Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Roy Palk, April 22, 2008

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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LANE: Roy Palk from Lexington, founding member of the KCTCS Foundation, speaking by phone from Lexington.

PALK: I had to push all these fancy buttons, but I obviously didn't--

LANE: (laughs) Well, I thought I was still on hold, and it rang, so we're, we're connected now.

PALK: We are, and that's the point.

LANE: That's right, and I appreciate you taking some time, um, out of this beautiful afternoon. I'd say we both would rather be outside, right?

PALK: (laugh) Well, you know, I actually had lunch outside today. It was very nice.

LANE: I did, too. I went outside and just sort of soaked in a little bit of sun.

PALK: Right (??).

LANE: But, uh, um, Tim Burcham, as I mentioned to you, suggested that I give you a call and--

PALK: Right (??)

LANE: --and you indicated in your email that you don't mind if I record this session, and we're, we're just collecting lots of good history on the tenth, for the tenth anniversary of KCTCS, which is coming up very soon.

PALK: Right.

LANE: And you were one of the founding members of that '99, uh, 1999 KCTCS Foundation.

PALK: I'm that old.

LANE: No, not at all. (Palk laughs) You must have been very young, but, 00:01:00but your name is listed as, uh, among those early members.

PALK: That's correct.

LANE: Uh, along (??)--

PALK: I was one of the founding members.

LANE: Terrific, and so you have been, gosh, a member since then?

PALK: Yes, I have.

LANE: That's marvelous. So you have seen this whole Foundation and KCTCS, actually, just, just bear some fruit and, uh, and really-- (sighs)--it, the whole story is amazing to me. As, as a historian and I'm, I'm, and I'm an educator as well, but when you look at this story and what's been accomplished, it's truly amazing. Tell me what, how you first became involved with the Foundation.

PALK: I had two good friends who were also founding members of the board of directors of the Foundation.

LANE: Right.

PALK: Uh, Roy Mundy--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --I think, was one of the Foundation's first founding members and, uh, and Tim Mosher.

LANE: Yes.


PALK: And we all three were, we all three knew each other from the utility industry.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: Roy at that time was the CEO of the water company. Uh, Tim was the head of Kentucky Power here in Kentucky, and I was the head of East Kentucky Power, our generation transmission company out at Winchester.

LANE: I see.

PALK: So we all three had, had, uh, uh, a common business interest in the utility industry.

LANE: Um-hm. Well you're--

PALK: So they, they persuaded me to join the Foundation, and I actually didn't know, uh, all I was getting into at the time.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: But, uh, I, I'm a nontraditional student myself. Uh, I went to both undergrad and law school in the non-traditional way.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: I've always had a, uh, a sympathetic, uh, attitude toward young people who wanna improve their education.

LANE: Right.

PALK: And so because of my own background, and my belief in my two colleagues, I agreed to join the Foundation.

LANE: Um-hm. Those two things came together, uh--


PALK: It did.

LANE: --to convince you and I, I'm, I'm sure that, as you say, you didn't know what you were getting into, but I would imagine that it's been very rewarding.

PALK: It's been very rewarding, uh, I've actually, this is my description as the way I've seen the, uh, I've seen something that was afar come into focus.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: Best way I can describe it.

LANE: That's great.

PALK: Uh, because--

LANE: ----------(??)

PALK: Because, uh, the, the community college system was disjointed at the time. And it really wasn't a system. It, it was a group of schools, if you will.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: And I saw the, uh, the, uh, legislation come to be. I saw the, uh, the coagulation of the formation of, of the, of the different colleges, community colleges, into a system.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: Uh, I remember that there was one, uh, uh, exception to that and that was Bluegrass Community College here at LCC at the time.

LANE: Right. Right.

PALK: Uh, it was, it was an outlier for, for a time, and then it was 00:04:00also included in the System.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: So I've seen all that come together, and I, from my standpoint, uh, that really has been the, uh, impetus that's directed the, uh, work of the Foundation.

LANE: I see.

PALK: Because the Foundation's fundamental job is to raise money from private sources--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --uh, that the, the, uh, college system needs and can't get, or needs more of that they can't get through the government sources.

LANE: Right.

