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2007-05-23 Interview with John Robertson, May 23, 2007 CC001:2008OH016 CC 30 01:09:11 History of Kentucky's Community Colleges Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries West Kentucky Community and Technical College Paducah Junior College John Robertson; interviewee Adina O'Hara; interviewer 2008OH016_CC30_Robertson 1:|7(2)|17(5)|27(11)|38(2)|47(6)|60(4)|70(1)|79(10)|95(12)|110(4)|119(4)|130(5)|143(1)|167(6)|184(7)|194(3)|211(9)|243(2)|259(2)|275(6)|298(3)|331(5)|355(4)|380(4)|405(9)|444(5)|470(1)|483(14)|502(8)|523(5)|536(12)|551(12)|565(3)|574(11)|592(9)|608(8)|625(2)|652(5)|678(6)|693(6)|717(7)|740(1)|755(10)|768(15)|792(4)|810(13)|832(13)|874(2)|897(11)|927(4)|964(2)|991(5)|1002(12)|1015(2)|1024(7)|1048(3)|1074(13)|1094(9)|1117(2)|1140(10)|1167(8)|1207(8)|1235(4)|1254(7)|1291(9)|1310(8)|1323(1)|1332(7)|1364(9) audiotrans CommuColl interview O'HARA: This is an interview with John Robertson at his home in Paducah, Kentucky, conducted by Adina O'Hara for the Community College Oral History Project on May 23, 2007. O'HARA: Mr. Robertson, Paducah Junior College, a municipal two-year college, merged into the UK Community College System in July of 1968. What was your role in the operation of Paducah Junior College, which became Paducah Community College, which now is West Kentucky Community and Technical College? ROBERTSON: WeKC-TechC. (laughs) I started out at the old college downtown, Paducah Junior College, which as you said was a --tax- supported, and it started in 1932 during the midst of the Depression. And the idea was to provide two years of college-level work where they could get the equivalent of a $5,000 scholarship by living at home. So the school started out as a private school organized by Mr. Krueger and others, Govriel Rosenthal and local leaders. And they needed tax support. When Robert Gordon Matheson came here, his job was to see to it that they receive tax support or they would have to close the school. So they took it to the voters during the middle of the Depression, 25 percent of the workforce unemployed. And they agreed, the city did, to tax themselves, and at the time the tuition here was higher than UK. So this school has always had a reputation of trying to provide excellence on a shoestring. And I came in --I was working --I came here as an official on the IC Railroad, and I had some graduate work at the time. And they were desperately looking for somebody to teach some history. And I agreed to teach a couple of classes and enjoyed it so much that I gave up fifteen years of seniority when an opportunity came, and I agreed to teach, because we had a unique sense of purpose in Paducah Junior College. And so I was there as a faculty member, the tenth full-time faculty member, at a time the school was experiencing growth from the --well, actually from the G.I. Bill after World War II. So we had pretty well reached the limits of the old plant downtown at 707 Broadway. And so the question came, should we think about moving to a new location? And that entailed another campaign, which was to extend the tax base to include the county as well. And the county agreed to a tax, which is 50 cents on a $100 evaluation, while the city went from 25 cents to 50 cents. So the county made a greater sacrifice to get into the private junior college system that we had here with a tax base. So I started out through that and was on the self-study committee. And we had achieved full accreditation at --with the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, while none of the community colleges of the University had. And so at our graduation one year, the president of UK came down, and somebody said, "You better watch out or he'll take you over." And sure enough he said at the graduation that UK would be interested in looking at the school. And so the process began with that. UK was reaching out. We had sort of reached the limit of our ability to receive tax support. And we were in a new campus, and we had our accreditation. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: And we were a model for others to follow. So that's where we were at. I was away on a --well, it was a Title III grant. I was going to UK and working on my doctorate in history when all the actual merger took place. So when the merger took place, I was still a PJC employee. The others were beginning to be UK. And by the way, the first time that we had a payroll from UK, they didn't meet it. They were late, while Paducah Junior College, in all of its history, had never failed to pay its faculty, even during the midst of the Depression. So I always started out with a bit of a bias. I was at UK, and of course, I was still a PJC employee. And then I was paid by the grant from the federal government to go to school and I still received my PJC salary. All right, so I was up there for two years, and during that time the merger began and Dr. Matheson had to retire because UK had the Adolph Rupp law. They made it mandatory to retire at 65. You could teach part-time up to age 70, and that was to get rid of Rupp. And so (laughs) what they had --Dr. Matheson was 66, so he had to step down at Paducah Junior College. And so he became a consultant to the University of Kentucky to advise bringing all of them into the stage where they would be able to succeed in their application for Southern Association accreditation, which he did. And so he went around to all the schools and went through what we had done previously and saw to it that they put together successful packages. And so UK Community Colleges began to receive their accreditation. Well, so I came back, and Dr. Matheson had --of course, was out, and Don Clemens was the head here at Paducah Community College. And I came back expecting an assignment as a history teacher. I was ready to start writing on my dissertation, and so I came back and he offered me the position of dean of Paducah Junior College, which I accepted. It didn't exist-- O'HARA: It was a brand new position. ROBERTSON: --we found out later. So I wound up being an associate director of the Paducah Community College because they didn't have deans. The deans were the deans of the community college system, and there were two of them, Hartford and --oh, good heavens, Stanley Wall. