One of Letcher County’s well known and interesting families is that of Nola B. Combs. Her children were graduates of Whitesburg High School before moving to other parts of the country to pursue their varied interests and careers. In this article, each one pays tribute to their mother and their beginnings in Letcher County.
Brenda Combs Stallard
(the seventh born)
One short sentence occupies a prime spot on my desk —”Remember who you are.” I know who I am. I am the daughter of Nola B. Combs. The things I learned from my mother have guided me my entire life. I realize that I did not give her my full attention at the time.
Appearances were very important to my mother. “What will people think?” As a child I really didn’t care. I just didn’t understand the need to be clean, dressed properly, courteous, honest, and respectful to others. It all seemed to be a bit much.
I know my mother taught responsibility to the older children. My sister Nadine gave me her lunch money often because I had a habit of losing my money. So much for being responsible.
Education: We would never accomplish anything without education. I loved to go to school. It was a place to play, see my friends, so I could see the value of going to school. I don’t think that is what she meant.
I married young and dropped out of high school to join my husband who was in the Air Force. Wow! I was judged by my Kentucky accent, my lack of education, and my immaturity. Appearances became important to me. I knew the accent would stay, but I could present a different “face” for judgment.
Since I was married young, I was a young mother. I became very responsible for everyone, but I knew what I had to do. I taught my children about appearances, responsibility, respect and the value of education. Unfortunately, all I could show them was a lack of education.
The high school degree was earned in five states over a 13-year period while I raised four children. Later I spent a year training as a dental assistant in the new (at the time) four-handed dentistry. After my husband retired from the military, we returned to Arkansas where he received his master’s degree and I received a bachelor of business administration degree from the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, Ark.
We took that education and moved to Fort Worth, Tex. The marriage ended in a divorce, but I remain in Fort Worth where I am employed as an office manager/ assistant to Mr. Eisenman at Stanley Eisenman’s Fine Shoes. I have been employed there for the past 23 years; I think I will stay.
I measure my success by my children, who are educated (all four have college degrees), responsible adults who love their families and are raising very wonderful children. Tony and Joan Stallard, Toledo, Ohio, Jay Stallard, Harrison, Ark., Mark and Erin Stallard, Jacksonville, Ark., and Lisa Stallard Head, Jacksonville, Ark. I also have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. I am truly my mother’s daughter. I am blessed with friends and family that love me. That is all we want from life.
Nadine Combs Ison
(the sixth born)
While attending Whitesburg High School, I married Harold B. Ison. After graduation, we moved to Long Beach Calif., where Harold was employed by Shell Oil Company as a salesman. I was employed as a representative for a marketing research corporation. After retiring we moved to Fort Smith, Ark. Having lived there for 10 years, we decided to downsize and move closer to our three children who live in Los Angeles, Calif. We moved to Las Vegas, Nev., where we reside today.
I gra duated fro m Whitesburg High School in 1948. While going to school I worked at the Kentucky Theater and the Alene Theater owned by J.E. Isaac of Cumberland. In 1950 I married Glen Polly, who was an employee of Craft Funeral Home owned by Archie and Virginia Craft. In 1961 the Crafts built a new funeral home in Jenkins. Glen was manager, embalmer and funeral director. I worked diligently alongside him to help establish the business. In 1963 we became partners with the Crafts and the funeral home became known as Polly & Craft Funeral Home. I worked three years as an apprentice and became a licensed funeral director in the State of Kentucky. In 1983 we became sole owners. After 38 years of community service to Jenkins and the surrounding area we decided it was time to retire. We now reside in Lexington where we are near our two sons and their families.
Iris Combs Campbell
(the second born)
I graduated from Whitesburg High School in 1943, and attended Bryant-Stratton Business College, Louisville. I returned home and worked briefly for Consolidation Coal Company in Jenkins as a Western Union operator. Servicemen returning from World War II were reinstated in their previous positions, making it necessary for my new employment with the L&N Railroad as an operator. In 1946, I left this employment to be married. From 1966 to 1973 I was employed as a bookkeeper for the Bank of Whitesburg. In 1973 my husband, Bob Campbell, was transferred to Somerset by CocaCola Bottling Co. and later to Lexington, as maintenance supervisor. We and our two children chose to make Georgetown our permanent residence where we have lived the past 35 years.
