American Legion Post 42 is little different from all the rest after being a part of the Nelson County community over the last 10 years. In their dedication to provide a space for all veterans and their families, they have recently expanded to include all five of the Legion’s groups.
On Feb. 8, the post will be starting a new chapter on the Legion as they host their official ribbon cutting with the Bardstown-Nelson County Chamber of Commerce. Post leaders said the ribbon cutting and the addition of two new Legion families is helping them expand and connect in ways that they have been unable to before.
Chris Gootee, Dept. Service Officer for the post, said their ultimate goal is to create a space everyone will be comfortable with. Gootee said this not only means this physical post, located at 703 McDowell Blvd, Suite 202, but the expanding beyond the American Legion and Sons of the American Legion groups.
“We’re also the only post in Kentucky that has the Legion Radios, the Auxilary, the Riders and Sons,” he said. “So it’s a little bit different to where as an American Legion we’re not your typical American Legion to come sit around and we actually are an American Legion that can offer a lot to different people.”
Membership Chairman and Vice Commander Bill Gies said they are eager to bring their post to the people of Nelson County. He said they rely heavily on their charitable gaming and bingo to keep the post going, allowing them to align with their true mission: to take care of their veterans in any capacity.
“We have a desire to help in the community,” Gies said. “For Feeding America, we help there. We distribute boxes, and then also The Bread For Life. We’ve made some monetary contributions to them. The hospice next door (VNA Health at Home), we make contributions to them. … There’s veterans here that are homeless in Nelson County, so we make sure that we support those organizations.”
In addition to their charitable donations and their efforts to make their post a home, Post 42 also participates in the Tri-County United Way 5K, where they provide race communications with their radio club and guide runners on their way. The post is now the main headquarters for disability claims since last December, where service officers are available by appointment or Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m.
George Kaneff is the President of the Legion’s radio club, and he said without the sponsorship from the Legion, the club would be non-existent today. Kaneff said the radio club has been part of the community for the last 20 years, but since they were absorbed by the Legion they have continued to grow.
“We’ve gone from like four members up to 25 members and that’s just in three years,” Kaneff said. “We’ve got expanding communications capabilities throughout the county. And going further, we offer communications nets three times a week, both local, regional and national, international. … But we we’ve really grown under the assistance and the guidance of the American Legion here. We’re real, real happy with them.”
Rick Seekman has been a member of the Legion’s Riders for the last 12 years, and with the recent addition of the group to Post 42, he hopes to bring the same sense of family to Nelson County. Seekman said the Riders are more than a family, but a lifestyle and sense of camaraderie that can only come from being with each other for so long.
“We’re not a motorcycle gang,” he said. “We are, you know, members of the family of the Legion who enjoy riding motorcycles. And we go we’ll take off and go somewhere for lunch. We’ll ride three, four hours, have lunch turn around and come back. We’ve been to places where we’ve done overnight trips, because we just all get together and do what we like to do — ride bikes — and wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Looking forward, Gootee said he hopes to see their numbers grow as they continue to do more for the veterans of Nelson County. Seekman said with all five Legion families in one post they are coming closer to their common goals.
“We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “We’re all veterans and we’re all in the Legion family. And you say that, and we all have the same goal and it’s not about us. It’s not about us at all. It’s about what we can do for veterans, the community and our youth.”
Following Friday’s massive windstorm that knocked out power to thousands of Nelson County and Bardstown customers, as well as many as 350,000 statewide, the Bluegrass state has been on clean-up duty.
“Once the wind started hitting us Friday afternoon, it made it hard to respond to every call,” said Joe Prewitt, Nelson County’s Emergency Management Director.
Prewitt said the calls started rolling in at about 2 p.m. Friday once the morning’s rain gave way for the afternoon’s winds, which swept across the state from the south and southwest, uprooting trees, stripping off roofs and siding and downing power lines in its path.
One of many hard-hit areas around the county was the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department.
“We had crews out at first” dealing with the wind damage, said Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Leete, “then the roof came off.”
Friday’s winds stripped part of the fire station’s roof off, pushed one of the garage doors into the building, and some 2x4s were dislodged and poking through the roof.
It was “significant damage,” Leete said, and the department had to start scrambling after that to protect what was left of their building and the equipment inside. The department made some basic repairs and is waiting on the insurance company to further assess the damage, but in the meantime, department members are keeping the trucks with them.
“We will need a partial new roof, at least,” Leete said. “We were very fortunate nobody was hurt.”