PALK: And so, as the Foundation, or as, as the System rather, grew that also further defined the role for the Foundation, if you understand what I'm saying.

LANE: I do understand perfectly.

PALK: Yes. And so that, that's my brief description of what I've seen over the past ten years. Uh, I saw it come from afar to a focus.

LANE: Hmm. That's a good quote. Now, do you, well, we know the System was needed, as you say, that was, it was a disjointed group of 00:05:00community colleges. And then, of course, the technical colleges were under state government auspices.

PALK: Right.

LANE: Uh, so to pull that together has been a phenomenal feat. Um, but then, I'm not sure, I'm, I'm not sure how you feel about this, but we just have been through a, another legislative session, and I'm not sure the whole funding story for higher ed, or, or even secondary and elementary ed, uh, has, has really come into focus. I, I'd, it's just too haphazard with, did that have anything to do with your interest in, in, uh, starting to raise private funds?

PALK: It certainly does. I think it's sort of chapter two.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: Uh, chapter two began this year.

LANE: Hmm.

PALK: With the outcome (??) of the legislature.

LANE: Yeah.

PALK: Uh, the next, the next-ten-years chapter, if you will--

LANE: Okay. Yeah.

PALK: --and, uh, I just really hate to see higher education take a financial beating.

LANE: Yeah.

PALK: With Kentucky's, uh, education level needs to be improved anyway.


LANE: Yeah.

PALK: And so I think therein lies a big, big challenge for the Foundation, uh, the future of the Foundation. And I think it's a, it's a good future, because there's certainly plenty of work to do.

LANE: Oh, there certainly is. Well, you know, my husband and I were discussing this over the weekend and if you, if you look at the big picture, that Kentucky, you know, the stats about us in the national standings, the number of graduate, the, the household income. How, how much sense--and that we need more graduates and we need more people educated. How much sense does it make to continue to raise the student's tuition?

PALK: Um-hm (??).

LANE: Uh, that's a tough one. I know they needed to do it, an-, you know, and unfortunately, they've, in order to survive and, and prosper, but the, when you look at that logically, it doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?

PALK: Uh, it doesn't. It, it's unfortunate, but it's necessary.

LANE: Oh yes. No, I am not at all commenting on the colleges having to do that--

PALK: Right.


LANE: I'm commenting on the fact that the state funds don't seem to be secure enough or stable enough or something to, to, uh, contribute without having to raise student tuition. That's, that's my point.

PALK: It, it, it's a sad situation, because I, I wish, I, I wish that, uh, more people understood that education really is the, is the, the lubricant, if you will--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --for business.

LANE: Oh sure.

PALK: It, it, it's a lubricant for business, because the better trained your education workforce is, the more competitive you are in recruiting jobs--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --and, and getting existing industries to expand their job base in a state.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: Uh, to enhance payroll which enhances, uh, the property tax rolls.

LANE: Sure.

PALK: Payroll tax rolls because Kentucky, Kentucky's, one of Kentucky's major income sources is payroll taxes, not consumer taxes, not sales tax.

LANE: That's right.

PALK: It's payroll tax. And when you have an under-, under-educated, uh, group of workers, that has a negative risk on your, on your payroll.


LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: It has a long-term negative risk on your source of income for, for, uh, for state services.

LANE: Exactly.

PALK: And so when you have a state that so dependent on payroll taxes, rather than a consumer tax like a sales tax, then not adding a trained workforce puts a further risk--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --on that--

LANE: Um-hm. Uh, it certainly does and they, that doesn't seem to be understood, but, you know, I think Mike McCall and his folks certainly understand that, don't you?

PALK: I certainly do. Uh, the community college system, I, I think, plays a wonderful role for, uh, people who, you know, if they got out of high school, I, I say this respectfully, they thought they were gonna make their fortune at Wal-Mart or McDonalds.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: And they were seventeen or eighteen and, uh, ran wildly into that game and ended up married and have a couple of children--


LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --and, now they're twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-five, or maybe even older, and they're back getting their educations.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: And, and if, were it not for the community college system, uh, they probably would have even less of an opportunity. Because if you're talking about tuition awhile ago, competitively speaking, community college system is still a bargain--

LANE: Yes it is.

PALK: --compared to other universities.

