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2006-10-27 Interview with Ernest M. Tucker, October 27, 2006 CC001:2006OH188CC04 01:02:45 History of Kentucky's Community Colleges Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Ashland Community and Technical College Ernest M. Tucker; interviewee John Klee; interviewer 2006OH188_CC04_Tucker 1:|13(10)|33(1)|56(2)|71(9)|91(11)|115(7)|136(6)|149(6)|163(15)|175(4)|190(6)|203(1)|230(16)|246(2)|268(11)|286(3)|300(9)|321(5)|336(2)|358(1)|368(6)|383(9)|402(13)|427(14)|448(3)|468(5)|484(3)|499(10)|518(4)|538(7)|558(7)|575(11)|605(12)|630(5)|644(9)|671(13)|691(14)|715(11)|732(2)|756(2)|766(5)|777(4)|788(1)|808(2)|830(12)|852(10)|874(1)|886(4)|902(9)|930(4)|952(3)|975(11)|993(9)|1020(13)|1037(1)|1050(6)|1078(3)|1091(13)|1106(2)|1128(10)|1144(11)|1163(6) audiotrans CommuColl interview KLEE: The following is an unrehearsed interview by John Klee for the University of Kentucky oral history collection with Ernie Tucker. The day is October 27, 2006, and the interview is being conducted at Ashland Community and Technical College. Mr. Tucker, how did you become associated with the community college? TUCKER: That is really kind of an interesting story. I had been a public school teacher in Louisville for five years and decided I wanted to teach in college. So while I was there as a teacher in Shawnee Junior High School, I got my master's degree at the University of Louisville, and part of it was a summer program at Purdue University. Then I got married, and I decided I needed -- I thought I needed to get out of public school teaching and maybe I needed to get into college teaching. It was one of those things that was sort of last on my list, to be perfectly honest. My father was a preacher, and my mother had been a teacher, and I thought those are two things I don't want to get into. And as a young fellow, I didn't think I could do the job anyway. Me in front of a college class was a bit overwhelming. So I got married and left and came to the University of Kentucky to the history department there with a master's degree, but I -- and I worked for some years on a PhD. And I don't have a PhD; I'm what is known as an ABD, which people in the business know it as All But Dissertation. There may have been a little more to it than that, but I had the languages and all the coursework. KLEE: (Laughing) Right, coursework. TUCKER: But I had to make a living too. KLEE: Sure. TUCKER: There were two people I had gone to school with at the University of Kentucky who were teaching here at Ashland Community College, so I guess I'm part of the old boy network. KLEE: Who are they? TUCKER: They were -- they both have retired, Dr. Hedlund -- KLEE: Okay. TUCKER: -- who has died, unfortunately. And Ken Colebank, Dr. Ken Colebank, who taught at -- also at Morehead before he came here. KLEE: I see. TUCKER: But I knew them well, and I think they respected me a little, at least. And so when they needed another teacher in history here, they contacted Dr. Goodpaster -- we have a building out back named after him -- who was a wonderful fellow and a tennis player like I was, which is probably why he hired me. KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: He lied a little about it. He said he could play tennis, but I'm not sure that was the case (laughing), though he did try. So then I left the University of Kentucky -- this was 1968, Fall of '68 -- came to Ashland Community College. KLEE: When you came here, what was the community like at that point? Had you been to Ashland before? TUCKER: Let me tell you what the college was like, and I'll move into the community. I had never been to Ashland in my life. When I brought my wife here, with all the industry we had around, including Armco, which is a steel industry, and the coke plant, she thought it was something out of out of Dante's Inferno, so she didn't like the place at all. So we ended up moving in the semi-country, not far from here, but like Maysville, you don't have to go far to be out of town. And there was still some cows and horses out there, and she seemed to like that well enough. But when I came here, the college was downtown -- KLEE: Okay. TUCKER: -- in an old Methodist church building. I say old; it wasn't so old, but to the kids it was old. And the Methodist church had gone broke during the Depression, so we ended up -- when we became part of the University of Kentucky, and the date of that skips me. KLEE: Right. It would have been just a few years before you came here, I think. TUCKER: Well, it was in the 1950s. KLEE: Okay. TUCKER: We had that building where we met; that was the main building. And down the same street, maybe five blocks, not far from where the mall is now, there's a housing -- a multi-story housing complex there. That was the Bayless building, and the Bayless building was an elementary school -- had been an elementary school at one time. And I like to kid people and say it was condemned for human habitation, so it was considered to be perfect for college students and faculty. (Laughing) KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: So anyway -- so that's where we went, especially the new students -- excuse me, the new teachers. And we ended up -- I remember we ended up, most of us, in one big room. And we had desks around one of these big school rooms, and that was our -- those were our offices. I learned later from Dr. Goodpaster they had to beg, borrow, and steal just to get that, because it was very tough to get funding for community colleges, especially when it was under the University of Kentucky, I'm sorry to say. KLEE: Uh-huh. Yeah. TUCKER: Now, we go back to 1937 and 1938. KLEE: Yeah, as a junior college. TUCKER: As a junior college, Ashland Junior College. We had the distinction there of being beaten in basketball by the largest -- by a man from Rio Grande College who scored the largest number of points ever as a single human being in a college game, so we had that distinction for a while. KLEE: That part of history. TUCKER: Since that time, we've had no sports, by the way. KLEE: So you came here in '68. The facility up here on US 60 was built soon after? TUCKER: The facility here, the main building -- not this building, the library where we're sitting, the main building was built in 1970. KLEE: Okay. What were classes like downtown, so to speak? TUCKER: Well, I don't know how to describe it. Of course, the building was old and pretty -- in fairly bad repair. We had a wonderful guy there whose name was -- whom we all called Cecil, who was a custodian, and he ran the place. And it was really like a family for those of us who were down there. And we would cook dinner on occasion, lunch on occasion. He would bring in rabbits or something like that and make a pot full of rabbit stew or whatever he'd caught or he'd killed. And we'd all -- we just had a -- we really had a great time. It was a lot of fun. There was a gymnasium down there connected with the school. In between classes -- I think I was the only one that did this -- I would go down and play basketball with the guys. I was a little younger then, John. And below that -- no, I -- yeah, below that -- if I remember correctly, and it's been 37, 38 years ago -- there was another room where we had dances. And at that time, dances were very popular, and the kids would show up in large numbers, and we would dance. It was a great time and a lot of loud music. And we also had a coffee house, which was sort of a beatnik-kind of thing that Nancy McClellan ran down there. You might want to talk to her about that. And she would have these budding artists, rock 'n roll and otherwise, but any country people who were connected with the college -- country artists who were connected to the college, play down there, and we would all sit around and drink just coffee, John, just coffee. But that was fun too. And it was near town, so if you went to lunch, you just walked over to one of those little downtown restaurants. And at that time, downtown was where the business district was. The five & ten, some of them were still there. The clothing stores and shoe stores and so on were still there, and the restaurants were still there. There's some of that now. If you go downtown today, we're revitalizing the whole downtown, but what has happened -- beautiful -- but what has happened is that we've moved out in another direction, down the river. So if you go down the river, on the main streets -- we have wonderful thoroughfares here in town for a small town -- you'll run into the mall. You go a little farther, you run into the new, huge Wal-Mart store and a lot of other things, but it's all lined up there now. And though Ashland Oil, you see, was our main employer here in town when I came to town, with probably 4,500 people. Now it would have, I'm guessing, 1,500. It doesn't mean the jobs are all gone. Many of them have been farmed out. But much of our basic industry has gone, has left, but we've done remarkably well. We're into education now on every level; we've got several malls, which we're beginning to support; downtown is being revitalized. You can hardly park down there, because it's a different -- it's not the same thing, it's not the five & dimes and the shoe stores anymore, but it's other things going in. We have a brand new art center down there. We have all kinds of things, entertainment. We have the Paramount Theater, which is a theater which was built in the early '30s. It's been totally renovated and expanded; it's absolutely beautiful. It's a wonderful place in which to live, but that's probably not what you want to know. KLEE: No, that's fine. Those students in the '60s, what kind of students were you attracting then? TUCKER: I don't know exactly. I have noticed several changes, and one of them is fairly dramatic, I think. It seems to me -- we didn't get this on the printouts like we do today -- it seems to me like the students who were there then were largely from Ashland. They aren't anymore. I live out in the county, so I know what the addresses are. In a class that I might have of 35 or 40 or more, as far as their addresses are concerned, I know they're not county addresses which count as Ashland ----------(??). I might have three people in the class -- three or four people who are actually from Ashland itself. So the demographics, it seems to me -- and that's not a scientific study -- seem to have changed considerably. So I get an awful lot of students from Greenup County, down the river from Boyd County -- we're in Boyd County now -- out in the non-Ashland area where I live. We get a number from Carter County, Grayson, and all that. We get a number from Lawrence County. We're attracting some, not many, from Ohio, because we have this reciprocity agreement. We attract a number from West Virginia, reciprocity agreements, from Lawrence County up the river, Louisa and all that. We get a number from there; we get some from Elliott County, which is a long way off. But it seems to me we're getting a lot more people from other parts of the area than Ashland proper. So that is a change, I think. KLEE: In those days when you were downtown, it sounds like faculty and staff was not a -- what kind of numbers are we talking about there, as far as faculty? TUCKER: You may have to ask somebody else that, John, because I've really forgotten. KLEE: Okay. TUCKER: But I'm sure the school -- and I don't quote me, but we lie about these things. KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: I don't know why, but we do. We're taking different statistics than we used to take, much different. So we claim to have over 4,000 students now. When I first came here, I suspect we had something like 1,200. KLEE: I was thinking about even your staff people, though, faculty and staff. TUCKER: Faculty and staff, much, much less, much less. I don't have the figures on that, and I would just have to estimate that we probably have faculty and staff -- now of course, we have the technical college now too. I would say we were no more than a fourth of what we are today. KLEE: Transfer was the thrust of the early college transfer-type instruction? TUCKER: Transfer was the thrust of it, and we had a sound reputation as a transfer institution. Now, has that changed today? Again, that's something that is hard to say, hard to prove, because many of our students then did not get four-year degrees, so they were really, in effect, two-year or less students. Today if one says he's going to transfer, or she, probably does transfer, likely. If they don't, they probably get two-year associate degrees or they get certificates and degrees of one sort or another from the technical part of the college, which does an excellent job too. I have no quarrel with that at all. KLEE: Right. In the community in the late '60s, were there individuals that were -- stand out as supporters of the college, people that the college went to for either financial help or advice or -- I'm thinking about advisory board members maybe, or -- TUCKER: John, I know so little about that, I can't speak with any authority on that at all. I would have to have names in front of me, and I would say, "Yes, that's one." I just don't have a memory for that kind of thing. KLEE: Okay, all right. What about the move up here, then? What happened -- how did that change the environment of the college? Tell me a little bit about the building and -- TUCKER: I think it changed the environment quite a bit. The first building we had was the main building, which is in back of me and is still the main administrative building. Then we added a wing onto that later. KLEE: Is that the Goodpaster building? TUCKER: No, it's the wing you'll see -- it's part of that ell. It's the far end. It was the science wing, really. Still is, still is, nursing and science and all that. Then the next building that came along was this building here, this library and other administrative tasks building. And finally, the last building on this campus here, this enclosed campus, is that building in the back, which is named after Dr. Goodpaster, the Goodpaster building, which has classrooms and has offices like all of these buildings do. They all have classrooms and offices. KLEE: Okay. And so that environment, what, spread people out more? TUCKER: Spread people