Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

October 30, 2013

Lifting our eyes unto the hills for help

By Keith Kappes - Publisher

Oct. 30, 2013 —

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

That first verse of Psalm 121 came to mind this week when I heard that Gov. Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers had called a summit meeting in Pikeville on Dec. 9 to start planning the future economy of East Kentucky.

Although we actually live in the foothills of Northeast Kentucky, we have a large stake in what happens, particularly as it relates to coal and coal-related jobs and businesses.

We’ve had plenty of government experts tell us over the years how to improve the quality of life in East Kentucky.

I remember hearing a man from these parts say years ago that he didn’t realize he was poor until the federal government told him.

He had a weekday factory job to supplement his income from farming. His hillside farm had been in the family for several generations and his several kids helped him with the tobacco crop.

His wife raised a vegetable garden and looked after the livestock so they could sell an occasional steer or hog at auction.

Eventually, his little job played out as evolving technology forced the company to downsize its workforce.

The tobacco market faltered and practically disappeared with the government buyout.

His kids grew up and moved away. Some went to college, others into the military and still others simply left in search of good-paying jobs.

Some of them went east to the coalfields and others went west or north to industrial centers.

All of them wanted an easier life with more conveniences like shopping malls, homes in subdivisions and entertainment.

The man and his wife grew too old to work the tired, rundown farm. None of their children wanted the dawn-to-dusk life of a farmer.

Today the couple lives in a small apartment in a senior citizens housing complex. Social Security and Medicare keep them fed and provided with medicine.

The up-and-down economy of the last 50 years has had the same life changing impact on families throughout the eastern third of our state as we continue to lose population as jobs and family farms vanish.

We’re told the Dec. 9 summit will take a different approach than what we’ve seen in the past from socio-economic missionaries driving government vehicles.

Our citizens, not vote-seeking politicians or do-gooders from social service agencies, are being asked to share their personal ideas for rebuilding our economy.

What a novel idea! It’s sort of like “we, the people.”