Memories from a passionate educator, devoted family man, and loyal friend, Keith Chapman is the real deal
By Keith Chapman
I grew up in Johnston City, Illinois, a small community in Southern Illinois, 6 miles north of Marion, Illinois where my wife, Marilyn grew up. Johnston City was a small but interesting place. There was a gentleman named Jack Batts who was a shoe cobbler by trade but also a sculptor and a violin maker. While I was principal at Jetton Jr High School, I invited him to meet with the orchestra students to explain how he made violins. One of his sculptures is a soldier lying dead on the battlefield, and is a part of the Memorial Day celebration honoring fallen soldiers from Johnston City.
There was another gentleman by the name of Johnny Columbo who was a brilliant mechanic even though he only had an eighth grade education. As a car owner, he was very involved in auto racing and turned down two opportunities to be a mechanic at the Indianapolis 500.
Most of the communities around Johnston City had a population that worked the coal mines, and many classmates went to work in the mines after graduation. When I was in the fourth grade there was a horrible coal mine disaster in West Frankfort that killed 119 men several of which were the fathers of classmates or friends.
While in high school I participated in Young Rotarians, student council, teen town board, and played football and ran track. I was named all conference center in football and to this day I love the sport.
I have two brothers, Doug and Danny. Doug was also in education and coaching while Danny graduated with a degree in education; he became an electrician.
After graduating from Johnston City High in 1960, I had a dream of racing. At that time you had to be 21 to race legally. I was only 17 so I fabricated my age. Very few car owners wanted to put a rookie with no experience in their cars so I settled for much less than front running equipment.
Instead of going to college, I wanted to do something that would help me learn how to build racing engines so I went to vocational school in machine tool technology. It got harder to get a ride in racing, and my parents were extremely hostile to the idea since racing at that time was extremely dangerous. Still maintaining my love for football, I decided to go into education and be a coach.
I actually started my college career at McKendree College in Lebonan, Illinois, but I desperately wanted to play more football. So, I began the process of transferring to Murray State University. In the meantime, I injured my knee, for the second time, which required surgery and ending any chance of playing football. Knee surgery was much different at that time and rehab was worse.
I met my wife, Marilyn, at an A&W root beer stand in Marion while attending Murray State. After we said "I do" on July 17, 1965, we lived in married housing. I paid for college working electrical high line construction in the summers and as a janitor at school during the school year.
I completed my student teaching in March, 1967. Marilyn and I were in the process of moving back to Illinois when I received a call from Paducah City Schools. I interviewed with them a few weeks before completing my student teaching at a job fair. They asked me to come to Paducah and interview for a job to finish out the year teaching 7th grade biology.
Upon interviewing with John Cromwell, the principal at Jetton Jr. High, he offered me a contract to finish the year. While completing my paperwork, I was asked what my wife was going to do. I said she was a secretary looking for a job. They interviewed her for an opening at the central office. We were both hired on the same day.
After moving to Paducah, we had enough money to pay the first month's rent and $100 left to spare. I purchased a suit on credit to have for my teaching. For entertainment, since we had no money to spend on anything but food, we would go almost nightly to what was then Uncle Lee's. Marilyn would browse the store, other than sporting goods; of course that's the department that held my interest. I was so self-conscious that they would think we were shoplifting, that I kept my hands in my pocket until we left.
At the end of the school year, a teacher resigned to coach at Paducah Junior College, and they gave me his position. I started teaching history and became an assistant coach for three sports. After two years as assistant football coach, I became head coach.
After Marilyn became pregnant with our first child, the students starting saying, "you are going to have a cheerleader," and I countered by saying, "I was having a football player." After Amy was born, Joe Dallas, announced on the intercom to the student body that we had a cheerleader. They got a kick out of that.
Principal Dallas and the Superintendent, Dr. David Whitehead, evidently saw something in me that I did not see in myself. Joe had been to the University of Tennessee on a recruiting trip and returned with an application for a fellowship program at UT. He and Dr. Whitehead encouraged me to apply. When I received the fellowship, it amounted to more money than I was making teaching and coaching. The Board granted me a 15 month leave of absence to complete my Masters Degree.
While attending UT, the assistant principal at Jetton passed away. His position was held for me. Two years later, Mr. Dallas became principal at PTHS, and I became principal at Jetton, a position I held for 7 years until the school closed in 1980. Jetton and its students will always hold a special place in my heart, after all, it was where I started my career in education.
