was the end of it. So next thing I knew, he bought this bank.

KLEE: Okay. He bought the First National Bank in Jackson, Kentucky.

SMITH: Yeah. A year before I graduated. And he expected me to run it.

KLEE: Okay. (Both laugh)

SMITH: So I -- being out of the -- being in the Army, I was 23 when I graduated.

KLEE: Yes, sir.

SMITH: And after a six-weeks trip to California, seeing all the sights 00:09:00and everything, I moved -- we moved here with our son.

KLEE: Would that have been 1946 then?

SMITH: No, it would have been -- I graduated in '48.

KLEE: Oh, '48? Okay.

SMITH: And it would -- that's when I moved.

KLEE: Right, that fall of '4- --

SMITH: July the 15th, (laughs) 1948.

KLEE: Is that right? July 15th.

SMITH: And then we've lived here since then.

KLEE: Tell me about this community in 1948 when you first came here. What were -- what was it like, as far as this -- you have a -- Jackson has, like, a downtown business area, business district. Was -- I mean, was it a vibrant place? What was fueling the economy?

SMITH: It wasn't much. And of course, that was because of roads and no 00:10:00natural resources at that time. And a lot of people were on welfare and some -- a lot of farmers, they raised tobacco. And that was most of the cash income that came in. And -- but it was a nice little town. And all the businesses, of course, were here because this road was not built, and we were just encircled -- like, if you came over a great big mountain and down into Jackson, like into the valley.

KLEE: Just kind of sat there, huh?

SMITH: Yeah, and you couldn't get industry to come in. And I would contact somebody and drag them over the hill. And of course, we did 00:11:00have a railroad, which is an attractive thing, but it was just too much for them. And so now there is no business Jackson. It's all on 15.

KLEE: Right. You're talking about the -- out on the new highway. That's where all the little development is being --

SMITH: Yeah. You saw our branch over there probably --

KLEE: Yes, sir.

SMITH: -- when you came in. And then there's another big thing with Wal-Mart, south of Jackson. And so it's -- of course, the bank naturally has -- not through any efforts of mine -- (Klee laughs) has grown. And then we had a coal boom.

KLEE: Okay. When did that occur?

SMITH: In the '70s. And it benefited me personally, because my father 00:12:00had gotten several thousand acres in Knott County (laughs), so -- but it helped people here. They had a large coal company come in here, and that made a lot of people rich. And of course, a lot of them didn't keep their money, but a lot of them did. And then they were young -- still young when they left, and they don't know what to do with themselves. I saw a man over at the restaurant while ago, and he's been retired since he was in his 30s (laughs).

KLEE: Is that right? Did they become wealthy because they owned the land and sold it? Or they just got involved in the actual business? They were strip mining?

SMITH: Well, big business just paid -- and they paid the truckers. And oh, it was marvelous. And it really jerked up an economy that's -- and right now I think the economy is good. It isn't great. But we are 00:13:00sort of a center of three other counties -- Wolfe and Lee and Owsley and Breathitt -- and we have a Wal-Mart, and they all come to that. And we have a lot of things that the other towns, which, believe it or not, are smaller than (Klee laughs) than we are --

KLEE: Right. I've been to Wolfe County. (Smith laughs) I know. So this has become a little bit of a regional shopping and --

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: -- and center for people?

SMITH: Yes, it has.

KLEE: Were there -- you said that in -- when you came here in '48, of course, you had the '50s and '60s before the coal boom hit. Were there any special challenges, as the banker, as far as -- I mean, I know people were probably just living from hand to mouth in many cases.

SMITH: Yes, that's right. It was a difficult time, I think, for people. 00:14:00And I, without seeming to be immodest, tried to do everything I could in every way I could to help the economy and get people doing things, like raising strawberries, which brought in more money, if they'd known it, than tobacco did.

KLEE: Is that right? Yeah.

SMITH: And -- but we -- I tried it through the Kiwanis Club. And we got some people started, and then they didn't have a market for it, so that fell. But then I started concentrating on Lees College as soon as I got here, because I was born in education, and my parents were well 00:15:00educated and expected a lot out of me. And my father was a wonderful man who believed in community service, giving rather than taking.

KLEE: Yeah. I was going to ask you -- before I get into Lees specifically, when you're the local banker, you immediately are looked upon as -- you know, to be on this board and that board, and they ask you for this thing and that thing. Can you highlight a little of that? You said -- I guess you were active in the Kiwanis a little bit.

SMITH: Very.

KLEE: Uh-huh. Okay.

SMITH: A hundred percent attendance.

KLEE: I see. (Smith laughs) Okay. And they were -- they're a pretty active organization here in the community?

SMITH: Yes, and there were very fine men in it. It was a rather elite thing. And you just didn't get in, you were asked. And I know my year 00:16:00was 1955, and I did have a hundred percent attendance, which they like to have, the national people do -- international. And then --

KLEE: Most of the community -- a lot of the community leaders were centered in that, so -- in that organization, so you could get business --

SMITH: Yeah, and we were actually the Chamber of Commerce.

KLEE: I see, right.

SMITH: I tried to start that two or three times, and it never worked. You'd have people who were, say, university people. They have a foundation out at Quicksand. And I worked on that. And it's an agricultural experiment station. And in fact, I -- and the director 00:17:00and I worked through the university, and they were trying to close it. And we went to the governors -- and the governors -- running for governor and all this, and we got a lot of money and kept it open. And it's still open today, and it was something good for the community.

