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14 honored as county’s ‘unsung heroes’




UNSUNG HEROES — The Letcher County Chamber of Commerce recently honored 14 community residents for their continuing work as volunteers. Pictured from left are (front row) Shirley Sexton, Louise Murtaugh, Creda Joyce Baker Isaacs, Grayson Shamarra Holbrook, Jim Scott, Janet Madden, Martha Watts, (back row) David Little, Jim Murtaugh, Jackie Joseph, David Perry, Madonna Sturgill and Ellen Wright. Not pictured is Todd DePriest.

UNSUNG HEROES — The Letcher County Chamber of Commerce recently honored 14 community residents for their continuing work as volunteers. Pictured from left are (front row) Shirley Sexton, Louise Murtaugh, Creda Joyce Baker Isaacs, Grayson Shamarra Holbrook, Jim Scott, Janet Madden, Martha Watts, (back row) David Little, Jim Murtaugh, Jackie Joseph, David Perry, Madonna Sturgill and Ellen Wright. Not pictured is Todd DePriest.

Thirteen adults and one teenager have been honored by the Letcher County Chamber of Commerce for their work as community volunteers.

The Chamber’s “Unsung Heroes” awards were presented at a reception held June 2 at Pine Mountain Grill in Whitesburg. The recipients were selected from nominations submitted by the public.

Award winners are listed below in alphabetical order:

. Todd DePriest, a member of the Jenkins City Council and assistant fire chief of the Jenkins Fire Department, was nominated by Jenkins Mayor D. Charles Dixon for his efforts to rehabilitate the city’s worn out water lines.

Mayor Dixon said DePriest helped the city obtain a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant to begin modernizing water lines from the water plant near Elkhorn Lake in downtown toward Burdine.

“In this day and time there are not many people willing to serve their community when they are needed,” said Mayor Dixon. “Jenkins is a better place to live because of the efforts of Todd DePriest to serve the people in Jenkins.”

. Creda Joyce Baker Isaacs was nominated by Whitesburg ARH employee Rachel Breeding for her 19 years of leading the Letcher County Historical and Genealogical Society.

Breeding said the society has grown from 20 members to 900 members under the leadership of Isaacs.

“Not only has she worked to learn of her family’s history but the genealogies of many families in Letcher County,” said Ms. Breeding. “She has assisted many families in tracing their roots and is always generous with her research ability and personal time.”

Several thousand books and documents containing information and data obtained by the Historical and Genealogical Society are housed in the Harry M. Caudill Library in Whitesburg.

Ms. Breeding said one of the most significant projects completed by the society was identifying and putting stones at more than 500 unmarked graves located in the county.

“I like to give something back to our neighborhood and county,” said Mrs. Isaacs. “We have wonderful people.”

Mrs. Isaacs is a member of the Whitesburg Lions Club, Whitesburg Women’s Club, and the Red Hat Society, and serves on the local advisory council at ARH. She also serves as outreach coordinator for AARP in seven counties and is active with the county’s senior citizens program.

. Jackie Joseph, office manager of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District, was nominated by her mother, Shirley Breeding of Isom, for her nearly 25-year involvement with the Letcher County Food Pantry in Whitesburg.

“Her jobs included praying for, organizing and obtaining donations, writing grants, getting volunteers, purchasing food, seeing it was delivered, finding a place for the pantry, doing the cleaning and obtaining money for the garden project,” said Mrs. Breeding.

The food pantry was formed in 1982 after social workers grew frustrated that some people in the county were going without food but there wasn’t a place to refer them for help. The pantry is now located in a house on Madison Street, near the First Baptist Church.

Mrs. Breeding said her daughter “serves people in a caring manner.”

Mrs. Breeding said Mrs. Joseph, of Smoot Creek, has also served various roles volunteering in her children’s schools as well as volunteering in the Isom Presbyterian Church.

. David Little, a retired field representative for a hydraulics repair company, was nominated by Jenkins Independent School Board Member Eileen Sanders for his volunteer work as president of the Burdine Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization.

Mrs. Sanders said Little is responsible for a backpack program which provides free groceries on Fridays for needy children to take home with them for the weekend.

Little also gives treats to students each day during state testing, organizes the school’s fall festival and kids day event, as well as overseeing a yearly dinner for teachers and staff.

“David is an excellent cook and you can always count on him to provide homemade food items for any worthwhile cause,” said Mrs. Sanders.

Little is a volunteer for the Cumberland Mountain Arts and Crafts Council, the Jenkins Homecoming Days Festival committee, and the Letcher County Kids Day committee.

“I enjoy what I do,” said Little. “It’s not work, it’s pleasure.”

. Janet Madden, owner and operator of Conjun Laboratories in Isom, was nominated by retired school teacher Dana Richardson for her volunteer efforts on behalf of the sick and needy.