My assignment upon the closing of Jetton was that of assistant principal, athletic director, and curriculum coordinator at Paducah Tilghman. This was a different but fun time during my career. I always enjoyed working with staff on various curriculum related activities in my role as curriculum coordinator. As athletic director, I was responsible for developing the first athletic manual establishing guidelines for every aspect of the athletic department, including cheerleading squads. In my new role, I noticed the cheerleaders would be on the road late at night with no male figure. It made me uncomfortable so I volunteered to drive them to ballgames. Others may not have seen the need; however, it made me more comfortable. I remained assistant principal until my position was cut. My new assignment was to coordinate the in-school suspension center.
I had completed my 30 above Masters program; however, that did not include a certification for the elementary principalship. As a result, I returned to night school to complete my elementary certification. After Clark School principal, Wilda Morton, moved to central office, I applied for and received the position of principal of Clark Elementary School.
During my first year at Clark, I spent a great deal of time observing the extremely talented and dedicated group of teachers. I formed an advisory team representing each grade level to formulate a plan to identify our strengths and weaknesses. For example, my personal research identified geography as a subject of weakness across the country. I shared my findings with the staff and suggested that each class identify a country to study during the month of January. At the end of the month, we would tour the world.
I contacted Senator Mitch McConnell's office and asked for a list of US Embassies. From that list teachers chose a country to study. I envisioned each embassy sending literature, posters, and perhaps a flag. I did not envision the amount of excitement it would generate from the teachers and the embassies. Classrooms were turned into countries. It was absolutely amazing. The staff continued to develop this program with more and more detail. The parents got involved also by providing meals representing the cuisine from each country.
The program named "Month of the World and Day of Nations" was a success. Two professors from Murray State brought future elementary teachers to tour on the Day of Nations. We were invited to present at several national conferences and various groups. It was not uncommon to receive calls from schools across the country asking for information about how to get started.
In 1986 the superintendent, Dr. Allen, felt that Clark Elementary should apply for a national award (Excellence in Education). This program required that we submit information regarding all aspects of our school including curriculum, school climate, student attendance, teacher attendance, student involvement, test results, problem identification and resolution of those problems. After the application was reviewed at the State level to determine if we should receive a site visit, we were notified that we would have a site visit from a representative of the US Department of Education.
Our evaluator looked at every aspect of our program. She visited every classroom, met with groups of students representing every grade level, talked to parents, interviewed the staff, as well as the Board of Education. One of the comments the evaluator made that I am very proud of was that she felt the staff with their approach to problem solving could attack any problem and develop a proper solution. Her evaluation, sent to the US Department of Education, was reviewed and evaluated by a committee within that department. Clark Elementary was one of 128 elementary schools across the nation that received the Excellence in Education award in 1986. Representatives from Clark went to Washington DC to receive the award. As a part of the trip, I had the privilege of going to the Rose Garden at the White House where President Reagan spoke to us. This whole process was a true reward to the Clark staff, students, and school community.
In 1990 the state legislature passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act. All schools, including Clark Elementary, needed restructuring, or so they said. You may recall the news media referred to it as building an airplane while it's in flight. This was probably the most frustrating time in my education career. Here we were a school that was recognized as one of the top in the nation having to tear apart what we knew was a good educational program. On numerous occasions, I remember receiving a directive from the state to develop a plan of implementation only to have the state scrap that directive to implement another. My assistant principal, Clara Faye Downs, and the advisory committee spent hours studying and planning the implementation of the state's directives.
After numerous state plans, our team decided to carry out only the parts of the directives that benefited our students. Otherwise, continue with what we knew were best practices. In my opinion, the best part of the Education Reform Act was the improved writing skills.
I retired from education after the l996 school year. My wife said she could see the stress level building and the state's micro management took the fun out of it. Within a month, I got bored. That is when I decided to try real estate. There was a lot of flexibility; however, I never did anything half way. As a result, I was elected President of the Board of Realtors. Real Estate was a great second career and allowed Marilyn and me to do things we never thought we would do. We took cruises all over the Caribbean, the East coast from New York to Halifax as well as Alaska and Hawaii.
Our oldest daughter is a first grade teacher in Plainfield, Illinois, and our youngest daughter is a social worker for Hospice. We are the proud grandparents of four granddaughters and one grandson. Three are in college (University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University, and the University of Tennessee) and one is a junior in Plainfield, Illinois. She plays volleyball for both high school and club. Our youngest is a sophomore and plays golf for McCracken County High. He qualified for state last fall.
I used to enjoy fishing and camping but now I play golf. I decided it would be fun to follow my grandson around and occasionally play a round with him. So, at 72 I took up golf. He likes to play with me when he needs a good laugh
It's my grandkids that put a smile on my face and a spring in my step.
