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March 27, 2018

I do a lot of reading — and often write about — Kentuckians who’ve made a positive difference for our state. One person who I believe often gets overlooked is Catholic priest Father Ralph Beiting, who died at age 88 in 2012. He’s perhaps most easily recognized as the founder, in 1962, of the noted Christian Appalachian Project (CAP), called a “nonprofit, nondenominational organization to help the poor help themselves.” Though known in that special organization and the Catholic Church in the state, I’m not sure that he gets his just due outside those realms.

I doubt if that’s the kind of thing that ever bothered him; I support the idea that he deserves more, however, so I’ll write about him.

Besides the importance of CAP, I find his entire life story highly fascinating. I realized that recently as I perused sources such as The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky and Wikipedia and talked to some people who knew him. For me, he’s certainly a “person of interest” when seeking to understand the rich fabric of the Bluegrass state. During his years on earth, he showed up in different places in Kentucky, always with a “roll up my sleeves and get to work” mentality that he hoped would invigorate those he helped to be empowered. He had a humble influence, and a lasting one.

Father Beiting Father Beiting

Beiting was the oldest of eleven children born to Ralph and Martha Beiting in northern Kentucky during the Great Depression. He attended St. Joseph School in Cold Spring as a child and later Newport Catholic High School. Later, while attending St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati, he spent the summer of 1946 in Paintsville, in eastern Kentucky, doing mission work. That experience turned out to be a forerunner of his future life working with economically challenged people in Appalachia.

He was ordained in 1949 and stayed in northern Kentucky as associate pastor at St. Bernard Catholic Church, in Dayton. A year later, Father Beiting was assigned to start a Catholic church in the Madison County town of Berea. But, according to the Encyclopedia, the “declining coal-mining industry, enduring poverty, and pervasive anti-Catholicism made the assignment a difficult undertaking.”

Though not easy, Beiting embraced the opportunity and built an effective mission center in Berea. Then, in 1951, he established St. Clare Catholic Church there. He relied on his many contacts back in northern Kentucky to supply food, clothing, and household goods for the mission.

Several years later, in 1957, he partnered with his associate pastor, Father Herman Kamlage, in founding Cliffview Lodge, a summer boys’ camp located on some land at Herrington Lake in Garrard County. The two used their own money to do so, and the outreach was racially integrated—unusual during the period. Cliffview, according to Wikipedia, “offered recreation and fellowship in a Christian atmosphere to boys from poor families in the counties where Father Beiting ministered…(and was) a success.”

The plan Father Beiting had for CAP when incorporated in 1964 was that the organization should maintain its independence (religious ideals) and rely on private donations rather than federal funding. It “would focus on creating opportunities for people in the region to start self-sustaining businesses that would provide a living for the owners and workers,” noted the Encyclopedia. Along with those stated goals for CAP, he also sought to make available educational services for all ages, and have summer camps and Bible schools. It would foster family growth, if possible.

Today, a key part of CAP’s success is the spirit of volunteering, inspired by Father Beiting’s servant leadership demonstrated in the early days of the organization. People of all faiths and from all parts of the country provide labor, as well as donations, either “in kind” or directly financial. A quick look at CAP’s web site,, makes clear that through the instruments of faith, service, and compassion: “We are building hope, transforming lives, and sharing Christ’s love through service in Appalachia.”

Even in his death, Father Ralph Beiting’s legacy is made apparent through the thousands of people CAP touches every day.

Amazingly, Beiting managed to juggle other endeavors while involved with CAP. He served as pastor of parishes in Garrard, Rockcastle, Jackson, and Madison counties until 1981. In 1973, he was involved in a five-year effort to restore Camp Nelson, (supported by CAP), though a fire and weather catastrophes put a stop to the effort, and resources were needed elsewhere. He spent his later years as a pastor (after CAP involvement) much further east, in Louisa, at St Jude Parish, a church he helped start in 1992.

(Photo from Christian Appalachian Project)(Photo from Christian Appalachian Project)

Father Beiting also is remembered as a “street preacher;” Encyclopedia noted that he “brought his street preaching to parishes in northern Kentucky by cruising the Ohio River in a houseboat and making stops along the way on both sides of the river to preach to people who gathered to listen.”

Sandra Koenig, raised in Ft. Thomas but now living in Montgomery, Ohio, recalls a special time as a youth when she was a middle schooler at St. Thomas School: “Father Beiting came to our church to ask for help and donations for the work he was doing in Appalachia,” she explained. “I remember sitting on the pew listening to every word. This was the very first time that my eyes were opened to poverty. I thought, up to then, that everyone lived like I did. He had a way of telling his stories that took (you) right to the area and people he was talking about.”