KLEE: Yeah, that's the UK Research Center at Quicksand?

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: What was your first -- some of your early contacts with Lees, then? You came here -- before I -- there was another question I wanted to ask, too. How were you accepted by the established community here?

SMITH: I was -- just great.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: You know, when I was at Hindman and drive through here -- we had to come right through Jackson then. You didn't have any bypass. And 00:18:00anybody who had told me I would live here one day, I'd say, "You're foolish." (Klee laughs) But they were just great to me. And as I said, I was real young, and all the friends that I formed at that time were businessmen who were ten years older than I, and more.

KLEE: Yeah, because they took -- it took longer for them to get established.

SMITH: Of course, because of my position here. I came here and became CEO immediately --

KLEE: Right.

SMITH: -- because, you know, your -- my father owned the bank. (laughs)

KLEE: Yeah, right. So you -- that -- I mean, that was a wonderful benefit for you, but also a challenge too.

SMITH: Yes, it was.

KLEE: Because you had to prove that you had some ability.

SMITH: That's right.

KLEE: So Lees was an asset to the community. I mean, you could see that when you first came here.

SMITH: Oh, yes.


KLEE: What kind of role and function did it serve?

SMITH: Well, Lees was founded, I think, around 1883, and it wasn't a college then. It was -- they called it an academy or something.

KLEE: Institute, I -- yeah, I did some research.

SMITH: Dr. Dickey, you know. And -- but when I came here, it was the last year of Dr. Van Meter. And in fact, I rented a house from him.

KLEE: Oh, did you? What kind of an individual was he?

SMITH: Oh, he was a -- he was something. (Both laugh) I think he made -- marched the children all to church ----------(??). But that was when it was connected with the Presbyterian Church in some areas. And -- but he had a good name. And of course, the Van Meters -- he came from those in Lexington and --


KLEE: We have some went all -- got all the way to Maysville, too.

SMITH: Is that right?

KLEE: Uh-huh. Yeah. They married -- the Van Meters married some Browning girls. There were two brothers that married sisters. And the Browning name was a big name in Maysville. They ran a pulley plant. So yeah, I think it's the -- probably the same connection. I hadn't --

SMITH: I bet it is.

KLEE: Yeah. I didn't know this Dr. Van Meter. I'll have to check that out again.

SMITH: Now, he had a brother who was a practicing doctor in Lexington. And then there's some of the family that live in Winchester. But they're a prominent family.

KLEE: Yes, I know.

SMITH: And so do they. (Both laugh) You asked me about him. That says --

KLEE: And this is one of the things I've found out even among the early -- the older community colleges. Some of those academics, I think, were quite characters.


SMITH: Yeah, absolutely.

KLEE: And you're telling me this man marched the kids to school and I guess was a disciplinarian.

SMITH: To church.

KLEE: Oh, to church. I see.

SMITH: Yeah, the Presbyterian Church right across the street. (Both laugh)

KLEE: Was that Presbyterian connection, I guess, in those early -- those years, were pretty important.

SMITH: Yes, they were.

KLEE: Kids went to chapel and --

SMITH: Yeah, they had chapel twice a week. And they did that when I came here. And shortly after I got here, Van Meter resigned, and they hired a man by the name of Robert Landolt. I think he was from West Virginia. And the -- all the board members at that time were Presbyterian. And (clears throat) I was very active with them, though, and supported them and did this and that with them. And in 1956 they 00:22:00put me on the board, and I'm a Methodist.

KLEE: Made an exception.

SMITH: I was the first non-Presbyterian.

KLEE: Is that right?

SMITH: And we had people -- professors from university on the board and ministers. Of course, they had a lot of ministers on the board. And so I really enjoyed those years. And then the board dismissed Landolt in '56, and he stayed on -- no, it wasn't '56. That's when I went on the board.

KLEE: That's when you were -- uh-huh.

SMITH: It was '58, in January, and they didn't get anybody in to replace 00:23:00him. So at our June meeting of that year, they asked me if I would be president. (laughs)

KLEE: Oh, is that right? (laughs)

SMITH: And I was -- it was a big year for me. I was active in Kiwanis; I was teaching a Sunday school class; I was mayor of Jackson.

KLEE: My goodness.

SMITH: I ran for lieutenant governor. (Klee laughs) Of course, I was beaten, of course. And -- but I took it, and I really enjoyed it. And I would go over there about 5:30 -- it was just across the street from my home -- and eat breakfast with students. And paid -- I paid for everything. They -- and I didn't take a dime in --

KLEE: Didn't take a salary?


SMITH: -- salary or anything. I know one time they announced in the Herald that they had doubled my salary, which was zero. (Both laugh) And --

KLEE: You were still in your 30s. You'd run for -- you were the mayor and president of Lees College.

SMITH: Yeah. I was 34.

KLEE: Gee.

SMITH: And -- but I would get up and, as I said, go over there, and then I'd stay till about (clears throat) nine, and then I'd come to the bank. And then, of course, (Klee laughs) they'd call me during the day. Then I would go back in the afternoon and ----------(??) what all had happened then. But it was a -- I traveled. I spoke in Lexington, Hazard, everyplace, trying to raise money for Lees. And it was just -- I met a lot of nice people, and I really enjoyed it.


