Monday, February 20, 2012

Mike Mullins, head of Hindman Settlement School and progressive leader in Eastern Ky., dies at 63

Mike Mullins, who revived Eastern Kentucky's Hindman Settlement School and was a leader for education, economic development, the arts and progress in one of the nation's poorest areas, died last night of a heart attack. He was 63.

He became executive director of the school in 1977 after a stint as an Appalachian history professor at Alice Lloyd College, where he led the Appalachia Oral History Project. He helped establish the annual Appalachian Writers Workshop, which drew authors from across the region to Hindman for a week-long stay. Author Silas House told Jennifer Hewlett of the Lexington Herald-Leader that Mullins' contribution to the literary community of the region can not be underestimated. "I think of him as holding us all together as Appalachian artists," House said. "He fostered a community of musicians and writers and thinkers in the region, and he was like a father figure to many of us."

Mullins established the Marie Stewart Crafts Shop in 1995 to showcase quality art made by Appalachian artists, and was instrumental in starting an education program for children with dyslexia and the now closed Hindman Montessori School. In 2003, he received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Kentucky for his service to Appalachia. But perhaps his two proudest accomplishment, Hewlett writes, were being named Knott Countian of the Year in 1992 and being inducted into the Knott County Hall of Fame in 2010.

House said the school was Mullins' home and he wanted visitors to feel at home. "He cared a lot about respect and honesty. ... He had a great wit. ... he was very proud of his accent and where he was from. ... He defied stereotypes," House said. He will be greatly missed, as is evident from the school's Facebook page, where more than 100 comments have been posted as of this writing. There's also a memorial to Mullins on the homepage of the Appalachian online literary journal, Still.

Visitation will be Wednesday, Feb. 22 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Hindman Funeral Services, where the funeral will be held Thursday at 1 pm. Burial will be at Mountain Memory Gardens in Hindman. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Hindman Settlement School New Office Fund.

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