Education was the only way out of a life of mediocrity and limited possibilities. Robert Shy has banked his career on education. Growing up in public housing, Shy admitted there wasn’t much emphasis on formal education. Most of his mentoring came from outside the confines of Anderson Court from people that changed his life, then and now.
Shy isn’t ‘shy’ about sharing his story. He was a kid that grew up in poverty. Graduating with honors from high school, he created an opportunity that many weren’t afforded. Upon receiving his diploma, Shy left Paducah with dreams of a better life and endless prospects. Fast-forward, 31 years later, Shy’s back home, only this time, to change the lives of others.
“I was a poor black kid from the projects when I was growing up but yet one of the smartest students in school. The last time my mother saw my report card was when I was in the second grade,” said Shy.
It was mentors like Florence Morton, Christine Harvey, Olivia Burr, Brenda Murray and ‘countless others’ said Shy that supported and guided him in his youth.
At the time Shy graduated from high school, Morton was Dean of Students at PTHS. It wasn’t until 1989 that Morton was promoted to principal. Sister Harvey was the wife of W. G. Harvey, Sr., a local pastor at New Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church. Olivia Burr was a social worker for Paducah City Schools and the site manager of Anderson Court at the time Shy grew up. Brenda Murray was a member of Harrison Street Missionary Baptist Church and the mother of another PTHS student, Alethea Murray. All of these nurturing and caring women were in Shy’s life for a purpose and that purpose was to see him ‘shine’.
Shy said, “My high school years were some of the best of my life. There are a lot of memories, though some are fading.” He was in student council, on the staff of The Tilghman Bell, and a basketball player. After receiving multiple academic scholarships, Shy accepted a full-ride to Southern University of Baton Rouge, Louisiana majoring in English.
Promotions and career moves carried his family to several different states before moving back to his hometown in 2014. After college, Shy took a job in Atlanta, Georgia for the endless opportunities available in a larger city. After Atlanta, he moved to Biloxi, Mississippi. Shy was in Biloxi when Hurricane Katrina hit. He said, “Katrina devastated Biloxi” so the family moved to Texas.
When Shy’s youngest daughter graduated high school, he was ready to come back home. After all, family was waiting. Two of his siblings and multiple cousins that lived in Paducah were ready to see Shy’s sparkling smile and appreciate his positive attitude for more than just the occasional visit.
Every three years or so, Shy made it back home for visits, mainly to attend the Eighth of August Celebration. When Shy visited, he would catch-up with friends and relatives still living at Anderson Court. Shy reminisced about growing up in the projects and said it was like one big family. “The other people that lived there were like cousins or extended family. We looked out for each other and I believe I still owe a few people sugar or eggs that I borrowed 40 years ago and never paid back.”
Shy said things have changed quite a bit in Paducah. Aesthetically, the Anderson Court buildings are nicer and there’s more landscaping, but the sense of pride and drive to commit to education are different. He said, “Growing up, many of us held each other accountable, academically.” Again, another reason to come home to change lives.
In 2007, Shy founded the Future Christian Leaders of America while living in Texas. Upon moving back to Paducah, they reorganized and became 3E Leadership Academy. During the 2019 - 2020 academic school year, the organization served Paducah and Hopkinsville. Beginning January 2021, the organization will expand into Fulton and Hickman Counties.
The goal of the academy, “is to increase the academic level of students in Paducah and surrounding areas. The focus is to help students prepare for college or any post-secondary educational institutions.” said Shy. The organization has helped hundreds of students secure over 20 million dollars in scholarships. Students have careers as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, teachers, engineers, professional jobs that were realized with the help of mentors and the 3E Leadership Academy.
“Education is my passion because I feel that’s the best way a person can change not only their future but the future of generations to come.” said Shy “My mother was the single parent of six and the year I graduated high school, she received her GED. I was more happy for her than for myself.”
For students that don’t have parents that push education, getting ahead can be tough. Public schools tend to gravitate toward students with higher testing scores and parents that are wealthy or connected. Meanwhile, the average student gets left behind.
Shy said, “Many of the schools in our area are great for smart students and students from families that will hold their school systems accountable and are involved in their children’s education. If you’re in honors and advanced placement classes, you’ll get a top-notch education. For everyone else, it’s a disaster including African-American, Hispanic, and poor white students. Taking general education classes only will make it tough to excel, even on the community college level.”
