Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Porter G. Peoples, Sr., undated

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00

PEEPLES: --the Reverend Peeples.

LANE: I'm sorry.

PEEPLES: I'm the Urban League Peeples.

LANE: I got you. I--think you've had to correct me before, and I apologize. Well, how about doctor?

PEEPLES: No you--just P.G.

LANE: P.G. Peeples.

PEEPLES: Yes.

LANE: Well, it's so good to--to see you. And, uh, so you were involved with the original community colleges, did you say?

PEEPLES: I, um--

LANE: --you wouldn't be here for them?

PEEPLES: Yep. I'm--my point I'm making is that, were it not for the original Community College System, I would not have gone to college.

LANE: Oh. Isn't that wonderful?

PEEPLES: Uh, they--I went--I attended Southeast Community College.

LANE: Southeast, where Bruce Ayers is?

PEEPLES: Yeah. Bruce and I came in to--together.

LANE: Oh, you did? I interviewed him a couple weeks ago. I love going down there. It's beautiful.

PEEPLES: So I grad--so Bruce--I'm from Lynch, Kentucky.

LANE: Lynch, okay.

PEEPLES: And I attended Southeast--

LANE: --yeah--

PEEPLES: --uh, and, uh, graduating from Southeast in '66.

LANE: Oh my gosh. Well, we stayed at the School House Inn.

PEEPLES: The School House Inn.

LANE: Right there. Boy, that was quite an experience--

PEEPLES: --yeah, that's very nice. Very, very nice.

LANE: My favorite part was the ghost story.

PEEPLES: (laughs) Oh yeah?

LANE: Have you heard that?

PEEPLES: No. (coughs)

00:01:00

LANE: We were with two or three people. You know, we sat there in the rooms that used to be the classrooms, and the--the fellow who was with us got up the next morning and said, "You know, I had a--I kind of had a restless night." Said, "There were kids out in the hall two or three times during the night. They woke me up." And he said, "They were bouncing a ball or something." So he mentioned it to the gal at the desk, and she said, "Sir, there are no children checked in to this hotel right now." And so she said lots of people hear the children. Isn't that amazing? I don't know how I feel about all that, but we--we just said, "Now, how many--how many beers did you have before you went to bed?"

PEEPLES: (laughs) Before you went to bed.

LANE: Well, that's a wonderful part of the country. So that's where you're from?

PEEPLES: Yeah, let me tell you about it, that's home. My father was a coal miner down in east Kentucky. And, uh, so I--I--we could afford to go--for me to go to the community college. There were nine kids in the family.

LANE: Well, of course.

PEEPLES: So I could afford--I could afford to go to the community college.

LANE: Isn't that wonderful?

PEEPLES: And I--I would go away in the summers to New York and live with my older brother and I'd save my money up and I'd come back home and 00:02:00go--and go to school--

LANE: --and come back and go to school. That's wonderful.

PEEPLES: So that was the way I--

LANE: --so you have a soft spot in your heart for the Community College System, don't you?--PEEPLES: --oh, absolutely. Oh, yes. Very definitely.

LANE: Well, I think it's wonderful that you're helping to guide it now.

PEEPLES: Well--and, um, you know, I think it's just, yeah--I'm--I'm where I was predestined to be at this point in my life--

LANE: --at this time--

PEEPLES: --to--to be on this board, uh--

LANE: --how long have you been on this board?

PEEPLES: I'm--I'm just over a year. I'm just over a year--[telephone rings]--and I'm going to to get that----------(??)--

[Pause in recording.]

PEEPLES: But, uh----------(??) you know, it's been a learning experience for me. Catching up to everything they that they do--

LANE: --um-hm--um-hm--

PEEPLES: --and it's--it's a strong learning curve, because they are doing so much.

LANE: Yes, they are, aren't they?

PEEPLES: Dr. McCall has a, uh, operation here, you know.. I guess I hadn't even, you know, I'd been out of touch, but I didn't realize how 00:03:00they'd grown. We're talking, you know, what, sixteen colleges and, what, six different campuses?--

LANE: schools--campuses--

PEEPLES: And ninety thousand-plus students.