KLEE: Tell me the kinds of things that Lees was -- what kind of serv- -- what kind of students was it serving? Were there a lot of people coming into Jackson and staying there?

SMITH: Yes, at that time.

KLEE: Uh-huh. You had what, several hundred students?

SMITH: They had, I think, when I came here, about 300 maybe. And now they have, of course, around 1,000, 900 or 1,000. And -- but --

KLEE: And of course, those 300, were they resident -- they were living in dorms.

SMITH: Right.

KLEE: So you had all that situation to deal with.

SMITH: That's right.

KLEE: What kind -- was there -- did Jackson -- of course, the college is right here in downtown, too. Did they fully kind of embrace the 00:26:00college or were they kind of separated?


KLEE: They didn't?

SMITH: Town and gown.

KLEE: Town and gown, okay.

SMITH: It was too bad.

KLEE: There was a town-gown separation, then, a little bit?

SMITH: Right. And when I was president that year, I brought the town and gown together.

KLEE: Together, right.

SMITH: And the local National Guard came up and painted and did all this for me. And we really -- we had receptions and a receiving line and all this, you know, and a dance and all that and -- which was something new to the college and the town.

KLEE: Right, sure.

SMITH: And I wish that someone had been able to have come in and done that. So the search committee -- and I was on it -- got a man from 00:27:00Louisville, the Enro Shirt Company. And he was a good man, but not fitted to be an administrator.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: And he stayed one year, and we were going under. And I know we went over to Danville and talked to (clears throat) President -- I can't think of his name right now. You'd know it. He's retired.

KLEE: Over at Centre?

SMITH: Yeah. And anyhow, we went over there and talked with him, and it looked like we were -- as we came back, he and I were riding together, and he said, "I'm just looking forward to closing the college." And I just said everything in the world to him. And I said, "You're 00:28:00leaving." (Klee laughs) So we got a Presbyterian minister from Hunter Presbyterian Church in Lexington, and he stayed here 27 years.

KLEE: Is that right? Now, who was that? What was his--?

SMITH: That was Troy Eslinger. And the people in town didn't like him, so I buffeted for him. And of course, he -- I said -- I told him he was a con man. I think he was, but he got -- he kept the college going.

KLEE: And he did that from just -- just through recruiting efforts and fundraising efforts and --

SMITH: He would go to the Kentucky Club in New York. And we've got a couple of members on the board from there, and they would come.They'd fly in.

KLEE: Gee. Fly in for the meetings.

SMITH: And fly in for committee meetings. And so -- and he worked, 00:29:00and he told me -- I was chairman of the board -- and he told me he was going to retire and I'd better form a search committee. So I did. And a very prominent member of our board recommended someone he knew who was at Paducah at that time and head of Paducah's foundation. And we hired him, and Troy Eslinger didn't like that. See, he didn't expect us to find anybody --

KLEE: Right. (laughs)

SMITH: -- so quickly. And so we hired him, and -- but it left a bad 00:30:00taste in Troy's mouth, and some of his cohorts got it around town. It's the first time the town has ever gotten in --

KLEE: Got interested.

SMITH: -- gotten themselves involved. And they were just going to run this man off, and they did.

KLEE: My goodness.

SMITH: And of course, he stayed four years, and I fought for him all I could. But the town was against him, so there wasn't anything I could do about it.

KLEE: Sure, sure.

SMITH: And he was a most fascinating person. He got his PhD from St. Andrews in Scotland.

KLEE: My goodness. Now, what was his name?

SMITH: Bud Bradshaw. William Bradshaw.

KLEE: William Bradshaw, right.

SMITH: And I don't know where he got his first two degrees, but he got that from St. Andrews, which I thought was marvelous, that we had somebody like that. And he knew how to do things, and his wife knew how to do things. And so I was looking forward to --


KLEE: Working with him.

SMITH: Yeah. And we worked well together. And -- but finally he had to resign.

KLEE: What kinds of -- were you serving an official function? I know you -- obviously, you were tied into the college, having served as interim president. Were you on the board of directors or on the foun- -- board of directors most of this time, then. I see, uh-huh.

SMITH: Yeah, even when I was president, I stayed on the -- and so I met with -- I had a board meeting (Clears throat) -- excuse me -- in Lexington. And I had called a friend of mine at Morehead, and the odd thing was that he and I had worked together on this Quicksand thing.


KLEE: (laughs) Oh, I see.

SMITH: He was superintendent out there. And then when he got his PhD, he went to Morehead, and he was a dean over there, and he had just retired. And they had a new president, and he asked him, "Would you stay and help me?" And so when this vacancy came up -- and we just had to have somebody -- I called him. And he's -- he and I were best friends, and we had worked in the church together and all this. And he -- I said, "You've got to come here." Of course, he went two years to Lees.

KLEE: Right. Now, this is Dr. Derrickson you're talking about? Charles Derrickson?

SMITH: Yeah. And he's from here originally, and so I said, "You've got to come." And he said well, he couldn't persuade Myrtle to come. And I 00:33:00told my wife to call her, so she did.

KLEE: Okay. (laughs)

SMITH: And he came and stayed four years. Now, we worked -- tried to work with that thing that just left the presidency of Morehead.

KLEE: Oh, Eaglin?

SMITH: Yeah. And we offered him Lees College, practically, because we were just out -- I mean, no money.