Ina Combs Hunsucker
(the first born)
The imp ortance of reading and music were stressed to us by our parents. Even in the days of the Great Depression we received daily by mail The Cincinnati
For our mother’s benefit, the McCall’s and Needlecraft magazines were a must. This is where she learned to make all the pretty little dresses that we five girls wore. Books were always in our home for reading and studying.
At age two, my father bought me a piano for my birthday. When the Great Depression occurred, we lost our home and everything in it except the piano. Therefore music became a very important part of our early years. We all received music lessons of some form, piano, instrumental and vocal. Although our mother had no musical training she could make a piano sing. This was our therapy for overcoming the loss of our father.
I graduated from Whitesburg High School in 1941 and attended Bowling Green Business University, Bowling Green. After completing the requirements of two years accounting, I returned home and was employed by Consolidation Coal Co. Jenkins, as a payroll clerk until 1950. I married my high school sweetheart, Ulis Hunsucker, when he returned from the Navy in 1946. I was employed as clerk for the City of Whitesburg from 1958 until 1962. In 1962 I was employed by Bill Blair and Follace Fields as their accountant for their newly acquired coal mining operations. I remained in this employment until 1976. Then I was employed by Maynard Hogg as an accountant for his coal mining operations until 1982. Ulis and I retired to Fort Myers, Fla., where our eldest son lives. I now travel between Florida and Lexington visiting with the other two sons and their families.
Richard Quentin Combs
(the fifth born)
A tribute to my mother, Nola B. Combs
I was seven years old when my father was killed in a truck-train accident right in front of my mother. She was holding my four-monthold sister Brenda in her arms and three-year-old Nadine by the hand, standing next to my dad, when a truck, unable to stop at the train crossing, hit my dad and knocked him in front of the train resulting in his death hours later.
My mother was left with seven children, ranging from four months to 15 years old. I don’t know how she managed to do it but she raised us all without Social Security, welfare or charity. She was too proud to ever take any handouts or assistance from anyone. We always ate well, dressed well and did not even know we were poor. Mom got a settlement of $2,500 from the accident. She took that money and bought a small grocery store in lower Whitesburg (everyone knew the area as Shagtown). One important reason for the store, she figured she could buy clothes and food for all of us at wholesale prices. We had that store for several years, and we all helped Mom run it.
Mom always made the most of everything. When we lived in Ermine we had a big garden, had a cow, pigs, chickens and one time we even leased a huge hillside and grew corn to sell. We all had to help in these endeavors. She was an amazing woman. The older girls helped Mom raise us and as each of us started to work as we got older we helped out financially as best we could.
We had a great childhood. There was always something going on at our house, from singing around the piano, bullfrogging for the boys, and always friends hanging around. We could not have grown up at a better time or place. Mom was always fun, after she had her coff ee.
Mom’s credo was always be honest, do the right thing. Your reputation is your most important asset. Get as much education as you can.
We came to consider Ermine, which is near Whitesburg, our family home. Everyone in Whitesburg knew Mom and her family and our reputation, so we were respected by all. I began working at an early age delivering newspapers. Then later I was employed at gas stations until I graduated from Whitesburg High. I was ever so proud that I had a charge account at the elite Dawahare’s Department Store in my own name when I was a teenager. Due, I’m sure, from our family’s reputation.
Mom also was a fighter. If any of the kids got in trouble you took your punishment and suffered the consequences, but if she thought we were not treated fairly she would take us with her to confront the problem to make sure we were treated fairly. We could always depend on her to back us up.
Thanks to all the great teachers at Whitesburg Grade and High Schools, I graduated in 1949. Several of my classmates and friends and I immediately took off for Detroit, Mich. One of the guys had a brother in the Merchant Marines so we decided that’s what we wanted to do. Course, when we went to the Union Hall to inquire we were told you had to have lots of experience. Since the auto plants were booming then, we all went to work in the auto industry. We spent several years growing up, having fun, and spreading our wings.
In 1953 I got drafted in the Army. I was deferred a couple years prior because I was supporting my mother and two younger sisters. All the guys I knew in Detroit had gone into the service or other places. I was not too excited about going into the Army but it turned out to be a great experience for me. As we were going through the induction process all the professionals would look at my records and ask if I had been to college. When I said no, they would all comment that I should go to college, that I had a very high I.Q. While in the Army I took, and passed, the College G.R.E.
