We all know how challenging of a year 2020 turned out to be. In a year’s time, the world became nearly unrecognizable, but the local Magoffin County spirit persevered in many ways, bringing the community together time and time, again, in ways never seen before, celebrating every accomplishment and supporting the ones fighting on the frontlines of a global health crisis that has touched every single one of us at this point.
The Independent sat down this week and combed through our headlines from 2020 for our annual tradition of finding the top 10 stories of the year. As we say goodbye to the year that brought us a nationwide toilet paper shortage, phrases like “Healthy at Home” and “social distancing,” and one more thing (a mask) to remember before walking out the door, let’s take one more look back on 2020 and hope and pray 2021 is a little kinder to us all!
Happy New Year and thank you for reading the SI!
We can’t talk about 2020 without hitting on the novel coronavirus first. Much like the tornado in 2012, COVID-19 came into our lives in March, closing stores and offices and changing how we all did business, and stayed on the tip of our tongue for the rest of the year. It took well over a year to not have an issue of the Independent without the word “tornado” in it and I’m afraid it will take much longer to get the virus out of our daily conversations.
Technically, COVID-19 first popped up in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. By January 13, 2020, the virus had its first confirmed case outside of China (Thailand), and eight days later it was confirmed in the United States. On March 6 Governor Andy Beshear reported the first case in Kentucky, and mandated a state of emergency, shutting down much of the state to “flatten the curve.”
Magoffin County held on to its status as one of the last four counties to not have a COVID-19, but it hit our community on May 15, with the first confirmed case involving a Magoffin County resident.
Through it all, everyone had to adapt. Wear a mask, social distance, work from home when you can, virtual meetings keep the world running and even churches have had to depend on online platforms more to reach their congregations without risking lives.
An update on Magoffin’s current numbers will be included on the front page, where it has remained since May, but with the healthcare workers and first responders in the county already receiving the vaccination, we hope we are in the beginning of the end of this pandemic. Stay safe and stay vigilant.
- Remembering Community Members we lost in 2020
While every death is life-changing to those closest to the person and we are by no means disregarding any loss, there were certain deaths in particular that hit Magoffin County as a whole a little harder.
– Thomas J. Whitaker, 74 years old, of Puncheon Creek, passed away on Thursday, January 23, after a long battle with cancer. Whitaker was a well-known and loved local artist, musician and longtime teacher. Much of Whitaker’s work depicts life in this region, particularly Puncheon Creek, where he lived most of his life, often using watercolors, but in a way that was uniquely his own style.
– Albert Patrick, 101 years old, of Salyersville, passed away on July 16. Patrick was most notable for witnessing the bombs drop at Pearl Harbor and being instrumental in the Battle of Guadalcanal. WWII war hero Sergeant Patrick was deployed with the Army’s Company H, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division in support of Tropic Lightning’s ferocious Fight on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
– William Helton, 68 years old, of Salyersville, passed away on August 2. Helton was a longtime Magoffin County educator, employed by the Magoffin County School District for well over 30 years. He started as an elementary teacher at Prater Borders, Elementary, taught math and coached basketball at Millard Hensley, was principal of Millard Hensley, taught at Middle Fork Elementary, principal at Prater Borders Elementary and principal at Magoffin County High School, serving the remainder of his career at the district office with a variety of titles.
– Terry Hensley, 64 years old, of Salyersville, passed away on August 22. Hensley had served on the Magoffin County Fiscal Court as a magistrate from 1994 to 2002. He was a union labor by trade and a member of the Union Local 1428, as well.
– Esknovah Jackson, 91, with the Keith Memorial Tabernacle on Rt. 30, passed away on March 10.
– James Russell “J.R.” Connelley, 80, the former Pastor of the Faith Freewill Baptist Church, passed away on April 12. He was also an Army veteran and a mechanic by trade.
– Ronald Puckett, 82, with the Hope of the Cross Church on Burning Fork Road, passed away on June 30.
– Robert Lee “Rob” Shepherd, 78, with The Church of Eternal God, passed away on July 25.
Also important to note, on record, Magoffin County has lost seven community members due to complications with COVID-19, though that number is estimated to be quite low, with many not attributed to the virus in the state numbers, despite family members confirming many of the deaths were related.
- Community Day evolved
Through a virtual Community Day, $73,462.95 was raised for nonprofit groups in Magoffin County, with a check presentation held in late September to disburse the checks of $4,321.35 to the local groups. While this is usually a more formal event, representatives from each of the 17 groups masked up and met in the Salyersville National Bank’s parking lot, allowing for social distancing. In the 17 years since the even started, the Magoffin County Community Foundation has raised over $1.3 million for local nonprofits.
