Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Everette Varney, November 26, 2019

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Interview introduction--Early life and education

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Partial Transcript: Welcome to another interview of the Scott County, uh, Oral History Project at Scott County Public Library. We partner with the Louie B. Nunn Center at the University of Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Mike Key introduces the interview and its subject, former Mayor of Georgetown Everette Varney. Varney talks about his early life and education through the end of high school. He says that he grew up on Pond Creek in Pike County, Kentucky, very close to the border with West Virginia. His dad was a miner and Varney says that his family grew up in a company mining camp. He talks about playing basketball in school and specifically recalls being allowed to practice in Belfry County's gym for one hour each week, which is when he says he got to take a hot shower. Varney describes the mining town and he says that everyone who lived there worked for the company and that they were all equally wealthy in that they were all poor. He discusses attending Belfry County High School as well as his family's turbulent working situation. Varney says that the mine his father worked for shut down in 1955, so his mother moved to Michigan and started working at a White Castle. Her tip money, Varney says, was used to supplement his father's unemployment income while it lasted. His father eventually found another job by moving to Cleveland and taking a job alongside Varney's brother and brother-in-law, who were already working for General Motors (GM) there. With both of his parents away working, Varney talks about staying with his friend's family in South Williamson late in high school, and he mentions that they actually had indoor plumbing. He says that he was good at basketball and was selected to play in the East-West All-Star Game as a senior at Belfry County High School. After graduating in 1956, Varney talks about moving to Cleveland to work for GM, but he could not leave behind his dreams of playing basketball in college. It was such a fervent wish that he says it caused him to daydream about basketball while working on the factory floor. He recalls that his old high school coach from Belfry told him that he could attend Berea College and play there, so he applied and was accepted to enroll at Berea in the spring of 1957. He talks about his time at Berea over the next five years as he got his undergraduate degree and teaching certificate. He says that he had his number retired as a Berea basketball player in his last home game, which is the only number ever retired in the history of Berea men's basketball according to Varney.

Keywords: Belfry County High School (Ky.); Berea College; Cleveland (Ohio); Coal miners; Company stores; General Motors (GM); Indoor plumbing; Kentucky East-West All-Star Game; Michigan; Mining; Mining camps; Plumbing; Pond Creek (Ky.); South Williamson (Ky.); Unemployment insurance; West Virginia; White Castle; Williamson (W. Va.)

Subjects: Appalachian Region, Southern; Berea College; Children of miners; Company towns; General Motors Corporation.; Georgetown (Ky.); Pike County (Ky.); School sports--United States; Scott County (Ky.)

00:07:04 - Life after college--Marriage and first teaching jobs

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Partial Transcript: After that, after I left Berea College, I wa--was drafted into the army, but prior to that, uh, took my college sweetheart to the altar--(laughs)--uh, just a couple months after I left, uh, I was drafted as I said.

Segment Synopsis: Varney talks about his life after graduating from Berea College and his first teaching jobs. He says that he married his college sweetheart just after graduating and just before being drafted into the United States Army, where he spent two years. When he got out, Varney says he moved to Cleveland and got the accounting job he held during summers in college back at General Motors (GM), but he recalls wanting to do something to give back to his community. He talks about applying for a middle school teaching job in the suburbs of Cleveland, which he got. Varney says that he had to find a way to manage the pay cut that it represented, but he sorted it out and taught there for one year. Afterwards, he talks about taking a job at a high school in Woodstock, Virginia, where he stayed for four years. Varney talks about graduate classes that he took through the University of Virginia until he says that he reached the point where he would have to take his remaining classes in person in Charlottesville once a week, which he could not manage. He recalls recruiting the top high school basketball player in the nation, who was attending a high school near Woodstock, to Morehead State University, since his former high school coach was then their head coach. When that player went to Morehead, Varney says he followed him and became a graduate assistant there for the 1970-1971 season while he finished his master's degree. He talks about scouting and recruiting as part of the job, and says that he did not like how time consuming the world of college coaching was. Varney talks about graduating and sending out resumes with little luck initially. While waiting to hear back from schools, he says that he took twelve hours of courses beyond his master's degree. At the end of the summer, Varney says that he was hired out of seventy-one applicants by Scott County as a coach and business teacher.

Keywords: Accountants; Accounting; Charlottesville (Va.); Cleveland (Ohio); Consolidation loans; General Motors (GM); Graduate assistants; Graduate classes; High schools; I-81; Master's degrees; Middle schools; Morehead State University; Scouting; Shenandoah County Public Schools; Shenandoah Valley; University of Virginia; Woodstock (Va.)

Subjects: Berea College; College sports--Coaching; Draft--United States.; General Motors Corporation.; School sports--Coaching; School sports--United States; Scott County (Ky.); Teaching--United States.

