SOUTH SHORE Businessman Ron Cartee walked into the McKell Middle School auditorium surrounded by his extended family Monday to make his yearly gift of books to Greenup County eighth-graders Monday.

They were there to share in Cartee’s presentation of some 500 volumes of the new Jesse Stuart Foundation publication, “True Christmas Stories from the Heart of Appalachia.” 

Cartee’s gift took on new meaning this year, because it is dedicated to his great-niece, the late Rhonda Nunley, who died of cancer in December, 2013.

It is the fourth year Cartee has given books to middle-schoolers at McKell and Wurtland middle schools. Previously he has chosen works by Stuart, the rural Greenup County farm boy who rose to international prominence as one of America’s premier authors in the mid-20th century.

This year, only one of the stories was written by Stuart and the rest are by local and regional writers. It is the dedication to Nunley, who worked with at-risk children as a case manager at Greenup County High School, that makes it special to Cartee, and to scores of teachers across the Greenup County district.

“It means everything to us. We’re proud of the family and proud of her. She was so strong and dedicated, and she would really be proud,” Cartee said.

Family members in attendance almost all had one thing in common with Nunley besides blood ties. “I was a teacher. My mother was a teacher. We’re all teachers,” said Nunley’s mother Connie Nickel, who was there with her husband, Nunley’s father Ron Nickel.

Their other two daughters also are educators.

Nunley’s son Byron, an eighth-grader at McKell, was among the first to receive his copy of the book.

Cartee is an advocate of literacy and of teaching, said Becky Spencer, who is a teacher at Wurtland Middle School and Cartee’s niece. “It’s because he is from a family of teachers. He knows the value of education. He doesn’t take education lightly. He also wants to preserve the legacy of Jesse Stuart.”

Cartee is a member of the Jesse Stuart Foundation’s board and enjoys relating his own personal connection with Stuart, who was principal when Cartee attended what was then McKell High School. “When I walked through the door in the eighth grade who was on the stage — our principal Jesse Stuart,” he said.

“True Christmas Stories From the Heart of Appalachia” includes 43 stories by 39 authors and is available at the Jesse Stuart Foundation.

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