out more. I don't think we are as close as a faculty as we used to be. And one little thing, when we moved up here and for many years, we all had to pick up our mail. And we had a room, which was something like a broom closet, where you had these slots where your mail was in. And you got to meet everybody and got to meet everybody up-close and personal, because you had to go in there and bump elbows with everybody. I thought that was sort of nice. I think we don't have that anymore. And the people we seem to know best and associate with more -- most and run with, at least while we're here at the school, are those people in our office complex -- our office area. So most of our offices are in a little complex where you have typically a faculty secretary and offices spread out on either side of a hallway leading off from that. So that's nice. And faculty at Ashland Community College -- I suspect at yours too -- are very nice to each other. We're very friendly and have a good time. And we can joke freely, and nobody gets mad. So -- KLEE: Tell me about Dr. Goodpaster, the person that brought you here, as far as maybe some stories or his administrative style or just a little bit about him. TUCKER: He was very interesting and a very nice man. He came from out in the country. He came from Peastick[s], Kentucky (laughing) -- KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: -- which I believe is in Fleming [Bath] County, I'm almost positive. I've been through Peastick[s], Kentucky. But you go through those counties, you're not quite sure. On US 60 through Fleming County, but it's Peastick[s], Kentucky. And his wife Pat is a wonderful human being too. Did you interview her yet? KLEE: I have not, no. TUCKER: She's a wonderful human being. And he had been -- his education had been in -- with the agricultural department of the University of Kentucky. And he had probably been connected with the -- their agricultural extension service, if I'm not mistaken. I'm almost positive. And then he served as superintendent of schools in -- public schools in one of our counties, I think. Gosh, I've forgotten, Bourbon County maybe. So he came up that way. He came up sort of through the ranks, but he was -- and he was certainly agriculturally-oriented. He knew his stuff, and he had lots of friends who knew their stuff. And he was a great hunter and especially a bird hunter. I mean, a grouse hunter par excellence, and quail. You know, he liked to hunt. And he had friends here. Ken Franks, who was head of our extension service here, was a good buddy of his and still living. And they would hunt a lot and certainly talk more than they hunted, I'm sure. KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: He also was a nice man. I liked his style, easy to get along with. You could walk into his office and talk to him. There was no barrier there at all. I guess if he had one fault, it was he sometimes, especially in faculty meeting, was not organized at all. So he could show up in a faculty meeting and -- with no agenda and whereas ours are not as interesting as his were, I don't think, anymore, at least we get through in about an hour. You could depend on three hours in the late afternoon with Dr. Goodpaster. KLEE: I see. TUCKER: And -- but it could be fun. We had a lot of fun, a lot of interesting people who were on the faculty. We've have always had interesting people. You know, the college teachers are always interesting people and a little demonstrative on occasion and eccentric a little, and that's fun too. KLEE: (Laughing) Yeah. Some of the colleagues that you worked with, I know one of the names comes up fairly often is Opal Conley, who was here for a long time. TUCKER: Opal Conley. Opal Conley taught in the sciences and taught anatomy and physiology and a lot of the nursing program courses associated with that -- with the nursing program and others. She also knew doctors well. Her father was a physician. KLEE: I see. TUCKER: And she intended to be a physician herself, if I have the story correct. And she went -- as a woman, was not accepted as a doctoral candidate -- as a medical doctor, so she ended up teaching. And of course, we are delighted that she did. We used to have what was ---- ------(??) the University of Kentucky, we had the Great Teacher award, you understand. She got it twice, and that didn't happen much. In fact, that award was very difficult to get anyway. It was really quite a prestigious award, I thought. And -- but she knew doctors, and she knew people on faculty at the University of Kentucky and elsewhere. And she knew how to take these young men and women, who were coming through school who were planning to be physicians or nurses or in any medical field, dentists, oral surgeons, and she would get them here. I don't think we do that to that extent anymore. I don't think we're equipped to do that. But she knew faculty. She knew faculty at the University of Kentucky, well respected down there. And she knew doctors and people like that here in town. And she used that knowledge to bring these students here and to bring them through here. And we had a very, very good reputation, largely because of her and other faculty for bringing her in. KLEE: Are there any of those students that came back to the area that come to mind? TUCKER: Well, they're still here; many of them are still here. Again, I'm not good at giving names. When you get my age, John, you'll have that trouble too. But they're all over the place, still here in town. Dental surgeon, still here. Dentists out here. My dentist, still here. Doctor, still here. I'm just going through my mind. Another doctor, still here. There are a bunch of them. Now, what we've become, the town has become a center for medical service. We have a huge modern hospital, in fact, a smaller modern hospital right here together. KLEE: Oh, gosh. TUCKER: We've got King's Daughters, 100 years old in 1998. I wrote the history of that, by the way. We've got Our Lady of Bellefonte, out just fifteen miles from here, maybe, very modern, where I go. My doctor's out there. And of course, they hire our nurses. We have a nursing program here. They hire our nurses; they hire our transcribers; they hire people who come through here, Ashland Community College. King's Daughters Medical Center probably has 4,000 employees. KLEE: Gee. TUCKER: And if you look around the town and the area, the counties, you will find doctors' offices, dental offices, all kinds of medical services, specialists, some of them came through here, but many of them did not. KLEE: And you're saying that it's feeding the whole area. TUCKER: The whole area surrounding Ashland is a medical paradise. And we have the best possible doctors and dentists and oral surgeons and psychologists and psychiatrists that you have anywhere. It's a Mecca for them. In fact one of them is named Dr. Mecca, while (Laughing) we're on the subject of Mecca. KLEE: (Laughing) But you played an early role in some of that. TUCKER: Who's a good friend of mine. KLEE: What about -- are there any other faculty members that -- from those early years that stand out in your mind? TUCKER: Nancy