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John Rosenberg Interview Part IV



AUGUST 21 & 22, 1999; MAY 22, 2000




ARWEN DOANHUE: Okay, tape number ten, side A, an interview with John Rosenberg. I guess now would be a good time for you to say something about your work with establishing the Science Center.

Answer: Okay. Well, I was a chemistry major as I think you know, and I think that we’ve always known that the scores of our students here in science and math were very low and that science, math and technology was not valued very highly. So a number of years ago, maybe nineteen, somewhere between 1990 and ‘92, I asked teachers, some teachers to come together and some other folks in the community to see whether we might not start a, developing some ideas for improving math and science, and what they thought. And what we learned was that teachers were very uneasy about teaching math and science. Many of them had very poor backgrounds during their teacher training and they were ill-equipped, especially at the elementary level, to try to present scientific concepts. And they really wanted more hands-on activities to support them. So we, we sort of met periodically and then over the next couple of years. And then I saw a small video segment, or heard about it, about a college up in Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, Juniata College, which had obtained funding for a science van, where a chemistry teacher was driving a van around and dropping experiments off at high schools, dropping off equipment that the schools couldn’t afford to buy. And was like a sort of Johnny or Jeanie Appleseed, would tell school A about what school B had done with these things. Over the course of several years the number of incoming students at Juniata College who were, who majored in or who showed an interest in science, studying science-related courses, like tripled. So, I thought it would be, then got to thinking that we would like to, wouldn’t it be nice if we did something like that. I had not, I don’t think had really thought about the planetarium theater kind of thing yet. But we were meeting and we got a small grant back about 1990, maybe ‘94 as a result of this work and this group that kept meeting. We realized that we could maybe establish a center like that if we could get some funding. So, we got a little money out of the legislature, I think 75,000 dollars to hire a consultant. One of the legislators here in this area, Greg Stumbo, was interested in technology and with KERA having come in I think there was a strong, an atmosphere that was conducive to getting some funding. And I thought we should start off in a small way, so we hired a consultant from West Virginia, Mike Howard, who had worked in the Kentucky educational system, to do some community meetings and help us look at more specifically where we fit and what kind of activities would be helpful. And it sort of reinforced what we had already known in some ways, that teachers wanted hands-on Mr. Wizard kinds of things. And that if we could bring presentations to them and do something like the science van and educational programs, that that would be helpful. And I don’t know where I first came up with the idea of trying to do a planetarium or a science museum or really, I thought it might be nice if we could even replicate a coal mine. But I started, we started talking that up and realized that if we had a modern facility it would be really meaningful. And I also learned that you could, they had these portable planetariums that you could take around to schools, which are little… they call them planetarium in a foot locker, where you blow up, it’s like a vinyl thing and you blow it up in a classroom and you can put thirty kids in it that will watch a star show and other educational shows. And so, by the time the next legislature rolled around, I think we got 200,000 dollars. We were able to increase our operating grant and on a fairly short notice we got a local architect to put together just a schematic of what a theater and planetarium might look like and what it could do, and that we would, and that… I think we may have even still been thinking about a coal mine. And we put together a board, I organized a board of directors that included representatives from Morehead and from the Alice Lloyd and Pikeville College and PCC and Hazard and the teachings, the science teachers and the regional educational cooperatives to give us a good cross-section of membership and also a good geographical cross-section. And it’s been, and that’s basically the story. And they helped me, we went to convince them, during the last legislative session, our local legislator agreed to get behind it and we made a presentation to the Governor and he liked it and called me at home one day to go over the budget. Wanted to know why I had a budget item for rent. He was very meticulous. ‘Why do you need this three hundred dollars when you’re going to have…?’ I said, ‘Governor, we won’t be in that place for a couple, few years yet. We need a budget place, we need an office.’ But anyway, we got through that with two and a half million dollars, and then this time… so we planned some more, but because of the reorganization of the college, Kentucky college system, KCTCS and UK, the two years went by without any building. There was a lot of planning, but we just got caught in the upheaval of this educational thing, until KCTCS could get on its feet. So, in the meantime we put together a proposal for another million dollars, probably should have been for more. And after all the wrangling, we were one of the fortunate ones at the end to get the million dollars, because Greg Stumbo, who is from here, is a pretty powerful figure and was essentially, he and Benny Ray Bailey, who got beat in this last election, were able to pretty much get all the one-time funding projects through that they asked for. So, now we are, we just last week had our meeting with the architects and KCTCS folks and college representatives and we are settled on where the site is going to be and we have a basic floor plan. And I hope two years from now the building will be standing. It probably will be. And then that means another legislature will have passed and hopefully we might even increase the operating costs of our group. We got a little more money for that. But I’m very excited about what we will be able to do, both for students who are in this region, who can’t really, who never see this sort of thing at this sophisticated level. There is now a planetarium at Eastern in Richmond, which a lot of people don’t even know about. But I think if we do this well, it can stimulate a lot of interest in science and technology. We have now decided to expand our laboratory facility so that we will be able to, from a classroom into a sort of laboratory classroom, so we can do experiments in DNA fingerprinting and other chemical experiments, at least demonstrative experiments. And we’re coming up with what I think is pretty exciting. Our Director we’ve hired is from Pike County, he was born there, although he grew up in Michigan. And we have, as I say, a very good board and so I’m, I think that it will be a very important part of the future of Eastern Kentucky. I think that we now have a new industry in Pike County, a knowledge-based industry, where a call center, Microsoft, if you call an 800 number for Microsoft and you need help on your computer, they’ll pick up the phone down there and give you answers to technical questions from their computers, which is a breakthrough in terms, because our coal economy is declining so quickly in terms of the number of people they can hire. So this is an area that we have to move into, that I think can have an appreciable effect on kids. People want to be scientists and they want to be astronomers and they want to be explorers and they can see that happen. And I think that’s what the role of this building is going to be. And obviously, you know, we’re going to need more money and I could spend all my time raising money for this facility for that matter. We’re going to be hiring a development director, but I’m very much invested in this project. So that’s what it’s about.