A family connection to Father Beiting brings these insights to his character. A niece, Donna Beiting Hicks, Cold Spring, shared her remembrances:

“The people of Appalachia were not his ‘job’ or his ‘clients,’ she said. “They were his heart and his soul. It was what he did and who he was. This assignment was not something he was initially thrilled with. But it took very little time to realize those mountains were exactly where he was supposed to be.”

Donna told a few light-hearted stories about her uncle. “’Father Bill’, which is what we all grew up calling him, married my husband and me,” she said. “At our wedding, his homily was 23 minutes long. This was a Catholic mass on a hot July 1 day. Nearly fifteen minutes of his homily he somehow wound back to the people of Appalachia and his mission there. We knew that would probably happen, which is why we timed it just for our curiosity.”

There were two requests Father Beiting made for his funeral, related Donna. One was that his casket be a simple one, not flashy. That was taken care of easily by a family member who made one earlier.

“His other request,” she said, “which my dad had a really hard time with as executor, was that there would be a collection (for Appalachia) during the funeral mass. Everyone, including many of the priests that were there, dug into their pockets. Father Bill would have been thrilled, and was probably giggling up in heaven. He was awesome. Just a genuinely caring guy who would have given the shirt off his back to someone in need.”

I wish I’d had a chance to sit down over a cup of coffee with this man.



Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

March 26, 2018

Appalachians are storytellers...


By Melissa Martin

Self-Syndicated Columnist

Wheelersburg, Ohio 


Storytelling in Appalachia is as old as the mountains—well, not quite. But before newspapers, radio, television, Internet, and other forms of social media, rural folks gathered together around wood stoves, front porches, hunting campfires, church steps, garden fences, barn dances, quilting circles, general stores, and anywhere country people congregated to hear stories; both fiction and nonfiction tales.

Spoken stories served the purpose of informing, entertaining, educating, sharing, and passing down beliefs, values, and ideas to younger generations. Children learned to listen by listening to storytellers and the stories. Children learned to communicate by retelling stories and creating their own narratives.

Summer Front Porches Shorpy historical photosSummer Front Porches Shorpy historical photosAccording to Ohio Arts Council, “Traditionally, storytelling has been the mechanism for maintaining a culture's collective memory. Major events were held in memory by an oral historian who retold the highlights over and over, keeping the event alive generation after generation. Other stories taught proper social interaction or explained spiritual principles and creation.”

Despite technological devices, oral storytelling in Appalachia is experiencing a revival of the traditional mixed with the modern. Storytelling festivals and competitions can be found in many Appalachian areas.

The Appalachian Ohio Storytelling Project is out of Athens, Ohio. Kentucky is home to the Cave Run Storytelling Festival near the town of Morehead. The West Virginia Storytelling Guild teaches storytelling and “grows new storytellers and story listeners.” Jonesborough, Tennessee, is home to the International Storytelling Center. The Stone Soup Storytelling Institute in South Carolina hosts the Stone Soup Storytelling Festival. Georgia hosts the Azalea Storytelling Festival. Virginia is home to the Culpeper Tells Storytelling Festival.

However, many Appalachians incorporate the art of storytelling into everyday conversations—and they’re not aware it. Many times I’ve heard individuals preface what factual and nonfiction information they want to share as, “I have a story to tell you” or “Let me tell you a story” or “Oh! Listen to my story.” My own relatives preface dialogue this way and so do I. I’ve lived outside of Appalachia, and this discussion introduction is distinct to the Appalachian region. I find it to be cultural as well as delightful.

“In Appalachia, we tell our stories not only on front porches and around kitchen tables but also in the aisles of the local Walmart and the waiting rooms of hospitals. We tell tales in our gardens while we hoe beans or far back in the deepest coal mines. Often they are stories of nostalgia, for we are a people always mourning the past. Always holding tight to the old ways, grieving because we know how easily things can slip away forever. But just as often our stories are rooted in the modern world and told in increasingly modern ways: on laptops, blogs, social media, digital cameras, in texts and videos.” That’s what writer Roger May composed in his online magazine entitled The Bitter Southerner.

This is your homework. Listen to your Appalachian family, relatives, friends, and coworkers to see if they introduce conversations with a phrase to talk about daily happenings and events.


Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in southern Ohio.


March 24, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – River City!

Weekly Feature Mike Coburn

Susie and I had sat down for a quiet night’s movie. Usually, the faire is more about love or bonding in spite of conflicts, ala ‘Hallmark.’ That’s fine because we know in the end that we’ll feel good. While they are predictable, they give us the ‘end of the day,’ comfort that all is well with the world.

But this night was to start off differently.

You see, I had browsed and found a movie I hadn’t seen in years that dealt with man’s tenacity toward dishonesty.