00:14:30 - Teaching career in Scott County, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: We came, uh, to Georgetown in, in 1972.

Segment Synopsis: Varney talks about his teaching career in Scott County, including opening the new Scott County High School and a ninth grade school for the county. He discusses his move with his wife to Georgetown in 1972 and says that he was initially hired as a head basketball coach and business teacher. He says that he loved his job, and describes Scott County as a small community before the arrival of Toyota in 1985. He says that the growth the county has seen since then is good but it brings along its own set of problems. Varney talks about retiring as the head basketball coach in 1989 and opening the new Scott County High School shortly thereafter. He also describes his role as an assistant principal of the old high school during the transition. After the high school moved, Varney says that he became the first principal of the Scott County Ninth Grade School, which he claims was unique in Kentucky and in the United States at the time. Varney talks about the benefits of having a separate school for ninth graders, which he says gives more time for the students to develop and eases their transition into high school. Varney also alludes to it helping to keep senior boys away from freshman girls.

Keywords: Assistant principals; Basketball coaches; Cincinnati (Ohio); Frankfort (Ky.); Lexington (Ky.); Louisville (Ky.); Ninth grade schools; Principals; Scott County High School; Scott County Ninth Grade School; Toyota

Subjects: Georgetown (Ky.); High school teachers; High school teaching--United States.; High schools--Administration.; School sports--Coaching; Scott County (Ky.); Toyota Motor Manufacturing U.S.A.

GPS: Georgetown (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.209775, -84.558828
00:19:51 - Career as Georgetown's mayor--First campaign in 1998 to last defeat in 2014

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Partial Transcript: In, uh, '98 I think it was, I had, uh, two police officers in my office 'cause they were in and out all the time.

Segment Synopsis: Varney talks about his career as mayor of Georgetown from 1999 to 2007 and his nonconsecutive third term from 2011 to 2014. [As a note, Varney says that his third term ran from 2012 to 2015 but was actually 2011-2014.] He talks about first deciding to run for political office as he was preparing to retire from the Scott County school system and tells a story about a few police officers telling him he should run for mayor instead of a city council seat. Varney describes the 1998 campaign, which he says was the cleanest race of his career and involved little "mudslinging." He placed second in the primary out of four candidates, earning a spot on the ballot for the general election, which he won by around 900 votes. Varney discusses major topics for that first campaign, which he says included managing economic and population growth and adjusting the city's infrastructure as that growth progressed. He mentions that the water supply was also a focus and he offers his perspective on Scott County's failed Lytle's Fork Reservoir project. Varney goes on to discuss running unopposed in 2002 before losing reelection to a third term in 2006 by eighty-four votes and losing his final campaign in 2014 by twenty-one votes. Both losses he says were tough to swallow. Since then, he says he has enjoyed retirement, though Varney admits it was hard to step away at first because of how accustomed he was to the full-time nature of being Georgetown's mayor. He claims that many mayors work part-time and are primarily figureheads, whereas Georgetown's mayor works "full-time plus." A lot of that work is public relations, according to Varney, but he says he enjoyed it because of his previous experience teaching and dealing with the public.

Keywords: "Full-time plus"; "Mudslinging"; City councils; City managers; Frankfort (Ky.); General elections; Highways; Kentucky River; Pike County (Ky.); Pipelines; Primary elections; Public relations; Reservoirs; Residential areas; Retirement; Toyota

Subjects: Georgetown (Ky.); Local elections.; Mayors--United States; Municipal government--United States.; Scott County (Ky.)

GPS: Georgetown (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.209775, -84.558828
00:29:47 - Career as Georgetown's mayor--Smoking ban and expanding alcohol sales

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Partial Transcript: The two biggest things that, that, that came up were huge during my last term--no, during my third term when, when I got defeated. It was the s--smoking ban.

