Working for more than three decades in the Ashland school system wasn’t enough for Bill Burch.
Since retiring in 1995 he has earned a reputation for tireless volunteer work and inspirational leadership. He has spearheaded a landmark early reading program, guided teenage volunteers and participated in a service club’s student achievement program.
The state of Kentucky has taken notice, and today Burch is to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The award is the top honor in the 2010 Governor’s Awards for Volunteerism and Service.
“He has had such an impact on this area, but he is so humble and soft-spoken that I don’t think people have an idea how many lives he has impacted,” said Janet Wente, the counselor at Summit Elementary School who nominated Burch.
She is referring to, among other things, Burch’s leadership role in introducing the First Book program to schools in the three Boyd County districts. First Book provides new books for children to take home and keep, and does it by raising money locally.
The program focuses on children from low-income families, 61 percent of which have no books at home for children.
Burch, who is community education director for the Boyd County school district, played a central role in organizing the program’s local board and seeking out more than $75,000 in donations.
He also has been for 10 years the adviser to the Boyd County branch of the Kentucky Youth Council for Volunteer Service, a group of Boyd County high school students who seek volunteer opportunities. Wente estimates that through his leadership of the council Burch has reached more than 4,000 students, parents and administrators, making him indirectly responsible for more than 44,000 volunteer hours.
One of the 4,000 was Wente’s daughter Rebecca, now completing her freshman year at the University of Kentucky. While she was in high school Wente saw what Burch was doing with First Book in Boyd County and worked to launch a similar program in Carter County.
“Bill has been the inspiration of my life,” Wente said. “And not just mine. I know so many other students he has inspired.”
Aside from the personal fulfillment she found through helping others, Wente received some tangible rewards in the form of scholarships, which she believes she won because the volunteer hours she listed put her applications on top of the stack. She credits Burch with helping guide her through the application process.
“Bill has a beautiful heart. He loves to help people and kids,” she said.
A charter member of the Ashland Breakfast Kiwanis Club, Burch is chair of Bringing Up Grades, an educational program the service club has brought to several local elementary schools. The program uses a combination of encouragement and incentives to help kids improve their grades.
“The big thing he does is the BUG program, which has been incredibly successful,” said club member Jerry Henderson. “Bill likes to get results. He’s a good planner.”
Crabbe Elementary used the BUG program for the first time this year and saw clear results, principal Brad Greene said. He can think of 14 kids at Crabbe whose straight A’s were at least partly attributable to the program.
Burch started his career in the Ashland district in 1967 as a classroom teacher, coached football at Paul G. Blazer High School and was assistant principal at Verity Middle School. From there he went to principal positions at Condit, Crabbe and Hager elementaries.
Later he was elementary supervisor for the district’s six elementaries.
“He is one of the finest educators I have ever been associated with,” said Ashland Superintendent Steve Gilmore, who also was a classroom teacher in those early days. Now he serves with Burch on the YMCA board and says Burch has devoted thousands of hours to YMCA sports programs over the years.
Burch is also chair of the Boyd and Greenup County Champions Coalition, Boyd County Community of Promise Project, Boyd County High School Youth Services Advisory Board, vice-chair of the Boyd County Family Resource Center West Advisory Council, member of the Ashland Area Education Grants committee and the Boyd County Community Education advisory council.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or