Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Mary Ruth Stevens, September 17, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Background--Introduction, family history, and early life

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Partial Transcript: Hi, everybody. This is Julia Taylor. I am here interviewing Mary Ruth Stevens.

Segment Synopsis: Julia Taylor introduces the interview and its narrator, Mary Ruth Stevens, who has lived and taught in Scott County, Kentucky for most of her life, including during the Stamping Ground tornado of 1974. Stevens talks about her family history and early life. She says that she was born in the countryside outside of Stamping Ground, at her grandmother's house on Skinnersburg Road in 1947. She recalls that her mother's side of the family were McDowells and had been in Stamping Ground for generations. She mentions playing with the other McDowell cousins during summer reunions. At that time, she says they did not come into town in either Stamping Ground or Georgetown more than once a week for groceries, which they got on Saturdays at Virgil and Bethel Slone's Slone's Foodtown. Stevens says she is fond of Stamping Ground Elementary School because she went there and taught there. She remembers going to Big Spring Park for school picnics and field trips as a young student.

Keywords: Bethel Slone; Big Spring Park (Versailles, Ky.); Georgetown (Ky.); Slone's Foodtown; Virgil Slone

Subjects: Childhood.; Rural children; Scott County (Ky.); Stamping Ground (Ky.)

GPS: Approximate location of Skinnersburg Road in Scott County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.319580, -84.630511
00:03:25 - First few years as a teacher in Stamping Ground

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Partial Transcript: So, um, so your first teaching position, then, was actually at Stamping Ground Elementary?

Segment Synopsis: Stevens talks about her first teaching positions at Stamping Ground Elementary. She says she got her first teaching job in the fall of 1969 teaching the third grade. She stayed in that role for two years before taking a year off while she was pregnant with their oldest daughter. When she went back, she was encouraged by Ms. Velma Mason to move to first grade, which she did, and she stayed in first grade for the next thirteen years. Stevens goes on to talk about how first grade was different then because of the lack of pre-K and kindergarten, which meant that first graders needed more instruction. She says they did not have a full-fledged parent-teacher association (PTA) in 1971, that that would develop later, but their parents were informally very involved. Stevens mentions the annual Fall Festival as an example of that engagement. She talks about initially wanting to be a nurse as a girl, but she changed her mind when she realized that she hated the sight of blood. When she went to college, she says she wanted to be an English teacher, but she settled on elementary education after she got involved with younger kids. Now, in her role at the museum, she says she misses interacting with the kids and still thinks of herself as an educator.

Keywords: English teachers; First grade teachers; Georgetown & Scott County Museum; Kindergartens; Nurses; Nursing; Parent-teacher associations (PTAs); Stamping Ground Elementary School; Stamping Ground Fall Festival; Third grade teachers; Velma Mason

Subjects: Elementary school teachers.; Stamping Ground (Ky.); Teachers--United States.; Teachers.

00:08:00 - The Stamping Ground tornado of 1974 and aftermath

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Partial Transcript: Um, so let's start talking a little bit about our history.

Segment Synopsis: Stevens talks about the 1974 tornado that hit Stamping Ground, her experiences of it, and the aftermath of its destruction. She says that she and her husband Bill lived in Stamping Ground after they were married, but had moved to Georgetown at the time of the tornado. She remembers that they lost power that night but did not know why until one of Bill's coworkers came by and told them about the storm. They could not get to the school for a few days because of how badly damaged everything was, but when they did, they found that it had destroyed the third and top floor. It had thankfully largely spared her classroom, but they still had to spend the following school year in portable classrooms while the school was being rebuilt. Some of Stamping Ground Elementary's classes were sent to Southern Elementary, Stevens says, and others, including hers, went to St. John's Catholic School in Georgetown. She recalls thinking, "How can I make it look like the old classroom?" to comfort the students. She says that lunches had to be brought over to them from Southern Elementary, and they had no bookcases for their books. She talks about St. John's and a few changes that have been made to it since her class was temporarily held there. Stevens goes on to talk about her family's experience of the tornado. At the time, her family still lived in Stamping Ground, off Long Lick Pike, on a farm where she and her husband currently live. During the tornado, she says that a cousin named Donald tried to get into the house to seek shelter, while her dad stood at the back door and watched it pick up and move the barn by several feet. Since the tornado, that barn was destroyed by straight-line winds with the exception of the "stripping room." She says that the family's house was not damaged by the storm, but was damaged during the later straight-line winds incident. Stevens goes on to talk about her family. She discusses her dad and how he was a jack-of-all trades and handyman, and says that her mom stayed at home and took care of household chores. She says she has three sisters and the eldest lives in her parents' house. Stevens talks about how Vicki, one of her sisters, taught with her at Stamping Ground, which she says contributed to the school being a "big, happy family." Stevens says J.W. Ballard was principal at the time of the tornado and he had a lot on his plate with the clean-up effort. She talks about the layout of the portable classrooms and a few of their amenities. She says that the kids adjusted well, and making sure that they were coping with the incident was her responsibility, not a school counselor's.