LANE: Yes it is. It certainly is. Um, I, in my research, have also run across many students who for, for several reasons, some of them, just where they're located, or that, from a smaller town, very motivated students. Never any question in their family that, that all the children would go to college. But they've chosen the community college close to them, one that I interviewed last week as a dual-credit student. He's gonna graduate with honors from his high school and have, have about twelve hours of college credit. Now, I find those, those stories fascinating as well.

PALK: That young man wouldn't have been from Pike County, would he?


LANE: No, actually from Woodford and he went to Bluegrass. And I'm, I'd say there are plenty in Pike County in the same boat.

PALK: My wife and I, corresponded with, uh, a young man in Pike County who did, who fits that same mold.

LANE: Hmm. Well that, I, I think that's a wonderful program. I, I think we're calling it middle college perhaps, or something of the sort. I just read an article about West Kentucky's, uh, program. But, uh, Mr. Arr-, Nick Arrington from here in Woodford County is, is certainly doing that and it was, it was fun to, to talk with him. He said it was very cool to sit at the high, in the high school cafeteria and talk about his college courses. Um, let, let me ask you this, now, let's talk about the Foundation. Have there been some, um, some programs and some initiatives that your group has been able to fund that are particularly close to your heart, or where there some things that, that you just left the meeting thinking, now that's what we're 00:11:00supposed to do? You know, state didn't provide enough funding for this, and it's an opportunity here?

PALK: Uh, yeah. I think for me, Ms. Lane, the, the, uh, the part of the budget that gets closest to my heart is the unrestricted funds budget.

LANE: Right.

PALK: Because so many people want their money directed in a certain direction, or certain program.

LANE: Right.

PALK: And that's good and that's honorable, and that is honored by, of course, by the staff, uh--

LANE: Sure.

PALK: --in request--

LANE: Sure.

PALK: But, nevertheless, that doesn't give the staff that much latitude, for placement of funds where there are--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --maybe emergencies--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --or some discretion is needed etcetera, because those are restricted otherwise. And I guess the thing that probably is closest to my heart i-, is the ability to have, uh, more unrestricted funds.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: So the staff has, uh, the opportunity to help students that may have an emergency, or may have uh, uh--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --for a bill to be paid.


LANE: Right (??).

PALK: And that's the thing that really appeals most to me.

LANE: Hmm.

PALK: Because I trust, uh, I trust the staff and their integrity.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: That they're not going to squander those funds, or they wouldn't be where they are today. They wouldn't be employed first of all.

LANE: Well that's true. That's very true.

PALK: And so, I, I, I really believe that one of, one of the things that appeals to me most is the, is the enhancement and the increase in the amount of unrestricted funds.

LANE: Um-hm. I wasn't aware that you were able to do that directly for students. I think that's marvelous. Um, I know Tom Zawacki, Zawacki was telling me about, uh, one of those twists of fate, if you will, when he and, uh, Mike McCall went to visit Nick Nicholson at Keeneland, and in the course of the conversation this whole business of NARA and the North American Racing Academy and Chris McCarron came up. Just so happened that those folks were put together, and KCTCS could help support that--

PALK: Yes.

LANE: I think that was a Foundation, uh, supported program as well, wasn't it?

PALK: That's right. That's right. And another program that has been 00:13:00very important, that, in my previous life, that's the electric utility industry, is the lineman's training program that's now underway in Somerset, at the Somerset Community College.

LANE: Yeah. Tim Mosher mentioned that.

PALK: And also there is a power plant technician program.

LANE: Um-hm. Yes.

PALK: Uh, both a certification and a, uh, uh, associate degree program at Maysville Community College.

LANE: Yeah. Those are wonderful.

PALK: In fact, I'm on a review (??) committee for the National Science Foundation that's reviewing, uh, that program from time to time, and so I, I sort of have a, a, a hand on both ends of the rope. (laughs)

LANE: Sure.

PALK: --of the Foundation Board, and also on the Science Review Committee.

LANE: Great.

PALK: And that's the great, that's a great program, because there's so many people, uh, who are achieving or, or reaching retirement age, and, and we need to have new people to go right back into those jobs.