LANE: Isn't that wonderful?

PEEPLES: Um--

LANE: Um, and what did you--were you kind of keeping up with that '97 reform when all this happened and the community colleges left UK?

PEEPLES: I was involved in my role with the Urban League of Lexington.

LANE: Yes.

PEEPLES: Because, you know, that, uh, that kind of split allegiance--

LANE: --yes--

PEEPLES:--with people.

LANE: Hmm.

PEEPLES: Uh, you know, the University of Kentucky people.

LANE: Yes. Well, of course--

PEEPLES: of course did not want to lose the Bluegrass. What is now the Bluegrass--

LANE: --it was a very bitter discussion wasn't it?--

PEEPLES: So yes. So there was a lot of, uh, a lot--it was very emotional. That's--I think that's the way you would describe it. Very emotional--

LANE: --I--I have studied the records and read some interviews with so many of the people who were involved. It reads like a novel, actually.

PEEPLES: Um-hm.

LANE: The middle of the night compromises and the--and you're right, it was very emotional for people involved.

00:04:00

PEEPLES: Very emotional. Very, very emotional.

LANE: Because we're dealing with people's lives.

PEEPLES: But I think, uh, as we look back on it, it was certainly the right decision at the right time--

LANE: --um-hm. Um-hm--

PEEPLES: --uh, and the state of Kentucky has benefited tremendously from it. And--and I would just say we're just touching the tip of the iceberg, because it's going to get even better, it's going to get even better.

LANE: Well, you just can't read the newspaper for a week without hearing about some initiative. And to me, that's what's so different. We don't just react. We get out in front and do studies and find out--

PEEPLES: true--creating new--new--new projects. That's--that's--and, um, the state of Kentucky--historic--I--historically, had not been known for that kind of creativity.

LANE: You're right.

PEEPLES: And so yeah, I take pride--

LANE: --you should. I do too as a Kentuckian--

PEEPLES: --and--and--and as a Kentuckian. And--and being able to--to boast--boast about that, um--

LANE: --um-hm. It's nice to be the leader in something, isn't it? 00:05:00(laughs)

PEEPLES: Of course. But the other thing is that, um, the community colleges are there for a population--

LANE: --um-hm--

PEEPLES: --that were--were it not there, that they would not have the--they'd not have the chance. And they would be falling through the cracks. Uh--

LANE: --um-hm. That--that--that would be too bad, wouldn't it?

PEEPLES: Um-hm. Um-hm.

LANE: And we can talk about numbers all we want, but we're talking about lives.

PEEPLES: Lives.

LANE: We are talking about families and--and generations of families--

PEEPLES: --yeah. Um-hm.. The--the non-traditional students--

LANE: --yeah--

PEEPLES:--who get a chance to--who--who graduate from high school, go out there and give life a try. That's what I call it, giving life a try. And then--then realizing that, yeah, I need this. Yeah. And when they come back, it's there for 'em.

LANE: It's close.

PEEPLES: Yeah. And--and they--they can--they can go ahead and get it. And it means more at that stage to them--

LANE: --I think you're right--

PEEPLES:--than it would have when they were younger.

00:06:00

LANE: I think you're right, because it's something they knew they needed and they chose to do.

PEEPLES: Yeah. In real life, they needed it.

LANE: What do you think about this tuition freeze talk? You know, CPE and Brad Cowgill suggested that they freeze tuition at KCTCS schools. I I think that's just a suggestion right now. I don't know how far it's gone. What do you think about that?

PEEPLES: Well, if--if the purpose of a tuition freeze is--if--if--if that's intended to be student-friendly--

LANE: --um-hm. And I think it is, don't you?--

PEEPLES: --then--then--then--then I'm okay with that. But we also have to keep in mind that the cost of providing quality education today; that continues to soar.

