Dr. William Turner said Lynch provided the background he needed to succeed in higher education. He recalled his memories of growing up in Harlan County during a speech Friday at the Harlan Center to conclude the annual East Kentucky Leadership Conference.
“When I grew up in Lynch, it was a very diverse town,” Turner said. “I knew people named Vicini, I knew people named Hoiska, I knew people named Yablonski.
“My first look at Lexington, I said, ‘There ain't nothing out here but white people.' Lynch was a very diverse town, a very metropolitan place that had people from all over eastern Europe.”
Turner said Harlan County has lost some of its diversity through the years, to the detriment of today's youth.
“You don't want these kids coming out of here having never had any interaction with anybody except people who look just like them,” said Turner, a vice president at UK.
Turner also noted all the former eastern Kentuckians who now make their homes in the bluegrass area of the state, quoting author Harry Caudill.
“Those ain't nothing but eastern Kentucky people who took over central Kentucky and never fired a shot,” Turner said.
Turner praised the education he received in Lynch public schools, noting that a high percentage of students went on to college. That number is not as high now, an issue that Turner said must be addressed for the region to escape its economic woes.
“A lot of our kids are coming out and not as well-prepared as they should be, and not a lot of them are as interested in getting an education as they used to be,” Turner said.
Turner also touched on the drug problem currently facing the region and said he was proud of the work Operation UNITE was doing to address the issue. He added that health problems in eastern Kentucky should be addressed, noting the high rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
After graduating from Lynch, Southeast Community College and the University of Kentucky, Turner went on to Notre Dame where he received his doctorate. After a number of years working in higher education in North Carolina, Turner returned to the commonwealth to serve as interim president of Kentucky State University before moving on to UK.
Wherever he goes, Turner always makes it a point to return home to Harlan County when he gets the opportunity and said his travels have convinced him of the importance of unity.
“I want eastern Kentucky to be part of Kentucky,” he said. “What happens in eastern Kentucky does not stay in eastern Kentucky. When we are hurting in eastern Kentucky, they should be hurting in Fayette County.”