It’s not a defining moment but an important one. Jackie Smith was the 1986 Miss Kentucky USA and contender for Miss USA who carried a couple of secret weapons; a big heart and a beautiful smile. She said, “The Miss USA pageant opened my eyes to the possibilities outside my tiny world of experience.” The tiny world she references is the small town of Metropolis, Illinois population of 6,000.
Jackie said, “Ok, this is funny...I loved baton twirling and competed in the USTA (United States Twirling Association) and NBTA (National Baton Twirling Association) until entering high school. The NBTA USA motto is ‘winning is participating’. Accept new friendships as you extend your friendship to your fellow competitors. Baton twirling of yesteryear fashioned big hair, painted faces, flashy costumes, and willowy young women. It's the lessons learned behind the scenes that prepared potential beauty queens like Jackie for future endeavors.
The first eleven years of education for Jackie happened in Massac County. In addition to academics, she participated in cheerleading and countless piano lessons. As she matured, so did her dreams. The little town of Metropolis didn’t give Jackie all she wanted. It was time to move forward and shake things up. She wanted to work in downtown Paducah and become a member of a teen board at Jeans Department Store. “I couldn’t work afternoons as planned, so I decided to change schools,” she said.
Jackie started at Paducah Tilghman High School the second full week of classes in the fall of 1981. “I loved Tilghman. It was the best move for me. It taught me to become independent, step out of my comfort zone, and make new friends.” After graduating from high school in 1982, Jackie attended college at Murray State University as an accounting major. She became very active in student government, concert committee, sorority, and as a little sister in a fraternity.
During Jackie’s junior year at MSU, she was crowned Miss MSU. The pageant win was a preliminary to Miss Kentucky USA. Though Jackie wasn’t your stereotypical pageant girl (the MSU pageant was only her second), she won and traveled across the state attending festivals, riding in parades, engaging in public speaking, and emceeing pageants.
Miss USA Pageant 1986. Jackie Taylor Smith introduces herself as Miss Kentucky USA
Next stop, the Miss USA pageant in Miami, Florida, known for its sandy, white beaches, Cuban culture, and all-night parties, this little Kentucky girl had eyes wide open for over a month with 50 other beautiful women all vying for the same prize. “It was exhilarating and intimidating at the same time. One of the greatest experiences of my life,” she said.
Jackie said she made many friends as Miss Kentucky in 1986. One such friend was a celebrity icon, Halle Berry. She was Miss Ohio USA in 1986 and became the first runner-up for Miss USA. “She was as sweet as she was beautiful,” said Jackie. From that experience, Jackie gained more confidence as a public speaker and learned a few tricks of the trade about style, clothing, and beauty.
While in Miami, contestants participated in five weeks' worth of events. The fourth week of preliminaries landed Jackie in the hospital. The day before she was to compete, she was hospitalized due to a lack of rest and proper nutrition. She developed strep throat and couldn’t introduce herself. “I had no voice,” she said. Though the pageant results weren’t in her favor, Jackie said, “I learned that beauty truly comes from the inside.” She went on to say that pageants can amplify insecurities about body image. “It’s wonderful for people who don’t look for self-worth in the opinions of others.”
Jackie’s first job was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and realized quickly that she was homesick. An accounting position opened up at the P & L Railroad in Paducah so Jackie dusted the dirt off her shoes and headed home.
It was after the move that Jackie took notice of one particular person; the person that eventually became her husband. “I met Rex while I was Miss Kentucky at a fashion show fundraiser at the Irvin Cobb Hotel in Paducah. We were friends and even double-dated with other people. We realized quickly that we had a lot in common and wanted the same things out of life,” said Jackie.
Rex was seven years older than Jackie but it didn't hamper how they felt about many of the same issues; one of those issues was politics. In college, Jackie was very active in student government. “My father-in-law and my husband were always involved in the political process,” she said. Rex started in the Democratic Party and later changed affiliations. The interesting thing about the couple is they have their belief system and values but don't begrudge others for having an opposing opinion. Jackie said she prays for the nation no matter who's in charge.
Jim Smith, Jackie's father-in-law was a well-known businessman in western Kentucky. His company, Jim Smith Contracting, was founded in 1969 in Smithland. The family-owned businesses included coal mining, fuel distribution, hotels (notably the ‘Big E’ in Paducah), rock quarry, and highway, bridge, and road construction. Today, Rex is the sole owner of the business.
Both Jackie and Rex share a passion for fitness. “Our first date was running a 10K, and I beat him’” said Jackie. After three months of dating and many long nights of deep conversations, Rex asked Jackie to marry him. “There was never any doubt that he was and is the only one for me,” she said.