KLEE: Let me back you up a little bit on that then. You had this turnarou- --after this Elslinger--

SMITH: Eslinger.

KLEE: Eslinger. The budget situation, I guess, was always a constant challenge.

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: And that -- just because it -- the tuit- -- you couldn't charge so much tuition that it would pay every -- all your expenses?

SMITH: That's right.

KLEE: You talked about the "town-gown." And even though they -- you 00:34:00tried to mesh them more, obviously the college was important to the community, because the students bought groceries and restaurants.

SMITH: Why, sure it was. That was another thing that -- was income.

KLEE: Right. Yeah, they employed people and --

SMITH: Sure. And the students ate in the restaurants, although we had a nice cafeteria. You know how students are.

KLEE: Right. (laughs)

SMITH: And we were students once. And so -- but it was an important thing for the financial part of it, besides the educational part. And before this, when I was growing up, Lees College was placing most of the teachers in the area. They only had two years, but they were allowed to teach.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: And then later, of course, as they taught, they went on and got 00:35:00their degrees. And -- but they provided most of the teachers in these surrounding counties.

KLEE: Were there a lot of local students? I mean, I know they brought in some people, and people went there residentially. But were there local students, too? Local people?

SMITH: Yes. Yes.

KLEE: So it was important to raise the educational level of --

SMITH: Just like I said, Charles Derrickson.

KLEE: Right. And then went on to become dean at Morehead.

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: So he came back. And of course, there were -- the college is being challenged financially at that point. But -- and in the research I did, he was able to raise enrollment.

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: But it was still not enough. So you all were looking for ways to save the college. What -- you were on that board for many, many years. 00:36:00Did this subject come up routinely, that, you know, we -- you know, we don't know if we can keep going this next year? Or when did it really become serious?

SMITH: Yes, it became serious, and Charles and I made two or three trips to see Eaglin in Morehead.

KLEE: Of course, he was at Morehead and you'd been to Morehead, so you thought that would be -- and they're, you know, essentially in this region.

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: So you thought this might be a good partnership.

SMITH: Absolutely. And we offered -- practically offered Lees College to them. They had a place in West Liberty and another place, I've forgotten where it was. And he just lied to us. And one time we met with his chairman of the board, who was a lawyer from Ashland.

KLEE: Yes, sir.

SMITH: And he was all for it, but Eaglin just sat on it and wouldn't do 00:37:00anything. So --

KLEE: You don't know what his hesitation was or --

SMITH: No. No one ever knew what he was thinking. (Klee laughs) And -- but I think in a way of apology, that's why I got my doctorate. (Both laugh)

KLEE: So one of the things that might have been a challenge to Lees was that we -- this community college system had begun to pop up, and Hazard started in '68. Were -- I guess they were pulling students away from Lees?

SMITH: Yes. And in fact, they came down here. And I got after them about that. And they would use our high schools for classes. And Hughes was president up there. And I just fought him ----------(??). 00:38:00(Both laugh)

KLEE: Because they were offering classes right in your own backyard.

SMITH: Yeah. He would sneak around. And of course, the first time he came, he went to Breathitt High. And that boy down there was superintendent and didn't know much, and he was real honored to have UK -- to ----------(??) classes, you know. Then I jumped him, and he ran them off. And then he tried to get in City School --

KLEE: Jackson.

SMITH: -- where my wife's on the board. (Both laugh) And so -- but -- and then -- well, that's neither here nor there. But the -- you see, I had -- nor did Charles, have any idea that the university would even talk to us. I know many years ago when Dr. Dickey was president 00:39:00and I was on Lees' board, I went to see Dickey. And of course, back then Chandler had started it, and it was sort of a political thing, of us have a college here and a college there. So -- but what our understanding was that you could not have two colleges within so many miles of each other. So -- but finally we went to Charles Wethington.

KLEE: Wethington, uh-huh.

SMITH: And he's the most straightforward man I ever knew in my life. (Klee laughs) I just consider him one of -- a very good friend. And we approached him about it, and he started thinking about it. And then one time we met with Charles and maybe one of his staff and with Eaglin 00:40:00and two or three of his staff in Charles' office. And they were going to try to do a consortium or something. And Morehead didn't get in on it. But Charles was a little hesitant, you know, about it, naturally. And -- but he gave us enough money to finish the year.

KLEE: This was 95-96, I guess?

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: I'm trying to think.

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: That was -- '96 was the last graduating class.

SMITH: That's right.

KLEE: So you all were having these discussions in the mid '90s. And did you make that phone call or Dr. Derrickson make that phone call to Dr. Wethington?

SMITH: I believe Charles made it, I'm not sure.


KLEE: Right. I'm not sure of this. I'm going to interview Dr. Wethington about this, too, and some other topics, because he was at Maysville.

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: He was the first president at Maysville. But I think he'd had, maybe, a bad experience with Sue Bennett, trying to make an arrangement there, so that might have made him a little --

SMITH: Yeah, leery.

KLEE: -- gun-shy.

SMITH: Well, see that belonged to the women of the Methodist church. (laughs)

KLEE: I see. I didn't realize that. Okay.

SMITH: That's the truth, it was. It was the women. And yeah, I'm sure that had some bearing on it. But he laid down what he would do, and he said, "Now, I can't support a basketball team." Lees usually had a good basketball team. But all junior colleges were senior colleges; you know, it changed. "And so you'll have to do that locally," he told us. And of course, we agreed. And I knew it couldn't be done long, and -- 00:42:00I knew that the town couldn't support it. So we just married, that's all, and (laughs) I was never as pleased about anything in my life.

