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2008-05-21 Interview with Bill Cox, May 21, 2008 CC001:2008OH124 CC 47 01:14:57 History of Kentucky's Community Colleges Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Madisonville Community and Technical College Bill Cox; interviewee John Klee; interviewer 2008OH124_CC47_Cox 1:|13(8)|26(7)|45(5)|57(8)|79(3)|90(4)|101(1)|119(8)|143(2)|161(1)|171(4)|183(9)|196(9)|204(14)|219(1)|232(2)|247(3)|266(4)|279(5)|305(6)|313(5)|335(1)|355(3)|370(4)|381(2)|397(5)|405(11)|423(5)|461(13)|491(2)|502(8)|522(3)|548(3)|569(10)|580(1)|598(8)|624(7)|643(1)|653(2)|663(4)|675(13)|687(3)|699(16)|719(13)|732(13)|755(7)|767(8)|782(3)|810(2)|828(2)|841(11)|852(4)|858(8)|871(3)|889(12)|903(12)|916(10)|937(2)|956(4)|964(11)|980(7)|1003(5)|1009(11)|1024(9)|1044(6)|1066(1)|1076(9)|1096(8)|1107(5)|1129(13)|1143(11)|1155(8)|1174(1)|1188(2) audiotrans CommuColl interview KLEE: Let's see if I can hear my voice. That's good. The following is an unrehearsed interview for the University of Kentucky as part of the University of Kentucky Community College System Histories. The interview is being conducted by John Klee in Frankfort, Kentucky on May 21, 2008. I am interviewing Mr. Bill Cox in his offices here in the State Office Building on High Street. Mr. Cox, I'd like to start with just a, um, tell me about your personal background; your family, your education. COX: Oh, I am originally from Hopkins County in Western Kentucky, Madisonville. I was born there in 1942. My father was a farmer and did some public work later in life. Uh, he served in the Kentucky House of Representatives and also in the Senate. KLEE: I see. COX: Uh, my mother was a very accomplished musician and, um, uh, also, uh, wrote poetry and, in fact, had some of her poems published. I have an older brother and an older sister. Um-- KLEE: Can you tell me your parents' names and your mother's maiden name? COX: My father's name was, uh, John Henry Cox, and my mother's name was Mary Elizabeth Whitfield Cox. Uh, she was born in Morton's Gap, Kentucky, on July, I believe, July the 11th, 1910, and my father was born in Charleston, Kentucky, uh, on April the 9th of 1909. They both graduated from Madisonville High School as did my sister and my brother and I. KLEE: Okay. COX: Uh, my father received a football scholarship to Western Kentucky University and went over there in the summer for, uh, uh, the beginning of football, uh, practice and conditioning for the fall and didn't like it and didn't like Bowling Green and, uh, got on the train and went home and never finished, uh, college. Uh, nor did my mother. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: My older brother, uh, and I and my, uh, wife and our two children, uh, are graduates of the University of Kentucky. KLEE: I see. COX: Uh, my sister did not graduate from college. She has most of her hours from Murray, but, uh, she did not complete her degree. KLEE: As a--you went to Madisonville High School, you said, and as a senior there, uh, was there some reason UK was your choice? COX: Uh, there, uh, there never was any question within our family about where you would go to, to college. You simply would, you would go to UK. Uh, my father had, uh, tremendous respect for the University of Kentucky gained primarily through his years in the General Assembly. Um, so there never was any debate. Now on both of our children, uh, I told them they could go wherever they wanted to go except they could not go to Berkeley or to Old Miss. If they were going to do that, that I had rather just pile the money up and burn it, but, uh, but they both went to UK and both graduated. Uh, our son later came back as what is known, I think, as a nontraditional student and applied for law school at, uh, Northern, UK and U of L, and he was accepted at Northern and U of L and, uh, was not accepted at UK. And he went on to graduate with honors from the law school at U of L, and he is now mayor of the city of Madisonville. KLEE: Is that right? COX: Which is an office I held, uh, fifteen or eighteen years ago. KLEE: Uh-hm. [Pause in recording.] KLEE: --college, uh, what were you majoring in? What were you thinking about for a career? COX: I majored in political science and history and, uh, was not a good student at all. Uh, I think probably my political science courses and my history courses would be, uh, probably a 3.0 or better, but on other things, particularly things in which I had no interest and if I had, uh, a weak professor, uh, I'd get a C or a D or, uh, flunk it and take it over. KLEE: Right. COX: And, um, I think that more than anything else that it was a reflection of- - I was the youngest of three children, and I was very immature. And the truth of the matter is, uh, uh, in high school, uh, I have no memory of ever studying for an exam. KLEE: Is that right? Uh-hm. COX: And when I got to UK that would work in political science and history. It doesn't work well in physics--(laughs)--or, uh, uh, some other more, uh, technical, uh, uh, botany and different things. But at any rate, uh, I was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity at UK, and I have often said that other than my family, my mother and my father. that the, the Christian church, the Disciples of Christ church, uh, the boy scouts and Kappa Sigma fraternity did more to shape, uh, whatever kind of, uh, of adult I turned out to be than, than anything else, uh, any other factors. KLEE: Did you make a lot of, uh, contacts that you were able to, I mean, became important to you throughout your life? COX: Now, at UK? Yes. KLEE: At UK or maybe in the fraternity- - COX: Well, both but, but at UK in particular, um, I made a lot of contacts that are still-- KLEE: Can you think of any specific, give me any specific names or anything? Anybody jump to mind? COX: Oh, uh, I think one of my dearest friends, uh, was a young man from Middlesboro, Kentucky, uh, Joseph Patrick Greer, and, um, Pat now lives in Richmond. KLEE: I see. COX: Built a new house out on that new golf course over there; moved over from Lexington two or three years ago. Uh, we were very close. Uh, uh, interestingly, uh, there