The family that raised Jackie, her adoptive parents, were able to share in the couples’ nuptials. After the death of her parents, Jackie was ready to find her biological family. In 2017, she met her mother, father, and two sisters. “My mother is only 73 and is beautiful and very young at heart. My father was a career military man playing football for the marine corps,” said Jackie. “My parents met again after they discovered me and had lunch at the diner where they dated as high school sweethearts. They’ve become very good friends.”
Jackie and Rex have four children and two grandchildren. The children are Jay (33), Sam (31), Callie (28), and Gabbie (19). “My greatest talent and passion so far is being a grandmother,” said Jackie. “I was born for this job. I’m a hands-on teacher, cuddler, reader, cheerleader, rocker, and lover of the two most precious beautiful children on planet earth. Charlie is a three-year-old fair-haired blond girl who looks much like my family and Ford is a nine-month-old boy with big brown, dreamy eyes and a mischievous smile like his mother.”
As part of giving back to the community, Jackie is the incoming chair of the Paducah Beautification Board, co-chair of the Dogwood Trail, a board member on the MSU Foundation, and an active member of First Baptist Church of Paducah. She’s worked with the American Cancer Society, The National Bone Marrow Society, Community Kitchen, and Starfish Orphan Ministry.
The Smiths love to travel. “My favorite city to visit is New York. My favorite beach is Seaside and my favorite vacation includes England and Greece,” said Jackie. The family has a farm in Livingston County that’s the perfect place to get away from it all. “The kids like to spend time there,” she said. They also enjoy ‘making a fuss’ over holidays, baby showers, weddings, and anything worth celebrating.
From a personal perspective, Jackie said she always needs a purpose. “I get up every morning optimistic. I bounce back quickly. I’m a fixer-upper. I don’t throw out anything or anybody. I try to help people get back on their feet.”
When asked about Jackie’s perfect day, she said, “I’d have three cups of black coffee with thirty minutes of quiet time. I’d work for an hour or so. Walk on the beach at Marco Island with my best friend engaged in a long talk; maybe a couple of hours in New York with my girls shopping. The afternoon would be spent with my grandchildren in the park. I’d cook a fabulous supper for my husband and boys while listening to stories about their day. Then, sit on the back porch by the fireplace with Rex, a great bottle of cabernet, listening to 70’s music.”
Heather Waters, photographer, entrepreneur, mom, wife, and Boston Marathon Qualifier after completing one of her long distance races.
Running the Boston Marathon is ‘the holy grail of races,’ said Heather Waters. This year’s 125th race scheduled for October 11, 2021, is highly anticipated. The B.A.A. (Boston Athletic Association) said that by focusing on a fall date, they can adjust the in-person experience for runners and spectators. Last year's solution to the pandemic was a virtual race. As more and more events welcome 'live' participants and avid sports fans, runners will take their mark with bated breath to hear ready, set, go.
Since 1897, the Boston Marathon has held its race annually on the third Monday in April; otherwise known as Patriot’s Day. The race, established after the success of the first marathon in the 1896 Summer Olympics, is hosted by several cities around the Boston area in Eastern Massachusetts.
Waters made the qualifying time for her age group a couple of weeks ago and hopes to compete this fall or in 2022. She said, “The pressure is off and now it’s time to wait for events to unfold. I’ll train with friends, do everything to stay injury-free, and enjoy the process.”
Always looking for ways to stay fit and lose unwanted pounds, Waters said she’s always worked out and exercised. Through the years, her typical fitness routine consisted of dance, aerobic classes, the elliptical trainer, and weight-lifting. “Running seemed awful and it hurt, so I stayed away thinking I had old dance injuries that wouldn’t allow it.” Then, she got interested and realized there were advantages to running. Running is accessible because you can run anywhere. Running is practical because her kids could ride in the stroller while she jogged from behind. Running is fat-burning and cancels out calories.
It wasn’t until after her second child was born that running piqued her interest. “The nanny invited me to run a 5K,” said Waters. There was no training, just show up and run. At that time, she was running 30 minutes non-stop on the treadmill so she agreed. That first race, “I loved the way it felt,” said Waters. The race was at the 2011 New Year’s at Noon 5K in Athens, Georgia. A fire ignited. The wheels started turning and she instantly started thinking of ways to do it better.
A goal-setter in most situations, Waters started a photography business a year after her first 5K. At first, she took pictures of everything; weddings, babies, families, anything to make a buck. Then, she found her niche; children’s portraits. Waters started with her daughter Gracie’s preschool class and eventually fine-tuned the process to compete with national ‘big-box’ companies. Through quality products and exceptional customer service, Watermark Photography has 16 local schools that use her services today.