Keywords: "Stripping rooms"; 1974 Stamping Ground tornado; Air conditioning; Bill Stevens; Cardome (Georgetown, Ky.); Georgetown (Ky.); J.W. Ballard; Long Like Pike; Maple trees; Portable classrooms; School counselors; Southern Elementary School; St. John Catholic School; Stamping Ground tornado of 1974; Straight-line winds; Tobacco

Subjects: Elementary school teachers.; Natural disasters--United States.; Stamping Ground (Ky.); Teachers--United States.; Teachers.; Tornado damage; Tornadoes.

00:20:52 - Life after the 1974 tornado and changes to the school & community

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Partial Transcript: Um, let's see. So I'm just looking through my notes.

Segment Synopsis: Stevens talks about a number of changes to the community that she saw in her lifetime, especially after the 1974 tornado, including renovations to the Stamping Ground Elementary School. Stevens says that her husband used to work for Rockwell International at their plant in Winchester, Kentucky, making rear-ends for semi-trucks. He retired from that job in 1989 due to heart problems and began an informal career campaigning for state politicians. She talks about the city and county schools merging in 1956, while she was still in school, but she says she did not much pay attention to the other high schools while she was in elementary school, and she recalls being scared of bigger kids when she was younger. After the 1974 tornado, Stevens says that the principal's office was moved from the third to the first floor, and teachers were given input on several other details like tile choices. She does not remember having other large community clean-up events and says she the school did not have to fund-raise for the repairs and renovations. Stevens talks about moving to fourth grade after the renovations were finished, and she briefly discusses changes to the school resulting from the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990.

Keywords: Bill Stevens; Clean-up events; First grade teachers; Floor tiles; Fourth grade teachers; Garth High School; Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA); Multi-age classrooms; Portable classrooms; Renovations; Rockwell International; Sadieville High School; Stamping Ground High School; Winchester (Ky.)

Subjects: Elementary school buildings; Elementary school teachers.; Stamping Ground (Ky.); Teachers--United States.; Teachers.

00:26:30 - Becoming a principal at Red River Valley Elementary and then at Stamping Ground Elementary

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Partial Transcript: So, um, I decided then that maybe I wanted to try my hand at this principal's job, and, so I knew that there was a position coming open in Hazel Green and I applied for it and, and I got it.

Segment Synopsis: Stevens talks about taking a job as a principal in Wolfe County at Red River Valley Elementary School before returning to Stamping Ground to become principal there, and a few lessons she learned while principal. She says that she applied for the principal's job at Red River Valley, which is in Hazel Green, Kentucky, to succeed Earl May Jr. who had been there for nearly thirty years. She says people were unsure of the new hire at first, but that they were very nice to her over her four years there, from 1993 to 1997. She then applied for the principal's position back at Stamping Ground Elementary and got it, and she says she is thankful that she got job experience as a principal elsewhere before taking the job at Stamping Ground. Stevens says she had a good working relationship with her former co-teachers, and that her hiring was a bit unorthodox as she did not start until after Labor Day. Dudley Mattingly, the interim principal, and Dr. Dallas Blankenship approved her hiring, and she remembers having a lot of people from the community congratulate her for getting the job. Stevens goes on to talk about things that she learned while working as principal, including that, as a leader, you always have to think about others and show that you value and respect them. She also discusses how she tried to delegate power to administrators around her to bring more technology into the classroom since she did not feel familiar enough with it herself to do so.

Keywords: Classroom technology; Computers; Dr. Dallas Blankenship; Dudley Mattingly; Earl May Jr.; Hazel Green (Ky.); Interim principals; Labor Day; PE teachers; Physical education teachers; Red River Valley Elementary; Respect; School superintendents; Stamping Ground (Ky.); Stamping Ground Elementary; Wolfe County (Ky.)

Subjects: Elementary school administration.; Elementary school teachers.; Leadership.; Teachers--United States.; Teachers.

00:32:32 - Changes in public education over time / The Optimists' Club / Getting ready to retire

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Partial Transcript: Were there any, you know, major trends or, or changes in the profession that you've seen, um, you know, from when you started to, uh, when you left?