In addition to founding the youth development organization, Shy was appointed by the Mayor and City Commissioners to serve on the Paducah Human Rights Commission. The board consists of five representative citizens that serve in an advisory capacity to city leaders. As Shy enters into his third year as an appointed commissioner, his interest in city government and the disadvantaged has only intensified.
After moving back to Paducah six years ago, Shy said, “I went to the library and read every comprehensive plan going back to the late 60’s. Certain neighborhoods have never been in the plan to improve the city other than to demolish them.” Shy started thinking, how can I help to change lives.
Shy said, “many public housing projects have been torn down or in the case of Anderson Court, downsized over the years.” As Shy advocated for basic human rights for Paducah residents, his passion broadened to include underserved areas of the community. He began thinking about broken neighborhoods and how they could be restored and revitalized. Shy said, “There are grants available to rehabilitate those neighborhoods and homes that are dilapidated and unsafe to occupy.
Shy started to see the big picture. “The Third and Fourth Street loop has shut the south side off from many people travelling from the mall and other areas of town. People haven’t travelled ‘the heart’ of the city in over 20 years. South Sixth and Bridge Streets were once bustling with business but many have closed because traffic was diverted to the loop.” stated Shy.
Shy said that because Paducah elects commissioners based on an at-large election, commissioners don’t always represent certain districts. He believes the city should be divided into wards (part of his experience living in Louisiana). The commissioners that represented the south side of town would live in the area of the people they represent. Shy said, “I’ve always been able to make a difference in people’s lives and my community.” And Shy’s goal, win or lose, is still the same...to change lives.
This passion to change lives has challenged Shy to be one of eight candidates to run in November’s election for an elected position on the Paducah Board of Commissioners. Shy said he's challenged himself in two other races while living in other cities. He narrowly lost both races. Shy said, “Whether or not I win the city commission race, I’ll continue to work in this community to give people the same opportunities I received. I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn’t for people like me.”
Jane Howerton Smittkamp has spent 31 years as a devoted wife to her husband and loving mother to their two talented girls. She’s also the sister to Paducah Tilghman graduates, John and Clay Howerton. While a dedicated partner and mom, Smittkamp has created a world outside the typical ‘stay at home’ mom scenario that’s anything but conventional or ordinary. She's taken a seemingly ‘Pleasantville’ lifestyle and fostered a fascinating world full of dance, song, and adventure creating unbreakable bonds with her daughters, husband, and extended family.
At the age of four, Smittkamp started dance classes with the legendary dance instructor Rosemary Peterson. Every little girl in the community wanted to take dance lessons from the awe inspiring Miss Rosemary and Smittkamp was no different.
Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Miss Rosemary was not just an instructor but a performer and an amazing entertainer. At one time, she travelled with a Vaudeville show and toured with Bob Hope, Abbott & Costello, and others. She was an expert performer and teacher and proficient in dance acrobats. While performing Vaudeville in Europe, World War II began and she returned to the states as a performer and later as a dance instructor.
Luckily, all the little girls in Paducah, Kentucky, including Smittkamp benefitted from Miss Rosemary’s return. She opened a dance studio at N. 32nd Street and Central Avenue in the westend of town only blocks from Smittkamp's childhood home.
Miss Rosemary’s resume inspired many girls in the area to dance with the hope of one day becoming a dance instructor or owning their very own dance studio. Generations of women learned ballet, tap, jazz and other forms of dance from Miss Rosemary and Smittkamp was one of them.
Smittkamp’s mother passed away when she was in first grade halting dance lessons for close to a decade. Once starting Paducah Tilghman High School, Smittkamp picked up where she left off 10 years earlier.
During her high school years, Smittkamp took dance lessons from the well-known instructor, Dale Gentner. For over 25 years, Gentner was the recreation superintendent for the Paducah Parks Department and for many years was the choreographer for the Paducah Tilghman High School Choir. Assisting with some of the dance moves was former Rockette Lois Wooley.
In addition to dance lessons, Smittkamp participated in concert and swing choirs (swing choir was a song and dance combo) under the direction of Loretta Whitaker. Whitaker was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense choral director that made a lasting impression on any student that entered the hallowed choir room doors.
Smittkamp was on the drill team in high school coached by Ruth Gunther, a tough, high-energy drill sergeant with a bullhorn that demanded excellence from every performance. The thing is, Gunther got excellence from every performance. Practice until perfect was her motto.