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: So there was always some confusion, which I felt like I'd sort of been betrayed on that. I came in accepting one position, which didn't exist, and then very early on I found out that I was supposed to be actually responsible for the oversight of a faculty. And so I started working with the understanding that my job was to help them do their job. And then we got into UK, and I suddenly found that I had no responsibility for the faculty but make the schedules. So I was a little bit unhappy, to say the least, and so eventually I went back to teaching. But --so I'm a bit biased. O'HARA: I can understand, yeah, in the changeover and the confusion. Anyone would be. ROBERTSON: And I could see the flaws and the foibles, but I've also --was able to see that it was a --ultimately it was a mixed bag. We lost all we had worked for for years, making overtures to Murray, because immediately we began to have trouble with accreditation of ----------(??) classes, which were accredited by the Southern Association, weren't. We actually lost our accreditation, and we had to be reaccredited under the title of Paducah Community College. There was only a partial self-study. But still it had to have been done, and so there was that loss. We lost some of that well-being that we had established with Murray State. And --but in the long run, it probably was good for the school, because it got into a more secure financial base. We were unique in --along with Northern at the time in able to keep our tax base. And so we used it for special programs, and that was Title VI, a lot of those. So one of the things I did here was to write grants, and I always got more tax grants in than my salary, so I don't apologize for that. But the period in that merger, there was always some problems that had to be, but it opened up new avenues for us. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: And I think ultimately it was good for the school. And the same way with this transition going on now. I actually supported the idea of setting up of the independent two-year college system outside the university, although the university has always been very kind in its treatment of me. For example, I'd already decided to retire and I hadn't told them, and so they offered to buy me out and I graciously accepted it. But the merger was a traumatic period, and it was the same time also we had the upheaval on the campuses in the '60s and all of that. So it was kind of a trial by fire, and the college emerged, I thought, stronger. We had a strong athletic program, and we continued. In fact, the first year that we were a member of the community college system, the college here won the national championship in basketball. O'HARA: Really? ROBERTSON: And I was at Lexington at the time, you know, studying and still a PJC employee, and Kentucky got knocked out of the NCAA. It was Adolph Rupp's last year. And so when we won the national championship, I called one of the television stations in Lexington and said, "I just wanted to report to you that --did you know that UK's integrated basketball team just won the national championship?" They said, "What?" And I said, "Well, yes. It's at Paducah Community College. At Hutchinson, Kansas, we won the two-year college national championship." O'HARA: That's amazing. ROBERTSON: So it was kind of fun. O'HARA: That is neat! Can you tell me a little history about the basketball team here at Paducah Community College, its longevity? And you said integrated? ROBERTSON: Well, that's something else that's not too much --I wrote a thing on the history on PJC and found out, for example, that Dr. Matheson was oftentimes quite innovative. We actually had integrated intercollegiate athletics here with men and women on the same team. O'HARA: Really? ROBERTSON: And it was on the rifle team. O'HARA: Oh, how neat! ROBERTSON: And we had rifle competition. This was by telegraph. In other words, we would shoot here, they would shoot there, and they would exchange scores by telegraph. And so --even so it was intercollegiate competition. O'HARA: Sure. ROBERTSON: So you know, that's sometimes overlooked. O'HARA: That's fascinating! ROBERTSON: Well, the --we had strong baseball. Sonny Haws actually was more interested in baseball than basketball. In fact, he tried out for the New York Yankees. And his roommate at the tryout camp was Mickey Mantle. And they offered both of them a chance to go on. Sonny turned them down, because he had a chance to go to college and get his master's, which he did. And he came back. And when we were PJC, Sonny had a rule that you are a student first and an athlete second. And I'll always take my hat off to him for that. He held to it. Now, he is also a physical therapist. And so he was --teaching was sort of incidental. He did it because he liked it. And so when he was here, we had strong programs in both basketball and in baseball. And also we had golf competitions. And so that continued on, and we had a strong following as Paducah Community College because we'd just won the championship. And so Sonny stepped down, and they were looking for a new coach. And by that time, I was here, the head of the faculty, whatever title you want to have, and so I was recruiting a replacement for Sonny Haws to coach basketball. And one of the applicants was Joe Dan Gold, who had just finished tenure as the head coach of Mississippi State University. And Joe Dan was from Benton, Kentucky, and wanted to come back to this area. O'HARA: Wow! ROBERTSON: And so I --very smugly I wrote to Adolph Rupp and asked him for a recommendation on the employment of Joe Dan Gold, which he graciously gave. I liked Rupp. I met him a time or two. But the college was heavy into basketball. We had our own dormitory. We brought in players from Chicago, you know, looked like we ought to go really big-time. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: And then it just gradually, you know, went down. And now they've started the basketball program back up again, but it's sort of on an ad lib basis. But they're playing games and-- O'HARA: How recent? ROBERTSON: Well, it started a couple of years ago. O'HARA: Really? ROBERTSON: And so it's back in operation again. O'HARA: Is it intercollegiate or is it intramural? ROBERTSON: I think it is sort of half and half right now. We were intercollegiate, and we were a part of an organized group. And of course, we went out and won at Kansas. Our traditional foe was Vincennes University. O'HARA: Indiana. ROBERTSON: And Vincennes is the only two-year university I know of. O'HARA: Mm-mm. Yeah, university, (laughs) two-year university. ROBERTSON: It is the university for the state of Indiana. It had the land grant under the Morrill Act. O'HARA: That's a unique situation. ROBERTSON: So it's unique. But we played them, and they were our bitter rivals. But that's all PJC. So I'm waffling and wandering. O'HARA: Oh, no. You're doing great! I've got a lot of questions for you. Following up on the sports side of this, you said that the basketball --and --sort of, you know, subsided. Was that soon after the merger with UK Community College System? Do you know what caused it to decline? ROBERTSON: I think a lot of it was the television. O'HARA: Could you explain? ROBERTSON: Well, people don't support high school athletics or even college athletics like they used to, when they can watch professionals play. And so that happened also with baseball. Paducah used to have a professional