KLEE: What were the sticking points? The devil's in the details on these things. Do you remember any of those things?

SMITH: No, I don't re- -- there was no -- after Charles got into it, he just went. And --

KLEE: Brought in the UK lawyers and --

SMITH: Yeah, uh-huh.

KLEE: Because, I mean, Lees had a board of trustees and had a foundation board, and UK had boards. And were they just -- worked up the paperwork, I guess?

SMITH: Yeah. Well, we met with the lawyers, and one of them -- you'd know him if I could think about it. But he was dragging things out. And then this younger man, his name was Paul -- he died not long ago. 00:43:00He was a lawyer (clears throat) for UK, so he just took over, although that other man was his superior. And we just went right through those it, ----------(??) he did.

KLEE: Were there some -- you said that Dr. Wethington came up with some funds. What was -- had -- was there some indebtedness on the buildings or did you have some outstanding debts that had to be reconciled or --

SMITH: Yeah. And we had to pay some, and we just needed -- and we needed money to operate.

KLEE: Right, just even to finish the year?

SMITH: (Clears throat) That's right.

KLEE: Pay the salaries and so forth?

SMITH: I forgot how many hundred thousand it was he gave us.

KLEE: Now, I know some of the money came from the Robinson -- E.O. Robinson Fund. There's a forest here in the area.


SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: And that was the solution, I guess, so he didn't have to -- he didn't have time, really, to go through the legislature and ask for money. And was that even a consideration?

SMITH: No. And you know, he put two of our members on that board. And so we were, you see -- (laughs)

KLEE: Yeah, very pleased. (laughs)

SMITH: I know you know how he works, so it's -- and it gave us an in there. I mean, if we had any problems, why, the university's going to hear about it.

KLEE: Yeah, you had local contact.

SMITH: Sure, absolutely. The other two men were in Lexington. It was Judge Meade and Harold Mullis. And -- but that was -- I give total credit to Charles Wethington for Lees College.


KLEE: Didn't have any trouble getting -- I mean, he would tell you what -- the way it would go, and you knew that was the way it was going to happen if he said it?

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: Yeah, there wasn't any hang-ups on that end? (laughs)

SMITH: No, no.

KLEE: What was I going to ask? Oh, the Presbyterian Church connection. It had -- I guess it had faded over the years anyway, hadn't it?

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: And so there wasn't -- I guess you just had to contact them and say this is what has to happen?

SMITH: Yeah. Well, they came to that meeting I had when we selected Charles Derrickson.

KLEE: Uh-huh. You had that right over here at the college?

SMITH: No, I had it in Lexington.

KLEE: Oh, did you? Okay.

SMITH: And I had it at the Lafayette Club. And -- but you know, 00:46:00anything Charles said to us, he stood right by it.

KLEE: Dr. Wethington?

SMITH: Yeah. And he didn't bother us. We did just exactly what he told us to do (Laughter--Klee), and we weren't any bother to him. I don't--

KLEE: I wasn't long negotiations or anything?


KLEE: It was just kind of an agreement of--"this is how we're going to try and put this together and--"

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: --"Let's work it out"?

[End tape one, side A; begin tape one, side B]


KLEE: This is side two of the tape of the, uh, University of Kentucky Community College system project, uh-- I'm--This is John Klee, and I'm speaking with--um--Phil- J. Phil Smith--J. Philip Smith, uh--in Jackson, Kentucky, in the- in his office at the First National Bank. We were talking about the uh--the merger between Lees an- and the community college system. What were some of the immediate advantages for the community and Lees?

SMITH: Well, I think they can offer -- they were able to offer more courses, (clears throat) more professors. And of course, being on a state thing, their salaries went up.


KLEE: Right. (laughs)

SMITH: And my wife taught at Lees, and she has a PhD in English history and -- 16th and17th Century. And she, before she retired, was making $20,000 a year.

KLEE: With a PhD. (laughs)

SMITH: And -- with a PhD. They had no rankings. Well, they couldn't have. They couldn't afford it.

KLEE: I see. They didn't have, like, assistant professors or any of those kind of things?

SMITH: No. They do now. But -- and my son is a professor of English at Lees now.

KLEE: Oh, well that's nice.

SMITH: My oldest son.

KLEE: Uh-huh. How long did your wife teach there?

SMITH: Eighteen years. And it just -- she's such a wonderful teacher that -- the students got worse and worse, and she just couldn't take it 00:49:00any longer. And so she --

KLEE: By worse, you mean less prepared, not able to --

SMITH: Yeah. I mean, I told her, I said, "Quit giving essay tests."

KLEE: Right. They couldn't write the essay.

SMITH: I said, "They don't know what -- how -- what it's about." And I would grade some of her papers, and they'd get maybe one question right. And it was pitiful. And I didn't blame her for quitting. And about three and a half years after she quit, I needed a branch manager and I put her over there. (Both laugh)

KLEE: It's probably a pretty busy branch over there.

SMITH: Yeah. And she made a branch out of it. She's really efficient.

KLEE: The reason I asked that, maybe if I -- if I can get back down here, I wouldn't mind talking to her about teaching over there. Maybe you could mention it to her.