After high school, the ‘barre’ was raised and Smittkamp’s education continued at Murray State University. Upon graduating from MSU, Smittkamp ‘Boot Scootin’ Boogie’ herself to Nashville ready to conquer the country music capital not as a performer but as a buyer for Castner Knott, a Nashville-based retail department store with locations in Kentucky, Alabama and throughout Tennessee. (Castner Knott closed its doors in 1998 after 100 years in business). It was in ‘Music City’ that Smittkamp met her husband and the couple have been Two Steppin’ ever since.
Once hitched, it was decided that the Smittkamps would move to Paris, Illinois for Doug Smittkamp to join the family business; Paris Transport Trucking Company. Shortly after moving, the family welcomed their first child.
Smittkamp was devoted to her girls, Mary Hunter and Lily. Much of Smittkamp’s life revolved around the girls’ activities. As she encouraged her daughters to be active, Smittkamp’s friends encouraged her to do the same. If the girls wanted to learn to ice skate, Smittkamp took lessons and entered competitions. If the girls were swimming, Smittkamp taught water aerobics. “The girls' activities jumped around and depending on their interests, determined my fitness routine.” said Smittkamp.
In the mid-2000’s, Smittkamp was part of a Christian Rock Band. For nine years, the group performed at churches, fundraisers, homeless and outreach shelters, church camps, anywhere God led them. “I had asked God for something to do to help minister to others. I never would’ve imagined a band.” Smittkamp continued, “I love to sing, but I’m no lead singer. That’s how I knew it was God’s will and so I just went with it.”
After the family moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, Smittkamp joined a community theater group. It was here she got bit by the acting bug. Unfortunately, she put away her tap shoes and didn’t participate in organized dance classes for the next five years. But staying active with the theater group and dancing in a couple of musicals kept Smittkamp occupied and happy.
It wasn’t until 2012 that Smittkamp started actively dancing again. Once again, friends encouraged her to not only teach tap, ballet, and jazz but to take classes. It doesn’t take a lot of heavy lifting for Smittkamp to challenge herself and set new goals.
Her latest love is choreographing for the Paris High School Drama Department. As one can see, the love for high school dance has come full circle. The PTHS choreographer, Gentner played a role in mentoring Smittkamp’s passion for teaching students the art of dance.
Since her new role at the high school, Smittkamp has choreographed six musicals, and two Paris Community Theater shows including White Christmas, Mary Poppins, Peter and the StarCatcher, Newsies, Joseph, Willy Wonka, and Tuck Everlasting. “My favorite is Newsies,” said Smittkamp. Newsies is based on the true events during the 1899 Newsboy strikes. The musical is joyful and exuberant about young people joining together to stand up against injustice.
“Working with high school kids has been a great joy. Most have had little to no dance experience. They start from ground zero and ‘rise up’ pulling off complicated dance moves. It’s exciting! They bring me to tears,” said Smittkamp.
Videos are available on Smittkamp’s Facebook page of mother-daughter dance performances. The movements will take your breath away. Smittkamp exemplifies a life with purpose as she strives for significance choosing to be a positive influence for family, community and the world.
Picture an extremely energetic girl dancing around, tapping her toes, and snapping her fingers as she parades the crowded hallways of Paducah Tilghman High School. An ear-to-ear smile that brightens any cloudy day, Millette Milliken is the person from high school that’s unforgettable.
Her life’s had ups and downs and Milliken admits it’s been ‘a rollercoaster ride.’ Yet, she’s a survivor and has that special something that won’t keep a good woman down. She’s been blessed with a moral compass that steers her through stormy weather. Her love for the Lord, family, and a good days’ work is unwavering. Her drive to succeed can withstand hurricane force winds. Milliken knew God was calling her and she replied, “God, I knew you were leading me to Ministers in Training.” At first, she resisted but ultimately obeyed.
Milliken’s dad was a local preacher and pastored three churches including Second Christian Church in Mayfield, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Paducah, and Unity Missionary Baptist Church in Brookport, Illinois. In the early years, Milliken sang in her daddy’s church choir and played the piano. For 40 years, she served the Lord through music ministry by involving herself in local youth and community choirs, as well as gospel ensembles.