Q: And are you, what are you picturing your role to be in future years?

A: Well, I’ve been the chair of the board since its inception. Whether they’re going to kick me out any time soon, I’m not… but I may, and I’ve been pretty active in that particular role. I don’t know. I mean I think it’s very exciting. Actually it’s the result of, and in part it goes back to my scouting days, because when I… did I talk about scouting before? When I was growing up and Bud Schiele? Maybe I mentioned at the time that that inspired me to sort of get involved with this here. Because we added such a wonderful museum in my home in Gastonia, now, which grew out of a very small effort that started there. And I mean there is, certainly we will need people to volunteer to do everything from just showing kids through the place to actively being a part of the soliciting group or… and I will probably be involved. But I’m still very interested in practicing, in the practice of law. And if I were not doing legal services work, I’d probably be down the street with my friend Ned, and at least part-time working with him or working on my own, or taking in a few cases, because I enjoy doing them. So, I’m not sure that I would just stop and do the Science Center. Or maybe I’d be working with the housing group down here. I think I’d like to get our… I mean when you, it’s kind of getting to what else I’d like to be doing. I have a number of other interests, but I know I enjoy working. And I think when my daughter is out of graduate school and I feel like we have no more immediate important, sort of potentially major expenses within the family that I would stop. I mean I could stop I suppose. But I think it’s a great development. There may be something else that comes up in the community. I mean I’m very involved with the historical group, the Friends of the May House, where we’ve renewed this, restored this old building, which I’ve been a part of for twenty years. And I’m still working on some of their legal documents to get a conservation easement at the moment. And I’ve been proud of what we’ve done in that particular thing. And we need to raise some money, because we want to try to get that building open and keep it open. Everybody that is there is a volunteer and nobody has time to do any fund-raising. And that’s just one of those things. And I know that from my experience where I am here, I’ve done a fair amount of fund-raising. I don’t get a lot of private money, but I’ve written a number of those grants and I know the system that you, how you do it. And I know I could do that there. So, there’s plenty for me to spend my time on. Where I would do it, and I might still, you know, in the practice of law if you get an interesting case and it’s a big case it can eat you up, timewise. It’s like putting together a play or a book or radio program.

Q: You mentioned your mother a little earlier and what’s your, when you meet up with her and see her, do you, do you usually talk about your family history at this point? What kinds of, what kind of relationship do you have with her?

A: Oh, we’re very close. I think she is close to all three of her children, maybe more so than ever since my father passed away. And at various times, last time when mother was here we did a little more oral history. I always tend to, it’s one of those things you just sort of get yourself into. You may be talking about Passover and trying to remember what the lemon cream recipe was that she used to do. And then you talk about how Passover was in Germany. And then who their friends were that came to Passover and all of a sudden you’re into some history that you’d forgotten about or when she went off to learn to cook as a young girl. And so she’s still, the stories are still there. Not all of them are recorded. And she still corresponds with people in Germany. Her mind is very good and she really enjoys being with us, so it’s fun to travel with her. Jean has a really good relationship with her. I think my father was a very dominant, strong personality, a very smart man. And mother grew up in a small country town. And I think being a traditional, they had a very traditional relationship, where he was sort of the power figure in the family and she cooked and kept house and was very proud of her motherly role, as many Jewish mothers are. But Mom’s really pretty sharp. And I almost want to say I think her mind’s gotten even better in the last few years, maybe because of, by having to be a little more independent and living on her own, she has, you know, it’s broadened her horizons somewhat. But…

Q: How old is she now?

A: Huh? She’s eighty-eight. She’ll be eighty-nine in August, ninety next year. But she’s very strong physically and very, still gets on her bicycle. So she’s keeping up. When my sister took her on a cruise recently to the Panama Canal, they got off at some island to go sight-seeing and it turned out they were going up a mountain somewhere and she still kept up with everybody. And I think people, people are always quite amazed at her energy and her, you know, sort of… she’s very lively and very friendly, very outgoing. People can’t believe that she’s eighty-eight years old. There are others like that around now, who are eighty-five and ninety, who get around and I’m hoping I’m still in that, will be in that category. And I’d like to have that, I suppose I was probably saying I wish I had the time to, since she is so interested in traveling right now, that I would like to have more of an opportunity to do that with her. Or for the three of us to go, but Jean… when you are working, you do it in pieces. And so my brother and his wife have gone to China and so that’s why I went to see her with Jean last weekend. Now we’re trying to plan another trip or two. So I think I was just saying, I wish she were either down here or… I think she’s living in a good situation. She’s in a high-rise for the elderly up in D.C. But she is very dependent on her family, because the people in the house, most of them are her age or older. Well, they’re about, many of them are in their eighties and many of them are not in as good a physical condition, so she’s always helping others. So she hasn’t made very many connections with people who are her age and want to keep doing things, other than come down to eat and maybe go shop for groceries. We see that and so while she is in a mood to want to be able to do that, you know, you kind of want to accommodate her if you can. But I think between the three of us, we can get to do that. But when you have a calendar that is related to your work, you’re limited in that ability. You want to plan a trip in August and Jean’s got to start back to school or something. You can’t just pick up and go as easily as if you were not working at all.