Growing up, pictures were all over the walls. Waters' mom, Margie Davis Fields made their home cozy with lots of family photos on the walls, bookshelves, everywhere throughout the house and Waters followed suit. “I was the one with the camera, on the yearbook staff, taking pictures,” said Waters. “I loved capturing people in happy moments.”
Through a passion for pictures, Waters landed an internship at Disney World. After the internship, she studied commercial photography in New York City. Originally, Waters thought she would work at a newspaper. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Georgia studying journalism with an emphasis on photojournalism. However, In 2003, Waters put down her camera and started a career in pharmaceutical sales.
While peddling pharmaceuticals in Chattanooga, TN, Waters met her husband, Kevin, also in the industry. Fifteen years ago this August, the two wed and have two children Gracie (12) and Davis (10).
As a wife, mother, and businesswoman, Waters was achieving great success. However, in private, she was struggling with body image. “When I started running, it was to burn calories. I’ve always had a disordered relationship with food and exercise, the longer the run, the more calories burned, but nothing seemed enough.” she said.
It wasn’t until she started running with a group of women that Waters turned a corner. Running changed from a way to stay thin to a way of living life. “Two years ago, I started running with these amazing ladies at Transfit in Athens, Georgia, owned by one of my University of Georgia sorority sisters,” said Waters. “The focus was on mind, body, and spirit, not results. They’ve changed running for me and love me as I am. They are my tribe. Now, I eat and fuel properly, and love doing life with them.”
This running family pushes each other to do big goals. At least once a week, they pound the pavement for a long 10-mile run. Cumulatively, they run around 40 miles every week. The group stays mostly ‘half-marathon ready’ and trains more extensively for full marathons.
Waters only runs long-distance races since she’s needed at home on most weekends. She enters several half-marathons each year and plans to run one full marathon annually. Her family is proud of her accomplishments. “Sometimes my kids get tired of hearing me talk about it and they roll their eyes. I tell them it keeps mom healthy and strong.”
The most satisfying race for Waters was the Savannah Marathon 2019. It was her first Boston Marathon qualifier and full marathon. She said, “To accomplish something like that with the body I have abused for years, I was proud of what it could do when I treated it with kindness.”
Running a Boston Marathon Qualifier requires an official net time (chip time). Each age and gender group has a time they have to meet. “The times have gotten faster and they take the fastest runners first; and a qualification doesn’t ensure you get to go,” said Waters.
There was never a big dream of competing in the holy grail of races. “It’s for real runners,” said Waters. Then, she started surrounding herself with people who ran it. She started getting faster times on her half-marathons but after 13.1 miles...she was done. But, something in the back of her mind kept nagging her to give it a try. “I didn’t talk about it out loud,” she said.
“I kept my base up, eating for fuel, treating my body right, and wanted to see if I could really finish a full. My ‘unicorn’ secret goal was 3:40 and was so crazy. I wouldn’t talk about it.” Then, in Savannah, she ran the full marathon at 3:38:30. Recently, Waters finished another full marathon and shaved off another 1:30 for a personal best of 3 hours and 37 minutes. She’s hoping to make it to ‘the big show’ either this fall or 2022. The qualifying window for the 2021 Boston Marathon opened on September 15, 2018.
Waters said, “The Boston Marathon is the “holy grail” for amateur runners, and something to savor and be proud of. I want to enjoy every moment of the process, and remind myself of how far I’ve come in so many ways. I've explained to my family for a long time that a very low percentage of people on this planet ever finish a marathon. They're called the 1%ers. Less than 10% of those 1%ers qualify for Boston.”
The family is looking forward to a trip to 'The Cradle of Liberty' to see mom race. “Who doesn’t want to be on the sidelines of the BOSTON MARATHON,” said Waters. It’s true. The race attracts over 500,000 spectators each year making it New England’s number one sporting event. Most people who run a 26.2 marathon finish in four to five hours. To finish a marathon in under four hours is an accomplishment. Waters has already achieved that goal with room to spare.
As the family cheers her on, so do the ‘amazing' ladies at Transfit. The question is, does Waters cheer herself on? Through the years, her struggle with imperfection and body image has taken a toll. This time, running is different. “I think of exercise, food, and life differently because of running. The Boston Marathon is a victory lap. It’s not about the time...it’s about the journey.”
“Knowing me is knowing my dad. I’m like his shadow,” said Kamari Turnley. Have you ever heard the tune ‘Me and my Shadow?’ It’s a song by Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra. “We’re closer than pages that stick in a book. We’re closer than ripples that play in a brook...not a soul can bust this team into; we stick together like glue.”