Mrs. Richardson, who now operates the John B. Adams Store at Isom, read aloud a letter at the awards dinner that was written by Mrs. Madden’s daughter, Wendy Madden Mullins.

“Over the years, I often recall people who may have been down on their luck, in transition, or for whatever reason needed a place to stay, something to eat, or some money,” wrote Mrs. Mullins. “Our home was always open to them, and my parents gave freely to anyone who needed help, even when they really couldn’t afford it. I grew up learning to help others; it was part of what they taught me and who we were as a family.”

The first grandchild of Janet Madden and her husband, Henry, was born in 1994 with a terminal illness, Omenn’s Syndrome.

“Despite her grief and personal trials at the time, I watched my mother lead the efforts of our family and friends to find a sponsor for Forest so he could be treated at Duke U niversity,” wrote M rs. Mullins. “At the time, this was the only U.S. facility which had successfully treated Omenn’s Syndrome and still had a living patient.”

Before accepting Forest for treatment, Duke wanted $100,000. Mrs. Madden convinced the Children’s Organ Transplant Association to sponsor Forest, which in return asked the Maddens to help raise money for the organization.

“For months, my mother worked tirelessly in the community to help raise money for his treatment, as well as for Brian Baker’s treatment, another child in the community who was fighting cancer,” wrote Mrs. Mullins. “Forest’s illness and the outpouring of support from the citizens of Letcher County inspired my parents to do even more in the community than they already did. They went beyond ‘love your neighbor’ to ‘serve your neighbor.'”

In 2000, with the help of Henry Madden’s cousin, Mary Martin Hendrian, and her husband, Jim, of Lavonia, Mich., the non-profit organization Emergency Aid for Children was established. More than 700 families in Letcher, Knott, Perry and Johnson counties have since received help with paying rent or electric bills, or have been provided furniture and appliances or help with making home repairs.

Each December the Maddens, with the help of the Hendrians and others, deliver Christmas gifts to needy families all over the county.

“She has the spirit of an angel, the heart of a missionary and the dedication of an army,” wrote Mrs. Mullins.

“No one can do anything alone,” Mrs. Madden said at the awards dinner. “As long as we are sensitive to God’s leading in our lives, we can do anything.”

. Jim and Louise Murtaugh were nominated for their Unsung Hero awards by Shirley Breeding, who lauded them for their work “in bringing the game of soccer to the youth of Letcher County.”

Mr. Murtaugh is former operations manager for the Letcher County Water and Sewer District. Mrs. Murtaugh teaches visually impaired students in the Letcher County School System.

“They have devoted hundreds of hours to seeing that any youth wishing to play soccer was given the opportunity,” said Breeding. “They have been leaders in obtaining funds to see that this game was available to Letcher County children.”

The Murtaughs are also active members of the Isom Presbyterian Church.

“There’s not a better place to raise children,” Jim Murtaugh said at the awards dinner. “We don’t want to leave. Nowhere comes close to Letcher County.”

. David Perry, a truck driver for Rockhouse Transport in Whitesburg, was nominated by Kathy Rose for his work as a member of the Neon Area Days committee for the past five years.

Perry’s wife, Alberta, told the audience that she overheard her husband tell someone that working with the festival for the first year was most fun he’d had in his life and that he couldn’t wait until the next year’s festival.

“He continues to be a huge asset to the Neon Area Days,” said Mrs. Perry, adding that her husband also dresses up as Santa Claus for the annual Christmas parade and other events in Neon.

Mrs. Perry is chairperson for the Letcher County Relay for Life Committee and says her husband is a valuable addition to that group as well. She said he is “a true community servant” who always gives back and can be counted on from start to finish.

“I just do it for the kids and I just love doing it,” said Mr. Perry.

. Jim Scott, a retired communications specialist, was nominated by Rochelle Lamb for his work with the Committee for a Better McRoberts.

In her nomination letter, Mrs. Lamb, a member of the committee, wrote that Scott “has taken on the responsibility with a group of dedicated community members who are committed to making McRoberts an even better place to live for their family, friends and neighbors.”

The committee worked to fund, renovate and operate a community center and youth center.

Scott and the late Kelly DeSimone sent a proposal to Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky CEO Steve St. Angelo asking for help with the center. Toyota donated $50,000 to the effort.

Mrs. Lamb said the Steve Angelo Recreational and Activity Center now serves the people of McRoberts with computer access and training, a pool table, air hockey, a big screen television in the social lounge, a classroom for crafting, and a kitchen available for public/personal gatherings.

“We are thankful to have such a dedicated, caring, hardworking president and chairman as Jim Scott who is putting forth such appreciated efforts trying to achieve in making a difference in McRoberts,” wrote Mrs. Lamb.

