I was very interested in James Gifford’s article “Jesse Stuart: Bloodied But Unbowed 1938-1940.” My family history had a similar theme, which I will get to later. Mr. Gifford’s article points out how ”Democrat Joe Bates, newly elected U.S. Congressman, arranged for the Greenup County Board of Education to appoint a new Superintendent of Schools, Democrat Tongs West. After West took over, he fired many veteran teachers.” One of those was my father, William Secrest.
My father grew up in Argentum and rode his horse from there to Greenup — 11 miles away — to attend high school. Greenup High School had no football team.
My father was 15 years old when he graduated with the class of 1930. Morehead State Teachers College would not admit him until he was 16. He was 19 when he graduated and became a teacher in a one-room school in Argillite.
Greenup County had been constructing two new high schools, one in Wurtland and one at McKell. He went to Wurtland and became the football coach (he never played the game) for the 1935 and 1936 teams. In 1937, a vacancy appeared at McKell so he transferred to coach there as it was a much shorter drive. McKell’s record was 7-3.
Tongs West took over in 1938 and, as Mr. Gifford points out, he fired the Republicans, so my father had no job. He went to Michigan and got a job in a chemical factory, as his degree from Morehead was in chemistry and mathematics. When Ashland Oil bought Ashland Chemical, he returned to Kentucky and was working for Ashland Oil in 1943 when he was killed in the Argentum Post Office by the family farm foreman, who was upset my grandfather did not give him the used tires from the farm truck. That post office building still exists but in a different location.
Since he had been the football coach at both high schools, most everyone knew of him. One newspaper had a bold large headline that filled the front page — “BILL SECREST MURDERED.”
I have an article from the Portsmouth Daily Times, dated October 1937, with a photo of my father with the McKell football team. One of those players was Elbie Nickel, who held the reception record at one time for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mr. Gifford points out Jesse Stuart was a world traveler early on in his career. I forget the year, but around 1986, Jesse was traveling again, teaching at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. We attended the same Fourth of July celebration. I was flying for Trans World Airlines from Cairo to Kuwait.
While on summer break from UK, I worked for Jesse on his farm. He had hired Russell Cartee to use his bulldozer to clear his land. I spread the grass seed.
WILLIAM B. SECREST is from Argentum.