Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

July 18, 2012

Jesse Stuart was larger than life

By Keith Kappes - Publisher
Journal-Times

July 18, 2012 — I’m not sure when I first became aware of Jesse Stuart but it may have been when I first read what he wrote about teaching:

“I am firm in my belief that that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”

I believe millions of K-12 teachers and college education professors have had a poster or plaque with those inspiring words.

We studied a couple of his books in high school but my personal relationship with this world famous poet, novelist and educator came during my college years.

It began when I noticed a beautiful young woman and her parents waiting to see the president of the two-year college where I was enrolled at the time.

I was working as a reporter at the local newspaper and the college president insisted on introducing me to these visitors.

It turned out to be Jane Stuart and her parents, Jesse and Naomi Stuart. Jane was taking some classes with us that semester.

That was about the same time the college theatre decided to present “The Thread That Runs So True," Stuart’s only major novel adapted as a play.

Recognizing my acting skills immediately, the director put me in charge of sound effects and publicity.

Stuart personally introduced each night’s performance of his play and, to his credit, freely admitted it was a thinly disguised account of his early teaching career in a one-room school.

I probably didn’t know the meaning of “charisma” at the time but this outgoing man had it in abundance, acting more like your favorite uncle than a famous author.

He gave a public lecture on campus and I covered it for the newspaper. He wrote me a gracious note saying I had organized his remarks better than he did.

Later, I would spend hours with him at a drugstore counter as he shared his world travels and plot outlines while reminding me to always be proud of my East Kentucky heritage.

Years after his death, I became involved with the Jesse Stuart Foundation and had the privilege of serving on its board as it became a successful regional press and bookseller, dedicated to preserving Stuart’s literary legacy and the Appalachian way of life.

I believe he would be proud of what has been accomplished. After all, it’s the least we could do for the gifted man who wrote:

“If these United States could be called a body, Kentucky can be called its heart.”