Q: Has she or have you had any interest in visiting, I know you’ve been back to Magdeburg, but you mentioned it was more of a sightseeing trip. Have you had any strong interest in doing a more investigative trip? Maybe going to Leer where your father was born?

A: I’d like to go to Leer, actually Jean and her mother went to Leer, years ago, when they drove through. There’s a, I have a film at home. Do you speak German? By a German, by a filmmaker, whose name I’ve forgotten at the moment, that I just—Mother hasn’t seen it. I was surprised. I made a copy for her—of a homecoming to Leer by members of the Jewish congregation. You know many of the German communities have sort of welcomed back members of the Jewish community, who lived there and who emigrated because of the Holocaust. And there is this group that came back to Leer. And there’s a film about that group. Now there were no relatives of mine in that that I know of. But I would be interested, actually when we were in Washington last time and my mother, I was looking for the phone book actually, which is in a closet. And it was sitting on a little book that, I can’t remember the name, in German. It was a German recipe book, in which you wrote recipes and Mother had kept it. And there was a folded up piece of paper in there and it was a letterhead of my grandfather, of my father’s father, Meir Rosenberg, who was a junk dealer, who, unfortunately committed suicide when my father was very small. Killed himself. But it was his letterhead, on which my mother had written a recipe. And she didn’t even know she had it, I just happened to unfold that piece of paper. And the recipe is just something she’d been… wrote in like a little notebook. But it covered many years. It was like she started it when she was a new bride. It was actually bought for her when she was going off on this trip as a young girl, when they sent her off to learn to cook, to a pension that was near Frankfurt, which didn’t work out. So she brought it back and started writing. And it begins in German. I think over at the end some of the recipes are actually in English in this country. But she had that thing from Meir Rosenberg, which I don’t know where that came from. And my father, of course, was in a school, in an orphanage in Hanover. And I’ve never, because when his father died after a few years during the Depression, there were nine kids at home and so his mother just physically, could not economically take care of them and she sent three of them off to an orphanage in Hanover. I’ve never looked into, I don’t know much about that period. And his brothers and sisters, of course, are dead. I think one of his sisters, who is now dead, who went to Israel, did go back to Leer and sort of close the chapter on that. And I don’t know the business, you know, went out. We did go to Mother’s home. I think I may have mentioned. The butcher shop and the house where she lived was torn, was no longer there. The houses on either side of the house… which I suspect is due to the fact that her dad ran a butcher shop and they slaughtered animals. And when he went into the, when they left in 1936 and it was taken over, they continued using it as a butcher shop and I think it probably just rotted. Because of its use and constantly having water and blood and other… being used as a manufacturing facility, probably just, you know, decayed. But we met a number of her contemporaries in that town. There’s still a club of her schoolmates. I may have mentioned that the first time around. I don’t remember.

Q: Yeah, you did, yeah.

A: So, you know I have some interest. I don’t know that I feel like a genealogist. We do have a family tree at home, which one of the distant relatives in Norfolk Virginia did, which identified a number of people who are related, that I didn’t know, some of whom we now know. And my brother did a family tree that goes back pretty far on my mother’s side. And there are a lot of her relatives are in the Chicago area. And cousins and cousins I’ve never met, some of whom I’ve talked to. Magdeburg, I thought was interesting. Berlin is… I mean in a way, to me, the attraction to Germany is that I know the language and when you are there, you know that there’s this, because of the language, that sounds like a language you know or that you know the nuances, even if it’s your… fourth or fifth grade, that there’s very little language barrier. The language brings with it a familiarity. Not that it’s home, but it’s like home. That this is a place you’re from. And it doesn’t evoke all that hostility in me now, thirty years later. And I would be interested in whether the Jewish community, the Jewish community in Magdeburg and a number of the urban areas is growing again, not huge, but is growing. And Berlin is an exciting city. I think more from a tourist standpoint, wonderful museums and they are the parts of Germany I’d like to go see. But I don’t know that I would spend a lot of time trying to dig out more information. It’s interesting, when I saw that. And last time I was up there I saw… and I now have, or I came across my father’s, the certificate that released him from the concentration camp, which you’ve seen copies of, I’m sure, other copies of. And that sort of thing. I think they’re very significant. And I think Michael, our children are interested in this history. How much of it… and they are somewhat conversant with it. Well, I don’t guess either one of them have been back through this, I would… I’m just as interested in taking them to England, where I spent quite a bit of time in the Service. But I think both of them probably want to sort of look at this in their own way.

Q: Have they asked you and did they ask you much as they were growing up about what you remembered about your early years before you left Europe?