McClellan. KLEE: Okay. TUCKER: Nancy McClellan, who you may talk to. Nancy taught here. I think she went here. She was a scholarly woman, still is, went to -- studied classic -- classical language and art and literature at the University of Chicago. You can't get any better than that. KLEE: And how did -- was this -- was she a person that students particularly related to? TUCKER: Let me tell you this. She was from here. KLEE: Okay. TUCKER: And her father had been the first -- I'm guessing a little, John -- the first superintendent of schools in Boyd County. In fact, he founded the whole -- virtually founded the school system in Body County. And so she was a local, and her parents were from the area and had come out of the culture. Well, she related to them, because I mentioned earlier the coffee shop, the coffee house down at the old building. She was in charge of that, you see. She never played an instrument herself, but she was always into -- still is -- into the mountain music thing. KLEE: I see. TUCKER: Mr. Fraley and all that whole family, the Fraley Family Festival, is something -- is somewhat a creation of hers. So she went off and got this high-falutin' degree -- and she's very intelligent and one of my best friends -- but when she came back, she taught here at the college. And she brought that expertise and that knowledge -- and she's just charming -- back to the college with her. So we have a number of people who have come back to the college to teach. Opal Conley, I don't know whether she went here or not, but certainly she was -- the culture was here. KLEE: The area, right. TUCKER: It was their culture, this Eastern Kentucky culture, which I'm interested in, too. KLEE: Right. TUCKER: One more person. This is the Libby Walthall Room. She was brilliant. And she taught -- she's from here. She's a local too, and she taught in the sciences, the natural sciences. And she was interested in all kinds of things beyond just here. She was quite an expert on oceanography, the science of the oceans, and anything else. But we've named this room here after her. She died some years ago, but she was just an excellent teacher. People loved her, respected her. She demanded the best out of them, and they still loved her. That's a good teacher. KLEE: You mentioned in a couple of occasions when you're talking about Nancy McClellon and Libby Wothram -- TUCKER: Walthall. KLEE: Walthall, bringing ideas into people. Was that something that was a priority for that early faculty in the '60s? Were the students -- did you find them, you know, pretty stuck in the -- TUCKER: John, this is like Maysville. I know what you deal with at Maysville. And it could be any other place too, but we are very culture-oriented. I mean, we come out of a certain culture. It is a wonderful culture, but in some ways -- this is my opinion -- it tends to stifle. It tends not to place not a great deal of emphasis on much more than earning a living, because that's important to us. And it's important to all of us; I don't teach for free, John. KLEE: (Laughing) Right. TUCKER: But I think what we have tried to do -- many of us and people who are still here too, and we have a wonderful faculty -- I think we try to show them that there is a life outside of this area, that you can live in this area and have a different life. It doesn't have to be totally connected with your culture and how you have always thought. There may be other ways of thinking. Let me tell you just one little story. May I? KLEE: Tell as many as you'd like. Please. TUCKER: We may be here all night, John. KLEE: That's all right. TUCKER: I had this wonderful girl in class, young girl, right out of high school. And after I'd had her about a half a semester, I said, "This girl has got something." She was obviously intelligent, but that's -- you know, we have lots of intelligent students. But she was creative, and she was interested in things, and she went beyond the normal in reading and things like that. And I don't mean she was brilliant -- she wasn't -- but well-trained, well-disciplined, cute, pretty girl. And so one day I'm talking to her, walking down -- just walking down the hall. As many others do, I make myself available. I sit out in the hall, because they're not going to come back to your office. I sit out in the hall. One time I demanded a telephone out there, but I never got it. KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: (Laughing) But anyway, so I said, "What do you plan to do?" She said, "Well, I'm going to be a CPA. I want to be an accountant." And then we got to talking, and I said, "Who wants you to be an accountant?" She said, "Well, it's my father." (Laughing) KLEE: (Laughing) You got right to that, didn't you? TUCKER: I said, "Okay. Now, I know why. He wants you to do well. He wants you to make some money. We're all interested in that." And I told her I don't teach for free, and student bribes come in, you know. Well, she said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, while you're here for a year," and she was only here for a year, "why don't you think about other things to do? That's why you're here. You're not here to learn accounting, not yet. Think about what you're going to do." She said, "Like what?" I went through the list. "Like anthropology," I said. "Your father and mother will hate me. You'll probably go broke. You'll die on the desert someplace in a dig from thirst." She said, "Okay. I'm going to do what you told me." "Trust me," I said. "Anthropology, history, archeology." I went through the whole bit. She could have done anything, because she wasn't a genius, but she was smart. KLEE: Right. TUCKER: And industrious and aggressive and all of those things you have to be to succeed. KLEE: Sure. TUCKER: So I got a call from her. Went down to the University of Kentucky. She said, "Professor Tucker, do you know who this is?" I said, "I do, Cheryl. Cheryl Ann, right? She said, "Yes." She said, "I want you to come down." I said, "Why?" She said, "I'm in this big old tobacco warehouse." Do you remember those over on Limestone, I guess it was. "Big old tobacco warehouse. It is full of skeletons of Native Americans. They've have all been brought in here. By law, we have to make the identification as well as we can. We have to go through and classify them as to age and were there broken bones or other obvious signs of disease or mayhem. I want you to come down." I said, "I'll be down." So I went down there, and we went out to lunch. She's is a wonderful person anyway, and we're good friends. And I went by -- I went over there, and there she was out there. They're paying her $5 an hour, graduate student. KLEE: I see. TUCKER: No, she was undergraduate. And she was putting -- she had these boxes which showed -- these boxes were age two to three or something, these boxes -- you could tell the age of people by the size of the bones and whatever, this is a female, this is a male, you could tell. So she was learning how to do all of this stuff. So to make a long story short -- it's a wonderful story -- she went on and became -- got her degree down there, did very well, as I knew she would, in