Segment Synopsis: Stevens talks about broad level changes that she has seen in public education since she first entered the field and discusses starting a chapter of The Optimist Club in Stamping Ground. Stevens says that education used to be very stringently structured, and that model has relaxed over time. She also remarks that professional dress and attire have become more casual since she began teaching in 1969. Stevens says she had been in schools for thirty-four years and was just starting to get tired late in her career, so she prepared to retire. She would stay most days until 5:30 or 6 p.m., and she says she carried a lot of stress as an administrator. However, she emphasizes that she still loved her work, and one particularly enriching experience was her involvement with The Optimists' Club while she was principal. The charitable group did good things for students and the community, such as giving out a 110% Award to encourage effort in class, and they gave away bikes to encourage good attendance. Stevens jokes that an auditor hired by the club realized that they spent much more money on the school while Stevens was the club's president.

Keywords: Attendance; Audit reviews; Dress codes; Professional dress; Retirement; Stress; The 110% Award; The Optimist Club

Subjects: Elementary school teachers.; Optimist International.; Stamping Ground (Ky.); Teachers--United States.; Teachers.

00:38:20 - Working with the Georgetown & Scott County Museum

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Partial Transcript: So, um, when did you start becoming involved with the museum?

Segment Synopsis: Stevens talks about her involvement with the Georgetown & Scott County Museum, and a few of their exhibits and programs. She says that she retired from teaching in 2004 and got a call about joining the Museum's board in 2008. Her involvement grew over time because she and Bill spent her first several years in retirement travelling. She says she was initially involved in inventory, but her role expanded greatly when Scott County Judge Executive George Lusby and the Museum Chairman Dr. Lindsay Apple decided to thoroughly renovate the building. Soon after the renovations began, Dr. Apple's wife became very sick, so Stevens assumed some of his responsibilities. Stevens goes on to talk about Dr. Apple and gives in-depth descriptions of the renovations made to the Museum. She is now the Museum's part-time director, and she talks about a few positive experiences they have had with their co-op students who have created marketing materials and helped set up exhibits for them. She says that working with those students is very enjoyable because it reminds her of her teaching days.

Keywords: Bill Stevens; Clerical assistants; Co-op students; Dr. Lindsay Apple; Elkhorn Crossing School; George Lusby; Georgetown & Scott County Museum; Georgetown College; History professors; Hometown Sports Teams exhibit; Inventory; Judge Executive George Lusby; Judy Apple; Lindsay Apple; Media arts students; Museum exhibits; Oil paintings; Renovations; Student teachers; The Smithsonian Institution

Subjects: Georgetown (Ky.); Museum directors; Retirement.; Scott County (Ky.)

GPS: The Georgetown & Scott County Museum (Georgetown, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.209945, -84.557090
00:48:08 - Stamping Ground moving forward--The tornado's long-term effects, the new elementary school, Museum outreach, and public projects

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Partial Transcript: Um, so--(whistles)--I think we've pretty much gone over everything but, um, was there anything--you know we're going back to--I had asked you here originally because, um, you had been a teacher during the Stamping Ground tornado, but of course we went all across the board, which is the nature of these things.

Segment Synopsis: Stevens talks about how the growth of Stamping Ground was hindered by the 1974 tornado, but she describes a number of ways that the community has been improving regardless, including building a new elementary school which has been a kind of community focal point, the Museum's work to preserve the county's history, and new parks and public projects. Stevens describes damage from the tornado that she did not mention earlier in the interview and says that it probably hurt Stamping Ground's growth and kept them from getting new businesses around the time that Georgetown did. She credits some of its new growth to the building of the new Stamping Ground Elementary School in 2000, which she says was "daunting, but good." She talks about the process of building the new school and describes a few ways that it has become a center for the community. Stevens also says that the Museum is active in promoting Scott County's history by donating old exhibits to the town and helping get a historical marker for the old county jail. She also mentions a new park and movie space that has been opened for the community. Julia Taylor thanks Stevens and ends the interview.

Keywords: 1974 Stamping Ground tornado; Bill Stevens; Class reunions; Coleman Johnson; Dr. Dallas Blankenship; Georgetown & Scott County Museum; Georgetown (Ky.); Henrietta Johnson; Historical markers; Public meetings; Sam Ward; Stamping Ground Elementary School; Stamping Ground tornado of 1974; Sue Ward; Weddings

Subjects: Elementary school buildings; Scott County (Ky.); Stamping Ground (Ky.); Tornado damage; Tornadoes.