A: Oh yeah, I think both of them have. At various times we’ve talked about the history and then they’ve read about things that I’ve written obviously. They’ve read my talks. And they’ve heard, both of them have talked a good bit with their grandmother. And I think they’re both cognizant of the effect it’s had on the family. That it is an important part of our history. It would be nice to, I don’t know if we’d ever have the time to re-do it all, but neither one of them have been to Europe yet. I hope they go. We’ll see.

Q: I’m wondering about, I’ve been trying to kind of frame a big, biggish question for a while. Maybe it’s not a question, maybe it’s just an observation, but you’ve, in your work have kind of devoted yourself to people who, really you naturally don’t share a whole lot in common with, I mean as far as your own background and your own tradition. And in some ways that’s why… because those people were separated from mainstream culture and because they were disadvantaged in various ways, that’s why you felt the need to work with them. But yet it seems that your own tradition as a Jew and as a refugee from Nazi Germany has been an important part of your identity. I kind of wonder how you’ve kept that connection with your roots and with that tradition alive and whether that’s been a difficult balance for you in a context that’s so separate from it. I think so many Jews and in particular so many refugees, so many survivors have felt the need to be among people who really understand what they’ve been through and who had experienced something similar to what they’d experienced.

A: Well, I don’t know. I think some people just feel the need to continue to… I mean I think you have stated it, that there are people who want to be in an atmosphere where they think others are, that only people who have been through something like that or close to it, can understand them. Maybe it’s just like our veterans or sometimes they’re the same thing. I mean, I’ve appreciated being in Eastern Kentucky very much, in terms of also learning about this culture and its history. The crafts and the independence of people who are here and their ancestors. I’ve always admired people who have lived in a rugged way, and appreciated the environment, and…



A: I’ve always liked being in smaller towns. Just the trusting nature of people who are in smaller communities, whether it’s Gastonia or whether it’s rural people generally. And people who, we used to, I used to say when I worked selling chemicals up North it’s… again you never, you always wonder about generalizing, but it’s like when you’re a salesperson, if you walk into a place in the South, people assume that they can trust you until you prove that you are not trustworthy and do something wrong. And then you’re done for. As opposed to going into many of the urban places where one might think that, they begin by thinking they can’t trust you and that you’re going to pull one over on them. And it takes a long time to have them either trust you or have some confidence in you. That’s probably, you know, it may be that that’s old hat. I think there’s still a lot of that here. And that that’s just sort of being country people. I don’t know, in terms of not having that much of a surrounding, maybe part of that may be the fact that I’m married to a Quaker. I mean I did not marry someone who is Jewish. And we accommodate that to the way we want to, and once you… so you make somewhat of a break from the tradition that permeates the homes of Jewish couples and families where both couples are Jewish. So, Jean is, obviously gave up some of her ties to being in a Quaker environment where she was a very much involved in young Friends activities and probably never foresaw that she would be married to somebody who was Jewish, although Quakers are very, probably the most tolerant group, religious group that is out there. So maybe that has something to do with it. You know, I can never look into somebody else’s brain and I don’t know what motivates people, why people happen to be narrow-minded or not narrow minded, or what… You know, there are great differences among Jews, as you were saying at lunch, in the way, in the philosophy of the Holocaust Museum and how it should be run. I have, my mother’s sister, at least one if not both of them, but one of them for certain, would say she would never step foot into Germany again. I mean there are many Jews who came from there, who think it’s heretical to go back to Germany and would never forgive anybody and would draw the line in the sand. Whereas Mom went back and would go and continue to have some correspondence with people. And they were very touched to see her and she was touched to see people she went to school with. My ties, and you know I still have very good friends who I went to school with in North Carolina and Gastonia and that sort of thing and in the Service. I think it’s all, I guess it’s one humanity. I mean I think you just, you kind of try to get the most out of what you can, wherever you happen to be. And that has been pretty, I think that in terms of relationships here hasn’t been that hard. I think the most difficult, the big difficulty is that, one difficulty is that most of us who are professionals in legal services or in others, who are in a helping profession or if that’s the way we choose to live our lives, in a sense we live a pretty, we live, really, a middle-class life with our own surroundings. And we have most of what we need. We are not disadvantaged the way our clients are disadvantaged. On the other hand, our value systems are totally different from our counterparts in private practice or in the business community. So we don’t share a lot of their values. And so you have to kind of make your own life and if you need a lot of friends in the community that may be difficult. And I think to some extent that’s why you have turnover in communities. Or because you become absorbed in your own world and you do stay so busy and you do enjoy the work that you do, that that takes up a lot of your time. Which is some of, I think, the kinds of stuff that Jean and I keep going, that keeps us going. Whereas in a place like Washington, even if you’re working all the time, you’re… and legal services is probably that way, you’re socializing and working with the same group of people, because you’re always together. And so you don’t really need a lot of outside help. I think that’s… and that’s why I said earlier, the school, I think when your kids start to school, you start to develop much more of a base in the community and you meet parents. Maybe even socially your friends become, at least for a few years, the parents who have kids in schools like you do. And that social engagement helps to, I think, draw you into the community and start thinking about things like a Science Center. I mean the first ten or fifteen years I was here, the idea of, you’re just going uphill all the time. And even the idea that, that you might be working together with the business community. I mean when I was filing these coal cases, the very notion of trying to seek funding, from say the coal council that’s given the Science Center some money to design coal exhibits. I would have said, ‘We can’t do that.’ We had a big debate, I was on a Bar committee that was doing a booklet for the elderly, health care for the elderly and rights of the elderly. And whether we should get money, accept money from Humana, because we were suing Humana. I said, ‘I don’t want any of Humana’s money.’ Well, we eventually took Humana’s money and gave them a, I can’t remember. The other committee members said, ‘Let’s get the money, don’t worry about it and give them a little acknowledgement. You can sue them. Let’s get their money.’

