HAZARD—Daniel Boone, Adolph Rupp, Henry Clay; these are three names synonymous with the Commonwealth of Kentucky. And while it is impossible to be able to meet these personalities now, one group is making it possible to get an experience that’s the closest thing to an actual meeting.
At the Hazard Rotary Club’s meeting last week, Executive Director for the Kentucky Humanities Council Ben Chandler explained that the council, a nonprofit organization meant to keep people interested in art, literature, history, and philosophy, is celebrating over 20 years for its Kentucky Chautauqua program.
“There isn’t much that I’m more interested in than the history of our people. Where we came from, what we’re all about. It means a lot to people in Kentucky and it means a lot to me,” Chandler said at the meeting on Tuesday.
Chandler, who has served as state auditor and attorney general as well as a member of Congress, explained that the Chautauqua program is something that almost literally brings Kentucky’s historical figures to life with historically and theatrically trained actors portraying those characters for groups across the state.
“What we do is, we go to all of the counties in the state … and we promote storytelling about Kentucky,” Chandler added. “Our motto is telling Kentucky’s story.”
With 28 different characters to choose from, ranging in themes from sports with Pee Wee Reese to politics with Abraham Lincoln, Chandler said this is one of the best ways to get students interested in the humanities.
“Humanities are getting a little bit of a short shrift because everybody wants to talk about math and science and all of those kinds of things, and they’re very important—but we also think that the humanities are important,” he said. “We also think that it’s an important part of a person’s education, that to have a well-rounded human being and for society to be made up of well-rounded human beings it’s very important.”
Chandler said rates for schools and organizations to book an actor are manageable and are often donated or subsidized by groups like the Rotary Club. Out of 120 counties in the state, the program has been to 115 and plans to hit the other five in the near future.
Hazard native Wilma Riddle, fiscal officer for the council, attended the meeting with Chandler.
“I wanted to make sure that we got the opportunity to come to Hazard and get the information to people who can take it out to the community,” she said.
Riddle added that the program was like nothing she had ever heard of before and thought that it offered great opportunities for not just Kentucky’s youth but for the state as a whole.
“Even when I lived here I knew nothing like this existed. When I got there (to the council) I thought my kids would have loved to have this in their school,” she said.
Chandler said after serving in public office for over 20 years, he never considered working for an organization like the council, but now sees that this job is just as important and has the same end goals for the state as his previous positions.
“It’s important to have good, involved citizens, we believe, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.