Sticking together is something families do. They're there for one another when life happens. Kamari and her dad are not only there for each other, but are there for others too. Both share a passion for helping people.
Kamari has always looked up to her dad. She's very proud of his career accomplishments as a medical practitioner and 'over the moon' about his love for Jesus. Marcus Turnley is a member of the Kentucky Association of Physician Assistants and a graduate of the University of Kentucky. Currently, he’s a PA-C working in general surgery for Mercy-Health Lourdes in Paducah. He’s also part of the ministry team at Washington Street Baptist Church along with Pastor and City Commissioner Raynarldo Henderson, Arveta Turnley (Kamari’s mom), Armadrest Branigan, and Shonda Burrus.
Kamari said, “It's an understatement to say that I grew up in the church. Every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or any other day church could be squeezed in...I was there.”
Originally from Hopkinsville. the Turnleys moved to Paducah with their young family when Kamari was an infant. She attended Concord and transferred to Clark. Then, continued her public school education at Paducah Middle School and Paducah Tilghman High School. Her brother Keary Turnley attended city schools too.
During the early years, Kamari was a member of the 4-H Club and Girl Scouts. Both are nationally-based youth organizations that promote positivity and a sense of community. They also help supply kids with mentors and other developmental skills needed to create change in the lives of others, as well as their own. In addition to these organizations, Kamari participated in the Beta Club, the National Honor Society, and band.
After graduating, Kamari attended the University of Kentucky studying Health Society and Populations. “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been interested in healthcare.” After all, two areas of interest shared by Kamari and her dad that ‘stuck like glue’ were church and medicine.
As Kamari continued making her own way, she developed two new relationships with a couple of local high school girls. It was during the college years that Cherika Johnson, a Pharm D 2021 candidate, and Azia Rouse, a credentialed social worker became like sisters to Kamari. In high school, they were aquaintances...in college, they became family. "We talk as much as I talk to my parents, maybe more," she said.
As part of a well-rounded college experience, Kamari was a member of a sorority. Delta Sigma Theta is historically an African-American Greek sorority founded by college-educated women dedicated to public service and programs that aid the African-American community. “My sorority was big into community services so I often helped. I'm always looking for ways to give back,” said Kamari.
After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Arts, Kamari attended Bellarmine University for nursing. Bellarmine is in Louisville, KY, and is known for specialized curriculum in healthcare, business, and fitness. Founded in 1950, it was one of the first institutions in Kentucky to accept all races.
Once the nursing degree was completed, Kamari started working at UK Chandler Hospital in Lexington. The hospital is a 569-bed facility and is part of the UK healthcare system. It’s a level one trauma center and handles the most severe trauma cases.
The fact that Kamari chose a career in nursing is no surprise. “Helping people has always been my passion,” she said. In 2019, Kamari moved to Houston, Texas to work in the Neuro ICU. Shortly thereafter, she started travel nursing. Then, the pandemic struck.
Helping others became exhausting. Kamari said she worked in the COVID ICU unit and was there for all end-of-life care. “It’s hard mentally,” said Kamari. She recalled one incident that happened during the pandemic when a patient referred to her as ‘an angel from God’.
“Working during the pandemic is hard, especially in the COVID ICU. One particular patient had a terrible round of COVID and swears that I was his angel sent from God. As he tells it, he was praying to the Lord to send an angel from heaven, then I walked into the room,” said Kamari. It’s stories like these that kept her grounded.
Kamari said there are two takeaways that really stood out from her COVID ICU experience. "One is to never take life for granted. Two is knowing that nothing is promised.”
To push forward each day, Kamari is a big believer in self-care. She’s a frequent flyer of Sunday Funday. "This is a Houston thing where people go to brunch and continue the day socializing and having fun," said Kamari. She enjoys manicures, pedicures, massages, and talking to friends. When describing her ideal day, she said, ‘Brunch with friends, a scheduled massage, and a good Netflix series.”
Traveling as a nurse isn’t Kamari’s only passion. She also enjoys traveling for fun. She’s been to Grand Cayman Island, Turks and Caicos, Cozumel, Vegas, and NYC. Her favorite trip was to Cozumel to climb the Mayan Ruins. El Cedral is a Mayan ruin that dates back to 800 A.D. and is the oldest ruin on the Mexican island.
Kamari plans to continue travel nursing. If you're wondering about this career, nurses must be RN's. Their role is to fill gaps, for a period of time, in the staffing needs at hospitals and facilities across the country. Reasons for additional staffing include a need for more experienced nurses, unexpected leaves of absence, seasonal fluctuations, or a worldwide pandemic such as COVID-19. There are long-term contracts and short-term, depending on the needs of the facilities.