LANE: And--and you--and if you don't get enough funding to supplement that tuition lack, then something--students are going to have to suffer--

PEEPLES: --that's right--

LANE: --and we don't want--we don't want that to happen

PEEPLES: Yeah. But--but--but I--I still want the community colleges to always be the best educational bargain going. I want it to be that 00:07:00way--

LANE: --um-hm. Um-hm. Um-hm. I feel good about that too. I'm an educator by profession, um, and I--I have watched this with interest. Of course, I've gotten more into it in the last few years, since I've been studying this ten--almost ten-year history. And you know it really is cutting-edge. You're right about that. You are right about that--

PEEPLES: --um-hm. Yeah Exactly.

LANE: And then I read--[telephone rings]--

PEEPLES: I'm sorry about that.

LANE: Oh, no, no, no. I read, um, an opinion by John Hall. You know who John R. Hall is?

PEEPLES: Ashland, yeah--

LANE: --former Ashland--John Hall--just like yesterday that said we need to refund Bucks for Brains and extend it to the community colleges, hedge it--

PEEPLES: --exactly.

LANE: Isn't that wonderful?

PEEPLES: That--I like that.

LANE: I thought, how exciting, because look at your record in fundraising. What the--what the system offices assisted the community colleges--and some of them were doing that on their own.

PEEPLES: Yeah.

Lane: But--but as a unit, whew, would that be an influx of funding for 00:08:00ya?

PEEPLES: Yeah. That would be--that would be tremendous.

LANE: It would be tremendous.--And I'm hoping since John and someone from the business community said that, that maybe the business community will get involved.

PEEPLES: They--they usually are supportive of one another, so one would--

LANE: --um-hm--

PEEPLES: --one would think that this--this may get traction. And anyway I think that would be--

LANE: --of course, John and Malcolm Chancey and some of those business leaders in '97 were real instrumental in lobbying for this KCTCS system, so. I'm--I know John. I'm going to give him a call and just get some comments from him about that. I thought that was a marvelous idea.

PEEPLES: No question.

LANE: And coming from him, you know. Ashland's been so--

PEEPLES: --oh, they--they--

LANE: --so beneficial to this institution--

PEEPLES: --yeah--they've been synonymous.

LANE: They have, haven't they?

PEEPLES: You know, Ashland and education--that's

LANE: --yeah. Yeah. I applaud that. So what do you think are going to be the big challenges for the next few years? You're on for another five years now?

PEEPLES: Yeah.

LANE: Is it a six-year term in total?

00:09:00

PEEPLES: Um--affordability. Making sure that--that it remains affordable--

LANE: --um-hm. That's a national problem, isn't it?

PEEPLES: Um, we've got to, um, build the issue that I think we have too many kids coming to us in need of remediation. So we've got to strengthen that linkage back downstream to high schools and, you know, K through twelve--

LANE: --um-hm--

PEEPLES: --um, and then figure out a way to--to have it truly seamless.

LANE: Yeah.

PEEPLES: Uh, it's just that we--just don't have to spend that much time on remediation. That's--that's--that's expensive. Very expensive.

LANE: Oh, of course it's expensive.

PEEPLES: So, um, and--and--and I--when I say that needs to be fixed, I 00:10:00am not throwing stones at K-12--

LANE: --no. Absolutely not.

PEEPLES: I'm just talking about the reality.

LANE: And that's true.

PEEPLES: The reality is that we've got--we've got--we've got so much, I think that's--that's going to be--that's going to be one of our major challenges going forward.

LANE: Um-hm.

PEEPLES Um, and the other challenge is they're just going to be--uh, and--and we're--we're up to all of them. It's just making sure that we--we be--that we stay in step, or stay ahead of the curve.

LANE: Um-hm.

PEEPLES: Um, We've--we've--we've gone too far: make sure that there's no slippage, I think that's what I'm trying to say. That we make sure that there's--there's no slippage. And that's an attitude. But--but I'm not worried about that--

LANE: --and I don't think I am either. I'm not either--

PEEPLES: --with the leadership we've got--with the leadership we've got.

00:11:00

LANE: Well, look how far--if you--if you go back and look at the early board, that first board meeting, when Governor Patton appointed six board members--Martha Johnson and some of those--I think Richard was one of the early ones. They--he said, "We didn't have--we had a blank piece of paper. We didn't have any bylaws, we didn't have any rules. We had nothing." So when you think about that, it really is amazing to look at where you are today.