Segment Synopsis: Varney talks about two major issues during his tenure as mayor: passing an indoor smoking ban and expanding alcohol sales despite Scott County remaining dry. Varney says that he initially opposed a ban on indoor smoking in public places, as he thought that the government should not interfere on such a personal level, until he looked at research on the effects of secondhand smoke. That knowledge, Varney explains, combined with a consideration of his grandchildren's well-being, helped change his mind. He talks about the significant opposition to the smoking ban, which he thinks has to do with Scott County's long-time status as a tobacco producing area. The city council was split, so Varney says that he cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the ban and says he opposed efforts to qualify or limit the ban. He speculates that his anti-smoking stance cost him reelection that fall. He goes on to talk about beating incumbent Mayor Karen Tingle-Sames by 600 votes in 2010, which he thinks may have had to do with the Great Recession occurring during her administration. He talks about expanding Georgetown's infrastructure to cope with the increasing growth. Varney also discusses the second major initiative of his time as mayor: expanding alcohol sales in Georgetown. He says that there were plenty of liquor stores on the Fayette County line which did well, showing a demand for alcohol in a dry Georgetown and Scott County. He remarks that DUIs were more common as a result of people having to travel to buy alcohol. Varney says that after the ordinance's passage, those stores suffered but DUIs decreased. He details how the expansion of alcohol sales has continued since then, with Sunday sales going from prohibited to fully legal. Varney sees this evolution as a positive example of "growth in your thinking." He returns to talking about the smoking ban, which he thinks cost him his 2006 reelection, and he jokes that he got Georgetown to stop smoking and start drinking. He talks about some of the benefits of the expansion of alcohol sales, including increased tax revenue for Scott County and encouraging new businesses and restaurants to follow population growth into the county. Varney talks about expanding Georgetown's police force and building a new police station, which his successor, Mayor Tom Prather, named after Varney. He says that there was moral opposition to the alcohol measure, which Varney attributes to Georgetown's being in "Baptist country," but he is proud of his legacy and enjoyed being mayor.

Keywords: "Baptist country"; Applebee's; Baptists; Bingo parlors; Blue laws; City councils; City ordinances; Driving under the influence (DUI); Fayette County (Ky.); Karen Tingle-Sames; Liquor stores; Ministers; O'Charley's; Police stations; Private clubs; Recessions; Restaurants; Ruby Tuesday; Secondhand smoke; Smoking bans; Tax revenues; Tom Prather

Subjects: Alcohol--Law and legislation; Georgetown (Ky.); Local elections.; Mayors--United States; Municipal government--United States.; Scott County (Ky.); Smoking--Health aspects.; Sunday legislation

GPS: Georgetown (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.209775, -84.558828
00:41:30 - Career as Georgetown's mayor--Regrets and highlights

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Partial Transcript: Made five trips to Japan in our sister city relationship, which I truly, truly enjoyed.

Segment Synopsis: Varney talks about some of his regrets from his time as mayor as well as some of the highlights and relationships he made along the way. He talks about visiting Georgetown's sister city in Japan five times during his tenure, and he remarks that he hopes their unique relationship is still strong. He briefly discusses the day-to-day job of the mayor, which he says is partially planned in advance but is still variable as things pop up. He says that he tried to be a "do-er," be a good listener, stay out and involved in the community, and keep his door open to the public, which he says are important things for good leaders to do. Varney says he does not have many regrets, and though he does wish that the Lytle's Fork Reservoir had been built, he asserts that it was not a pressing issue at the time. He also remarks that he wishes he had won the two races he lost in 2006 and 2014. He says he loved working with Judge-Executive George Lusby, who was Scott County's judge-executive throughout Varney's entire political career. In addition to being colleagues, Varney says that he and Lusby bonded while coaching baseball together. He claims that they never came to an impasse and believes that they served Georgetown and Scott County well as a team. Varney talks about he and Lusby making sure that the city of Georgetown and Scott County had a healthy relationship. He also discusses befriending Jack Conner, who served on the Georgetown-Scott County Chamber of Commerce.

Keywords: "Do-ers"; County Judge-Executives; George Lusby; Georgetown-Scott County Chamber of Commerce; Jack Conner; Japan; Judge-Executive George Lusby; Lytle's Fork Reservoir; Reservoirs; Sister cities; Tahara (Japan)

Subjects: Georgetown (Ky.); Mayors--United States; Municipal government--United States.; Scott County (Ky.)

00:48:04 - Retirement and closing thoughts

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Partial Transcript: So after your last term, uh, you retired from politics totally?

Segment Synopsis: Varney talks about his retirement from public office and offers a few closing thoughts on his time as mayor. He says that he plans on living to see and enjoy what his two great-granddaughters grow into, growing pains and all. He talks about helping his son mow and do yard-work around his house, though he says that kind of love for the outdoors does not make him an avid hiker. He jokes that he also has to find ways to stay out of his wife's way, especially during the winter. Varney looks back on his life and accomplishments, including induction into six separate halls of fame, and says he is glad to have been a successful teacher, coach, and politician. He discusses his time in office again briefly, saying he was there for the people and enjoyed serving them. He remarks that he has not written a book yet, and is grateful that his health is still good at his age. Key thanks Varney and ends the interview.

Keywords: Grandchildren; Great-grandchildren; Hiking; Mowing; Nancy Varney; Outdoors; Pike County (Ky.); Skull Buster MTB Trail; Skull Buster Mountain Bike Trail; Skullbuster MTB Trail; Skullbuster Mountain Bike Trail; Walking

Subjects: Georgetown (Ky.); Mayors--United States; Retirement.; Scott County (Ky.)