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Salyersville Independent

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Local woman named Kentucky Main Street Volunteer of the Year

Earlier this year, after serving on the Renaissance on Main Street board since she founded it more than 20 years ago, Sue Mortimer attended her last meeting as a board member, passing on the torch for the next generation. She talked to the board, realizing many did not know the board’s history. As she filled in her successors to the events that led to where the program is today, she unknowingly secured herself a nomination and eventual title as the Kentucky Main Street Volunteer of the Year, an award which was presented to her by Governor Andy Beshear in the rotunda of the state’s capitol earlier this summer.

In the late 1990s, Mortimer was approached by the then-mayor, who explained that Governor Paul Patton had added Kentucky to the National Main Street Program, a program that had been created to assist communities nationwide preserve their downtown areas and historical structures. The mayor asked her to put together a local chapter of the organization.

In the very early days, and not completely sure where to start, Mortimer attended a Salyersville City Council meeting, explaining the program to local city officials in an attempt to gain their support if such a program could be put together here, but someone in the audience changed the trajectory of the program, following her out of the meeting.

Whether happenstance or destiny, the then-president of the Salyersville National Bank Board happened to be at that meeting and was impressed by her proposal, asking Mortimer if she could “find good use” for the old bank building that sat on the corner downtown for as long as many could remember (since the early 1900s), with iconic block facing and trim from a different era.

When he told her the bank board may be interested in donating the building, Mortimer wasted no time in considering the possible donation.

“I didn’t even blink,” Mortimer laughed telling the story. “I said, ‘I sure can find a good use for it!’ I wasn’t going to let that opportunity pass me by.”

With an idea and a possible location, Mortimer started trying to find people who could help her form a local Main Street program.

“I’m a firm believer that if you want a dedicated volunteer, pick someone who stays busy,” Mortimer said. “They always seem to find time for a truly worthwhile project. Names came to be readily – some I knew well; others were ones I knew to always find time to give to their communities.”

The board took months getting started, with every building within the “Renaissance” designated area required to be surveyed by pictures, size, use, even plumbing and number of rooms.

“We had to establish our own set of bylaws and how our organization was to function,” Mortimer said. “You would think gifting us the building would have been enough for them, but Salyersville National Bank and Bank President Donna Salyer jumped in with both feet and were the ones to get us over the finish line!”

In order to qualify for the federal funding to restore the building, the old bank building had to be placed in the county’s name, but the Renaissance board was given a 99-year lease to assure it would be held to the wishes of the bank that it be used for the community.

Mortimer said they received two separate grants from coal severance funding that allowed for the restoration and the majority of the completion of the second floor.

Seeing what Mortimer and the Renaissance board were doing, former SNB President Luther Carpenter’s daughters, Charlotte and Carolyn, donated the small lot behind the old bank building to the board, which have now been made into the Renaissance Gardens.

“I’m so terribly proud of the Renaissance board and the additions they’ve made to our community – our Citizen of the Year Award, the watermelon social held during the Fourth of July festivities, our immensely popular Ghost Walk and Thriller in the Street, our combined celebration during the Christmas parade, art exhibits and many more,” Mortimer said.

After she explained the history of the project to the Renaissance on Main board, Emma Wireman, the current director of the program, submitted her name and story to the Kentucky Main Street Program without Mortimer’s knowledge, only finding out after she had already been named for the award and was to travel to Frankfort to receive the award directly from the governor.

“We’ve all worked so hard on this project, and it is such an honor that they chose to nominate me for the Kentucky Main Street Volunteer of the Year Award,” Mortimer said. “I was very humbled, surprisingly moved by it, and I didn’t know they had submitted my name.”

In addition to the honor of the award, she said the building itself is such an accomplishment.

“The second floor was in bad shape and there were holes in the roof,” Mortimer said. “If left in the government’s hands, it would have been turned into something modern, but we were adamant that it had to be restored. We were very meticulous from then on and it will serve the public from now on.”