PEEPLES: Well, I'll--I'll just tell you that one of the things that-- that just can just give you a snapshot, if you want just one snapshot of where you are today--(coughs)--we attended the gala?

LANE: Um-hm. Oh yeah. Isn't that amazing?

PEEPLES: Just that's--that's a snapshot of--of us as a family.

LANE: Yeah, that's a good one.

PEEPLES: Yeah, we need to see them as a family.

LANE: That's a good one. Your partners.

PEEPLES: Yeah, your partners in there.

LANE: And Governor Patton is treated like a--a king, it felt so good, isn't he? And--and because his--you know, his insistence that this be 00:12:00done--

PEEPLES: --well--well I heard, um, I attended the, uh, the session we had in Louisville a few months back, and with all of the, uh--uh sponsored by Brad Cowgill.

LANE: Yes. All the trusteeship conference. Yeah.

PEEPLES: And that Sunday when they had a panel--

LANE: --um-hm--

PEEPLES: --talking about, uh, when--when--when the--the legislation was passed bringing into actuality the, uh, the community college system, um, David Williams--

LANE: --yes--

PEEPLES: --Republican, who's usually not--doesn't have a lot of good things to say about Democrats.

LANE: Sure. True.

PEEPLES: Said to Dr.--to Governor Patton, he said, "I want to say it to you that you truly were the education governor." I think that spoke volumes--

LANE: --wow. It did, it speaks volumes. You are so right. Across party lines.

PEEPLES: Yeah, it spoke volumes.

LANE: Uh, that's amazing. When I read the back and forth on how, at--at 00:13:00about a dozen different places, the whole thing could have just been put on the shelf, like it had before.

PEEPLES: Um-hm.

LANE: And he said, "We are not--do that."

PEEPLES: Um-hm.

LANE: Uh, you know, I have a great deal of respect for that tenacity. (laughs) Um, tell me some good stories. Tell me some of your favorite times, you know, that you've been involved with this group. They seem like not only intelligent, professional, passionate people, but they seem to just enjoy life and have good outlooks, you know. Uh, that's-- that's my sense of it.

PEEPLES: Well, it's--it's--it's a--it's a, uh, body that--that's-- that's--that's committed to and serious about the business of running a quality, uh, system.

LANE: Um-hm.

PEEPLES: But it's a body that doesn't--doesn't take itself too seriously.

LANE: Okay. There's a difference, isn't there?--

00:14:00

PEEPLES: --it's just we don't--don't take--just don't take ourselves so seriously, uh, but we are serious about what we're here for.

LANE: Exactly.

PEEPLES: And because we don't take ourselves so seriously, we, you know, our--our--our work climate is always relaxed.

LANE: Um-hm. Um-hm. Not too formal--

PEEPLES: --right--

LANE: --but--but organized.

PEEPLES: You'll--you'll--you'll hear a lot of chuckles.

LANE: That's good.

PEEPLES: Uh, you'll hear, you know, people, you know, rib each other in the meetings.

LANE: Um-hm. Um-hm.

PEEPLES: Uh, and not--that just makes for a--makes for a climate that's conducive to a better work--a better work environment.

LANE: I agree. I think we all work better that way, don't you?

PEEPLES: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. When--when people are uptight, you're- -you're--you're not productive. Uh, that's--that's what's fun about- -that's--that's what's good about this. And, uh, Dr. McCall is--is 00:15:00always even keel.

LANE: Um-hm.

PEEPLES: Uh, his staff, they all function just the same way.

LANE: Um-hm.

PEEPLES: And, um, it's just--it's just--uh, I think I've already said it once: that we just don't take ourselves too seriously--

LANE: --um-hm--

PEEPLES: that--that we get in our own way.

LANE: Um-hm. That--that's wisdom too. You come so far, you realize you shouldn't take yourself too seriously isn't it?--

PEEPLES: Yeah. (both laugh)

LANE: That's--that's what--no matter what age you are, I think that-- that has a lot to do with it, don't you? (laughs)

PEEPLES: Exactly. Exactly.

LANE: That we're, you know, we're here, we're doing our job, as you say; the right time, the right place.

