Sunday, January 04, 2009

Daughter of Stinking Creek author returns, tells story of two women who made big differences

Forty years ago, John Fetterman was a top writer at The Courier-Journal in Louisville and spent much of his time chronicling the tribulations of Appalachia, in particular the communities along Stinking Creek in the southeastern corner of the state. He wrote a book, Stinking Creek, and won a Pulitzer Prize for a C-J Magazine story on the funeral of a mountain soldier killed in Vietnam. John Fetterman died young, but took his daughter Mindy to Stinking Creek with him and inspired her to be a journalist. In the last year or so she went back, to report on life there for USA Today, for which she has been a reporter and is now manager of enterprise and innovation.

The result was an insipring story that ran over the holidays in USA Today, The C-J and surely some other Gannett Co. Inc. newspapers, accompanied by an online photo gallery and video. It told the tale of a teacher-farmer, Irma Gall, and a nurse-midwife, Peggy Kemner, left, who had spent 50 years on the creek, educating and serving generations of families with a wide range of health, social, youth and community services -- and are still doing it through tribulations of their own, such as the osteoporosis that has bent Kemner's back. (Photo by Garrett Hubbard)

"Quietly, they advocated birth control and education for women," Fetterman wrote. "Viewed at first with suspicion and distrust, the women known as "the nurses" have, over the decades, proved how much hands-on caring can make a difference in the lives of individuals. ... As family size shrank, the abject poverty that encased Stinking Creek began to ease. The mountains opened up, and the people could see out."

Fetterman says in the video, "I realized that these two women have had as much impact on Stinking Creek as the federal government's War on Poverty," which provides a national frame for her story. To read it, view the photo gallery and watch the video, all of which are worth your time, click here.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I met Irma and Peggy when they first came to Knox County.
Many outsiders came to our region with their noses up in the air, set to "bring culture" to the hillbillies. Irma and Peggy weren't like that at all. That is one of the reasons they were and continue to be successful.

It's wonderful to see the Helping Hands Center still in operation.

Robert said...

I recently took my 1970 edition of "STINKING CREEK" out of storage to reread after all these years. After rereading, I began to wonder what became of the people of the stinking creek communities. Fortunately, Mr. Fetterman's daughter, Mindy, had the same wonderment and recorded a follow-up for which I wish to thank her. However, I was sorry to read of John Fetterman's death.

Irma Gall and Peggy Kemner should be nationally recognized (if they haven't been already) for their service to our country and especially to the people of Stinking Creek.

Tiff said...

My family is from Stinking Creek and we all grew up there and love it. Peggy delivered most of my brother's and sister's and they were and still are amazing women. I would love to get a copy of this book just to read it.

Tiff said...

My family is from Stinking Creek and we all grew up there and love it. Peggy delivered most of my brother's and sister's and they were and still are amazing women. I would love to get a copy of this book just to read it.