SMITH: Yeah, okay.

KLEE: If you think she'd be agreeable.

SMITH: Her health isn't too good right now. But if she felt like it, 00:50:00she'd be glad to.

KLEE: Okay. Was there an Option C? You had -- you tried Morehead and that didn't work. You went with UK, and Dr. Wethington was a jewel, but had -- were there any other ideas floating out there? I guess -- I mean, closing was a real option, I guess.

SMITH: Yes, absolutely.

KLEE: I mean, that -- well, you didn't have any other choices.

SMITH: No. The bank gave them all the money they could. I gave them $250,000 that last year.

KLEE: Gee.

SMITH: And it just was not viable at all. And I just couldn't imagine it going out of business. And fortunately, this -- we still have our original board of directors.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: And it's a foundation.

KLEE: Okay.

SMITH: We kept the money.


KLEE: Okay. So there is a separate Lees Foundation?

SMITH: Uh-huh. Lees, Inc. Lees College, Inc. And I'm president of that, and we give scholarships, about $60,000 a year, to students at Lees College.

KLEE: Well, you were fortunate to be able to build that fund up or have anything left, you know, considering the financial needs.

SMITH: Well, we built it up. It's been great.

KLEE: What -- the physical -- I've ridden around the college a couple times when I was here before going up -- going to Hazard. And how is the physical layout? I mean, the facilities pretty decent? Were they -- was that always a problem too, trying to keep things --

SMITH: Yeah. The buildings were old. And they've really fixed them up now. And they've bought more property and --


KLEE: Is that right, uh-huh?

SMITH: (Clears throat) -- and had more -- have more classrooms, more teachers. And I get what little I know about it from my son. Of course, I'm very close to -- I was very close to the man that just moved.

KLEE: Ed Hughes. Dr. Hughes? Oh, you had another person here that was -- yeah.

SMITH: And he was a good man. He -- I was sorry to see him leave.

KLEE: He was a campus coordinator. I don't know him. I knew you'd talked about Ed Hughes. You also had to deal with Ben Carr. What kind of individual did you find Ben?

SMITH: Oh, he was a real gentleman, a real gentleman. Did he ever marry again?

KLEE: I think he did. Yes, sir.

SMITH: Well, when I called him trying to locate you --

KLEE: Right. (laughs)

SMITH: -- a lady answered the phone. And I always just sent a Christmas 00:53:00card to him. I hadn't seen anything that they'd been married.

KLEE: Uh-huh. Yeah, that's what I understood. I'm glad for him, too.

SMITH: Yeah. He had a lovely wife, and I'm sure he's got one now. He's a gentleman.

KLEE: Sure. He's a real nice man. With -- of course, tuition was able to drop, too, because it was a part of a state system, so enrollment boomed, and that's probably why some of the students weren't as qualified. I mean, it opened the doors up to more people. Did that -- how has that affected the community, and has that broken down some of the town-gown separation?

SMITH: Yes, I think it has. And of course, some of the faculty have been there for years. And they have friends in town, and they -- the churches and all that. I think it's -- as far as I can tell, it's much better.

KLEE: Does the community use the facilities very much? Or are they used 00:54:00more -- you've got two high schools right here, too --

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: -- within almost looking distance of one another, (Smith laughs) the three of them together. Is it utilized very much, the facilities?

SMITH: Yes. The -- some of the seniors at both -- I think both schools, I know Jackson, start their college work there while they're seniors. And that's a great asset.

KLEE: Sure, sure. One of the things that happened as soon as you all made this deal is that UK lost the community college system. Did that pose some special problems, because you all had made all these arrangements with the University of Kentucky?

SMITH: Well, I was scared that it would. And I think the faculty was worried. And they were getting into something that was new and never 00:55:00proved, as far as Kentucky is concerned. And they don't like the idea of the technical part of it, and -- but --

KLEE: Is there a technical -- I guess there's a technical -- is there a technical school right here close?

SMITH: Well, there's a high school technical school. I think they use that. I'm not sure. And of course, Hazard's got one, and it was separate. Now they're trying to bring it together on the same land. I'll tell you who that president was, it was Dr. Box.

KLEE: Oh, that's right, that's right. And he went to Hazard, didn't he, and then went to the system?

SMITH: Yeah, he went after Hughes. I was on that search committee and -- because I'm on their foundation, too. (laughs)


KLEE: Oh, are you on Hazard's now? Okay.

SMITH: And so -- and I was also on the search committee for him, and he did a good job. I hated to see him go.

KLEE: Well, he must be pretty qualified because they jerked him and took him to the central office.

SMITH: I'm going to kill Mike when I see him. (Klee laughs) I like Mike.

KLEE: Do you? Good. Couple of names here in my notes that I didn't get around to. You had -- I guess the official meeting was -- was it June 28, 1996, when the actual turnover took place?

SMITH: Yes, uh-huh.

KLEE: And that was a big formal affair. I saw pictures of you with Governor -- ex-Governor Breathitt, who was the UK Board of Trustees chairman.

SMITH: Yeah, he and I were classmates.

KLEE: Is that right?

SMITH: Yeah, we've been lifelong friends.

KLEE: Okay. Classmates at --



SMITH: We started out as freshmen.

KLEE: Where was that -- was that meeting held here?


SMITH: No, it was held in Lexington.

KLEE: Held in Lexington. So you had the UK trus- -- board and then yourself.