baseball team in the Kitty League. And the field is still used by the Ohio Valley Conference. Murray State and all of them, Eastern, they play their baseball championships here at Brooks Stadium in Paducah in the old Kitty League stadium. So I think a lot of it had to do with the change in people's sports values. They shifted from the local participation, and there's not that intense sense of pride in their local schools that used to be. Just like Centre College, of course, was a --still remembers the fact that they beat Harvard six to nothing. O'HARA: Oh, yes (laughs). ROBERTSON: And that brought them international --so sports, in my opinion, has shifted and it becomes entertainment. O'HARA: Mm-mm, spectator. ROBERTSON: And they prefer the better quality to the raw --you know, not as experienced players that you find at the high school or junior college --well, even college level now. O'HARA: It's --for me, I prefer the local, the amateur-- ROBERTSON: Oh, there's something about being there and participating. It may be coming back. O'HARA: I hope so. ROBERTSON: Just recently, they're opening a new minor league baseball team in this area, in Illinois, so there may be a movement back to local focus rather than national focus in entertainment sports. O'HARA: Do you know what the reason is for the starting back up of the basketball team here at West Kentucky Community and Tech? ROBERTSON: Yes, it started as --one of the players on the national championship team is teaching out here now. O'HARA: Really? ROBERTSON: And so that, I think, is the big influence. And so he's --on a local basis --pick up and got enough interest, and they started getting some following, and it's beginning to grow. It's growing on its own. O'HARA: I'm going to have to follow this. This is fascinating. ROBERTSON: Yes. O'HARA: Fascinating. It would be interesting to see if it gets to the stage again of recruiting. And I often wondered if UK --and it's always sort of been a question that I've, you know, wondered about, if UK ever, with its community colleges, discouraged intramural sports across the system, but I'd never found evidence one way or another. ROBERTSON: In fact, we played the freshman team at UK. O'HARA: Really? Do you know the year? ROBERTSON: Yeah, it was in '69. O'HARA: In '69. So there was a lot of cooperation. ROBERTSON: Oh, yeah! We played the other community colleges. O'HARA: I interviewed Charles Shearer, who's the president of Transylvania now. And he was at Henderson teaching, and they had a basketball team in the late '60s. ROBERTSON: Mm-mm, sure. O'HARA: And said that they played, I think, Prestonsburg. ROBERTSON: Oh, yes, Prestonsburg. O'HARA: Had a little tournament, E'town. So I'm just surprised. I've just come across this. ROBERTSON: All the community colleges, because of us, they got-- O'HARA: Is that what inspired them? ROBERTSON: Yeah, inspired. Created their own, and we had a competition with them, and we continue to have our competition with Vincennes and with the other two-year schools all through --Rend Lake in Illinois, but we also had the --added in competition within the community college system. O'HARA: Do you recall any big tournaments or anything? ROBERTSON: Oh, yes. We had them here for the -- well, it was about '69 or '70, I guess. I just had come back and was the (laughs) academic dean, except it wasn't a dean. O'HARA: (laughs) For the moment. ROBERTSON: Yeah, but-- O'HARA: So about the ----------(??), when --what year do you think it started declining and went away from the high level-- ROBERTSON: I think it was the mid-'70s. O'HARA: Okay. ROBERTSON: And why, I think it was part of a national thing, sort of a --people began to glue themselves to the television. O'HARA: Was it in all sports areas? You mentioned baseball. Like, was there a decline in every area? ROBERTSON: Yes, I think so. O'HARA: Hm, it's a fascinating phenomenon. ROBERTSO: Across the country. O'HARA: Wow! Wow! And how long do you think the --you know, the --how long of a period --when do you think basketball and baseball and everything got established and really grew at Paducah Junior College? For a decade or longer? ROBERTSON: Oh, yes. All through the --well, the coach at PJC went on to be the coach at Memphis State, I believe, but --and then Sonny Haws came in and --Claude Haws. So there was a period there almost of twenty years when it was big. O'HARA: Wow! And what year did you start at Paducah Junior College? I should have asked you that at the beginning. ROBERTSON: Oh, good heavens! I don't remember. O'HARA: Because you were talking about --it was after World War II, the enrollment was increasing. And so I didn't know if it was the '50s or '60s. ROBERTSON: Yeah, it was the late '50s. I'd have to --I'm fuzzy on dates right now. O'HARA: And you mentioned a UK president coming to visit, if I recall correctly, at --back during that time period. Do you recall who the UK president was at that time that came in and kind of said, you know, "We're interested," because I followed the documentation in my dissertation, and I want to find out if it's who I think it is. ROBERTSON: It is. O'HARA: (laughs) So I was --it was before Oswald. It was-- ROBERTSON: It was Oswald. O'HARA: Oh, it was Oswald. Okay. And he came in '64, I believe. ROBERTSON: Mm-mm. O'HARA: Okay. So I wasn't sure if it was Dickey before then. ROERTSON: No, no. O'HARA: No, it wasn't Dickey. ROBERTSON: It was Oswald. And he was aggressive-- O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: --in pushing UK. And here was a chance also for UK to bring in a fully accredited college, which would be --we always thought we would be sort of a model for the others to go through in the accreditation process, which is what it turned out to be. O'HARA: But it is interesting how you had full accreditation and then went through a period where (laughs) you more or less under UK had partial-- ROBERTSON: Yes, but they never admitted it openly. O'HARA: Oh, sure, sure. ROBERTSON: UK --no, but we had to go through a reaccreditation process, primarily of administration. O'HARA: Okay. ROBERTSON: But it had to be done, because the title had changed and the ownership had changed. O'HARA: And that makes sense. That makes ----------(??). ROBERTSON: But even then UK did not own any of the property here. UK did not own any building here until they --they built one. But see, everything was done by funds raised locally. And later even, the Crounse Building was built by local funds. O'HARA: By Paducah Junior College, Incorporated? ROBERTSON: Well, yeah. O'HARA: Is that the foundation now? ROBERTSON: Mm-mm. O'HARA: But at that time it was a--. ROBERTSON: It was a board that still exists, and it still has control of what to do with the tax money. O'HARA: Interesting. So those are the types of decisions. When it was Paducah Junior College, what was the role of the advisory board? ROBERTSON: There was