PEEPLES: Um-hm.

LANE: Feel comfortable with that. And, uh, we'll make a few mistakes.

PEEPLES: Of course. Of course.

LANE: But excellence is always the goal.

PEEPLES: But that's why erasers were put on pencils.

LANE: (both laugh) That's right. That's exactly right. And sharpener-- pencil sharpeners.

PEEPLES: Yeah, yeah.

LANE: I like that analogy. That's a good one. That's a good one. I 00:16:00know Richard said, uh, Richard Bean--I listened to some history that he and, uh, Cynthia Reed, uh, gave to the board--I think it was last March. And, uh, and she said, "The first time I saw Richard cry--when they had the search for the new president, it was before Dr. McCall came, and the whole thing just kind of fell apart. They didn't like any of the candidates and had to go back to the drawing board." (laughs) And he said, "I'm not ashamed to admit it, I did." (both laugh)..As you say, it's, uh--

PEEPLES: --but that's--that's--that's the passion.

LANE: It is, isn't it? It is--

PEEPLES: --that--that--that--that we have for--for what--for what we're doing.

LANE: Hmm. Hmm. Knowing how critical that first president, full-time president, would be. Seems like no--I haven't heard one person say, "You made a mistake." Everybody says it was the best thing--

PEEPLES: --oh, no--no--no. It was--it's almost like it was div-- divinely intervened.

LANE: Is that right? Wow. That's--that's--that's important. Hmm. Well, 00:17:00I don't--and at this building--I--I live in Versailles. And just to have this facility and this system office here is really something--

PEEPLES: --oh, well, it's an economic stimulus for the--

LANE: --well, of course it is. It was--the way--I interviewed the mayor of Versailles and some of the folks who were involved in the early days, and the way that all came together was just as if the pieces were fitting into place. And to have everybody under the same roof--

PEEPLES: Um-hm.

LANE: --was a gift because they've been scattered in four or five offices here and there. And, um, just to think this was the old manufacturing plant--

PEEPLES: --um-hm--

LANE: --is just something else.

PEEPLES: Versailles would have had to do something with it.

LANE: Oh, well yeah. Oh, sure. Sure. And for TI to donate the building, and then to set up their corporation; do a lease-purchase. And--one of these days, it will be totally--totally yours. KCTCS will own it. And it certainly is beautiful.

PEEPLES: Oh, it is.

00:18:00

LANE: It's beautiful. Well, can you think of any good stories for me?

PEEPLES: No, not really. I'm--I--give--give me a little--

LANE: --I'd say you're a good storyteller. I bet you are.

PEEPLES: --(laughs)--just give me a little more time to hang around.

LANE: I know.

PEEPLES: I'll get some stories for you.

LANE: You will. And I--I will give you my card in case you think of something. I interviewed, uh, John Hesseldenz, who was your, uh, team guru, uh, technology, and he's retired. So somebody said, "Oh, John's going to leave, go ahead and interview him." So I did. And I said, "Now, John, you know, I--we want facts, but I also want some good--just good stories that are part of just the everyday life." And he told me a couple, and then later, Dr. Bird said, "You didn't get the hay wagon story from John?" He said, "We were all real worried about this PeopleSoft."--huge software project they had to connect every student and all that. And so John said, "Everybody just stop. Think of this as an eight-lane highway, and you've got sports cars going real fast, and other cars going real fast. But every now and then, you have a 00:19:00hay wagon, and you just have to slow down and stay behind it--(both laugh)--until it moves on." So I called John. I said, "Now, John, you didn't tell me the hay wagon story." He said, "Oh yeah, I forgot that one." So I turned the recorder on and we--we recorded that one. But to me, that's what makes history rich, is the human--the people stories.

PEEPLES: Yeah.

LANE: That's what makes it. And when we publish our book next July, that's what's going to make people interested in the book. Facts and figures are good, but it's the people stories.

PEEPLES: The people stories.

LANE: Yeah. Yeah. That's great. Well, thank you so much. I'll let you relax--

PEEPLES: --oh, my pleasure. No problem, I'll----------(??)--

[End of interview.]