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: What was that like? I mean, was that --

SMITH: Well, it wasn't anything -- they did a little interview of people. And I had resigned as chairman of our board, and the board chairman and -- and Ned was chairman of the --

KLEE: UK board.

SMITH: -- UK board. And I witnessed Ned's signature, and somebody else witnessed ours.

KLEE: I see. You feel a sense of satisfaction that you've been able to hold this thing together someway?

SMITH: Yeah, I do. It's -- everybody I know of -- and this sounds, I hate to even say it -- gives me credit for saving Lees College, but I 00:58:00know who saved it.

KLEE: Well, I know that Dr. Wethington wanted me to talk to you, so he puts a lot of credit to you. And of course, you reciprocate that. (laughs)

SMITH: Yes, I do. He's -- I just bless his heart every time. (Klee laughs) You know somebody wrote a nasty letter about him, and his son answered. Or they said something about him, and his son, who -- I believe he's in Louisville -- and he wrote an answer in the Herald. And I wrote him and told him I'm so glad --

KLEE: Good for him.

SMITH: -- he stood up for his dad.

KLEE: Right, right. Well, you know a lot of those comments were made about Dr. Wethington because -- I mean, some of the professors there didn't like him becoming president. But they didn't know him very well.


KLEE: And really in some ways, some of them never gave him a chance.


SMITH: No, they didn't.

KLEE: I guess -- do they still house some students here or did they pretty much close that down?

SMITH: They have just now closed the dorms.

KLEE: The last dorms. So it was a ten-year transition. And as you said, that athletics cost more than people think.

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: It left after a couple years?

SMITH: Yeah. Box tried to start a leadership program and put them in the dorms.

KLEE: Put them in the dorms, uh-huh.

SMITH: And it wasn't necessarily the highest-grade people, but people who might become leaders. And I backed him in that. I got him some -- I'm on the Robinson Foundation, which is not the forest. It's the foundation that gives money to various causes, and it's been going on 01:00:00since 1920 or something like that.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: This man came in and -- forgot that, but anyhow the --

KLEE: That lasted for a while, but didn't -- wasn't permanent, I guess -- using those dorms?

SMITH: Well, it lasted until this year.

KLEE: I see. (laughs) Till he left, huh?

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: I see. Are they going to -- you don't know what their plans are for those buildings, then?

SMITH: Well, I think there's a move on -- and we've contributed here -- to having a multi-purpose building. There's no auditorium in this town.

KLEE: Is that right?

SMITH: And there was one at City School, a nice one, but it burned and 01:01:00they didn't replace it. And so it just -- that needs to be done. And you talk about town and gown, now, that would --

KLEE: That would really --

SMITH: -- help. You'd have a gym, you'd have a cafeteria.

KLEE: And I guess a stage?

SMITH: Yeah, just an exaggerated student union.

KLEE: Obviously, Lees College tapped you in this bank very, very often when they had financial needs. I was going to ask you, were there any other businesses or maybe families -- you know, who patronized -- who could you turn to for help in the community?

SMITH: Well, when we were a private college we had so many people who 01:02:00donated scholarships in memory of their parents or somebody, and we still honor those. I mean, Lees, Inc., does. And we still give those to Lees College.

KLEE: And using those names?

SMITH: And use those names, and they're put in the paper every time, so the families -- some of them don't live here. And we had some university professors who were on the board when it was Presbyterians. And what was that physics department head, Bull(??) Anyhow, he -- his family has one. And we've handled it, and we have about $4 or $5 million, $4 to $5.

KLEE: Wonderful. You mentioned your wife teaching there for eighteen 01:03:00years and some of the faculty. Usually a college has a few faculty members that stand out for one reason or another. Was there anybody like that at Lees, that maybe when you were there as president that year --

SMITH: That stood out?

KLEE: Yeah. That are -- either for their being characters or, you know, they just (Smith laughs) -- they maybe became, you know, community activists or something?

SMITH: Yeah. Frazier B. Adams.

KLEE: Okay, Frazier Adams. (Both laugh)

SMITH: He was dean and a good bridge player. (laughs)

KLEE: But he was a --

SMITH: We played ever week.

KLEE: Is that right? (Both laugh) And he was there for a long time?

SMITH: Oh, yeah. He came back after the war. And I think the college must have closed a couple of years and then reopened with Van Meter. And Frazier came then, and he was a char- -- quite a character.

KLEE: Was he? In what way? Just flamboyant or --


SMITH: Well, just everybody liked to kid him, and he liked to kid back.

KLEE: Oh, okay. (laughs)

SMITH: He'd just -- well, like, this sounds silly, what I said about Kiwanis Club. But if we sat -- anybody sat by him or on either side of him at Kiwanis Club, we'd fill his pockets with silver, (Klee laughs) eating materials. (Both laugh) And sometimes we'd go to his house to play bridge afterwards, and I'd say, "Frazier, what are your pockets bulging for?" (Klee laughs) And he'd start pulling out -- he'd pull out knives and forks. And his wife, who had taught at Temple University for a long time, she's very -- she'd say, (Smith says in deep stern voice) "Frazier." (Both laugh) I'd say, "He steals all the time, 01:05:00Carrie. You can't -- ."

KLEE: You got him in trouble. (Both laugh) That's something. I'd like to finish up by following up -- you know, obviously, you've led a full and busy life. You ran for lieutenant governor. Did you stay active politically over the years?