The perks of being a traveling nurse include a stronger résumé, higher pay, travel experiences, and flexibility. It’s such an exciting career for those that want to take advantage of it. Kamari said, “Being a traveling nurse has been interesting. It's definitely opened my eyes.”
Whatever Kamari decides to do, she's got her family's support. The family relies heavily on faith and the power of prayer. Without it, worry would consume their thoughts. Being a COVID ICU nurse isn't for the faint of heart. It's a true calling. It's part of the 'family business' of helping others. Kamari is spreading her angel wings and flying. It's just what the doctor ordered.
The good things we collectively harvest are exciting prospects for financial advisor John Williams Jr.
“My brothers and I learned at an early age that we needed to develop our own careers away from CSI. Dad truly believed this was in our best interest for a series of reasons, and it has resulted well for us all.” John Williams Jr.
Williams was born, the first of three sons, in Frankfurt, West Germany to John and Vivian Williams. At the time, Williams Sr. was a soldier in the U.S. Army and stationed there. After completing his service, the family moved back home to Paducah.
Attending city schools, Williams went to Clark Elementary, Brazelton Junior High, and Paducah Tilghman High School. As an elementary student, he discovered two of his passions; the trumpet and scouts.
Back in the day, tonette lessons were part of the music curriculum in fourth grade. If you’re unfamiliar with these plastic instruments, they're closer in size to a piccolo but played like a clarinet. Kids interested in music typically transition to band choosing from a variety of possibilities such as woodwinds, brass, or drums.
The other interest that served Williams well was Boy Scouts. He spent much of his time participating in scouting activities. “Scouting was good for me in many ways and it involved some of the roots of my eventual career,” he said. That eventual career was financial planning and the catalyst was a merit badge. The merit badge allows scouts to investigate different areas of knowledge and skill. Williams’ interest lay in personal management. In this area, youth learn about budgeting, savings, retirement goals, the stock market, and the emotional connections to money. The Personal Management Merit Badge was really an eye-opener for him.
Williams has always been focused and committed to projects and goals he sets for himself. Even though his elders were successful business people, his father's voice could be heard telling him to create his own path. It was a bit of a chess game. Mentally, he planned each move. If looking at a chessboard, one determines the imbalances, figures out the best squares for each piece, and selects moves based on various factors. It’s methodical, premeditated, and the perfect approach for any goal-oriented person.
Financial savviness is an inherited trait. Williams’ uncles were accountants at Williams, Williams, and Lentz. His grandfather Williams worked at Prudential Financial. His other grandfather (Vivian’s dad) was a banker at Citizens Bank and Trust Company and Williams Sr. was in the banking industry. As Williams started carving out his niche, he said, “It seemed to me that wealth and financial planning was the related area of professional work that no one in the family had already claimed as their own.”
After graduating high school in ‘81, Williams matriculated to Emory University in Atlanta earning a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. If you’re unfamiliar with the school, Emory is a private research university founded in 1836 and named in honor of Methodist bishop John Emory. While at Emory, Williams pledged Sigma Chi Fraternity and showed interest in various political issues.
Graduating in ‘85, Williams believed it was time to start pursuing his dream job. On the advice of a ‘wise’ family friend in the business, Williams reluctantly postponed starting his plans for the next 10 years. “Few folks that have life savings, retirement, and wealth will trust a 21-year-old with their life savings, retirement, and wealth,” said Williams. Though heartbroken, he heeded the advice.
Now, what to do. It was time to work on his business acumen, obtain advanced degrees, and live life. During these years, Williams participated in government relations/lobbying, real estate development, and banking. He added a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Plus, he started a family. Thirty-two years ago this April, twins John Williams IV and Ashley Williams Lambert were born. Two of his greatest joys.
There was a time Williams thought he might like to work for CSI (Computer Services Incorporated). As a banker and in the throngs of earning his first of two graduate degrees, Williams thought CSI could branch out into other areas. He said, “What occurred to me then was that CSI could develop a professional consulting division to discuss bank management issues growing out of existing customer relationships and the data already in the computers. I spoke to one CSI officer about it and realized in the middle of that exact conversation that I needed to stay on the course I’d set to wealth and financial planning.”
Fast-forward to 1996, after the 10-year learning curve expired, it was time. “Once I leaped into financial advice and planning, I re-engaged my studies and added a Masters' Degree from the College of Financial Planning at Greenwood Village, CO,” said Williams. He also invested time earning professional certifications as a CFP, CIMA (University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business), CPWA (Yale Business School), CAP, CRPC, and CMFC.