Q: Get their money twice.

A: Right, get their money twice. Those are philosophical issues that are hard to grapple with. That’s why I say, now that I’m sharing a grant with a judge. I sued that judge, ten years ago in a strip mining case, he was in the Service. And we’ve had a couple of knock-downs, but he wants, he’s very… I think he, you know, he’s like a lot of other political figures, but he came up the hard way and he wants to see this be a better place to live. And he’s willing to invest his time to try to improve housing and clean up garbage and do things that bring in industry. And as long as we don’t bump into each other over other things, I think that’s a good thing to do. And so those are the kind of things that help make being in the community more, when you start thinking well maybe we can do things with others and make this a better place for everybody, even if we have to step on some toes. The problem in agencies like these is the temptation with many agencies, of course, especially state, to jump over, it’s too easy to get co-opted. And so you, as you were talking about, the problem in the museum or any institution, if you start becoming cautious because you’re afraid somebody’s going to cut your money off, or you’re going to lose your job or something is going to happen, then you lose the effectiveness. And I think we’ve been able to avoid that, I think, pretty well. I think people know, have known me, that I don’t want to get into that position. And the people on both sides of the fence, that I’m not going to do that. If I did that, I’d stop one or the other. That I think that… it doesn’t mean that you can’t compromise. But it is, you get put into those positions and that’s hard, especially when you have funding sources that are problematical. I mean, that’s hard. Like the migrant cases, when we had some publicity in one of the migrant cases that we filed and people went screaming to Congress. My counterparts are worried we’re going to lose the money in the State Legislature if they find out legal services is involved in this case. That kind of stuff can be really hard, and you just try your best to get through it. But I’m pretty pleased with where we’ve come. I hope whoever takes over will keep it going that way. Most of the people who run my offices, I think, have that philosophy. I can’t remember what you asked.

Q: Oh, it was a while ago, it was that big, that big kind of question.

A: Did we ever talk about the end? Did I ever give you the answer to the big question?

Q: Well, I think you addressed it, yeah.

A: Oh, you asked about the identity thing.

Q: Yeah.

A: You know I don’t know, sometimes it’s hard to know, to answer. And you can go on and the reality is you don’t really know the answer.

Q: Sure.

A: You just have some ideas.

Q: The questions are just kind of little ways of getting you to talk about things anyway. [LAUGHING] They’re not necessarily to find out the answers.

A: You’re wonderful at pricking, at getting somebody started. And I can begin to see why some people, why someone like yourself does so well. I mean this must be hard just to listen to folks go on, but you can see why some folks start writing books collaboratively and are willing to just sort of, finally you turn it all over. Say, ‘Well, just ask me and I’ll talk a while.’

Q: People like me love listening to stories, it’s fun. [LAUGHING]

A: One thing I’m not good at is, I don’t have many stories. I know there are people who can tell them. Jean’s father is a marvelous storyteller and he’s ninety-two. And he remembers jokes. I mean hundreds of jokes. And I try to get him, have gotten him to put some down on his computer or to type them up. Because he, Jean knows, has heard many of them. But it’s amazing. And I cannot remember a joke five minutes. I’ll hear one and think it’s wonderful. Boy that will be easy. I won’t forget that. I can’t even remember the punch… it just does not stay with me.

Q: I think you underestimate yourself, because you’ve told a lot of stories in this… I mean, we’ve got ten tapes full of…

A: Of something!

Q: Is there anything you want to say to close the interview?

A: To the world? To the world?

Q: Here’s your chance. [LAUGHING]

A: I don’t know. I think give Arwen Donahue an award for having listened to all these hours of going on. I don’t know that there’s much more to add. I feel very lucky. I mean I guess I just would say whoever, if you think back on the fact that I was born into a Germany… I think that my father was in a concentration camp. If you think back on all the experiences that I’ve had, I’ve been a pretty fortunate person to have been through all these various experiences and to have people appreciate them and to be where we are today and to have so many different connections. I think one of the nice things that Jean and I’ve been able, have had a nice opportunity to do is just, we talk about Sherry Arms today. There’s so many of those people, either in the Service or in the law, because she’s in the work that she’s in and because of our interest in education, we’ve just met so many people across the state. And have had a chance… and if it wasn’t education, it’s the people, those couples she taught childbirth to, because many of those kids are growing up now. When you go to the grocery store and they say, ‘Look Jean, that’s my twenty… see that, he’s that baby!’ And here’s this guy about six feet three inches tall. And you see all these, you know, you kind of look around you and you say, well, you’ve had a little opportunity to do something that made a difference over time. I mean it’s not over yet. It’s not an epitaph.

