I know this is a late-day greeting, but I would like to wish everyone a blessed memorial Day 2020, despite the worldwide pandemic we are dealing with at the present moment. With patience, perseverance and stick-to-it-ive-ness we will overcome this, too - together. Of this I am certain, because I know what a patriotic, stalwart, hard-working people Edmonson Countians are and always have been. I am SO proud to be an Edmonson Countian and to live here among you, my dearest friends and family.
And to our 2020 graduating class: Keep your head up; keep on keeping on, because this is what Edmonson Countians do. I know you will let this be but a small setback to your future success and enjoyment of life. My mother, an Edmonson Countian, could have no high school graduation ceremony because it was the spring of 193l and the Great Depression was in full swing. Yet, just two years later she was walking and riding horseback from the Capitol Hill (Pig) community of Edmonson County to teach at one-room schools in the Forks community and in what is now Mammoth Cave National Park.
She continued to do so until the late 1930's when she married my dad, who had gone to work for the Park after mustering out of a CC Camp there. In 1943, at the ages of 31 and 34, they volunteered to take her invalid mother into their home. For 11 long years, with Dad's support and help while he worked full-time and farmed on the side, she almost single-handedly took care of her AND myself and my younger brother, as we were born into their home two and five years into this task, respectively. We were ALWAYS at home, except that Dad NEVER failed to take J. C. and me to Sunday School and church at New Liberty, an old-time Methodist church in the Cedar Springs community.
After Grandmother passed away in 1954, Mom immediately re-entered the teaching profession and taught on one-year emergency certificates (renewable only by completing what is now WKU correspondence courses at night as she cooked, cleaned, gardened, made all our lunches and graded papers alongside her course work). In the mid-1960's, she returned to WKU in person, graduating alongside my brother, receiving her first permanent teachers' certificate. She retired from Brownsville Elementary School in the early 1970's on a partial retirement, not having completed enough years of teaching on her permanent certificate to draw a full-time retirement check. In retirement, she and Dad camped all over the United States and even into Mexico, always on a shoestring budget. She would can both veggies from the garden and carp she and Dad would catch together at Lock 6 each August, so they could take their food with them on these trips. They had tickets to go on the Trans-Siberian Railway in the late 1980's when the tour company refunded their money due to the break-up of the then Soviet Union.
At almost 91, she was widowed and living alone at home, still driving her car, and an active member of the very busy Capitol Hill Homemakers' Club, when she collapsed in her bathroom with a massive stroke - on her way to her weekly visit to her hairdresser's. She was not an extraordinary citizen of Edmonson County; she was just typical of her Strong Oak generation - a generation who lived through the Spanish flu epidemic, overcame multiple hardships, including the worst economic depression in our country's history up to that time, who fought and died in two World Wars, and who never, EVER gave up.
To our young citizens: You come from an extraordinarily remarkable heritage. You, too, are made of remarkably "good stuff," and you, too, I believe, will persevere; you WILL succeed. I just have one request: Please stay together; stay united in spirit and purpose, for as our commonwealth seal rightly declares: "United we stand; divided we fall." Attend church together; keep your families together; love and cherish one another and others, and remember that you cannot succeed alone, apart from the love and support of God, family and friends.
This is your heritage. Handle it carefully, and never ever forget where you come from or the extraordinary sacrifices your ancestors have made in tough times, so that you, too, may succeed.
Jo Etta Sanders Johnson