Before the leap, it’s important to share how Williams met his wife Kristin Reese Williams. “I was on the Board of Directors but not active as I was juggling my bank role at the time (Executive Vice-President of the Bank of Marshall County in Benton, KY) and studying to take the securities licenses exams for my career launch,” said Williams. Originally from Knoxville, Kristin moved to Paducah as the new CEO of GPEDC (Greater Paducah Economic Development Council). She asked Williams to lunch to ‘politely’ share with him that he was ‘messing up the quorum’ of the meetings and if he didn’t commit to regular attendance, he would be fired. “I accepted the dismissal and moved on,” said Williams. Apparently, there were no hard feelings. One year later, Williams and Kristin went on their first dinner and drinks date at Max’s Brick Oven in downtown Paducah and the rest is history.
Williams’ brothers, Kevin and Brett are both in finance. Kevin graduated from Paducah Tilghman in ‘85. He is a co-CEO at Agency Lending for Greystone (a private lending firm that lends to commercial borrowers with certain Fannie Mae programs). He and his wife Christie have four sons and live in Collierville, TN. Brother Brett is in the same industry as Kevin. He graduated from Paducah Tilghman also. He and Kent Waltman, another PTHS grad, developed their own firm that transitioned to a large firm last year called Situs, AMC. Brett married Allyson and they live in Franklin, TN with their two children.
Currently, Williams is the managing director of investments at Wells Fargo Advisors in Paducah. Recently, Forbes named him Best in State, through an interview and process conducted by Shook Research who partners with Forbes. Williams said that the Paducah firm has six practicing people. Five have licenses and are credentialed. “What clients and others don’t see as much is that my Paducah team colleagues are recognized at the top of our industry within our firm, which ranks in the top three in the U.S. in size and breadth,” said Williams. The firm services clients in 24 states with the greatest in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Since the pandemic, Williams has spent much of his time at his home in Townsend, TN. The vacation home is less than a mile from the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. A room within the home has converted to a home office. He also said he’s perfected the art of Zoom meetings. His ideal day consists of ‘balanced time’ both inside and outside, hobbies, fresh food, and time with friends.
Spending time at the Townsend home has its perks. “We’re rediscovering the nooks and crannies in the Smoky Mts. and surrounding areas for hiking, fly fishing, and biking,” said Williams. Though biking hasn’t officially started in 2021 for Williams, one of his current favorite trails is a gravel road around Rich Mountain. The Rich Mountain Loop Trail in the Smokies begins in Cades Cove. “If done in a loop, it’s 25 miles of peddling,” said Williams.
Food and drink is another hobby enjoyed. “We love to cook,” said Williams. At home, they grow a small garden and are ‘best known’ within the family for their homegrown pesto. The couple also appreciates good wine and bourbon. “There have been many trips to Napa and Sonoma over the past 20 years,” he said. For nine years they owned a little place among the California vineyards.
“We’ve made so many good friends in the (wine) industry,” said Williams. One of their favorites is Behrens Family Winery in Spring Mountain. The boutique winery is in Saint Helena, CA, and owned by Les Behrens and Lisa Drinkward. Their favorite bourbon drink is a Manhattan. At home, the house favorite is a Black Walnut Manhattan made with Black Walnut bitters and Amaro, as opposed to sweet vermouth.
Williams has three grandchildren and one due in May. All are girls and they release lots of energy and provide lots of comedy to his already active lifestyle. “We have started home cooking projects with Juliet and Reese, and that promises to expand with Nora and Lorelei (I’m told that’s the name for May baby),” said Williams.
We mustn’t forget TeeJay and Lila. “TeeJay is actually my first dog. He’s half Staffordshire terrier and half Great Dane. He’s big, smart, loyal, and goofy. Lila is a Bassador who is half Basset and half Black lab. She’s sneaky, loyal, loving, and goofy,” said Williams.
As part of William’s well-rounded life, he’s serving on the Board of the Paducah Symphony Orchestra for the third time and he’s involved in the effort to build a Memorial Courtyard at Broadway United Methodist Church. “A columbarium of ashes of church members and associates,” he said.
COVID has made a herculean impact on all of our lives in one way or another. Working from home, limited activities with friends and family, lost jobs, and people falling ill and dying. As vaccinations ramp up and positive cases decline, there’s hope. Williams said, “I’m now excited about how we come together again, and especially what are the good things we collectively harvest from these experiences.”
Williams said he missed the community aspect of the church, socializing, and going to the office. As a person with a booming practice, a serial hobbyist, husband, dad, son, and grandfather, getting back to the activities, events, and people that he loves, is a lot to look forward to.