anthropology. Does that sound like accounting? KLEE: (Laughing) No. TUCKER: She went on to another university, got her master's degree. She's working sort of part-time on a PhD. She teaches at a community college in Western North Carolina. She was -- at least for a while, I haven't heard from her for a while -- she was a curator of a couple of small museums on sort of the local level. She said, "I'm having a ball. My dad still hates you." And -- KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: (Laughing) -- he probably doesn't. KLEE: Right. TUCKER: "I'm having a ball," she said, "and I've always thought that one day I would see you walk in the back of my classroom." KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: That sends -- does that send a little chill up your spine? It does mine, it does mine. Let me tell you another story. Do you mind? KLEE: Go ahead, sure. TUCKER: Do you mind if I read you a story real quick? KLEE: No, that's fine. Yeah. TUCKER: This happened to me. This is one of my stories. Let's see if I've got it -- KLEE: Now, this is from a book you're going to get published. TUCKER: This is from a book that I've written. It's called "His Life Is an Open Book: Tales, stories and memories and observations from the life and times of Professor Tucker, family, and friends." There is no ego here, John. (Laughing) KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: But I've spent a lot of time on this. This is a collection, really. Let me see what's on page 32. Well, that is another one. I thought I had this listed. "We never know," 126. I've numbered all of these, because it gives them a little validity when you number them. I named them all. KLEE: Sure. TUCKER: I've called this one "We never know." And I'm sure this has happened to lots of students -- lots of teachers. I'm bragging a little bit, but I think it's happened to a lot of -- this is 139, "We never know." "As teachers, it's never easy to gauge the effects we may have had on students, but on occasion we get a quick glimpse into the workings of their minds. My daughter, her boss in Louisville, who happened to be a former student of mine -- he didn't know that she was my daughter, by the way. Sandy -- my woman, as we say out on Hall Ridge Road -- Sandy and I were celebrating Fathers Day at a local Ashland restaurant. I vaguely recognized a man across the darkened room, a man of about 45 years of age, as perhaps being a former student. Sure enough, an hour or so later, he and his family were leaving -- as he and his family were leaving, he came over to our table by himself, dropped off his business card, and said, 'Professor Tucker.'" Whew. I get worked up over this. "'You're the only person who ever told me that I could do anything.' From the tone of his voice, he obviously meant anything at all. He said not another word and left. That encounter sent a chill up my spine and it still does, and as I learned later, up the spines of those who were with me, including my daughter. While we all sat there in stunned silence, the business card identified the man as a lawyer from Middlesboro, Kentucky. And that short statement of his may have been the best compliment that I've ever received and it moved me deeply." But there are a lot of stories like that. KLEE: Sure. TUCKER: And they ought to be written down. KLEE: Right. TUCKER: And if you don't write them down or record them, they're gone forever. KLEE: They're gone. Let me switch gears a little bit -- TUCKER: Go ahead. KLEE: -- and talk about the System. This was -- Ashland Community College, when you came here as a new instructor, was part of the University of Kentucky Community System? TUCKER: Yes, it was. And it went through a few years as part of the University of Kentucky as a University of Kentucky Center, but I don't have all the dates quite correct. But that's in the '50s. So about 1938, it's -- I think it was 1938, it was Ashland Junior College, and then in the '50s it became University of Kentucky Ashland Center, which is -- in fact, for a while even after we moved up here, the kids would call it UCLA. KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: (Laughing) UCLA, which was -- no, that's when it was downtown, University Center Located in Ashland (laughing). KLEE: (Laughing) Okay, that's pretty good. TUCKER: And there were other names, too, they'd make up. When we moved out here, they made up another name which has the same initials as a university, but I cannot remember what it was. But it's the kids, you know, doing that. KLEE: Sure. What did that mean -- you know, I don't know if you did any System work. TUCKER: I didn't do any System work. I was never elected to a System committee. I was so glad about that, because I was into my own thing. I did writing, I did research, and I did travel, and I did all these -- and I was so glad they didn't anoint me or appoint me to something -- to those things. KLEE: What was it like for you as an instructor to -- did that mean anything to you, being a part of the University of Kentucky Community College System? TUCKER: I think there was a little prestige, which we don't have anymore. I don't think we have it anymore. I think it is, if you want my -- you want my person opinion? KLEE: Sure, yeah. That's why I'm talking to you. TUCKER: I think it is the University of Kentucky's fault. I do not think the University of Kentucky treated us as first-rate citizens. We were second-class citizens in the System. And there were a whole lot of us who thought that. And had they treated us right throughout the System, treated us as they should have treated us, as equals -- and we were, we were working like dogs. I mean, I don't know how many students you teach, but I'll have 200 students a semester and doing all kinds of other stuff too. And I give them all subjective stuff, which takes forever, as you know, you being a history teacher. But I want them to write. They need to write. I insist on their writing. And what's more, when they send me an e-mail, I insist that that e-mail, except in an emergency, be in good, standard English. KLEE: It's not an IM thing, is it? TUCKER: No. Using capital letters. And then I always tell them, "We're friends, but we're not good friends, we're not close friends, we're not buddies. I want you to learn to write, and since the only writing most of you do is e-mail, you better send an e-mail -- unless it's an emergency, unless there's a death in the family, I want them to be -- ." And they are doing it. I've got them doing it. It's in the syllabus. I've got them used to doing it. It's not easy. But anyway, where were we, John? KLEE: I'm trying to -- you said there was some status attached to being a University of Kentucky employee. TUCKER: There was some status -- there isn't any doubt about it -- in the community. And I don't think we get those students like -- as many students like Opal would have gotten in the past. I'm absolutely sure we don't. Or like the budding lawyers, I don't think we get those anymore. KLEE: So you're saying that -- I don't want to put words into your mouth. Is there a class of students out there -- I'm talking about socio-economic class now -- that that doesn't look to Ashland as a higher education choice? And did you get those before? TUCKER: I don't have the proof of that, but I suspect that it's the case. You can do a little survey. How many of you are Presbyterian (laughing)? KLEE: (Laughing) TUCKER: Nobody's Presbyterian. How many of you are Episcopalian? I'm kidding them a little bit, right. Lutheran? Oh, you went to Princeton, didn't you? How many of you are Baptists or come out of that tradition? The whole class. How many are Pentecostal? Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ would be their background, whether they attend church or are religious or not. So that indicates to me that we're no longer getting the students who might be going into some of these professions that I think we used to have more of who came here to Ashland Community College. But again, John, that's a -- I don't have the proof. I have the suspicions. On the other hand, we get excellent students. We have -- we get students who can succeed in any university, any college or university in the United States. We also got the lower end of that academic milieu. I don't mind; I like that. I like to deal with all these people, and I think the students who are in class, I think it means something to them too, because we are society here, as a whole. We're not the Harvards and the Yales and the University of Chicagos and the MITs. We're what's out there in society as a whole, and we attract people -- I don't know what your background is, John, but I just found a book this last summer written by my uncle, my mother's family. I know I look like a teenager, but my mother was born in 1890, John. This uncle was born in 1894. They came from Western Virginia, a family of eleven. Prior to the Civil War, the grandmother -- they'd had 20-25 slaves in Western Virginia. They were rich. After the war, the South went to hell and didn't recover, some of it not until after WWII and beyond. But rural South, people were sharecroppers on both sides of my family, sharecroppers. That is dirt-poor. Didn't own property, didn't own anything, had nothing. Eleven children, they all did well, John. They all did well. My Uncle Claude who wrote this book, Claudius O. Johnson, if you took political science thirty years ago, you probably used his textbook, Claudius O. Johnson. Beautifully written. Taught for years out at Washington State University. There's a building there named after him. My mother, all of them in that family, nothing, absolutely nothing. They either married well, or they became a lawyer, two mechanical engineers, several nurses, one who died -- caught TB and died from a patient, of this eleven, a professor, a teacher or two, including my mother, and a pharmacist out of this family. Nothing. I've got this book, and he tells the details of growing up poor. KLEE: So it doesn't make any difference what background. You're saying that -- . TUCKER: If the family's got some character, whatever that is -- but what I started to say is, we have that here, we have that here. You have that in Maysville. KLEE: Sure. TUCKER: I love that. Here are these people coming from nothing. You get back one generation, it's a dirt floor, it's a log house. My mother lived in two log houses, that family. They were falling down. They called them -- my grandmother called them Old Rickety. The kids have shortened it to Ricksy. KLEE: (Laughing) Is that right? TUCKER: But that is us. And I got into that, John, when I came here. I got into this folk medicine in Eastern Kentucky. I'm really -- I guess I'm the expert. I'm not bragging; I just happen to have done the job. I'm into collecting stories. I'm into all of this stuff that had to do with the past. I collect tools, implements, and devices which were used in Eastern Kentucky. My office is full of those things. I have, maybe, 300 -- you can't get in my office, John. I maybe have 300 items that we used to use. I have everything but a plow and a stuffed mule. But I have it there, because I want the kids to understand where they come from. KLEE: Sure, yeah. TUCKER: But I think there are lots of us here at these community colleges who are like that. It isn't just me. KLEE: Did -- has the role or the duties of a faculty member, how have they changed from those first few years? Are you teaching more students? Are you having to have them write more? TUCKER: My student load is about the same. There seems to me to be more forms to fill and administrative duties to take care of. There may be more committees than we used to serve on, but I'm not even sure about that. Faculty meetings are not as long (laughing) as they used to be. I don't know how many presidents we've had since I've been here, but it's a bunch of them. KLEE: I think I counted seven. TUCKER: All of those down the wall. KLEE: Right. TUCKER: Since I've been here, so -- KLEE: I wanted to ask you about -- and I don't -- I kind of hate to even use this expression -- town-gown -- the town-gown relationship. What is the relationship between the people of this community and the college? And again, going back to those early days? TUCKER: I think it's very close. I think it is now, it was then. It's very close. And some of us live here, and Ashland is my town. I'm from Louisville; Ashland's my town. This is where I live; this is what I do. I'm in the town all the time. Many of us volunteer. I speak frequently, as you could possibly imagine, John, as I did yesterday, even though we had this thing here, I spoke to the Rotary Club. But we are very close to the town. We also have a -- we've had a very active drama program. We have a beautiful auditorium and stage. All of that's been renovated recently, probably still being renovated. So we have that. We put on a number of shows there. [End Side 1, Tape 1] [Begin Side 2, Tape 1] TUCKER: Maybe I need to repeat myself a little bit on that last -- KLEE: I'll ask you that again. This is side two of a tape by John Klee for the University of Kentucky oral history commission with Ernie Tucker of Ashland Community and Technical College. And you were telling me that the fact that you all have this auditorium and the stage has made a cooperative effort with the community. TUCKER: I think it's made a -- it is one of many, many things, many things. But we not only -- as I tried to say, we not only use faculty and staff and a lot of students in the productions, but we use many townspeople, both adults and especially during certain productions, a lot of children. So that's a nice thing and gives us a lot of connection to townspeople too. But I think most of our connection probably comes through volunteer work with organizations and service clubs here in town. I work a lot with tennis. We have a $50,000 women's international tennis tournament in little Ashland, Kentucky, right at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful tennis center down here, indoor and out. And I spent about 100 hours in the last three years, three different years, working on it. Maybe 80 this year, but a lot of hours just working on that. Because we have to provide housing, and we provide transportation and food and any number of