Q: I don’t know if you’ll ever have one. You just keep going.

A: Well, people are getting older these days, aren’t they? What is the oldest person you’ve interviewed?

Q: That’s a good question, probably ninety. There’s a, I don’t know, have you heard the things on NPR? The Hundred Years of Stories? A friend of mine, who’s producing these. I won’t transcribe it.

A: One of these involved…

Q: Why don’t you repeat that you are going to talk about a couple of cases, because I didn’t get that part either.

A: Yeah, I was just going to tell you about a couple of… when you said is there anything else and then we started talking about stories. And I said I didn’t really do very well with stories, which I don’t. I’m not a storyteller. But I thought I might mention a couple of experiences, just about legal cases that I was involved with that I don’t know that I’ve mentioned. The first one is one in the early ‘70s or in the early ‘70s that involved the Paintsville Housing Authority. A family, part Indian, named Elsie, the father was named Elsie Dale. They lived in a shack, in an old house and their house burned down. And so he applied to get into public housing and they wouldn’t let him in. So, I went over there and when I got there Elsie had taken some of the charred timbers that were left and put them up against an old automobile, his car. And the family was living there. And they applied for public housing and they wouldn’t let them in. They wouldn’t let them in because the community treated them as black, not as… I mean Indian. They were dark-skinned. But they were very poor. And so we went to the Housing Authority. We started investigating. And it turned out that the Housing Authority had also threatened to kick out some unwed mothers. And then there was a guy named, what was this fellow’s name? He was a veteran. A single father. They didn’t want him to… he wanted to get in with his child. They didn’t want him in. The woman who was running the place, Maxine somebody, was very… she let you in if she knew you. It was who you knew. There was nothing fair about the system and she just didn’t want them in the project. So, we filed a lawsuit. It was one of the first large cases that we had filed. And on the way up there, I had to get, we had a hearing, we were to have a hearing in Lexington for preliminary injunction. And we were trying to get the witnesses together. And that night I was going to pick up the fellow who was the veteran. And I couldn’t. He wasn’t at home. And I finally found him and he was drunk. And I had to get him up there. And so I finally got him in my car, and we got as far as Salyersville and I filled up the gas tank. And he was riding with me. And he wanted, as we were leaving the gas station, he wanted to get out. And he was… what did he want to do? He started to hit me. I threw hot water in his face. Oh, I threw my coffee at him. And I remember the coffee spot stayed on the side of the car. So, we then drove, we started driving, I had this old Peugeot in 1970, because Jean and I had bought it to take a camping trip. We brought it to drive down here. We had a ‘59 Volvo and we had this old Peugeot. And we had like a ‘62 or ‘66 Peugeot, which we had taken on our camping trip. So, we got halfway to Lexington and I started having car trouble. I got out of the car to look under the hood. And my witness, who was still partially drunk, then locked me out of the car. And the stars were out. I remember, it was a beautiful night. He wouldn’t let me back in. What was his name? Elvin… Anyway, I bet I was out of the car for about half an hour. He finally let me in. We got into Lexington about 1:30 in the morning. Next morning he was sober, and he got on the stand and he was a very, very good witness. And I had a blow-up of this big automobile with the timbers and Elsie Dale got on and testified. He had four kids. He needed a four-bedroom unit. And the clerk of the court started crying. I mean it was so sad, they wouldn’t let him in. But the judge would not order the Housing Authority to let them in. He said I could try to prove that there was further discrimination and as it turned out that day… And the unwed mothers, Effie Pickelsheimer was her name. She testified. We put on a strong case, but the judge was not going to do anything that day. So anyway we came back. But I always remember throwing this coffee. Thirty years later. What was his name? He had a short, fat… he eventually, the same person was indicted because he shot a guy in the back, who had started a fight with him. And I went to visit him in the jail about twenty years later after that particular… Crum was his second name. It wasn’t Elvin Crum, what was his first name? Well, we ended up having a number of grievance hearings. I got the know all the tenants in that project. This case went on for about two years. In the meantime they were tearing down a new section, an old section of Paintsville. So we were able for Elsie, he really wanted a house of his own. And as part of the settlement of this case we were able to get him a Farmer’s Home House built by the Community Action Agency. He never got in the housing project. But they were such a nice family and you knew the only reason they didn’t live in the project was because they were not white. We did finally get a very good, agreed court order that required them to set up a very fair system. And for years after that they wouldn’t… anytime there was a question about whether somebody should get in or not, they would call me, because they didn’t want to go back to court. But it was a case that went on forever. And finally really was resolved in a very favorable way for the clients in that housing project. I was thinking, another, when we talk about the effect cases have, I represented a group over from Pike County, who, they were supposed to strip mine above their, they were going to strip mine this holler above their homes in Poor Bottom off Maribone Creek over in Pike County. And the families were worried that the strip mine was right over their houses and that the rocks and boulders were… So when we looked into it, we learned that there were deep mine workings that had been worked out inside the mountain and that if they strip mined around the front side, they were in danger of hitting those old deep mine workings which were filled with water. And the water would then potentially be a real problem to the people down below. It just could come out in gallons and wash away houses. So we had a couple of hearings in Frankfort and one of the lead plaintiffs was named Edith Easterling, who was very much involved in the case against the McShurleys, which is when the Appalachian Volunteers were here. I don’t know if you now about that? There was this series in The New Yorker about this couple that was arrested by the local prosecutor. The case went to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Anyway, Edith’s daughter was name Sue Kobak, she’d married a young man in Washington. And she was home and she went to the hearings with us. And they couldn’t find, we were the only folks that could represent anybody because it would cost a fortune. There were no lawyers around who would represent this community to try to stop the strip mining. It had actually already started. I had a wonderful expert, a guy who had been an inspector. And she went to the hearings with us. And I didn’t know this until later, after she got home, she applied to go to law school and went to law school as a result of seeing this experience. And actually an experience that had a favorable outcome. The administrative judge said that we were right in that they had left, this information about the water in the old workings was not on the permit application. And that he considered it to be a danger to the family and they stopped the strip mining operation totally. Edith Easterling a wonderful person, a remarkable woman. And I didn’t know until after was in… and Sue went to law school and had a difficult time as an Appalachian student for a couple of years. She later married a doctor in Clintwood and she’s a city attorney in Clintwood, Virginia. I was just thinking back about those sorts of human, and you become… you were asking me earlier, you become very close to your clients. She had organized that little holler. And it potentially was a really serious problem. We did a lot more strip mining work than we have in recent years because some of the lawyers who worked for us are now doing that in private practice. I just recently represented somebody in Letcher County, whose name had been left off, their property had been left off a mining map. They just left them off because they didn’t… and they knew, they knew that she owned the property that they wanted to mine and that she wasn’t going to let them mine. And so they left, they thought, I think, they could get away with it by just leaving their name off the map, which they are required to put on to show the property that they intend to mine, figuring they might just pay her damages when it was over. And she was outside, this is an older widow, looking up there and saw the trees getting cut, coming over the hill. It was one of the cases that I did. And then we stopped them from going any further and the state agreed that they should not do that. So I don’t know, I was just thinking back on Elsie Dale and the people you get to meet in these cases, who have to be pretty gutsy to stand up against pretty moneyed interests, who pay big bucks for lawyers and who hire people in the community, who hire their… I think one of these folks had a son who was a truck driver for the same company that had mined, that was mining that strip mine. You’re always running into that, that sort of situation. But in every one of these cases, you know, whether it’s in legal services or it’s the discrimination cases like Fannie Lou Hamer, and the people who… Eulah Hall always reminds me of, you mentioned Eulah Hall. You know Eulah and I went to Washington together because in this health care case. I don’t know if I mentioned that the first time, when Eulah started this clinic and I was telling you this morning earlier about the medical clinic when they wouldn’t let these folks do this medical thing. What happened then, we asked for a hearing and she was my witness and I took her to, we went to Washington and we had an administrative hearing. And they came back down here and did a big investigation and they threatened to close it. They ended up reorganizing it with a new board of directors, and…