a UK advisory board, which was political, and they did nothing and we ignored them. The PJC board controlled money, and they met and they meant business and they were aggressively expanding land. Jack Rider(??) who was on the board, he was also a real estate man, and he was responsible for expanding it all the way down to its present limits. And so they began to acquire --at one time we owned Whitehaven, which is now the welcome center. And the college gave it to the state. And John Y. Brown, the governor, was wanting to build a shoebox welcome center. Instead, they restored that and made it into a historically significant welcome center. O'HARA: Nice! ROBERTSON: But --so the PJC board was active in their roles. People like Leon Williams. And that's always been the case, going back to Gov Rosenthal and the earlier --Sam Finkle, people who were interested in the college, so much so they gave of their time and their money. And so the people here in Paducah, with the help of McCracken County, basically built the school, and UK just was able to pluck it up. And I think UK was wise in doing it. I think it was beneficial for the school, but it was a period of some accommodation on both sides. O'HARA: Mm-mm. And it was unique that --as --to have its own tax base in addition to the UK funding made it unique. ROBERTSON: Well, so did Northern, now. O'HARA: Would you --yeah, I had not heard of this. Could you explain the situation with Northern because-- ROBERTSON: Well, they, like us, had been a municipal-supported school. They had local tax. And for a while, they were in the community college system, and then they broke off and became a separate four-year school. We didn't. O'HARA: Was that one of the goals of the community, to make it into a four-year school here in Paducah? ROBERTSON: I don't really --it should have been, and I think we had one president that tried that. He came up with the idea of a "communiversity." It would be a center where you could get everything up to a PhD, which we had before UK left. You could get PhDs on our campus. O'HARA: How? ROBERTSON: In education. And we --by interactive television, so we had people who went through the program. Dr. Veazey, so you know, was involved in part of that, I believe, on her work. O'HARA: On her work, interesting. ROBERTSON: But under Len O'Hara, that was when the community got together and built a building and persuaded UK to put in the college of engineering. O'HARA: That's an interesting story. Can you tell me about that arrangement? ROBERTSON: Not too much. I wasn't that much involved in it, but I know that it was the local --in fact it was George Crounse who --well, actually was heavily involved in that and almost funded it. So Paducah's always had that desire for good education, and they're willing to pay for it. O'HARA: At all levels. Just let me know if you need a break. Mr. Robertson, in 1933 Paducah Junior College offered the first terminal program leading to a two-year elementary teacher's certificate. This is what I found in some archival work. How has the role of --and I shouldn't really use the word 'terminal,' but at that time I guess it didn't transfer to a four-year degree --so technical program, how is that --the role of technical programs changed at this institution over the decades? ROBERTSON: Well, it was incidental. It was the idea of Robert Gordon Matheson, Dr. Matheson, that the college should meet local needs. And among the needs in their assessment, they found they needed to provide a place where one could get training toward your terminal degrees, and another one of these was the need for people at --we had a school in Paducah that had a history of providing such services called Draughons Business College, private school. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: And the need was so great that they were not completely meeting --and so the college began to offer courses in commerce, typing, shorthand. And Howard Hill, one of the first students to ever attend Paducah Junior College and also became a faculty member, one of the oldest long-serving faculty members, was hired to provide that sort of education, not going toward a four-year transfer, no matriculation, but to have a program that provided them with the skills to meet career goals within the community. It would also benefit the community. So in that sense we were always a true community college. O'HARA: Yes. ROBERTSON: And the same thing is true with our nursing program. We started a two-year nursing program, primarily because Dr. Ed Robertson, no relation, was one of the first surgeons to come here, and he saw a need. And so we began to set in place to train a two-year college program, because previously it had been a three-year program through hospitals, or it had been a four-year program through Murray. And so we put together this two-year package with Barbara Tescher and got it started. And when I came in, it was having some difficulty because they were frankly not doing very well on their state boards. And so there was a new head of nursing, Laverne Brown, and she came in to talk with me, and as the head of the faculty, the associate director, and we decided to change the policy in the nursing program. Previously, if you were accepted in the program, you went through and graduated. We said, "You pass your courses or you're out." In the process, we had to get rid of one tenured faculty member who we had inherited from another community college. It was a nice person, but was not a good teacher. But anyhow, we set out to bring the thing up to providing quality two-year terminal preparation. And the first year our students went through under this new set of requirements, we scored the highest rate of success in the state of Kentucky on the board examinations. O'HARA: Wow! ROBERTSON: One hundred percent. O'HARA: Just by making that change. ROBERTSON: So the college has always had that tradition in the true community college sense of trying to find what the community needs and meeting those needs, be it a course in Shakespeare for a club group, or be it a program that provides one with training in vocational --not vocational school, but --well, like in office work, nursing. And what I was rather proud of, we started one -- we found out that there were no physical therapy assistants. And the only place you could get that training was at Lexington. And so we started a two-year program here in physical therapy assistance, with Sonny Haws involved as a licensed physical therapist. And we had some resistance from the physical therapy program in Lexington, said we couldn't do it, but we did. O'HARA: (laughs) ROBERTSON: Anyhow, that program met a specific need. O'HARA: Yes. ROBERTSON: Same thing was true, we started a two-year --when I was here we started a two-year program in dental assisting. And it became a rotating program that went around all the community colleges. When