The building is used for many community-serving, non-political events and meetings, most notably for school pictures – high school senior portraits as well as prior to other school events.

While the Volunteer of the Year Award referred to the Kentucky Main Street Program predominately, we would be amiss to leave out that this was, of course, not Mortimer’s first or only experience volunteering for her community.

She grew up watching her mom and dad help other families in need, but her first experience of her volunteering was during the flooding in the summer of 1971.

“Coal Branch was hit really hard in town, and the Red Cross was delivering food, but they needed some volunteers to help hand out the food,” Mortimer remembered. “Since I lived in town, I said I would do it, and I get on this old, makeshift food truck. Truck suspensions were not what they are today, so we’re bouncing around, with no blacktop up there then and the road all washed out in places, and the driver looks back at me – pregnant at the time – and asks when my baby is due. I told him about two weeks ago!”

Despite the driver’s objections, she finished the job, assuring him she was fine and the baby – Henry Ritter Mortimer – as many of you know, now owns this newspaper, so we know it ended fine, and she was thankful to be able to help her community.

Since then, she’s volunteered with the health department and Big Sandy Health Care. She put together an educational support group for parents, which held the first-ever career day in the county. Mortimer helped the community with applying for governmental grants. She and her husband joined countless others in fighting an out-of-state landfill being located to Magoffin County. She sat on and even served as the chair of the state’s Flood Control Committee for several years and was a part of the historic cut-thru project. She’s been a news stringer for WSAZ for nearly 20 years, and longer than that for Your News Today. During the aftermath of the 2012 tornado, she and her sister delivered hundreds of pieces of Lee’s Chicken to the churches set up (even though they couldn’t feed themselves) to feed the families affected, as well as first responders and volunteers. Each act of volunteering could easily be a story in itself, but all come together to paint a picture of a very full life.

“In the end, it doesn’t cost anyone a thing to do something for someone else or the community,” Mortimer said. “I would encourage anyone to get involved, even if it’s just one hour, to make this a better place for all of us. That’s what we [she and her husband, Doug] have always tried to do. After the tornado, we all became volunteers, and it brought out the best in all of us. Everyone saw how we can make a difference and we just have to remember that feeling.”


A Note From The Publisher

By Ritt Mortimer
Owner, Publisher of the SI & Sue’s son

So, as you read, my understanding and appreciation for always supporting one’s community and neighbors started at a very early, in the negative, ages. I’ve proudly lived a life of seeing what a difference my mother has made in the only place she would ever call home. I can remember all of these, with the obvious exception of one, and countless other occasions where her forethought and her drive, and her heart, were all focused on the simple (ideal) of “how can we make this better for everyone?”

But it wasn’t always a simple solution. I’ve seen Mom and Dad invest hours, days and nights, around the kitchen table to reach a goal or sometimes common ground. And, sadly, there were times that I saw them met with resistance because doing what’s right isn’t always met with open arms. And as terribly disappointing as it is, doing what was right often came at a cost because there were others involved who were only there because they had something to gain for themselves, the community or its people be damned.

But that “resistance” only fueled a fire that has always burned in her heart. Whether it comes to me, her family, her dearest or newest of friends, her employees, or little town at large, the conversation, or fight if it need be, was never too big or too small if it meant the result was a better life for one, a few, or all.

Proud is a little word that carries a big meaning when it comes to how fortunate I have been to be able to see her at work, and at love, for all those around her. It’s as unwavering as it is inspiring. And I hope with this story, to us all!



  1. Tammy Sizemore

    July 28, 2023 at 4:58 pm

    Sue is such a great person. Always willing to help our county grow and become a better place to live. Thanks, Sue you’re awesome.

  2. Connie Little

    July 28, 2023 at 8:57 pm

    Sue has the heart of a volunteer, takes her giving and gifting seriously, and has served the community well. God bless my friend!

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