Q: They threatened to close the clinic?

A: Clinic, yeah. The clinic, the program that was in being, because it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. And then so they ended up reorganizing that clinic with a new board.

Q: The Mud Creek Clinic?

A: Well that’s what turned into the Mud Creek Clinic, which is now a nationally-known clinic. Back then it was called, yeah, I guess back then it was just the Mud Creek Clinic. There was a period of time, it went through several phases, where it was called Big Sandy Health Care, whatever… back then it was really under the Community Action Agency. But eventually it became the Mud Creek Clinic. Then that clinic burned down. Jean, she got her nursing degree, did her internship out there after it had been burned down. They put a phone on the telephone pole. And Eulah kept the place going in her house. No one believed she could do it. In three weeks she raised like 200,000 dollars over the telephone. And this was a social worker with a fifth-grade education. And she raised enough money, maybe it wasn’t two hundred, to build a new clinic. And it’s been expanded several times since then. Now they have a dental clinic and a daycare center and it’s a real wonderful institution. That was a place, the only place… and a good friend of ours became a doctor there. That’s the place where we took our kids. Now it’s run by a federally-funded group called Big Sandy Health Care up here. They also run a clinic in Magoffin County and one in Pike County. And Eulah has stayed right with it. I mean she’s won these wonder woman awards. She’s on lots of boards and lots of committees. And has just kept on, but day to day she’s still the social worker out there. And she’s represented people in social security and black lung cases, and has really learned it. Recently had her picture hung in the Capitol in that Women’s Galleria, you know, one of those, the Kentucky Commission on Women, Women of the Year things, or whatever they call them. I’m real proud of her. I think she’s quite a testimonial to what people can do when they want to do it. And she worked with us for a few years as an outreach worker with Appalred. So those are the people you come across, you know. Hard to beat, right? Well, I guess we can call it a day.

Q: Okay. Well, thanks.

A: Oh, I should also mention.

Q: Yeah?

A: Did we ever talk about the Jewish community in Williamson?

Q: No.

A: Where we are going to synagogue these days?

Q: You’ve mentioned, you’ve mentioned that you… Williamson? No, I thought you were going to synagogue somewhere in West Virginia. Is that in West Virginia, Williamson?

A: Virginia. Well we went to Portsmouth, I mean we went to Lexington and then to Ashland, Kentucky for a while. But then most recently, for the last few years, we’ve been going to a small…



Question: This is tape number eleven, side A.