were probably a half dozen members of the fraternity from Middlesboro and about a half a dozen from Madisonville. KLEE: I see. COX: And so we used to go to either Middlesboro or Madisonville fairly often on weekends and, um, uh, and Pineville and, um-- KLEE: Two different directions entirely, weren't they? COX: Uh-hm. Uh-hm. KLEE: Well, it gave you, uh, uh, I guess a taste of that part of the state that you probably hadn't had too much contact with. COX: I'd had none. I'd had none. KLEE: Right. COX: And so that was, uh, uh, was an education within itself, and, um-- KLEE: What happened to you right out--oh, I, before I get that, those were--I'm not sure--but those might have been the Thomas Clark years at UK. COX: They were. KLEE: Was that one of your professors? COX: Yes. I had history, Kentucky history, and, uh, one morning, uh, he came in the class and he said, "Well, in the Courier Journal this morning a former student of mine announced for governor. He sat right there in the chair next to where Mr. Cox is, and his name was Edward Breathitt. Now you've heard me talk about Breathitt County," and off he went. And so that particular morning, uh, the entire lecture was on, uh, uh, Ned Breathitt soon to become Governor Breathitt, on his family's background and I think I'm recalling right that it was, uh, maybe his great-grandfather or great-uncle who was Governor Breathitt for, for whom Breathitt County was named. Yes. Um, also one day I remember Dr. Clark stopped me and said, um, "I know that you live near Central City." And I said, "Yes, I do." And he said, "And do you know where Paradise is?" And I said, "Yes, and I know where Fort Avery is." And his face lit up and he started laughing, and he said, "I was going to ask you if you'd ever been to Fort Avery." I said, "I've been there." "Well, tell me about it." So I told him, and he said, "Well, um, can you still see the furnaces where the, where they, uh, fired the, uh, uh, minerals, the ores." KLEE: The iron. Uh-hm. COX: And, um, I said, "Yes, you can, and there are also some remains of gun emplacements." And, uh, through the years when we would run into each other, he would, he would always come over and say hello and, uh, we would talk. Um, now there was never any problem in making a good grade in Dr. Clark's class because he was so knowledgeable and because of the way that he dealt with the subject matter, uh, you didn't have to study for one of Clark's exams. Uh, he'd covered everything that was on it, and if you simply would go and sit there, uh-- KLEE: Yeah. Pay attention. COX: Yeah. So, uh, uh, he was one of my favorites. Um, Jack Reeves was one of my favorites and called me in one day and said, "I want to assign you a special term paper." "All right," I said, and he said, "I want you to do an article, do a paper on whether the people of Kentucky have a right to call a constitutional convention under article four of the Constitution," which says that any burdensome or onerous government the people have the right to overthrow and change and alter or whatever. So--and that was my first introduction into a lot of things like Black Stone, but anyway, uh, to make a long story short I came to the conclusion no, they can't. That it's not that repressive. It's that inconvenient and that antiquated, but it's not that oppressive. So he gave me an A for the semester. He gave me an A on the term paper, and he said, "That's not the answer that I wanted to hear." And we both laughed, and he said, "And I don't agree with you, but it is a beautifully done paper." And I said, "I appreciate it." And as he was prone to do, I got about halfway down the hall of Splinter, old Splinter Hall, and he stuck his head out and said, "Oh, Mr. Cox, I don't believe that I agree with you." (laughs) And we both had a good laugh out of that, uh, which I found interesting. KLEE: Right. (laughs) COX: Yeah. He was one of my favorites. One of, one of the best professors I had but who, who did not have a pleasing, uh, uh, hail fellow, well-met personality, he was Malcolm Jewell. Now Malcolm Jewell was just as bright as ----------(??), but he did not have many people skills and made little effort to acquire them. KLEE: (laughs) COX: He didn't care. Now Van Landingham on the other hand, uh, uh, was courteous to the students to a fault, uh, and yet he was, uh, a very capable, very capable professor, um, I thought. KLEE: As you, when you graduated from college, what was your next, uh, position or what happened to you? COX: Well, my wife graduated in the spring of '63, and we married in the summer of '63. And she took a job teaching at Leestown Junior High. Uh-- KLEE: Can you tell me her name? COX: Edith, Edith Pritchett Cox. Her father, David Pritchett, was at the time the Commissioner of Finance, and so I said, "Well, I'm going to transfer out of arts and science because I can go to education, and she can teach and I'm done." So I went over to, uh, I guess it was Lyman Ginger at the time. I can't recall. I believe he, maybe he was the dean. I went over to the dean's office, and they said, Yes. That's right. Said, You'll have to take Teacher in American School and something else and do your student teaching. So her father, at the time, was the Commissioner of Finance in Kentucky, and he was a big friend with the fellow who ran Maintenance and Operations at UK. KLEE: Uh-hm. At the University? I'm going to put this up here. COX: Uh-hm. KLEE: Okay. COX: And so he said--the fellow's name was Farris, and his nickname was Fuzzy Farris. KLEE: (laughs) COX: But anyway, he said, "Well, bring him in." Said, "I'll, I'll help him get a job where he can finish and student teach," which meant, of course, I had to work at night. KLEE: So you were a young newlywed at this time? COX: Yeah, twenty, twenty-one years old. KLEE: Going to school and working at night? COX: So we got over there, and he said, "Well, I'll tell you what we'll do." He said, uh, "As big as he is and everything," he said, "we'll put him on the police force. We'll put him on the UK police force and let him work 4:00 till 11:00 and then on weekends, he'll have to swing and work 11:00 to 7:00," which