things. The courts and keeping things up and selling tickets and raising money and -- but anyway, it's a big job, but I am a -- I taught tennis here for many years, and I play tennis. It's one of my things too. But we manage to engage other people from the college down there, and that would be fairly typical of Ashland, that people here at the college are volunteering to work in places like that. We had people from, I would say, thirty different countries, which is great for the community. And it's a kind of reaching out and bringing in, which all of our -- KLEE: That was at the tennis tournament? TUCKER: Yeah. Thirty different countries playing. This used to be in -- before it came here -- was in Atlanta. We're the smallest town in the United States with a tournament of that size. But it's a big enterprise, and it takes a lot of money and a lot of volunteers. KLEE: Right. TUCKER: So volunteerism is certainly one way that we cooperate with the community. And we also have a lot of connection with the community through all kinds of -- what do we call that, John, when the community -- KLEE: Community service? TUCKER: Community service, but we offer courses, short-term courses. KLEE: Continuing education. TUCKER: Continuing education. We have a big continuing education program, and there are people here all the time, every night, and day and night, who are connected with that, so that certainly gets us in the community. KLEE: Now, again -- TUCKER: And of course, the connection with the technical part of the college gets us connected, maybe with a segment of population that we would not have been closely connected with before. KLEE: When you first moved out here in 1970 and when you were teaching in '68, and the -- Ashland's association as Ashland Community Colleges as part of the University of Kentucky System was kind of in its infancy at that point, even though you all were associated with UK prior to that. Were there people in the community that wanted their children to come here? Did they see it as their college or -- TUCKER: There were many people that wanted to turn this into a four-year college. KLEE: I see. TUCKER: There was a strong movement for that. In fact, one solid citizen wanted to turn -- somewhat earlier than that, wanted to turn Central Park into a university, but of course, no one wanted -- he would have been the only one. KLEE: Right (laughing). TUCKER: (Laughing) He has since gone on to his reward. But there were -- lots of people thought this would eventually become a four-year college. As it was, it was bigger than the college I attended as an undergraduate, Georgetown College here in Kentucky. It was -- today it's, what, two or three times as big as Georgetown is today. KLEE: Right. TUCKER: So there was that. And there was a kind -- and as I said before, there was some prestige connected to that. I have always thought that if the University of Kentucky had really wanted us, they'd still have us and we would be a great asset to them. KLEE: When you say -- and you mentioned that before, that they -- what didn't they do -- I mean, could you feel that as a college -- as a UK employee? TUCKER: Oh, you could feel it, you could feel it -- KLEE: Tell me how that manifested itself. TUCKER: -- when you would send people down to the University of Kentucky from here, after having gone here two years, let's say. Even though they did very well and we had the statistics on that, I think there was some reluctance to give them the same credit for having been here, even though we were all -- for God's sakes, we in the history department had all been there and been trained by them and their great scholars. And they were, they were, Dr. Clark and the whole bunch. We still -- I think most of us felt like we were second-class citizens as community college teachers and that they didn't respect our programs as much as we knew they should have been respected, because we were doing with the first two years -- if you want to know the truth of the matter -- a better job than they were doing down there with their first two years. Yeah, I think we were. KLEE: In those early years, are there any challenges that especially stand out for you as a faculty member or as you saw the college as a whole, as you made that transition from moving up here? TUCKER: You know, John, I was so busy. I had a wife; I had two children. I wasn't making any money. You've been through that. KLEE: (Laughing) Yeah. TUCKER: My daughter, who went here and later on Marshall and on down -- and the University of Louisville, she got a raise recently. She works in Louisville. She got a raise recently, which was three times my salary when I first came to Ashland Community College. Now, I don't know what she was making before, but I think she was probably doing all right. KLEE: Sure. Right. TUCKER: I wasn't making any money. And we got paid once a month. Wasn't any of this twice a month. KLEE: Do you remember any of those figures, what you started as? TUCKER: It was less than $10,000. KLEE: Sure, yeah. TUCKER: But I had been a public school teacher, so I knew something about that too, in Louisville. But -- KLEE: You mentioned that you only got paid once a month. Go ahead and finish. TUCKER: Got paid once a month. And if you ran out of money, we didn't have credit cards. There was not an easy credit card loan that all of us have used from time to time. You had to go down to the bank and say, "Could I borrow $500?" And if they didn't have it, and if they didn't think you were a good enough risk, they wouldn't give it to you. KLEE: Sure. TUCKER: Yeah, the salaries were low. I've been here 38 years, and my salary is decent now. And I knew -- and I'm satisfied with it, and I love what I do. I don't always love being here every day, but I do love what I do. And I was working so hard. I had so many students. I'd never taught a college class in my life when I first came here. I got -- the first semester I was here -- if I remember correctly -- I had five different classes to teach. And as you know, when you're starting out, just preparing for one class can take hours. I would get up early in the morning, and I would head out. And there was a little restaurant where I lived, opened early, and I would sit down at the restaurant there and maybe try to eat breakfast and drink a cup of coffee. And I would be working like a dog until the next class started, making sure I was prepared, well-prepared for the class. And when that class was over, I started in again. And that didn't mean that I wasn't grading papers and serving on committees and doing all those other things and trying to make a name for myself. You have to get promoted sometime. And maybe research, a little research and writing, which I wanted to do too. And trying to keep a family together. I wasn't terribly successful with that. It was hard times. We weren't starving -- don't get me wrong -- but brother, there wasn't any money for anything. Thirty-five bucks -- I remember one time I spoke, John -- I spoke to a club here -- a women's club here in Ashland. And when I got through, the president got up and said -- I had no money. I had zero money. Wife