Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

January 5, 2014

Keith Kappes: Betrayed by $50 and a quart of whiskey: 1/6/14

ASHLAND — The old two-room schoolhouse hadn’t been used for a while and the county school board decided to sell it at public auction.

 Neighborhood kids now went by bus to a consolidated school several miles away.

 But the tiny building had remained the center of the rural community.

 It had been the scene of birthday parties, wedding dinners and after-funeral meals for grieving families who didn’t have a regular church.

 Once the auction was announced, members of the community met to discuss the future of the beloved old school.

 They had been allowed to use the building free of charge by paying the electric bill, but it was rumored someone would buy it and turn it into rental housing.

 A young engineer who had grown up nearby volunteered to inspect the building to help determine its structural condition and fair market value, as well as the acre of land it occupied.

 By the time the meeting ended, the group had settled on the amount of $1,500, a sizable figure for Kentucky country folks in the mid-1950s.

 But the old school was important to each and every family in the community. After prayer and more serious conversation, the neighbors made pledges for the entire amount.

 Some would wait on selling their tobacco crop that fall, but they would come up with their share.

 The young engineer agreed to represent them at the auction and do their bidding. He clearly understood that, although they desperately wanted to buy the building, they could only spend $1,500.

 Getting it for less would be ideal because it would leave some money for improvements, like a kitchen and perhaps even an indoor toilet.

  The day of the auction arrived. A crowd gathered at the school.

 The neighbors opened the bidding at $500. The auctioneer began his chant … asking for a higher bid. Going once at $500 … then from the back came a bid of $600.

 All eyes searched anxiously to determine who was bidding against them. It turned out to be a shady character, a heavy drinker from another community, a person of no visible means.

 He was being a “shill” for someone else. He drove the selling price up to $1,950. Frantic, the neighbors huddled and decided they had to bid $2,000.

 Their winning bid ended the auction. The shill quickly departed.

 Later, it was learned he had been paid $50 and a quart of whiskey.

 Years later, the school official who hired him went to prison for other crooked activities.

 And rightly so.

KEITH KAPPES is publisher of The Morehead News, Grayson Journal-Enquirer and Olive Hill Times. He can be reached at kkappes@cnhi.com

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