Elsewhere around Bardstown and Nelson County, fire, electric and road crews worked throughout the day Friday and on through the weekend to clear fallen limbs and power lines and just try to get the lights back on.
Prewitt said that from 2-7:30 p.m. Friday, Nelson County Dispatch received 458 calls, with 208 of them requesting immediate service. For comparison, on that day last year, Dispatch received 120 calls, with 60 of them needing service.
“Anywhere you go in the county, you don’t have to look too hard to see damage,” he said.
Nelson County Judge-Executive Tim Hutchins declared a state of emergency for the county on Friday night.
“(Friday) night a local state of emergency was declared for Nelson County due to damage and widespread loss from excessively high winds. As of (Friday) night, approximately 8,000 customers were without power,” Hutchins’ statement read.
In the wake of that and with the state of emergency declared, Prewitt said the county has set up an email account for residents and business owners to submit photos and other information of the damage done to their properties, thereby making it easier for him to document for the Kentucky Department of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The email address is email@example.com, and Prewitt said it is important for people to document everything they can. Residents should include their name, address and phone number, 2-4 pictures of each area sustaining damage, as well as an estimated cost on damages.
Citizens are urged to exercise extreme caution around damaged trees and loose power lines.
Chris Jessie of Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 4, which covers Nelson County, also issued a statement cautioning drivers.
“Many traffic signal locations remain without power throughout the 11 counties of District 4 (as of Saturday morning). KYTC Crews and locals worked into Friday night to make roads passable from fallen trees, but many locations are still blocked or partially blocked where power lines are involved,” Jessie said.
Several traffic lights were knocked out on Friday into Saturday, snarling some major intersections.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 630 Salt River Electric customers were still either without power or had intermittent power out of 16,182 total customers in Nelson County. The City of Bardstown Electric Department had 60 still out as of Tuesday afternoon.
At Tuesday’s Nelson County Fiscal Court meeting, Hutchins informed the public that crews will be out picking up tree limbs from the streetside and roadside and that residents should place those limbs where they normally would for bulky item pickup. The old quarry at 941 Quarry Lane in Bardstown is also open for disposal of tree debris. Contact the Nelson County Road Department at 348-1880 with questions.
While some areas in Kentucky also reported tornadoes in addition to the straight-line winds, Prewitt said while neither scenario is ideal for his crews to deal with, the straight-line winds are harder because the damage is much more widespread compared to a tornado, where the damage is more isolated. Crews will continue to be hard at work dealing with the storm’s aftermath.
“We still have an awful lot to clean up,” he said. And while Prewitt wouldn’t say it’s the worst storm to hit the county, it’s not far from it. “If it wasn’t the worst one, it was near the top of the list.”
Last Wednesday, the Guthrie Opportunity Center loaded in more than 50 pieces of furniture into their facility, thanks to a donation from State Farm. Similar to January’s donation to the Bluegrass Aerospace Experience, the furniture the insurance company provided amount to over $40,000 in the items given to the center.
GO Center Director Tom Hamilton said retired State Farm representative Jim Hagan approached him about a possible donation to the center, which he said he was more than eager to accept. Hamilton said through the donation they were able to refurbish a few rooms in the center.
“We changed out our conference room,” he said. “We have a large conference room that we share with Communicare and we’ve got new tables and chairs in there. It gives it a much more professional look. These are padded chairs and tables are foldable. They’re very high quality, very high-end conference tables.”
The director said he is overjoyed with the donation that he and Eric Garris, Director of Garden Operations, traveled to acquire. Hamilton said he and Garris rented a U-Haul truck to drive to Georgia to receive the donation where they stuffed the truck as much as they could with tables and chairs.
“My only my only regret was I should have taken a bigger truck,” Hamilton said. “I should have taken a bigger truck because there was a(n) opportunity to do that. It was wonderful and I have to give a shout out to, you know, Jim Hagan put it all together, but State Farm worked with us too. They had a fellow down there in Atlanta … and he helped us load everything and gave us options about what we could take. It was just all around just a great experience for all of us.”
For a grand total, Hamilton said they managed to get 25 full-sized tables, two four-foot tables, 50 chairs of various sizes, and a cabinet. While most of the furniture was used to improve the conference rooms for the center, Hamilton said they have plans to use some of the chairs in the On-the-Go food café.
“We here at the GO Center, we have events and programs and luncheons, and things like that,” he said. “We’re always on the lookout for furniture upgrades.”
Hamilton assures that they are putting the donated items to good use and hopes the nearly $40,000 in furniture will add to the look of the center as well. He said he looks forward to visitors to the center seeing the difference with the new additions to the center.