was all right with me. I didn't care. KLEE: Right. COX: So I went over to the building across the street from the administration building, and there was a fellow over there that was in charge of the police force among other things. And I can't recall his name, but he did, but he traveled all over Kentucky as a judge in flower shows, um, particularly floral arrangements. But anyway, so I went over to that building across the street there. It was on almost- -well, it was, it was in an island. Limestone was on one side and something else on the other, back side. I can't remember, but anyway got measured for uniforms and took the written stuff and filled out all the papers and all that, quit the job I had. And the day before I was to go to work, they called and said, We won't be able to use you. KLEE: Oh, my. COX: I don't know what--never did know what that was all about, but I assume that, that they were afraid they would get criticism over having the, the Commissioner of Finance's son on the payroll. I never did understand. KLEE: Huh. COX: Uh, and I never really got over it, uh, because it, it was, um, it was a really--put us in a difficult-- KLEE: Sure. COX: But, uh, anyway I went on and got a job in the Top Value Redemption Store on Saturdays, and, uh-- KLEE: What was it? The Top Value? COX: Top Value Redemption. Remember the stamp? Top Value stamps? KLEE: Uh-hm. Yeah. COX: And, uh, found other work, and, uh, so we made it through that year. And so I finished in December, and so I signed up to go back for graduation because I think my brother probably graduated cum laude and when I graduated all of my family said I was graduating laude laude. So they all wanted pictures and everything and my mother in particular, so I signed up and paid the fees for graduation and, uh, went to Madisonville. We moved to Madisonville, and I went to work running the Chamber of Commerce in Madisonville. And one morning, I picked up the Courier at my desk there in Madisonville, and I had a--I remember I had a cup of coffee there--and over in the statewide section, it had an article "Today is Commencement Day at UK". KLEE: Oh. COX: And they forgot to send me a card, so I missed-- KLEE: You missed commencement? COX: I missed the commencement at UK. KLEE: Huh. Well, you were a young man of twenty-three, twenty-four, uh, working the Chamber of Commerce. Was that a relatively new organization? COX: No. I was actually, I was twenty--uh, when I went to work there I was twenty-two. KLEE: Okay. COX: No. The man who was running it passed away, and two very distinct groups took sides and squared off in Madisonville; one that wanted another part-time, elderly, retired semi- or quasi-retired, and the other said, No, we're going to get somebody young where we can be more aggressive. And, well, that side won. KLEE: Okay. COX: And, um, uh, so I went to work, uh, and that was in the spring of sixty--that was in January of '66. KLEE: Okay. Had you heard of community colleges at that point? COX: Yes. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: The one I was most familiar with and the one at one point I considered I might go to the first year maybe rather than go to UK was at Henderson. KLEE: Uh-hm. Right. COX: And I'm not sure but what that's, that was not the first one. KLEE: Uh-hm. Yeah. I knew it was early. COX: I kind of believe Henderson may have been the first one. KLEE: Okay. What about, uh, in, in--when did the first, um, connection to a community college in Madisonville, as far as your knowledge is concerned, uh, when did that occur? COX: My father was the state representative, and Murray State University had been sending professors to Madisonville, uh, two nights a week one semester and Western would the next. And they were teaching in the high school at night, and as the classes continued, UK started sending people. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: And it reached the point where they had too many students, and the president of Western at the time--I think I'm telling this right. I believe it was Kelly, uh, Thompson--and he came to Madisonville and had, uh, and met Harry Sparks. And Harry Sparks and Dad were, were good friends, and Harry-- KLEE: What was his role in the community? Was he just a-- COX: He was president of Murray. KLEE: Ah, okay. COX: And President Sparks said, "Now listen," said, "UK is going to end up with this. This is going to be a community college, and UK is going to end up with it. And we're going to--Kelly and I have talked, and we're going to stay with you until you can get the legislation passed and get--we're not going to run out from under you, but you're going to have to start because this is not the right way to run this program. This, this," he said, "We're down to the point where now some semesters we have to beg somebody to come, and that's not good." He said, "You want professors who want to teach," and so Dad said, "Well, we'll go to work on it." Well, the Chamber, we--within the chamber--we set up a committee. Uh, my father-in-law was still over as the Commissioner of Finance, so I came up here and I said, "We've got to find a way to build a building because they can't keep--there are too many professors. They don't have an office. They can't leave anything. They have to take everything out every night. This, this is," - -and he said, "Well, what can you all build a building for?" "Well, I don't know." "Well," he said, "get Dr. Hartford. Let's get him in it." And my father-in-law was a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a degree in engineering--well, he had a degree in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. KLEE: Okay. COX: So Dr. Ellis Hartford came over, and he--well, to make a long story short, Mr. Pritchett said, my father-in-law said, "Well, I have that much money to lapse." He said, "I'll build the building. You all put the college in that." So he went over and Combs was governor, and Governor Combs said, "Yeah. Go ahead." He said, "That's cheaper than getting into the fight now over a community college." KLEE: I see. COX: So they called it the Madisonville extension college. KLEE: An extension of the University of Kentucky? Is that right or-- COX: Cooperative Extension. Madisonville Cooperative Extension College. KLEE: Okay. COX: Which was between UK, Western and Murray, and it was a cooperative, i.e. a joint venture. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: He built the building. KLEE: So you had a, you had connections with the--Mr. Pritchett was the Commissioner of-- COX: Pritchett. KLEE: Pritchett was Commissioner of, uh, Finance, you said, and Governor Combs was okay with it. COX: Yeah. And see my wife had worked for Governor Combs in the Governor's office. KLEE: I see. And your father was state representative? COX: Yes. KLEE: And then you had Ellis Hartford from UK who was the first, uh, community college person, sort of, wasn't he or was he-- COX: Yes. He was the first, and he was a friend of my father-in-laws and they had been at UK together. And that was the tie. KLEE: Okay. COX: That was the tie. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: So they built the building, and it was a very nice classroom building. And for several years it was the only building owned by the Department of Finance in the state of Kentucky, and every time you'd show up on the run, the auditor would just go crazy. KLEE: Yeah. (laughs) COX: Well, what's in it and all this and everything. KLEE: I'm not too familiar with Madisonville. I'm going to go down there, uh, this next month. COX: Well, it's a brick building next door to the Madisonville, what used to be the Madisonville Vocational School where the underground mine is built. KLEE: I see. COX: That's right next door to this building, so if you say to them, "Now show me the original college building," they'll say right there; that brick building right there. KLEE: And that was--where does it lay in the community? Is it pretty much inside the city or-- COX: Oh, yeah. It, it was adjacent to the driveway into the football stadium at Madisonville High School. KLEE: Oh, okay. I see. COX: Now the reason to do that was the Department of Education already owned the land, and that's where they had the vocational school. So the deal Mr. Pritchett made them was if you let us build it there, when they leave we'll give it to you. They said, Build it, and they--I believe I'm telling you right that they even approved the plans. A fellow named Hatley ran the community, ran the vocational school. Well, they moved in. KLEE: Well, was there--um, as far as when this community college system started and Governor Combs--there was some enabling legislation and there was a list of communities, and Madisonville was on that community or on that list. Some of the communities on that list never have gotten a community college. COX: Well, now that's, that's way ahead. KLEE: Yeah. Okay. COX: We're talking now, I believe you're going to find that this building was built--I believe I'm wrong--I believe the building was built in the very early, the very late fifties/very early sixties. KLEE: Okay. Okay. COX: Okay? This building that we're talking about--because Dave was the Commissioner of Finance. Combs was governor from December of '59-- KLEE: Nine. COX: --to December of '63. KLEE: Three. Right. COX: So I'm going to say this was built about '62 or '63. KLEE: Okay. Uh-hm. COX: I was not at the Chamber. When you start the other story-- KLEE: Right. Yeah. I put you there. COX: I can tell you that. Yeah. Now I can catch it up. Okay. KLEE: So, but the characters we talked about--Pritchett, Combs and, and-- COX: Ellis Hartford. KLEE: And Ellis Hartford. Uh-hm. COX: John Gray who was with, at the time, Island Creek Coal Company, but he had been the county extension agent and was a UK graduate. KLEE: Okay. COX: And was probably, and was probably--he and his brother Paul Gray, who later was the county extension agent for Franklin County--they were both from Boyle County--he was probably the strongest UK supporter that I've ever known. KLEE: Is that right? COX: And it made no difference whether they were right or wrong or indifferent, you know, and, uh, Mr. Hat, uh, Hatley ran the vocational school. And he and John Gray were big pals, and, uh, that made Hatley a great supporter of the community college. KLEE: I see. COX: Okay. So we got the building and we've got the cooperative extension college, and we've got three hundred students. KLEE: Gee. COX: Almost four hundred. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: So my dad in '67 said, "I'm not going to run for the House again. Why don't you run?" So I ran and was elected State Representative in 1967. I was twenty-five years old, and of course that's one of those deals - - I was not elected on any merits that I had. I, the people elected me because of my father. My father had served in the House and the Senate, and my father, uh, politically was very, very strong. Uh, neither my father nor I were ever supported by what he used to refer to as the Silk Stocking crowd. KLEE: (laughs) COX: The bankers, uh, uh, the CPAs, uh, the car dealers, uh, they were not, they were not the source. The coal operators followed us every time we ever ran. KLEE: Is that right? So you probably had opposition in that race, didn't you? COX: I ran against the Secretary Treasurer of Badgett Mine Stripping who was forty-something years old and I was twenty-five, and, uh, it was a very, very bitter race. And--(clears throat)--at the end of it, he and I had become very good friends. KLEE: Really? Now what was his name? COX: Robert Anderson, Junior. KLEE: Okay. COX: And he is now in his eighties, and yet he and I try to have breakfast or something together when I'm in Madisonville. KLEE: Is that right? That's great. COX: Yeah. But anyway, to make a long story short I won the election and was the youngest ever elected State Representative at that time. Came up here for the '68 session, and as you know Nunn had won. And all of my former employers at the Chamber of Commerce said the number one goal is to make this a UK community college. We don't care what else you do. KLEE: Get that-- COX: But get that done. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: And I could see that they were right because Murray and Western had had all they wanted. KLEE: Right. COX: And I didn't blame them. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: And we had over three hundred students, so I got the bill passed in the House. Well, Richard Frymire who was the State Senator at the time and was the Majority Floor Leader, the democrats controlled the general assembly and Governor Nunn, a republican, was governor. KLEE: You did that pretty quickly as far as getting it passed. Were there any important alliances, any other- - COX: There was nothing in it but Madisonville. KLEE: Oh, okay. COX: That's all that was in it. KLEE: Oh, the bill that you got passed. I see. COX: Now, uh, the coalition that I formed in the House was composed of, uh, William Curlin who later was elected to Congress in the Sixth District, uh, and works here for me now on a consulting deal, Terry McBrayer, Julian Carroll, uh, Howard Hunt, uh, Jimmy Whitlock, uh, John Stanley Hoffman, Richard Hopkins. Uh, so anyway--now those who are still living in that group participate in the Over the Hill gang, and we have several outings a year. KLEE: (laughs) COX: Anyway, so I got it passed in the House and went down to the Senate. So the Governor called me downstairs and said, uh, "Why, why should I put this money up to build that college in Madisonville if you're not willing to vote for the sales tax increase so I can pay for it? Why would I not, uh, just veto your bill if it passes and give that money to some of these republican counties who have not had a dime for anything in twenty years? Why wouldn't I veto it?" And I said, "Well, Governor, I would veto it if I were you." And he said, "What do you mean?" And I said, "Well, if you did not have intestinal fortitude to pay for it, then I would veto it." He said, "So you're saying that you'll vote for my sales tax increase if I agree to build that college?" And I said, "That's most of it." And he started laughing, and he said, "Why do I not like the tone of this conversation?" And we both started laughing. And I said, "I want $200,000 dollars more for Outwood Hospital, and I want the planning and design money for the Allied Health Vocational School," which was the medical because Dr. Loman Trover had developed Madisonville into a very large medical center. There were over a hundred doctors. It was, it was an enormous hospital. Well, we couldn't get ward clerks, nurses, x-ray technicians, surgical assistants, nothing. LPNs. KLEE: Oh, you wanted to train them there, then? COX: Well, Hatley was trying to train them, see, out there on West Center and in the high school and in the community college, and he needed a building which we got. But anyway, so he made the deal, and he said, "Now, I don't know anything about you except that you are the youngest person ever elected, and I don't know whether I can trust you or not." And I said, "Well, I don't feel very kindly toward you because if you'll lie to three million Kentuckians, you'll lie to me." And he said, "What do you mean?" I said, "You said the democrats were wasting enough money for you to run for governor, and then the first thing you want is you want this increase." Well, he said, "You all ate the groceries and left the grocery bill." I said, "I think that's right, and you knew it was going to happen, and now you're crybaby-ing like this is all a great surprise to you." And he got tickled, and he said, "You know, you and I could get along just fine." And I said, "We probably could, Governor." And I said, "I want a letter that says the UK school will be under contract or under construction before you leave office and that the others will be in the design." So he dictated, and Larry Forgy came in and said, "Governor, I--this is an awful handsome price, and I don't know whether, to be frank, I don't know whether it's worth it." And he said, "Well, we may not ever know." So anyway in the process, Forgy and I, uh, met and worked together and are still friends today. Um, we don't agree on anything except that we both genuinely enjoy the other one's company. KLEE: Right. COX: Uh, so we passed it out of the House and went down to the Senate. Well, Frymire, then, let my bill die in committee, and he introduced one saying that they would build a community college in Madisonville, Carrollton-- KLEE: I've seen that list. Maysville and-- COX: Maysville--not Carrollton. Maysville. KLEE: Now Carrollton's was on the list. COX: Yeah. Carrollton's on it, wasn't it? KLEE: Yeah. Glasgow, maybe Hazard was in that group. COX: No, Hazard already had one. KLEE: Oh, okay. You're right. COX: But anyway, to make a long story--oh, I believe may have been Owensboro, but anyway, there were four or five. And he sent that bill back, and that's the bill that became law. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: Now Frymire was attorney for Badgett Mine Stripping, and he had encouraged Mr. Anderson to run against me. He had, two years before that, he had encouraged another farmer there in the county to run against my dad. Well, my dad beat that fellow and I beat this fellow, and Frymire was not having a good time with us. So he has every reason in the world--and it's very, he's terribly creative when he tells why all this happened. It happened in order to get my name off the bill and his on, Uh, which I have always resented, but that's all right. So they passed it, and as you have already noted Madisonville was the only one ever constructed. KLEE: Hang on just a minute. COX: Uh-hm. [Tape 1 ends; tape 2 begins.] KLEE: This is side two of a tape by John Klee with Bill Cox on the Community College System history. You were talking about, uh, how the Frymire put in this whole group of, of cities, and but Madisonville had a building already. And so was--that was the place where they put this UK extension, then? COX: Well, they did. What they did, they just designated that cooperative college now as the UK. KLEE: Okay. COX: Okay? Uh, then they set out to design a new building, so a land developer in Madisonville named Otto Corum, C-o-r-u-m, uh, was putting in a very large subdivision on the north side of town. So he put John Gray and some, I