and children, no money. She got up and said, "And we're so pleased with Professor Tucker and what he's done, that we're going to send $75 to this charitable organization in his name." And I thought to myself, boy, I'm the charitable organization. (Laughing) KLEE: (Laughing) You would have loved to have had that $75. TUCKER: That you need. KLEE: Then of course, that wasn't probably unique with some of your colleagues either, because with small faculties, they were teaching multiple presentations and -- TUCKER: Oh, no. None of that was unique. And -- but it's some reason -- because you asked me now who were these figures that were -- I said, "Listen, brother, I was so busy and so harassed and trying to make it -- KLEE: Sure. TUCKER: -- trying to make it and trying to survive." I would sit in a -- we had a restaurant down right at the bottom of the hill. It's not there anymore. And next door to that restaurant was an auto parts place. And I would sit in there on the weekends and say, "Now, how -- what do I need to get my car to run for the next week? Because I've got to work on it this weekend to make sure I've got have a running car on the week -- ." So things have changed. I've gotten rid of my children; they've grown up. KLEE: Right. TUCKER: And I'm making more money now. My house is paid for, my cars are paid for, and I don't -- you know, I don't need as much money. I'm not on Easy Street, but I certainly am by comparison. KLEE: What about accomplishments, either for you personally or that you saw the college achieve in those -- you know, say, in the late '60s, early '70s. Is there anything that stands out in your mind? TUCKER: Oh, I think any teacher will say, not just the late '60s or '70s or -- I began teaching in 1958 -- did I tell you that, John -- in Louisville. One more year and if I'm still here, it will be 50 years since I started teaching. So I guess I've had some success. But as any teacher will tell you, what you love to see is these students that you've have had come up to you and say, "Do you know I'm teaching out at Russell High School?" Or in fact, I've even had, "You know, you're the reason I'm teaching out at Boyd County High School," or you know -- or this thing that I read to you a minute ago. The week doesn't go by -- someone asked me a few years ago, "How many students have you had?" I said, "You mean different ones? Give me a couple of days." So I actually sat down and made a rough, but pretty good, estimate. I used to teach summer school too, had to make the money. Not including the fact the five years I taught in junior high school in Louisville, I've had 13,000 students. They're everywhere. And a week doesn't go by, someone doesn't come by me and say, "Professor Tucker, I just want to know -- you to know how much I appreciate having been in your class." Or someone will e-mail me and say, "Do you remember that thing I did on my mother in your class? Well, she died, but I've got that." KLEE: Right. TUCKER: "You had me do my mother." See, I have them do things that are connected with their own history. KLEE: Family. TUCKER: Lots of things, family, community, whatever. And I've had more people come back to me and say little things like that. Or this guy, you know, "You didn't -- you're the guy that taught me -- told me I could do anything." KLEE: Right. TUCKER: So what we say in class, John, is important, of course. And you and I are historians. We think they ought to know everything. They aren't going to remember any of it. I'm satisfied if they say, "You know, I left your class and I watched the History Channel with -- ." Boy, what a boon that has been to us. Or, "You know, I didn't read, but I left your class and I can't put these books down." I had a guy in class one time, I had to kick him in the behind, because I knew he had some ability. I wasn't sure how much; he never proved it. I threatened him. One day I met him in the mall, a couple of years ago. "Professor Tucker, sit down. I want to talk to you." He was already making three times as much money as I've ever made, which was okay. I don't mind. That's good, it's good. I don't envy him, but that was good. He started talking about books he had read about Kentucky and the Ohio Valley, Allen Eckert, The Frontiersmen and all of this stuff. He'd read books I had never heard of, and I'm pretty well-read. We sat down and talked for two hours about how he got interested in history, and hadn't -- and I think had not been interested in it before. Boy, you talk about rewards. KLEE: Sure. TUCKER: That is a reward. And someone comes up to me -- Sandy, my woman, as we say, she's always amazed, because someone comes up to introduce themselves, "You know, you had me back twenty years ago or twenty-five years ago." And they tell me what they're doing, and they always say something about, "We had so much fun in your class that I really got into the history thing." Well you know, people who are eighteen, nineteen, or twenty are not interested in history. You're interested in history when you get to be thirty, forty, and fifty. So I like to get them early, get a little head start. KLEE: Get a -- yeah, get a spark started. TUCKER: Get a spark. They'll be with the local history club -- you know, the local society. Or they will get interested in iron furnaces in our area or old bridges or old houses. And they will get some concept about maybe we shouldn't tear everything down, maybe that house, which is -- has some historical significance, if we tear it down, it won't suddenly spring up again down the street fully done. Maybe we ought to, you know, preserve that. Maybe we ought to preserve our stories, which tend to go too. A story's gone. It's like an old house that's -- you tear down. KLEE: Well, I appreciate you talking to me. I think I've -- should I -- is there something I should have addressed that you don't think I did? TUCKER: John, I could sit here and talk to you all night. I have written some stories, and I don't know whether you want them or not. I don't know that it would even help you. KLEE: Well, if they're written down, we'll put that with the collection, I mean, when this book comes out. TUCKER: They are written down. KLEE: Or I could put it in your file if you have them. TUCKER: I have them here and I would have to run them off for you. KLEE: Maybe at some point -- I'm going to try to accumulate some files on some of these things. I mean, if you could do that for me -- TUCKER: I would be glad to do that. KLEE: -- next time I'm up -- or if you could send it to me -- TUCKER: We don't have to do that now, but I would be glad to do that. KLEE: Sure. TUCKER: John, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm sorry we haven't -- KLEE: Oh, that's all right. Oral history with Ernie Tucker, history faculty at Ashland Community and Technical College since 1968. Tucker discusses the formative years of the college in Ashland as well as the changing profile of the students. Highlights include the college’s relationship with the local community and the University of Kentucky. Tucker also describes how he has impacted students’ lives during his fifty years as an educator. insert here