Answer: Well, we’re talking about and I was thinking about how you maintain your Judaism as it were. A few years ago we learned that there was still a congregation in Williamson, West Virginia, which is about thirty-five miles from here, much closer than Lexington and we went over there one Friday night. And found a very friendly group of people, who were meeting sort of monthly and being served by the rabbi from Huntington, West Virginia, who comes down on a Sunday night to do a Friday night service. And the synagogue is an old, old synagogue. I don’t know, probably a hundred years old at least. It sits up on top of a hill in the black section of Williamson. And there’s no elevator and you’ve got to walk up a huge bunch of steps, well, probably twenty-five. And the average age of the people other than us is about seventy. But they’ve kept on going and they consist of folks from Welch and Grundy and nearby people who are in a probably twenty, thirty mile area from around Williamson. I think twenty years ago during the height of the coal mining in this area and maybe through the seventies and eighties I think they had fifty families. Over the years the kids have moved away and so the older members of the Williamson Jewish community are still there. And the President is a fellow named Bill Rosen, whose son is now a circuit judge in Ashland. But it’s been a nice group of people, and the rabbi, who is from Huntington, is an interesting personality. His wife teaches a, not Headstart, but Upward Bound program. And I’ve actually been… the rabbi teaches a class at Marshall University on Jewish studies. And so I’ve visited his class and spoke about the Holocaust as sort of a living survivor. But it is interesting, and then it’s much nicer to go to a congregation of that sort, where every person that comes is one more person that makes a difference, rather than going to Lexington, where you’ve got a large congregation at Adath Israel and there’s also the Conservative, the Orthodox congregation there. So, that’s been very nice. We actually have, there are other, three other Jewish mixed couples here. Miriam Silman, whose father, by the way, had the contract to, was an engineer, who re-did, who did the plans to re-do Mount Vernon. And then Pam Weiner, whose husband is from here, from Pike County, and is a Buddhist. They just had a baby. And then Deborah Golden, who is a lawyer with my Pikeville office. And then there is another couple in Pikeville, Terry Mulliken, who’s a lawyer. His wife, Cynthia, has been on my Board. It used to be there’s a large family in Pikeville that used to go to Williamson, their name Yaruses. They’re friends of ours. But they, and they go, now they’re older and they go once in a while. But the Williamson community was sort of the hub of the Jewish residents of this area for many years. Now there are probably twenty families that are left. One of the younger set married, a young woman married an Israeli when she was in Israel and they have a little boy. They’ve recently been divorced. Very few young members. But it is there and we have, we joined that congregation, so that we once again do have a, sort of a formal tie to a Jewish community that’s here, for whatever it’s worth. I guess it’s worth putting that down.

Q: Is it a Conservative?

A: It’s Reform. Now the congregation the rabbi is from in Huntington, you had a Reform and an Orthodox congregation merge. Really unusual. And so it’s sort of conservative. And I think he actually has, for the benefit of the Orthodox members, he has services on Saturday morning as well. He’s a very funny fellow, almost like a stand-up comic when he does sermons. Because he’ll say something very serious and then it will jog his mind to kind of say something funny, reminds him of something funny. But he’s a very bright fellow. It’s a nice group. I mean, it’s obviously an older group and they depend on one or two people like the Rosens and one or two other families to sort of keep it going. You know, once they got the air conditioning… I don’t know how many more years they can do that. There’s not a very strong base down below. Someone did a series in West Virginia, I think it may have even been in The New York Times, an article on old congregations. And someone did a project in Kentucky, didn’t they? On Jewish synagogues in Kentucky, a few years ago?

Q: Yeah. Lee Shai Weissbach did a book on synagogues of Kentucky. He’s at the University of Louisville.

A: Well, the one in Ashland is, I don’t know what they turned it into, a day care center. We used to go there for the first few years we were here. In fact I had a fraternity brother at Duke, whose father, who was Jewish, whose father was the mayor of Ashland back in the ‘50s, and he’s now down in Florida. And then they gave that up. And I think people either went to Portsmouth, about thirty or forty miles north, or to Huntington. That congregation folded. And then we went to Lexington for high Holy days. We never really, I was never, didn’t know many people and we were up there for Seder a couple of nights, but you never felt much a part of it. You know what I mean?

Q: Yeah. So, Jean’s taken, has Jean taken a strong interest in Judaism?

A: Oh yeah, I mean, I think, we often go Friday nights. She goes with me. She’s always supported that. Doesn’t know any more, doesn’t know a lot of Hebrew. But we also now have Quakers, we have a Quaker group in Eastern Kentucky, which is a very small Quaker group, she may have mentioned to you.

Q: Yeah, and I think you actually talked about the Quaker group a little bit in the last…

A: We go there on weekends. I don’t think tomorrow, I don’t think it’s this weekend. I think it’s next weekend, but three or four couples. They’re awfully nice. But she, someone was saying the other day… If you ask Michael, I guess maybe both kids sort of consider themselves Jewish. Not that they observe or are really close to the synagogues. When Jean told me that about Ann Louise, I was a little surprised, but I think that’s what she says. Whether that will always be that way, I think they do associate more with us, rather than the Jewish community at large. All right.

Q: Okay. This is it.

A: Now I interview you.

Q: My turn. Well, I was born… no, we’re not going to do this today.