LANE: Yes, we certainly do. And, and I think that's one of the things that struck me about KCTCS during the past ten years, is 00:14:00their flexibility and their ability to, to move in a little bit of a different direction if a good opportunity came along, or to see a need and be able to try to, try to meet that need.

PALK: Right.

LANE: And I'm sure the Foundation has been integral to that.

PALK: Absolutely.

LANE: Let--

PALK: Absolutely.

LANE: Let's talk a little bit about your, your, your annual gala or gala event. How--you always enjoy that? Are you able to participate?

PALK: I have participated most years, yes.

LANE: Great.

PALK: But there's been a time, or a year or two, that I wasn't able to participate.

LANE: Sure.

PALK: (clears throat) Because of conflict in schedules, but, uh, certainly even when I was the, uh, president of the Foundation--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --uh, I had even more participation, and it was an honor to be on the stage with, with the people who really make things happen in Kentucky--

LANE: Yeah.

PALK: --and, uh, to feel like we had been a, you know, a big contributor to that, to that whole, uh, uh, mechanism.

LANE: Um-hm. Um-hm. Yeah. I think, I think it's a, that's just a, a 00:15:00wonderful thing that you're able to do and, uh, I was able to attend one last year. It was, it was quite impressive. Um, so, you, it's an honor to be on the stage with people who make a difference in Kentucky. That's a good quote, too. How do you, as, you, you've already told me how you see the next ten years shaping up, and I like that. That chapter two, knowing, uh, you know, I think the first ten years we were hoping that the ninety-seven reform, and perhaps scope, which was that strategic committee, that was supposed to help with budgeting, might take hold and, and get things a little more organized in the legislative process. But I think we've also seen, in the last couple of sessions, that perhaps it's gonna take a little longer. Uh, and that, and as you say chapter two's gonna be the importance of private funding.

PALK: Right.

LANE: In the community college system. Like, gee, you all are approaching eighty-three million aren't you, in the total System, with 00:16:00your Fulfilling the Promise Campaign?

PALK: That's correct.

LANE: That's amazing. That's absolutely amazing.

PALK: It is, isn't it?

LANE: When you think about it, it truly is. Now, Mr. Palk, will most of that, most of those funds, as you say, say you hope there are some unrestricted, but are those gonna be endowment funds, of which you will, you will be able to spend the interest?

PALK: I think they will be.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: I think that, uh, seeing the endowment funds go up, and we're, we're also keeping a close eye on the, the, the quality of the investments that those funds go into.

LANE: Right.

PALK: With the credit market like it is today, you wanna make sure that the underlying, uh, investment is, is sound.

LANE: Right.

PALK: So that your earning statements are correct, you know.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: Uh, so we're, we're even taking a keener eye toward how those, uh, investments are managed. Uh, not just the face amount of the investment or, uh, the face value of the investment itself, but really going behind it to see what those investments are underwritten with, to see 00:17:00what the quality of that underwritten, uh, uh, uh, security is, yes.

LANE: Well, and managing that sort of money is quite a responsibility as well, isn't it, as you say, uh--

PALK: Yes, it is, and we have a very good financial staff at KCTCS.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: They work closely with the Foundation. Uh, we were sitting in a Foundation Board meeting, I think, last week, a question came up about the, uh, the, uh, security of the underlying--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --investment and we got right on the phone, had an answer before the board meeting was over.

LANE: Yep. That's normal (??).

PALK: So, our financial staff are very responsible, or very responsive to us.

LANE: Exactly. Exactly. Well I, I, you've given me some wonderful quotes. What other, what other things should we cover, from your perspective?

PALK: I, I, I think one should never say that the, uh, community college system has a history. I think we ought to talk about the future, too.

LANE: Marvelous. You're right.

PALK: We, you know, we, we, to, to only talk about history, infers that 00:18:00it's over with.

LANE: That's right.

PALK: We've only begun.

LANE: That's right.

PALK: We've only begun. We, we did our first ten years, those are the Foundational years.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: We have a strong Foundation. And now we're going up with the building.

LANE: That's right.

PALK: And so--

LANE: --that's a very good point.

PALK: I'm looking, I'm looking forward to, uh, maybe you and I talking ten years from now.