I spent my entire Army career in the Special Developments Group. Our mission was to evaluate new and mostly top secret equipment and arms, see them tested and write reports as to their effectiveness. I was the only non-college graduate in the entire group, and of course they all encouraged me to go to college. At the time, you could sign up for college, and if accepted, you could get out of the Army early. I did, and was accepted at Wayne University in Detroit. Thanks to the G.I. Bill I was able to go to college and still help support my mom.
I worked full time in the auto plants as an inspector, and then a plant superintendent’s clerk. I also went full time at Wayne U. After one year out of the Army we had the worst summer ever. It rained every weekend. I was rooming with Bill Hall at the time, another WHS classmate. We decided that was too much rain and pulled up stakes and moved to sunny California in August 1956.
We both went to work at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, Calif. I continued on in school at Santa Monica City College. After three semesters there I was accepted at UCLA. I worked at Douglas, mostly six days a week, and went to UCLA full time. I graduated from UCLA 1961 with a BS in business. Bill Hall went on in aerospace to become an IT manager and even headed up a department in the famous “Skunk Works” at Lockheed, another very smart WHS graduate.
After graduating from UCLA I went to work as a salesman for a frug broker company. That was when, just before I graduated, I moved into an apartment building and met this young lady who had moved in two weeks prior with her old childhood friends. She is from St. Louis and was a dental hygienist. We courted for two years, got engaged, and then married in St. Louis. She did not like the fact that my job required a lot of travel and did not think that would be good to raise a family. One day we were talking about this, and I said I should have been a dentist or physician. My wife, Mary Ann, said, “Why don’t you go back to school?” At first I thought, “she’s crazy,” but eventually it sounded like the right thing to do, instead of later saying “I should have.”
I took three semesters of pre-dental science courses, got accepted at the great University of Southern California and graduated in 1969 with a DDS degree. Only 20 years after graduating from WHS in 1949. This was, of course, with my wife’s full support, financially and otherwise. And we still helped support my mom.
I had a very successful dental practice in Santa Monica, Calif., until I retired in March 2000.
Mary Ann and I had three great sons, now plus or minus 40 years old. We also have two beautiful and intelligent grandsons to carry on the good Combs name. Two sons graduated from Arizona State University. Our oldest son did not want to go to college, got into computers and became an IT manager. Now he sees the value of education and has just completed his AA degree and is working on his BS, and then his MBA.
My mother was right as usual. Get all the education you can. It certainly worked for me.
She was always supportive, and proud of our accomplishments, especially in education. When I graduated from USC she commented, “I can’t believe you are a doctor. I am so very proud of you.” A great mom!
William H. Combs Jr.
My name is William H. Combs Jr. I was born in Whitesburg, Dec. 22, 1927, the son of William H. Combs and Nola B. Combs. My father worked for the L&N Railroad as a telegraph operator. This was during the Great Depression, and we didn’t have an automobile so we had to live near his work or near a RR stop, and consequently we moved frequently. I attended grades 1 through 5 in Neon, and grades 6 through 8 in Ermine. The Ermine school year went from July through February, which enabled me to enroll in the second semester at Whitesburg High School. I took extra courses and graduated in 3½ years in 1944. I was 16 at that time. I went to work at the L&N RR as a telegraph operator. Being the junior operator, I worked all over eastern Kentucky, I was even station master at Whitesburg for a short period of time.
At age 18 I was drafted into the military service, took basic training at Wichita Falls, Tex., then I was shipped to Belleville, Ill., to the Army Air Force High Speed Radio Operators School. After finishing my training I was asked to become an Instructor. You don’t say no when you are asked to do something in the Army.
At the end of my enlistment I returned to Ermine to find that there was little work on the RR so I took my mustering out pay and installed running water complete with flush toilet in our house in Ermine. I packed my bags and went with a friend from the service to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. After a few post graduate courses and summer school I was accepted. My friend was not.
I graduated in 1954 with a degree in civil engineering and married my best friend and next-door neighbor Ann in Boston and worked on various construction projects as an engineer including the Boston Underground Tunnel (hard rock tunnel). What else for a Kentucky boy? We had three children, William III (1955), Patricia (1956), and Jennifer (1958).
I returned to MIT in 1963 to supervise building construction and renovations and stayed with MIT until my retirement in 1984. I moved to NH and served as clerk of the works on a county jail and a county nursing home. I retired in 1991 and Ann and I divide our time between New Hampshire and Florida.