they finished preparing people in one area, like here, then it moved to another one. O'HARA: Interesting. ROBERTSON: And supplied area needs. So that was what was the idea we had. We felt that we had a responsibility of meeting the needs of this community, since they were supporting us with their --not only their money, but sending their children to us. And we wanted to see to it that they got as good an education as they could get and still live at home. And so that allowed people with less fiscal resources to achieve a viable college education. O'HARA: That's interesting. When you talked about rotating the program for physical therapy assistant, do you mean that the instructors here from Paducah one year would go to another school and a community college or-- ROBERTSON: No, that was --the rotating was for dental. O'HARA: Oh, I'm sorry, for dental. ROBERTSON: No, the one --in the two-year here, we trained a group, got them licensed, they filled the need for the local community, and then there was no more need for it, so we quit training. O'HARA: Oh, for a while, I see. You just brought it in whenever the need opened back up. ROBERTSON: But when we got the other started, others had a similar need, and so the equipment and that sort of thing could be moved around. O'HARA: Interesting, interesting. West Kentucky Industrial College, as we spoke of before the interview, it offered technical programs to postsecondary students from early in the nineteenth century. ROBERTSON: Well, we'll have to back up a bit on that. West Kentucky Industrial College was a two-year college. O'HARA: Oh, okay. ROBERTSON: And then in 1938, it became West Kentucky Technical School, which was a postsecondary vocational training school only. It did not have any traditional college-level courses. They had all been moved to Kentucky State. And so for example, black teachers had to go all the way to Frankfort to get certification. O'HARA: And that occurred in 1938. ROBERTSON: Yeah. O'HARA: The transition to Frankfort-- ROBERTSON: Right. O'HARA: --for the certification. At that point, did the --let's see if I get the name right, West Kentucky Vocational School-- ROBERTSON: Ceased to exist. O'HARA: It ceased to exist. What was started-- ROBERTSON: I mean, West Kentucky Vocational School was the school that remained. O'HARA: Oh, okay. ROBERTSON: West Kentucky Industrial College disappeared. O'HARA: And so the vocational school, West Kentucky Vocational School, was it built on the land that adjoined the Paducah Community College? ROBERTSON: Well, originally it was located in the west end, and that facility became antiquated and required quite a massive restoration. So the decision was made --we offered the land if they would build a new vocational school to serve Western Kentucky. And the college offered them land, and that's where that merger came from. And the Anderson Building was named for Dr. Anderson, who was the founder of the original industrial college here in 1910. O'HARA: And it served as postsecondary school when --at that location. ROBERTSON: It was all postsecondary, but they offer --did begin to offer some college-level work as they went on. They had certificates, and they had other --so they were in the process of moving toward what became the merged institution. O'HARA: And what year did they build out there, approximately? I'm wondering how early the collaboration between Paducah Community College and West Kentucky Vocational School began to develop. ROBERTSON: Way on, when we were downtown, our faculty used to go out to West Kentucky Vocational School and have lunch-- O'HARA: Really? ROBERTSON: --when it was not fashionable to go to a black school if you were white. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: They had a wonderful cooking school. O'HARA: Hm. ROBERTSON: And the tradition continued. So we had good relations with them. In fact, a lot of their faculty would come over and take courses with us for their accreditation. O'HARA: And that was prior to the move. ROBERTSON: Yeah. O'HARA: Wow! ROBERTSON: So going back that far. O'HARA: Was that when it was still Paducah Junior College? ROBERTSON: Yes, it was still Paducah Junior College. O'HARA: Wow! So very early on there was-- ROBERTSON: So I think that's one thing that --even though we were a trial case to end segregation, the lawsuit brought by the NAACP against Paducah Junior College went all the way through the Sixth Court of Appeals in federal court. And it was a test case that helped make the University of Louisville decide to integrate and the University of Texas. So we were involved in the end of segregation under the --well, Plessy v. Ferguson interpretation. O'HARA: Wow! ROBERTSON: Separate but equal as acceptable. O'HARA: It's interesting, the historical role that Paducah's played in so many of these national movements and statewide movements. What was a significant moment you experienced as a faculty member, administrator, at Paducah Junior College --Community College? What buildings did you primarily reside in? Do you have some fond memories of students and events? ROBERTSON: Oh, you remember students, you remember faculty, you remember moments. For example, one of the things I have always treasured, when I first started teaching full-time in the early '60s, I had a night class, U.S. history. And it was quite fashionable at that time for veterans to take classes. And at the Draughons Business College, they just signed up and got their money and never attended. O'HARA: Hm. ROBERTSON: Or at least that's what we thought, but not necessarily, because I know people who insist that they did the work. But there was sort of that image, that you could get by with, you know, it's just a two-year school, so we'll rip the government off a little bit. So I had this old long, lanky boy came in, taking a night class in history. And first test, I gave it back to him, his eyes opened, "Is this right? I got an A." I said, "No, you earned an A." He had never gotten an A in history in his life. O'HARA: Really? ROBERTSON: He was a Vietnam veteran, I believe. He came back. He was taking it just --he got interested in it. He got a PhD in biology. O'HARA: Oh, my goodness! ROBERTSON: Now, you remember something like that. O'HARA: Yes, because you --that's the type of moments I remember in my life, when a teacher showed me that I am capable. ROBERTSON: And you know, it was a good paper. O'HARA: Neat. Wow! ROBERTSON: So you remember things like that, and then you remember people. At the old school we had (laughs) --this was downtown, it was small, it was crowded, we all knew each other, you know. And there was one point where you stood there, you could see everybody in the school during the daytime, right in front of Dr. Matheson's office. But we had this faculty member who taught chemistry, who was the most feared man on campus. A "C" with Charles Smith was an "A" [at] any other