It would be a long movie before my faith was finally restored in splendor and celebration in the final scene. The movie was ‘The Music Man,’ a traveling salesman selling dreams he could never really hope to deliver. He would con the people by playing to their hopes and aspirations for their children, the pride of the Iowa town, River City.

While looking for a ‘mark’ the fraudulent salesman discovered that the town was a recent recipient of a pool table being installed in the local pool hall. That spelled trouble for the town’s youth, right there in River City! I swallowed as my mind went back to the ‘River City’ of my youth. We had pool halls, too!

I think that the main pool room was Buttermilk’s, across from Rip’s and the Hamburger Inn. It was this one that attracted the older men, pool sharks, and traveling professional players. Except for those hanging lights centered over each of several pool tables, the room was basically dark. The walls were lined with racks of cues. Stools were set around and sometimes crowds would gather to watch the outcome of a game.

Eight ball was maybe the most common game, but setting up a nine ball rack told us where the money was involved. It was enough for me to remember the rules for ‘rotation,’ let along these other games. It didn’t matter. Younger kids were discouraged from hanging out there. There were some older boys that may or may not have cut a class from high school and frequented the joint. I do remember they would go on alert whenever the truant officer, Bill Elkins, was in the area. The back door was used by a few to escape certain capture and the punishment that was sure to follow. Buttermilk’s was run by Mr. Priode. I can’t say I knew him, but certainly I did see him a few times when I ventured into the establishment.

The funny thing about that was that Bill Elkins also purchased Homer Wright’s pool room over on Madison, next to Ryan’s near Pop’s Dairy Queen. I knew Homer as a carpenter, but didn’t find out for years later his connection to the pool room. Today, the conflict of interest for Bill Elkins seems obvious. Running a pool room and also being responsible for seeing that kids remain in school could be an issue. I think to him it was more about the investment than actually running the store. Still, I can see it dividing loyalties. This one was called, “Sport Spot Restaurant and Pool Room.” The pool room was in the back, so the business seemed to be about eating lunch, but the entertainment was calling at the sound of striking ivory balls. Ferris Bush ran the pool room during the day. A cousin of mine, who had saved up and bought a fancy cue that unscrewed and carried in a black case, was a frequent customer. There were rumors he gambled (o, my) and even sold some spirits until Jack Jordan, the Sheriff, suggested he stop. I think he did. Guys who carried their own cues were a danger to the kids who were just starting to play for money. You could bet the innocent would lose their allowance within minutes.

In fairness, the front room, a small restaurant, did offer up some good food. I’m told the meatloaf was absolutely wonderful. I may have eaten a burger or two, but I really remember more about the pool room. The back door seemed as busy as the front since parking was in the rear.

Louisa had some really good players back in the day. Unk Cain was an old guy, but was known for his amazing skill at the game. There were a few men who were known nationally. One was named ‘Fats,’ but I’ve lost the memory to say more about him. I know I was told story after story of fantastic shots made by these men. It wasn’t luck, either, for they almost always called their shots before taking a position behind the cue ball. Whether six rails, or a complex combination, the balls would drop just where it was predicted.

I know that I learned early on that a good pool player not only made the shot but had to consider whether English was required to make the ball roll or stop rolling where it should. You had to consider the next shot, too, so having the cue ball strike and knock in the target was only part of the mission. The next shot was critical to keep ‘your turn,’ active and allow you to ‘run the table.’ I’ve seen games played and won when the other player never even had a turn, or if having one and missed, never got to shoot again.

pool room pool room  I remember the little blue squares of chalk that you’d use for the tip of your cue. Without that the cue would slip and you’d stand a good chance that the tip would break. I remember the ‘pill bottles’ that were used to play nine ball, and then there were ‘bridges’ that helped one to support the cue during difficult shots/angles. The wooden triangular racks where used to ‘rack up’ the balls for a new game. For nine ball you still used the same rack, but had to position the fewer balls with your hands.

I never really shot a lot of pool until I had graduated and left for the Air Force. Everywhere I was stationed there was a pool table set up in the ‘day rooms,’ of each squadron. I spent many nights shooting pool and practicing shots. I never got involved in playing for money, but I suspect others did. I just wanted to learn the skillset to satisfy myself that I could learn the game. I was reasonably good, but far from the level of others I’d watch play.

No doubt, there was ‘trouble’ in River City, but somehow we survived. Maybe it was the marching band, or sports, or even academia that saved us? Who knows, but life is full of the good and bad. What we see as bad isn’t usually the worst and what we see as good, sometimes isn’t. Such is the nature of life.

Now I’m looking at some larger homes as a possibility to meet family needs. Maybe there will be a space for a pool table, who knows? There’s a risk though that we’d have trouble right here in the River City where I live, but we could always break out seventy-six trombones and parade about. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.