Looking forward, he said this has given them many ideas on what they hope to improve in the future. Hamilton said with the large amount of community events that they host, they will be looking for more opportunities to have similar donations.
“We’ve been able to upgrade our conference room and we’ll do the same in our kitchen, when we get the opportunity and we’ll do the same,” Hamilton said. “We have a classroom here that we use for use for any visiting class, field-trip kind of things that come out here. We use it for an art studio and art room as well. So, we’re going to fit that up with this new furniture and then we’ve got plenty of opportunity. We’re hoping to do some expansion and stuff and maybe put some tables out in the in the greenhouse and the new garden center with some chairs out there. So, we got lots of opportunities to put all these to good use.”
Howardstown native Eric Johnson was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer after suffering a stroke last November while at work, and has since began chemotherapy treatments.
On Saturday a fundraiser and benefit were held for the 28-year-old outdoor enthusiast at the Guthrie Opportunity Center hosted by Fred Boon. A live auction brought donors and participants from as far as Alabama to aid the family.
“He is so good-natured,” said Laure Talbott, his aunt. “He has not complained, he has not whined, he has been very brave and very courageous. He is so motivated.”
Before his diagnosis, Eric and his wife Katie had been recently married in September, and he had just begun working as a new lineman for a company in Louisville.
After learning he had sarcoma, Katie has stepped away from work to be with Eric full-time and help him keep up with his appointments.
“I was forced to go to the hospital against my will,” Eric joked over the phone.
Before suffering a stroke Eric had noticed a spot on his leg he thought originally was caused by working.
“We worked like 30 hours straight after a storm had come through Louisville one night,” the lineman said. “The next day both of my legs were sore and I figured it was just from climbing poles and walking up hills.”
A couple of weeks later Eric passed out while working in a bucket truck and was taken to the hospital by Katie, where they discovered a mass in his lung growing into part of his heart. It was this mass they learned which had caused Eric to have a stroke and pass out earlier in the day.
“It had sent a blood clot up to his brain and that’s when they removed (the mass,)” Katie said. “They did the left lower lobectomy, they removed the lower part of his lung, and then they removed the tumor out of his heart and that’s when they tested it.”
It was after the test she said Eric was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called sarcoma.
Eric and Katie had just married three months before his diagnosis. They had become friends after she had met his sister, Holly French, while they were both working as respiratory therapists at Baptist Health in Louisville. The two reconnected about two years ago and began dating before tying the knot in September of last year.
Eric has been an avid outdoorsman and hiker all his life, even backpacking around Europe for two months before becoming a lineman.
“I was working at Ford Motor Company in Louisville and just hated it,” he said, explaining what lead him to travel. “I was miserable with life every day, depressed, and decided I needed a change in my life and I’d always wanted to travel. So I bought a one-way ticket to Ireland.”
From there he traveled to Amsterdam, into Germany, Poland, and Prague in the Czech Republic. He climbed Mount Vesuvius before heading on to Rome and Paris, finally making his way back to Ireland before returning home.
“Ireland was the prettiest place I’ve ever seen in the world,” Eric said.
It was after he returned home he found an ad for being a lineman on Facebook and had a couple of friends who he knew enjoyed the work. After some Googling, he signed up for classes the next day and has been working for the last four and a half years.
Eric had just switched to United Louisville as a lineman in November, shortly before suffering his stroke.
The benefit for Eric included a live auction which started around 6 p.m. Eric said they didn’t stay long but were sent a video around 10 p.m. Saturday night where a Papa John’s pizza was ordered and auctioned off for around $200.
“Everybody has been amazing,” Katie said about the amount of support they have seen. “We have had all kinds of people reach out.”
Sean Corcoran, who has a Private Pick Club in Scottsboro, Ala., heard about the benefit for Eric online and donated some of his bourbon picks to the auction as well as coming up to participate.
“Every barrel selection we do we look for a fundraiser or a cause like this to donate back to,” he said. “And this is what we chose.”
Eric has already begun chemo treatments to aggressively battle his sarcoma. He and his wife are heading to Texas later this week to speak with a sarcoma orthopedic surgeon in Houston to learn more about sarcoma and what steps they need to take moving forward.
“I just figured staying home for the time being and making sure I can get him to appointments and where he needs to be is where I need to be at right now,” Katie said.
A GoFundMe page has also been set up to help Eric and his family on his journey at EricJohnsonmedicalsupport@gofundme.com.