college in the university in the United States. O'HARA: (laughs) ROBERTSON: He wanted to be a doctor. He'd been injured in a motorcycle accident. He had a withered arm, and he couldn't use one arm, but he got to be interested in herpetology. In his doctoral dissertation, he was trying to synthesize the toxin in venom so he could kill cancer cells. So he would go out to Murphy's Pond. And as PJC, we took our students on field trips frequently. O'HARA: Neat! ROBERTSON: We had Nat Dortch, who was a geologist. And by the way, he has a fossil named after him. He would take his students out, and they would go to these spar mines in Southern Illinois and in Livingston County and go down in the mines. He'd take them to rock quarries. He'd walk them into the ground. O'HARA: Wow! ROBERTSON: Chuck Smith would take his students to Murphy's Pond, which is a wildlife refuge, and they would catch water moccasins and rattlesnakes and bring them back. O'HARA: Wow! ROBERTSON: And Smith, one arm, remember, would come back with a six-foot long rattlesnake. [End of side 1, tape 1] [Begin side 2, tape 1] ROBERTSON: --the men's faculty restroom. I had to go down there one time, and the light was off as, you know, we were dreadfully poor. O'HARA: You had to watch the electricity. ROBERTSON: At that time, a bulb was out. We couldn't replace it. And I started down these two steps to go into this men's restroom and I heard a slither. O'HARA: You're braver than I am (laughs). ROBERTSON: I stopped. One of Chuck's pets had gotten out. O'HARA: Oh, no. ROBERTSON: There was a copperhead down there on the steps. O'HARA: Oh, no. ROBERTSON: Well, you remember something like that. O'HARA: (laughs) How did they catch it? ROBERTSON: Why, he went down there and grabbed it and stuck it back in the cage. O'HARA: Oh, like no big deal. ROBERTSON: No. O'HARA: (laughs) Interesting. Oh, yeah. You know, so was there a policy after that? That's how policies are born. ROBERTSON: No. O'HARA: Good, good. They just let it go. ROBERTSON: (laughs) Just be careful where you step. O'HARA: (laughs) No wonder he was feared. ROBERTSON: Oh. And -- oh, feared. Well, we put --we had this basketball team, remember. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: And they were always looking for a crib course because they had to study and they had to perform too. O'HARA: Yeah, mm-mm. ROBERTSON: So they wanted an easy four hours. Well, there was a new course in the schedule, and they didn't know what it was. And they all gathered around the office down there. I got this from Dr. Matheson, and he was a dour Scot that never --you know, but he had a wicked sense of humor. And these basketball players were looking at the schedule. They said, "What is this new course, histology?" And with a perfectly straight face, he said, "Well, that's history backward. Instead of starting way back and coming up, you start up and you go backward." "Hey, that's a good course. Four hours!" The whole team signed up for it. O'HARA: Oh, no. (laughs) ROBERTSON: They walked in, and there was Chuck Smith with his microscopes. Mass panic set in (laughs). O'HARA: I bet they didn't last two minutes (laughs). ROBERTSON: They didn't (laughs). They all changed courses, I think. But anyhow, you remember things like that. O'HARA: Yeah. ROBERTSON: A bit of humor now and then. O'HARA: Those are great! And those were all back down at the downtown campus or the-- ROBERTSON: There was a closeness there that, frankly, we lost when we moved out to the new facility. But you've got a different sense there. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: We felt that we were better. We were --we felt that we were offering as good a course or better. Our motto is, "If we can't offer a better course than graduate assistants do in universities, then we have no use in being." We felt we offered better programs-- O'HARA: Wow! ROBERTSON: --than you found in a lot of university settings. O'HARA: And that was the whole purpose. That was the goal. There seems to be such passion in the community. ROBERTSON: And that's what we played for when I was there and-- O'HARA: How many --what was your enrollment? Do you recall back before the move? ROBERTSON: Oh, I think we got up to about 500 one time, a little over. O'HARA: In that one or two buildings downtown? ROBERTSON: Well, yeah. We had a few little outbuildings (laughs) here and there. O'HARA: (laughs) ROBERTSON: Labs, that sort of thing. But --so it was pretty well packed in. O'HARA: Interesting. ROBERTSON: And the night school, see, we started night schools under Dr. Matheson to meet needs. O'HARA: Really? ROBERTSON: And-- O'HARA: These are all early roles of community colleges. ROBERTSON: That man was a leader in the two-year movement nationally that is not really recognized. O'HARA: No. I mean, you're mentioning terminal programs, you know, veterans, you've got the-- ROBERTSON: Well, he also wrote the guidelines for the junior college inter- --athletic programs. O'HARA: For the nation? ROBERTSON: Well, for what we were in. O'HARA: Or the region? Wow! Was he aware that he was a part of the community college movement? Or was he just doing (laughs) what he thought was right? ROBERTSON: Well, he studied with some of the tops in the two-year college movement when he was at Peabody. He got his doctorate at Peabody. And so he had worked with Doak Campbell and others that were the leaders in the two-year college movement. O'HARA: So he was aware. Neat! ROBERTSON: But he's often times overlooked, and I think his contribution to the University of Kentucky was well received. He earned his money, and he saw to it that they got through a difficult procedure. O'HARA: And he has a very lengthy tenure too, correct? ROBERTSON: Yes. O'HARA: With Paducah. ROBERTSON: He came here --well, the college started in '32, and he came here in about '34, I guess it was, with the understanding that if he didn't get a tax bill approved, that he would give it up. And by the way, the way they did that, they worded the question on the ballet, that if you voted no, it was a yes. And they went out and informed all the people in the west end of Paducah who had the money, and they knew how to vote (laughs). Then the people that had all the votes, they didn't bother to tell them. So it worked very nicely. O'HARA: Interesting. It's always interesting, voting time, huh? Yeah, that's --that is. You were talking about --early on you were talking about the merger with the University of Kentucky and all the changes, the pros and the cons. And what I'm wondering is, do you see any comparison between 1968, that period of time and that consolidation with the University of Kentucky, and the late '90s, early 21st century, where the new legislation went through with House Bill 1 and postsecondary that merged the vocational school with the --I'm wondering if there is any historical cycles we're going through. ROBERTSON: If you