Scott said the Committee for a Better McRoberts has grown to 25 members, has received $475,000 in grants since beginning with five members about five years ago.

“It’s been a labor of love by a very small group,” said Scott.

. Shirley Sexton, a retired school teacher, and Grayson Shamarra Holbrook, a 13-year-old student and author, were nominated by Ked Sanders of Jenkins for their volunteer work.

Mrs. Sexton, the grandmother of Miss Holbrook, hosts the “Tuesday Morning Roundtable” public affairs program on WXKQ-FM in Whitesburg, where she interviews local politicians and community members about current events.

Sanders said Mrs. Sexton has written five cookbooks and six other books based on the preservation of mountain traditions, customs and dialect. She has also written genealogy books on the John Brown family, the Willard Sexton family, and the Holbrook family.

Each April and October, Mrs. Sexton organizes a 20-mile yard sale spanning from Sandlick to Colson.

Mrs. Sexton told the audience that granddaughter Grayson, the daughter of Marty and Sharon Holbrook of Deane, is her “pride and joy.”

Mrs. Sexton said she helped Grayson create Shamarra’s Dream Library to fulfill the girl’s dream of having a place where she and other children could choose from a large selection of books to read. The library is located near Mrs. Sexton’s home at Colson and has more than 2,000 books available for children to check out and read.

Mrs. Sexton helped Miss Holbrook write a series of books based on a character named “Plate Head.” The first book was created when Grayson was six years old.

. Madonna Sturgill, youth director and music leader of Neon First Church of God, was nominated by Neon dentist Dr. Sam Quillen Jr. for what he said was her unselfishness in helping others.

“I think her degree in college was helping other people,” said Quillen.

Mrs. Sturgill is a member of the Whitesburg ARH Hospital Advisory Board and works with the Esta Craft Conway Center for women in Whitesburg. She was president of the Fleming-Neon Elementary and High School Parent Teacher Organization for 16 years, and has worked to raise a total of $85,000 at yard sales to benefit youth activities and mission projects at her church.

“(Her) impact has been tremendous and has probably affected everyone in this room,” said Dr. Quillen.

Mrs. Sturgill said she remembers wanting to help others from her very early years.

“As long as God gives me the energy and vision, I will do all I can,” she said. “God has blessed me to be able to do this.”

• Martha Watts, coordinator of the Family Resource and Youth Services Center (FRYSC) at Letcher Elementary School, was nominated by Donna Bates, Vicki Holbrook and Carolyn Spangler.

Spangler described Mrs. Watts as “an angel of unselfish giving.”

Mrs. Watts is the chairperson of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren organization and works with the Letcher County Kids Day Committee and Letcher Elementary School Wellness Council. She is a member of the Regional Community Collaboration for Children Board, the Letcher County Extension Board, and serves on the board of directors of the Carcassonne and Campbell’s Branch community centers.

“Martha Watts does not put off until tomorrow what can be done today,” said Spangler. “When the telephone rings or at the mere suggestion of a need for help, Martha Watts is there regardless of date, time, weekday or weekend, day or night. She is there for her students, community, co-workers, family, friends and even strangers without any hesitation or questions.”

Spangler said that as FRYSC coordinator, Mrs. Watts touches the lives of children every single day.

“Mrs. Martha is a bright light in dark times, is positive and never negative, has unlimited energy to do all that she does with limited resources, is the most unselfish person we have ever known,” said Spangler.

. Ellen Wright, chief nursing officer for the ARH system, was nominated by Rachel Breeding for the time she has spent helping others to get well.

Mrs. Wright has held a number of positions during her 22-year career with ARH, ranging from registered nurse to chief community officer for the Whitesburg hospital.

Breeding said Mrs. Wright’s favorite job is nursing.

“She is first and foremost a quality nursing caregiver,” said Breeding. “No obstacle is too great when it comes to the care of the patient.”

Mrs. Wright is a member of the Seco Freewill Baptist Church, where she is a member of the women’s auxiliary and teaches a Sunday School class and is involved with the youth group.

Breeding said one of Mrs. Wright’s proudest accomplishments is the creation of a clown ministry for her church called the “Son-Shine Kids.”

“The clown troop has performed at many community events and brings the love of God to all ages with their skits and their smiles,” said Breeding. “Don’t think for a moment that Ellen doesn’t get in on the act. She is one of the most active clowns in the group.”

Breeding praised Mrs. Wright for donating her time and nursing skills in December to assist with a Remote Area Medical (RAM) event in Knott County which provided free health care to at least 720 people.

Mrs. Wright is a member of the Letcher County Relay for Life Committee, Whitesburg ARH Auxiliary and the Hazard Community College Nursing Advisory Board. She is also a member of the Whitesburg Rotary Club and the Letcher County Planning Commission.

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