PRESTONSBURG – With the election a month away, candidates are making final pushes in an effort to win the support of voters by detailing their plans. The Floyd County Democratic Woman’s Club held its 12th Annual Bert T. Combs Dinner on Friday, honoring community leaders that have made an impact on citizens in Floyd County. These leaders had ideas and put them into action. Eula Hall of the Mud Creek Clinic, Dr. William “Bill” Loftus of Big Sandy Community and Technical College and John Rosenberg of Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky were this year’s honorees.
Troy Burchett provided entertainment as guests ate dinner and socialized. Judi Calhoun welcomed everyone to the dinner. State Representative Greg Stumbo was on hand to welcome community leaders and elected officials.
The guest speaker for the evening was United States Senate Candidate Jim Gray. Born and raised in Glasgow, Gray is currently the mayor of Lexington. He served as the city’s vice-mayor from 2006-2010 before being elected mayor in November 2010. Gray won re-election to another four-year term on November 4, 2014. Gray addressed the crowd and talked about his background and experience working for his family business, Gray Construction. He spoke about his focus to put Kentuckians back to work. According to his campaign website, over 38 years, in 37 states, on 831 projects, Gray has helped create nearly 22,000 jobs. Under his leadership, over 15,000 jobs have been created in Lexington and unemployment for the city is historically low.
As the evening continued, local leaders were praised for their work and dedication to the people of Eastern Kentucky.
Loftus passed away earlier this year. As a psychology professor at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, he received numerous awards. He served as academic advisor for more than 20 years to Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society where he was known for having weekly soup lunches to feed hungry students. He continued his service when he founded the Fishes and Loaves Food Pantry at the St. James Episcopal Church. He quickly became a students’ favorite professor as he would sometimes walk into the classroom playing 60’s and 70’s music on a cassette player.
Another honoree giving his time and service to Floyd County was Rosenberg. Not known for his large stature, but rather his large heart, and compassion for the people of Appalachia, Rosenberg is not afraid of a challenge. Born to Jewish parents in Germany during the time that Adolf Hitler was rising to power, Rosenberg watched as Nazis storm troopers invaded his home and religious sanctuary and burned all the books and then torched the building. His father was arrested and taken to a concentration camp, but returned to the family a week later when the entire family was moved to an internment camp in Holland. After living in the camp for a year, the family secured passage to the United States in hopes of brighter futures away from Nazi Germany. Arriving in the U.S. with little resources, his father secured work sweeping floors in a factory where he was eventually promoted and valued for his work ethic. It was during his time in Germany when so much was taken away from him for no reason and his witnessing of his father’s work ethic that inspired him to become an attorney.
As an attorney, Rosenberg was drawn toward issues of justice, particularly for those with little power because of their status in life, and those who, by birth and culture, unknowingly invited prejudice against themselves. Upon graduating from law school, Rosenberg became part of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. It was during his time there that he was part of the team that prosecuted the murderers of three civil rights workers in 1967. The movie Mississippi Burning was based on the case and produced in 1988. After leaving the Justice Department, Rosenberg requested to work with a group of lawyers to address legal issues in Appalachia. He was hired as the deputy director of Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (Appalred). It was through his work with Appalred and his fight for the people of Appalachia he became acquainted with Hall, the night’s third honoree.
Hall is a self-described hillbilly activist. Briefly working in a World War II canning factory in New York, at the age of 15, Hall was sent back to Kentucky for allegedly inciting a labor riot over poor working conditions. Hall was never one to shy away from a challenge. During President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, Hall joined the VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). As she watched the health of those around her Grethel community home suffer, for lack of qualified health professionals, Hall established the Mud Creek Clinic in 1973. The clinic is still in operation today under the guidance of Big Sandy Healthcare. Hall serves as the social director at the Mud Creek Clinic where she often counsels patients on disability claims and Social Security benefits, arranges financial aid for food and drugs, answers questions about food stamps and housing opportunities and attends civic board meetings and hearings. She has received numerous awards for her advocacy work, including honorary doctorates from Berea College and Midway College. Highway 979, which runs through the Mud Creek area, was named the Eula Hall Highway in her honor in October 2006. Big Sandy Healthcare also has established two funds in tribute to her work and support of the people of the Mud Creek community. The Eula Hall Patient Assistance Fund covers healthcare cost for uninsured and indigent patients and the Eula Hall Scholarship Fund provides financial assistance for area students pursuing careers in healthcare and social services.
The Floyd County Democratic Woman’s Club extended its thanks to the following sponsors for making the event a success: Hall Funeral Home, Jeffrey Hicks, Adams Auto Parts, MRM Mining, Moak and Nunnery Law Office and Mike Vanderpool.
The Floyd County Democratic Woman’s Club usually meets the third Monday of each month at the Floyd County Rescue Squad in Prestonsburg. Due to the Thanksgiving holiday during the third week of the month in November, the November meeting is scheduled for the fourth Monday, November 28 at 6 p.m. at the Floyd County Emergency and Rescue Squad. Any women interested in joining or past members may attend.