LANE: I think that would be terrific. I, I said to the board when I spoke to them not too long ago, and said I'm doing your history, which is a phenomenal story, and I credit, uh, applaud Mike McCall for stopping now, and committing time and funds to getting this done before we forget.

PALK: Right.

LANE: Or some of the folks who were involved, you know, don't, don't want to talk to us anymore. Uh, but, but you're right. The real point is this is the Foundation, now it's time to really build the building.

PALK: Right.

LANE: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Tell me what you're doing now. I, I, I noticed your, that New Horizons Consulting?

PALK: New Horizons Consulting. I am an attorney. I spent thirty-seven 00:19:00years in utility executive management positions.

LANE: Um-hm. Um-hm.

PALK: Uh, Tennessee, Kentucky, D.C., Colorado--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: Uh, several assignments abroad, and retired after thirty-seven years.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: And now I do my own energy and law practice.

LANE: Wow.

PALK: And, uh, I've sort of taken off my manager's hat and, and flipped, uh, my experience over on the legal side.

LANE: Wow.

PALK: And so I'm affiliated with a, with a major east coast law firm as a contract lawyer--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --and counselor to them--

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: --in the energy field.

LANE: Wow.

PALK: And, and we do energy, utility, and environmental law practice.

LANE: Wow. You know, um, on an unrelated subject, I might mention a project I'm involved in that you may or may not have heard about. If not, I'd love to send you just a little packet on it. It's the proposed agriculture and environment center in Mercer County.

PALK: Okay.

LANE: I don't know if you know Ralph Anderson, who owns Belcan--

PALK: I know Ralph very well.

LANE: You know Ralph?


PALK: Oh, yes.

LANE: Well. I'm, I--

PALK: Yes--

LANE: --you may have got--

PALK: --I knew his wife before she died.

LANE: Did you know Ruth? Well, that's gonna be my next project. I'm doing Belcan's fiftieth anniversary this summer. But, uh, Ralph was our dear benefactor, and he gave the group that was interested in this project, uh, fifty acres of land.

PALK: Yes.

LANE: And the center is being, has been designed by his architect as a totally green, um, self-sustaining facility with wind, solar, water recycling, geothermal power. It's quite fascinating, and Belcan's gotten very interested in this field of, uh, of sustainable energy. In fact, they are writing the software package that will allow this building to be operated. So it's gonna be something. I'm telling you, he's, he's quite, uh, a gentleman, to be his age, on the cutting edge.

PALK: He is, he's very bright.

LANE: ----------(??)--

PALK: And, uh, I like Ralph Anderson. Have you ever been through his facility?

LANE: Oh, yes. I've known him--


PALK: --nice isn't it?

LANE: Um-hm. It's--(laughs)--phenomenal. I think his, his acreage in Mercer County for the farm is up to about seven-thousand acres now.

PALK: Um-hm. Have you been through his, uh, plant in Cincinnati?

LANE: I have been to the offices, and I'm gonna go up there the, the week after Derby and take some oral history with some of his folks, his presidents and vice presidents and, uh, it's quite a fascinating company, uh--

PALK: You probably know that, uh, he, out of U.K., he worked for a couple of major companies.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: And really wasn't, it, it wasn't Ralph Anderson. He wanted something more entrepreneurial.

LANE: Um-hm.

PALK: And he came home one night and told Ruth he'd quit his job, and they had one child--Lane laughs)--and he was gonna start his own company. I think she thought he'd lost his mind.

LANE: Yep.

PALK: But she became his bookkeeper, and, as they say, the rest is history.

LANE: That's right. She sure did and, and was so integral in those early years to his success. Um, I've met Candice, his daughter, and, and their family, but he's, he's quite a character. We're, we're very 00:22:00indebted to him, but, but more importantly the mission for this center is to take, to capture some of the heritage of Kentucky's agriculture and its love of the land. But, also, to talk about the present, present state of farming and look to the future. It's gonna be a very high-tech, you can imagine, with Ralph involved. So, you'll have to look for that.

PALK: I look forward to seeing it.

LANE: All right. Thank you so much for your time. I truly appreciate it.

PALK: My pleasure to talk with you.

LANE: Bye now.

PALK: Bye-bye.

[End of interview.]