believe, Dr. Ellis Hartford--he put several of us into a four-wheel and drove out, and when he got to this valley he said, "I will give you all this land for a community college." Oh, what a beautiful sight, they all said, and the mayor looked at me and winked because the mayor and I realized that what was going to happen, we were going to build a road to the far end of his holdings and run utilities. KLEE: And he was going to build houses all along the way? (laughs) COX: And he'd build houses all along the way, then off of College Drive he put his lateral streets. But anyway, Otto was a, was a, uh, a consummate developer and deal maker. KLEE: Right. COX: Well, they--at the groundbreaking for the college, uh, everyone in town was invited to come and sit on the platform except me. KLEE: Oh. (laughs) COX: And so when Governor Nunn got up to speak that day, he said, "Before we start, standing out there in the crowd--I don't know why he's not up here--standing out there in the crowd is the fellow. Now he's the reason it's here. Now other people would tell you that they did it, but I'm telling you that he did it. Bill Cox, you hold your hand up." Well, the reason I was not invited was they were afraid to offend, UK was afraid to offend Frymire. KLEE: Yes, sir. COX: Who was going back as Senator. KLEE: Senator. Uh-hm. COX: I could not have won again; having voted for the sales tax, I could not have won again. KLEE: Right. Yeah. COX: Uh, so anyway, uh-- KLEE: So essentially for these three things, the community college and this Allied Health Building and you mentioned one other thing, uh-- COX: Outwood Hospital. KLEE: Outwood Hospital. COX: Outwood Hospital got an additional $200,000 dollars in funding, and Outwood Hospital was kind of the western Kentucky counterpart to the Frankfort Feeble-Minded Institute; the home up here on the hill that they tore down to build. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: And it was something. KLEE: Was it? COX: It was something. KLEE: Yeah. And you knew going in that this was probably going to end that part of your political career? COX: Well, I thought, what I thought would happen is exactly what happened. I thought I would have to get out and let it cool off and that if I, if my decision was correct that it would stand the test of time and that, and that if UK did their job with the college that public sentiment would come back around, and it did. Uh, twenty years later I ran for mayor in Madisonville against the incumbent and got eighty-four percent of the votes. So people pretty well, I think, later thought that, that the job--that the deal was a good deal. KLEE: Sure. COX: Uh, uh-- KLEE: Let me ask you just generally as far as the community were concerned, students are concerned, the community leaders, how important was that UK, uh, label? COX: Well, at the time it was the most important aspect of the whole deal. Now, uh, as is apparent to you, my relationship with UK has not been very good. Uh, I have given, given, given and, uh, uh--well, there's no need to go there. But at any rate, it was central to the success of it. Now when I went on the, the Council on Public Higher Education in 1980 or '81, I introduced a resolution to combine the UK community college system with the state system of vocational schools into a freestanding junior college system. KLEE: Is that right? COX: Close KSU and take their, I believe it was, twelve million dollar a year budget they had then and spread that over the other state universities for remedial education and for recruitment of both black faculty and black students, to give this property here at KSU to UK as the center of their political science, uh, department, uh, to close one of the law schools, to close--to merge the, medical schools, to close one of the pharmacy schools to close one of the dental schools, to put, put, uh, Morehead and Eastern together as the University of Eastern Kentucky and put Murray And Western together as the University of Western Kentucky and to have each develop a core competency; for instance, for Murray To be a fine arts school and for UK, for Western to be a commerce seeded school; for Morehead to become--I can't remember. It's been too long, but I remember Eastern to focus on education and community-oriented areas like law enforcement. Well anyway-- KLEE: Just for the person that's going to be listening to this later, this is just a, you know, a real vision, a different vision for higher education in the state, and that was a time when we had a very bad economy, uh-- COX: Yeah. KLEE: --Kentucky State was having a recurring problem with enrollment and, and I'm assuming-- COX: And with administration. KLEE: Right. I'm assuming this was a way that you thought that this would be the best, uh, use of tax dollars? COX: Without any questions--yeah. That's exactly right. Now, now let me say this to you. All of the people in education starting with the classroom teachers and going up through the administration of all of the state universities love to come forward at press conferences, particularly during when the general assembly's in session, and compare Kentucky's funding levels with those states that border us. KLEE: Yes, sir. COX: Now there is only one state left that borders us with which we have anything in common and that's West Virginia. All the other have grown off and left us. Now we're a poor state. We're an ignorant state. We are a provincial state, and we have a big, wealthy state attitude. KLEE: (laughs) COX: Now when you consider the tax base of Indiana, Illinois--oh, per capita. KLEE: Yes, sir. COX: Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri. Now, what I was trying to do what make people realize we can't do this. Now since then, every university including KSU has purchased a research farm, experimental farm. Now the last creative thought to come out of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture that amounted to a hill of beans was Kentucky 31 Fescue which was developed, I believe in the early fifties. Now we are not a roll-crop, agrarian state anymore. We are one of the nation's largest beef producers. We're a capital