SMITH: I did until '69. And I was never active for myself. I was persuaded to get on that ticket. I didn't like it anyhow, because Bert Combs was one of my father's best friends, and he's still my best friend, even if he's dead. And his wife is -- my wife and they're -- we're all good friends.

KLEE: Good friends. You said you stayed active till '69. Who were you supporting in -- during those years?

SMITH: The biggest person I supported was John Sherman Cooper, and he 01:06:00was very nice to me. In fact, when I was president, I had him speak at our graduation and fed him dinner at the house and all that. But he was a real fine, outstanding --

KLEE: Quite a statesman for --

SMITH: He was a really -- the only statesman they had up there at the time, because if he said something, they knew -- well, like Charles. And he had a hard time saying it. (Both laugh) But I loved him.

KLEE: What about the community? You've talked about the road. I guess that was a big change, these roads opening up Eastern Kentucky.

SMITH: Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. And when they get this four-lane built, which is -- see, we can get to Lexington in an hour and fifteen minutes, twenty minutes now.

KLEE: Right. What was it like when you first came here?


SMITH: Oh, don't tell me. (Both laugh) We'd stop and eat someplace.

KLEE: It took that long, huh?

SMITH: You know, get a -- say, get a piece of pie in Stanton or someplace like that. It was just terrible. And course coming from Hindman, which is fifty miles farther into the hills, it would -- we would take a picnic lunch and eat at the fire station on Pine Ridge.

KLEE: Is that right?

SMITH: Yeah. And they had a tower there and a fireplace and -- you know, a very --

KLEE: So you see the watch tower.

SMITH: Yeah, I climbed up it. That's when I was little. (laughs)

KLEE: Sure. It was an all-day trip, I guess, then pretty much?

SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, after our children were born -- we had three boys -- and if we took them to Lexington to shop for -- 01:08:00you know, or anything, we'd stay all night at the Lafayette Hotel. And I still can't look at it -- it was my second home. (Both laugh) But we would, we'd stay all night because we were so tired.

KLEE: I don't remember the Lafayette. Tell me, where was that at?

SMITH: It's where the city hall is.

KLEE: Oh, okay. I see. They've kept the building, then?

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: I remember the -- was it the Phoenix that was downtown, too?

SMITH: Yeah. It was just across -- you remember where the railroad was?

KLEE: Uh-huh. I think so, yeah.

SMITH: Okay. It was between -- the railroad was between the Phoenix and the Lafayette. But they always had a room for me.

KLEE: Is that right? (laughs)

SMITH: I was so embarrassed one time. I -- my wife was in the hospital, and I had for some reason had gotten there late. And I hadn't made 01:09:00a reservation; I never did. And so of course, the races were on and the elevator was full when they took me up. And this man with a big Stetson hat on, (Klee laughs) fat and loud, you know. And I thought, "I hope he gets off before we get to the twelfth floor." So anyhow, he stayed right along with me, and he and I got off the same place. The bellman took my bag and started down toward the room.

KLEE: Yes, sir.

SMITH: And this man turned around, and he said, "Where are you all going?" And I said, "That's none of your business." (Klee laughs) And so we went down, and he followed us and came in, and he said, "Now, I had this room." And he said, "Now, I just sat on the bed." And then he 01:10:00started to go to the bathroom. And I said, "You needn't bother to show me." (Smith laughs) And they had put him out for me. (Klee laughs) Well, everyone was embarrassed. Of course, he probably didn't remember it the next morning.

KLEE: Sure. (Both laugh) You were a good customer. (Smith laughs) They took care of you. Has it brought many -- I mean, other than being able to get there pretty quickly, do you see many changes in the community? Are there more kids staying here now locally or --

SMITH: I think so. Of course, those who -- our granddaughter is a doctor. She is -- well, she's 29, I guess. But she's got a real good place at University Hospital. And -- but I heard the other day that one of our best friend's grandson was coming back here, and local 01:11:00doctors very seldom come back.

KLEE: Well, you know, you really weren't born and raised here, but you know, you decided to stay, I guess?

SMITH: Yeah. I've spent all my adult life here.

KLEE: And never thought about, Well, I'll retire back to Hindman or go someplace else?

SMITH: No. I'm on the board at Hindman, the Bank of Hindman.

KLEE: I see.

SMITH: I go up there once a month. And I hate that drive between here and ----------(??) too.

KLEE: I bet. (Both laugh) Well, I appreciate you talking to me.

SMITH: Listen, there's one thing. I don't know whether you're interested in it or not, but I'm -- that I am proud of. The administration building is a very old building; it's a three-story brick.

KLEE: Yes, sir. I remember seeing it. I thought the campus was pretty. 01:12:00I think it --

SMITH: Well, it's got my name on the front of it. It says "J. Phil Smith Administration Building."

KLEE: And when did that happen?

SMITH: It happened when Box was here.

KLEE: I see. They -- what -- did they restore the building and rename it for you or --

SMITH: No, they didn't -- well they'd done work on it, yeah. But it shocked me to death, because it's great big silver letters up there. (Both laugh) But I did want to tell you that.

KLEE: Yeah, just a way to honor you, then.

SMITH: Yeah.

KLEE: Well, that's -- I think it's well deserved. And I appreciate you talking to me. Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.

[End of interview.]