- Montgomery recognized with statewide award
A local man known for helping anywhere he can in the community was recognized by the Family Resource Youth Services Coalition of Kentucky for the Bridges Over Barriers Award.
Locally, Paul Montgomery, a member of the Salyersville City Council member, and active member of the Salyersville Masonic Lodge, is known for his fundraising abilities and networking, bringing much-needed resources to the community. Over the summer he spearheaded the fan drive, securing hundreds of fans for students and seniors in the community. Shoe drives, coat drives, food pantry work, buying bicycles for students with perfect attendance, helping start the local Special Olympics chapter and annually organizing a special needs party are just a few of the things Montgomery has had a hand in just in the last couple years, alone, building a name in the community that people trust and bringing more resources to one of the poorest counties in the state.
- School lunches delivered
Magoffin County students were sent home mid-March for what was expected to only be a few weeks, but extended throughout the end of the school year. When school started back in September, they attended in a hybrid schedule, with many students remaining at home and attending virtually. No matter what the situation was, however, Magoffin County schools continued to feed students, delivering meals directly to their doors, even during the summer. While not a precise number, the school district disbursed over 38,000 meals to Magoffin County students since the pandemic began. These workers and volunteers have worked tirelessly to provide this important service to students at a time when they needed it most!
- MCHS Class of 2020 Graduation
This class was robbed of a normal senior year, with no prom, senior trip or graduation, but they were still celebrated. Magoffin County High School officials worked for weeks planning a virtual graduation, videoing each senior’s individual walk across the stage and allowing each family to have that memorable moment with their graduate. They took Project Graduation funds to provide gifts to the seniors, held a virtual Project Graduation, and then had a parade for the seniors through town. Community members organized an “Adopt-a-Grad” project, with all seniors “adopted” by the people in the community and showered with gifts. They didn’t have a normal senior year, but our guess is they’ll never forget it, either.
- Magoffin native works in nation’s COVID-19 epicenter
A month before COVID-19 first hit Magoffin, Dr. Heath Ward, originally from Salyersville, is a first-year internal medicine resident at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, located on the east side of Manhattan in New York City, starting his residency in July 2019 after graduating from the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine at Virginia Tech. In April he detailed to the Independent the challenges he and his colleagues were facing in the country’s COVID-19 epicenter. Especially at the time, little was known about the virus and he explained how it didn’t react like anything else they normally treat, with seemingly healthy patients ending up on a ventilator.
Some first-responders from here also volunteered to work in NYC around the same time, helping alleviate their spread-too-thin emergency services.
To these frontline workers, as well as the ones battling the virus here at home, the Independent thanks you for your service.
- Special Delivery
Perhaps one of the most memorable stories from the year involved an unusual birth story. Alley Coffey detailed her story of delivering her own baby in a vehicle just outside of the emergency room doors. After being sent home earlier that same day, her contractions got more intense and her water broke on the way back to the hospital. The mom of two said she didn’t know what she was doing, but nature must have kicked in! If you get the chance to go back and read it, be sure to check out her story in the February 13, 2020, issue of the SI.
- Connelley Racing won big in 2020
Connelley Racing had a big year in 2020, with 13,400 miles through 11 states, 122 passes (90 orange car / 32 silver), 15 test days and five dyno sessions. Out of 10 races they competed in, they secured six wins, five #1 qualifiers, two breaks, one spin, one split, zero times outran, and two class records broken: #1 Qualifier and Event Winner in DXP Street, Ultra Street and Limited Street 235.
2020 will likely go down in history as the most challenging year in our lifetimes, but despite those challenges Connelley Racing still made it to ten races and made them count!
- Salyersville rates well in community study
A group through the University of Kentucky conducted a study of Salyersville in 2019, visiting the town on numerous occasions and reporting the strengths of the community, as well as the areas that could use improvement regarding first impressions.
Early in 2019, the city asked the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), through the First Impressions Program, to study Salyersville. The program, which runs in conjunction with the Extension Office services, coordinates anonymous visits to a community by professionals.
The report, released in October 2020, highlighted the many beautification projects in the city, the cleanliness of town, the friendliness of the people and the culture and identity as some of the major strengths of the community, only suggesting more local online reviews to bring more people to town, more signage to bring motorists downtown from the Parkway, and to invest in more landscape architecture planning.
“The things they noticed that we need to be doing mostly we are already working on,” Mayor Shepherd said. “We take it for granted and usually only hear the negative stuff, but for outsiders to come in and notice the things we’ve been working on for the last few years, it feels good.”