state, but tobacco's gone. KLEE: Right. COX: Now what I was trying to get them to do was to focus and realize that we cannot fund all of these colleges and all of them do the same thing. My God, you can get a teacher's degree at any of them. You can get a master's degree. Now you can't find a shred of evidence that requiring all of the public classroom teachers to have a master's degree has done one iota, uh, uh, of improvement for public classroom education in Kentucky. What it's done is it's let all the regionals hold their faculty and a lot of them, uh, be able to teach during the summer at the expense of and on the backs of the classroom teacher. So anyway, I couldn't get a second. KLEE: (laughs) COX: Nobody would second, and so I turned--the president of Centre College was on the board, Dr. Tom, uh--I've got a block--Sturgeon, Sturgeon, Spurlock? KLEE: I've seen that name, but I can't recall it myself. COX: You know, well, I can't recall it. Spragens. KLEE: That's right. COX: Thomas Spragens. KLEE: Right. COX: And as we walked out, he walked over to me and said, "Bill, may I see you for a moment?" And I said, "Yes, sir, Dr. Spragens." And he said, "I'm ashamed of myself, and if you bring it back up, I'll second it." And I said, "I've made my point." KLEE: Yeah. COX: And the room was full, they were all there, and I don't want to get anybody else in trouble. And he said, "Well, I apologize." KLEE: Yeah. COX: Well, he walked away, and Otis came over. And Otis said, uh, "Young man, I need to tell you something. I want to explain something to you. Now you're supposed to be UK's man on the Council for Higher Education, and this is no way for you to treat us. We can get this kind of shit off of somebody who is not a graduate of UK." I said, "Hold just a second." I said, "I am UK's person on this council, but as president of UK, I'm the last fellow in the world you're going to talk to like that because I'm going to tell you about my relationship with UK and you're not going to like it. Now the best thing you can do is get in your car and go on back to Lexington." And he turned around and walked out and went back. Later that year, Jim King was at UK, and Jim King and I were good friends. And Jim King, uh, called and said, uh, "Doctor, uh, would like for you to come over. You need to go to the ball game, uh, Saturday with him." And so went, but, um, uh--(sighs) UK's involvement, their, their preeminence grew through the years first from the result of the Cooperative Extension Service. KLEE: Yes, sir. Being everywhere in the state. COX: Being everywhere. And they were smart enough to get that funded by property tax within each individual county. KLEE: Right. COX: Now that, today, is like TVA. It ought to be busted up and sold. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: And let each county decide whether they want to continue it or not because our society has changed so dramatically. Now somebody told them starting ten, twelve years ago, you all have got too much money in the bank. You all, all need to build nice, new buildings. They built enormous buildings. Some of them are beautiful buildings. KLEE: Yeah. In northern Kentucky, I think, in the very, in very urban counties you have these Cooperative Extensions-- COX: Oh, yeah. Yeah. KLEE: Nice big-- COX: Now the second thing was Adolph Rupp. Uh, for five years I worked for Kentucky Association of Counties to finish my state retirement. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: I've been in every county in Kentucky, and in three of those five years I was in every county in Kentucky every year. KLEE: Is that right? COX: The sole, most cohesive, most binding common thread across this Commonwealth is UK and UK basketball. It is astounding when you get in the mountains. Um, uh, I can remember as a child that once, at least once a year--and it may have been more often--well, my mother would have us wrap cans of vegetables, uh, because the truck was coming that Sunday from the Christian Church Home in Eastern Kentucky, and so one day five or six years ago I come down Mountain Parkway and saw the sign to go off there. And I came--that's one of the perils of, of getting old. I can't remember. I'll think of it in a minute. Um, um, Green, uh, Hazel Green. KLEE: Okay. COX: I'd never been there, so I thought, I'll just go. I got off and went over there to see it. KLEE: Right. COX: And, of course, it now has been sold off and the campus divided and--you know. But that same kind of--as I went those back roads, I stopped. I remember I stopped and got out, and I leaned on the fence. And there in a barnyard there was the lid from a bucket that had been taken off the top and the bottom, and they had nailed the bucket to the barn. And that was a basketball goal. KLEE: Oh. (laughs) Isn't that something? COX: And below it, a hand-lettered sign that said "UK Wildcats Only". KLEE: Right. (laughs) Yeah. COX: I came through Summer Shade one fall--beautiful--one fall afternoon and it was real windy, and I suddenly realized that they all had windsocks and they were all blue and white. KLEE: So UK had the extension, uh, uh, system, UK basketball-- COX: And the community colleges. KLEE: Colleges. Uh-hm. COX: Now where they broke down was UK, like the Courier Journal, left their commitment to be a statewide institution. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: And if you just crack the door on Louisville and Jefferson County, the war is on. KLEE: Yes, sir. COX: The war is on. Now Nunn built Northern to meet what I believe was a critical, specific need that UK turned its back on. There would be no Northern had UK gone up there with a northern Kentucky campus. Had there been University of Kentucky at Covington, at Villa Hills--I don't care where it was and they didn't care. KLEE: The northern Kentucky people didn't care? COX: No. KLEE: Right. Right. COX: But now, see they reached across to the YMCA and brought the Chase Law School over there. Now you can't imagine--I was living in Florida at the time. My son called me, and he said, "I've been accepted." Said, "I've applied at all three. Where should I go?" And I said, "You go to the first one that accepts you," and I said, "Let me tell you something. They're not going to ask, Where did you go to law school? They're going to ask if you've been admitted to the BAR." And he said, "Okay." So he called me back, and he said, "I've been accepted at, by Northern, and I've been accepted by U of L. And I've got turned down at UK." And I said, "Well, what do you"--he said, "Well, I'm going to get in the car and go to Northern and go to U of L," and I said, "That's the right thing." So he called me back, and he said, "The dean at Northern said, 'I know your father well, and we never had a deal that we needed help on he didn't do it. And go home and get your stuff and come up here, and be here ready to go. Don't give another thought if that's what you want to do. You're in, but you're going to end up practicing in western Kentucky, and you're going to have a lot more people you can call on the phone if you go to U of L.'" KLEE: That was good thing to do. COX: But he said, "You're in here." KLEE: (laughs) Yes, sir. COX: He said, "You come when you're ready." KLEE: Right. COX: So he called me back, and he said, "I think, I think I ought to go to U of L." And I said, "Now you do what you want to do. I don't care." So he went to U of L and did well, but UK would have still had their prominence, there would have been no Northern. Uh, when you look through all of the UK basketball talent from northern Kentucky, they love UK up there. KLEE: Right. COX: And I could never understand why they did not see a necessity that they go and do that. Uh, it just astounded me. KLEE: What, where were you at in '88/'89 when that all, uh, uh, broke loose as far as Patton wanting to separate the system? COX: I was in, uh, Madisonville running a trucking company. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: And, uh, I got several phone calls. KLEE: I'm sure you did. (laughs) COX: From, mostly from people who had been on the council. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: And I ran into Governor Brown and he who appointed me to the council, ran into him at the airport in Louisville, and he said, "Cox, they'll get a second this time." And we both started laughing, and I said, "Yes, they will." And he said, "Will we live to see any of the rest of it?" and I said, "Probably. Not all of it but, but probably." KLEE: You've given me a lot of time, and I really appreciate it. Let me ask just a couple of questions, and maybe if you would, uh, in a couple of months I could come back and talk about some other things. Just tell me a little bit about you were a mayor down there after Madisonville Community College had started, what is the role--how did the community and the community college, how do they work with each other? What are the importance--what's the importance that college has? COX: It's, it's terribly important for the college to be there. Uh, but UK--not just in Madisonville--UK everywhere is very difficult to work with. They're, they're--if there's a wedding, they want to be the bride. If there's a funeral, they want to be the corpse. KLEE: (laughs) COX: Uh, uh, they, they are driven much more by control and appearances and, and prominence than they are by mission, and that's true down in Madisonville. That's true to my knowledge in, in every one of them. Now, am I saying that they have incapable people? No. No. No. No, not at all. What I'm saying is that, that door is cracked open. That door is cracked open. KLEE: Right. But as mayor, you were able--or the college, I guess, is an important employer and training center and those kinds of things? COX: Well, uh, uh, yes. That's right, but, but to a far greater extent when you look at the total picture, don't, don't just look at Madisonville and that college. Look at the mission of the community college system. That gives a lot of kids a taste of, of the next rung of the ladder. KLEE: Uh-hm. COX: Uh, uh, whether, whether they're interested in politics or they're interested in medicine or accounting or teaching, I don't care what it is. KLEE: They might not have had a chance for that taste. COX: And they're exposed on a higher level than they ever imagined. Then the next thing that happened is they look up, and they say, Well, you know what? I'm almost half through. I can do this. KLEE: Yes sir. COX: Now, uh, an interesting study for UK to run--if they haven't already run it, they should have--is to run their, their computer files, their student file against the graduate file at the regionals. KLEE: Yes. COX: Because you can't believe how many people have said to me, "I graduated from Morehead." And I say, "Is that right?" "Yeah. Now I started out at Maysville, and I went to UK community college for two years at Maysville and then transferred over to Morehead and finished." Or, "I went to Hazard," or, "I went to"--okay? KLEE: Yes, sir. COX: Now they, they mission-wide--and I said to Lee Trover, uh, I said, "Trove, from one old Hopkins County boy to the other, you need to recommit and redesign the Extension Service offices into economic development offices because the original mission was to do two things: increase agricultural income and increase the homemaker's knowledge of how to rear and care for a family." KLEE: Yeah. COX: Now, the deal now is jobs. KLEE: Right. COX: And if they've taken your colleges, they can't take these. KLEE: Right. (laughs) Yeah. COX: They, you know. KLEE: I appreciate the time you gave us. COX: Well, I enjoyed it. Enjoyed meeting you. [End of interview.] Interview with Bill Cox, former mayor and state representative of Madisonville, Kentucky. Cox begins with his family biography and educational history at University of Kentucky. Includes reminisces of coursework with Dr. Thomas Clark and Dr. Jack Reeves. Recounts his early work with Madisonville Chamber of Commerce before election to State House of Representatives. Describes work with Governor Nunn to establish Madisonville Community College as well as the acquisition and campus construction. Concludes with discussion of his ideas on higher education reform as well as the role of college in Madisonville community. insert here