believe in that sort of thing, it may be the beginning of a cycle. I don't really think that history necessarily travels in cycles. It travels in a direction, and it may go in cycles around that. So yes, I think there was a --the precedent was there because the university had colleges throughout the entire state and oftentimes associated with those or near those were vocational schools. And they began to actually cooperate some, which is unusual, Henderson and other places, and built, you know, adjacent structures. And I think the movement was there and starting. And as I said, I was for it, although the university treated me very well. I have no complaint there. But it seemed to me that it was a logical thing to do, and you could also avoid this duplication that was going on, because they were beginning to offer programs that were competing with the community colleges. And vocational schools are aggressively growing, and we were aggressively growing, and duplication was inevitable. By combining them, you should be able to avoid part of that and focus and make better use of your resources. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: And as I wrote, I think, of something at the time that someone asked my opinion on that, I thought that would be a logical way of making better use of limited resources. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: Of course, I also taught economics for PCC and Murray State University, so I did have a little background in that and thought that efficiency would be better than competition. OHARA: Yes. ROBERTSON: That was inefficient. O'HARA: Yes, definitely. And it appears at Paducah --in Paducah this movement, I think, towards coordination began a lot earlier than most other places across the state. Of course, going back, the whole history of the college is so much earlier. But it's interesting. Barbara Veazey was telling me there was a lot of-- ROBERTSON: We worked at it. We worked at it. We were trying to cooperate --we offered Murray State free use of our facilities to bring their courses over here. That way our people in Paducah could get upper-level work. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: We cooperated. O'HARA: And what about --what was that time period? How-- ROBERTSON: That was the '60s, '-7, '68. O'HARA: Now, did they take advantage of that? ROBERTSON: Oh, sure. O'HARA: Okay. So Murray's been cooperating with you all for-- ROBERTSON: A long time. But in that period when we first started with UK, they were backing off, and we'd lost all that rapport we had built up. And the same thing is true with Clemens and I. We tried to restore it and did, and got them to accept our courses and --well, and then later when O'Hara came in, for example, with his "communiversity," that was a stick in the eye for Murray because it got into their concept of what their role was. O'HARA: Oh, it gave them some competition, yeah. ROBERTSON: Oh, yeah! And so they began to back off, and we lost some of that cooperation that had been there. I think maybe that's coming back again. So we find these little turf wars going on; that's inevitable. O'HARA: I looked at the turf wars in the early 1960s for my dissertation at the time that the legislation in 1962 was passed for a community college system. And there was a lot of the regional colleges where one of the other options that they were proposing was to cut up the state into five pieces and each regional college have their own community college system. Was there talk in Paducah of aligning with Murray? ROBERTSON: I think Dean Matheson was in favor of it. O'HARA: But why didn't that occur? Was it mostly because of Bert Combs -- ROBERTSON: The board of trustees of Paducah Junior College; they wanted UK. O'HARA: Oh, that's interesting. ROBERTSON: UK was more prestigious, and so there you have that local control coming in. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: And I think they were wise. O'HARA: Well, UK gave it the --definitely the prestige, the system, you know, and the financial backing for struggling --especially with other community colleges that-- ROBERTSON: Well, yes. And you think about it, the president of UK was a former associate director at Maysville Community College, and then he became the director of Maysville. And Dr. Wethington, when he was there, the community colleges were treated on an equal basis with the college of medicine and you name it. We felt we were a part of the university. I don't know that's true now. I mean, before the split. O'HARA: Interesting. Why did it take Paducah so long to join the community college system, because the talks that I found and you mentioned, it might have been the late 50s is the first time, you know, that this idea of becoming a part of UK had been mentioned. And then it wasn't until '68 that they actually joined. ROBERTSON: Well, UK didn't know that anything existed west of Louisville, I think. O'HARA: (laughs) ROBERTSON: Really, they're focused on the Bluegrass. And they were. They were very parochial, and it took a shock to get them to think that they were actually a statewide university. O'HARA: And that they had a land-grant mission? ROBERTSON: Yeah. Well, they've always had that and they did that very well. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: Like the agricultural station at Princeton. But in --as far as looking at the whole area as being their responsibility, they focused more and more on the Bluegrass for a long time. O'HARA: That's interesting. I didn't realize that because-- ROBERTSON: That's our perception. O'HARA: Well, that's a good perception. I-- ROBERTSON: The people here in Paducah, when they wanted to go to a good school, they would go to --they would either go to the University of Tennessee or they would go to Vanderbilt. O'HARA: They're much closer. ROBERTSON: Yeah, but not the University of Tennessee. That's Knoxville. O'HARA: Yes. Yeah, that's a different caliber. ROBERTSON: So --even so, it had a reputation for academics that UK didn't. UK was a party school with a basketball team. O'HARA: Mm-mm. Mm-mm. That's what's interesting. It's interesting to get the perspectives from both sides, because other people in the state have thought that UK's just trying to --was trying to stretch its political arms with the community colleges, but to know that-- ROBERTSON: Well of course, that did help them. O'HARA: But there are two sides to every --you know, every story. And that's what's so interesting, to see how Western Kentucky kind of felt like it was left out for a long time. ROBERTSON: Yeah. But they would have willingly merged in with Murray. And we were doing it! O'HARA: Really? ROBERTSON: We had Murray on campus. O'HARA: Already in the early '60s. ROBERTSON: You could stay here and go through and get a four-year degree. O'HARA: And then they pulled that right out in '68? ROBERTSON: Well, they still have it here. O'HARA: They have it here. ROBERTSON: They moved off our campus and have it at the Crisp Building. O'HARA: Oh, interesting. ROBERTSON: And --so we cooperate. We also at the time --one time we were cooperating, and we had a program where the faculty came from Eastern. O'HARA: All the way from Eastern? ROBERTSON: Yes, we offered the only law enforcement program, two-year program, in the state. O'HARA: I didn't know that. And of course, Eastern has a reputation for their law enforcement. ROBERTSON: Yeah. And so they came down and supplied the teachers we couldn't. And we also --I wrote the curriculum for the two-year program in fire science for the state of Kentucky. O'HARA: Really? That's a very popular program right now. ROBERTSON: Yeah. O'HARA: Very popular. ROBERTSON: And Paducah Community College started it. O'HARA: These are things that are unknown, you know, across the system. I think it's fascinating. ROBERTSON: Well, I got --DeVry Institute in Chicago helped me a great deal, and the vocational system of California sent me curriculum guides for fire science. O'HARA: And how --was that a more recent development or has that been quite a while? ROBERTSON: Well, they don't even use it now anymore, I don't think. We had several graduates, and one guy went ahead and got a master's degree and taught it for the whole --in the state out here, taught fire science. O'HARA: Because they do --the current system now has a fire science degree, but I don't know that they did seven years ago. ROBERTSON: Well, I think I'll take credit for that. O'HARA: It just --it might be. ROBERTSON: John Cromwell was the one that really started that. O'HARA: Huh. ROBERTSON: He was the other associate director here, and he was developing programs for community benefit. And so we had the fire marshal come in, who happened to be living in Paducah. And so we had a big meeting and found out the need was here. And then I came on, and I brought in the guy from Boston who was the head of the National Fire Protection Association. And we had a meeting, and we began to bring in --we got people from far away as Cairo, Illinois, coming again to these meetings. And a need was there, and so we established a --that we had a need for a program, and we got a program and carried it through. And we had big, big objections from Louisville, because the fire chief in Louisville was trying to do the same thing at the community college in Louisville. O'HARA: Really? ROBERTSON: But we got it through. O'HARA: But you're so far away, you know, you'd think they wouldn't be so territorial. But that's interesting. What you just described was finding out what the need of the area was. ROBERTSON: That's the policy of a community college. That's what we always felt was our mission. O'HARA: But your role as an associate director was much like what a dean does. They identify need and then they pull it in and-- ROBERTSON: I was hired as-- O'HARA: A dean. ROBERTSON: --a dean, and they didn't have deans in the community college system. They only had two, and they were with the whole system. And so the head of the college here was the director. O'HARA: Mm-mm. ROBERTSON: And he had the associate director. We had one -- that was me -- and then we had assistant directors. O'HARA: Oh, okay. ROBERTSON: So there was a hierarchy but it was a -- O'HARA: But you functioned in that capacity. Interesting, yeah. It's interesting, they changed the names, but you essentially did the work of a dean for a college (laughs). ROBERTSON: Well, I thought I was going to do that, and I was --well, I was very unhappy in the position for a long time. O'HARA: I can understand. I can understand why. Well, I --Paducah has such a long and interesting history. I was just looking briefly at some of the excerpts from my dissertation that I wrote. One thing, we are looking for people to interview for the Northern Kentucky campus. And because it merged into Northern Kentucky College and then University; it's been harder for us to locate people to interview from the very early period. ROBERTSON: Mm-mm. O'HARA: Do you happen to have any leads? ROBERTSON: Not now. All of them I knew are --when you think about it, I have very few contemporaries (laughs). O'HARA: Well, you've got quite a knowledge base here. I was very fortunate to find you, and everyone highly recommended you. So I'm going to take a look at some of your books and little pieces and nuggets in there that you have. Well, is there anything else you want to add about the history of this institution that has been-- ROBERTSON: I think this institution has always been unique. It had a sense of purpose based upon community needs that drove it, more so than, I think, other places, I may be wrong. But it also had a base. People in this town supported our efforts, reluctantly at times, but nevertheless there was always that core built around the board, if you wish, these lifetime appointees, who had the pulse of the community, and that helped. Now the UK-appointed board, fluff. I don't think they really did anything. They were maybe a part of that political buddy system where they award them for helping, but I'm, again, very biased on that. But they then merged in with and became the same as the PJC board. So having that, a strong local-based group to help you develop policy, may be the key to why this thing did work here. O'HARA: You mentioned something unique. They were lifetime board members, correct? ROBERTSON: Mm-mm. O'HARA: And Dr. Veazey mentioned that yesterday. That is unique, right? Most boards have limited terms. ROBERTSON: I don't know. O'HARA: I'm not sure how that works in every case. ROBETSON: I'm not sure. O'HARA: But there was never a problem with lifetime. Evidently these were very upstanding individuals who really-- ROBERTSON: That was it. They were interested. They were --that was the key, that was the lock. O'HARA: Wow! ROBERTSON: They opened it. They-- O'HARA: Had the stability. ROBERTSON: --had the stability. And of course, it took a good leader to present programs to, and we've been fortunate to have some people who were quite capable. O'HARA: Well, Mr. Robertson, I've really enjoyed interviewing you. And I think we could probably do more interviews on more topics. But thank you so much for your time today, and I really appreciate it. ROBERTSON: Well, thank you. [End of interview.] Oral history with John Roberston, associate director of Paducah Community and Technical College. Interview highlights include being history of Paducah Junior College, transition during the 1960's to Paducah Community College. Robertson discusses student activities including the successful basketball team during the mid 1970's and their successful academic programs including nursing, fire science and engineering. Concludes with remembrances of faculty and students as well as Paducah's incorporation into KCTCS as West Kentucky Community and Technical College. insert here