After graduating high school, Milliken attended Murray State University and WKCTC, graduating from the latter with a degree in Administrative Business. After moving to Nashville, Tennessee, Milliken continued church ministry as a director of praise and a worship leader. Next, she added a music workshop facilitator to her resume. The workshops were intended to educate, improve character, and add vitality to praise and worship services.
As Milliken’s leadership skills continued to flourish, her roots stayed firmly planted in humility and love. She attributes her ‘love thy neighbor’ attitude to her parents. She said, “Dad was an advocate for the people. Whether he was preaching, coaching, or educating; he stood for the rights of all people in the community.” Her dad’s efforts were recognized by the Upsilon Iota Iota Graduate Chapter Omega Psi Phi fraternity of Paducah in the form of a local scholarship ‘The Reverend Lawrence Milliken College Supply Scholarship.’
Milliken’s mom was her greatest cheerleader. She said, “My mom pushed me in everything I did.” Unfortunately, a few short months ago, Rosetta was called to heaven. She died 10 days after being diagnosed with metastatic cancer. Milliken said, “I don’t think I’ve fully processed what happened, how it happened, or how I missed it. I have a little survivor’s remorse to work through.”
To understand her feelings, let’s go back a decade. Milliken’s 2010 is our 2020. It’s marred with good and bad times.
In 2010, Milliken and her son, Kristoffer were living in Nashville. One of the happier memories was Milliken’s second college graduation. She completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Worship and Music from Williamson College, a Christian liberal arts school in Franklin, Tennessee. Receiving a degree in a field Milliken had cherished since a young child was a proud moment. Not only was she proud of herself but proud of her son. Kristoffer was graduating from high school.
After such milestones, tragedy struck...twice. In April, the great flood of 2010 happened in Nashville. Fast moving water led to 21 deaths in Tennessee with over half from Nashville. More than 11,000 city properties were damaged or destroyed and flooding had displaced 10,000 residents from their homes. Milliken and her son were two of the displaced. Things got worse, Milliken was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Milliken said she had no classic symptoms associated with stomach cancer...symptoms like indigestion, blood in the stool, and weight loss. Milliken said, “I threw up blood twice, once at home and once in the hospital, but that was it. I went for an endoscopy where they found a polyp in the GI junction of my stomach that turned out to have cancer cells.”
She was diagnosed with stage 2 - 3 cancer. “The cancer hadn’t penetrated the stomach lining, but it did make it through one lymph node.” said Milliken. She said the doctors were shocked that they found cancer in a polyp. Generally, when stomach cancer is found, it’s progressed to a large mass and for some, it’s too late.
Her doctors admitted they were in unchartered territory. Basically, they had never treated a patient with stomach cancer detected in a polyp.
Milliken said the treatment was ‘brutal’. She had surgery to remove the lower part of the esophagus and 40% of the stomach. For five weeks, she received chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. In hindsight, Milliken said she wouldn’t recommend such an aggressive treatment to others but for her, she wanted to be done.
After eight months, she was cancer-free. Milliken is incredibly grateful and her faith in God gave her the tenacity to push forward. “I believed that God would heal me.” said Milliken (This is where the survivor's remorse kicks in). On the other hand, her mother had little notice before she lost her battle with cancer. She didn’t have treatment options.
Milliken said, “I believe God did heal my mom and wanted her with him in her perfect state.” It’s this ‘beacon of hope’ perspective that will give Milliken the survivor’s courage to achieve all her dreams.
In 2015, Milliken graduated with a second Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Williamson College. In 2020, she graduated with a Master’s of Arts in Organizational Leadership and completed the Ministers in Training program. Now, she's a licensed minister and serves on the Virtual Intake Ministry team at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, TN.
Milliken said, “My life’s journey gives me hope for the world. My parents taught us to love everyone.” She said she feels fortunate to have grown up in Paducah to see those she went to school with as friends and classmates and “not identify them by their skin tone.” Milliken continued, “I believe we’ll get back to that one day.”
“My cancer journey plays a big part in my faith. I believe God healed me” said Milliken. A few years ago, Milliken attended a cancer conference where she was interviewed by one of the organizers. She was asked, ‘how do you feel about surviving an orphan cancer?’ Milliken thought, ‘Huh!?’ “Even though stomach cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world, it’s one of the least funded.” She continued, “So much more needs to be done about lesser-known cancers in order to generate funds for treatment and cures. Hopefully soon, I can be more of an advocate for other orphan cancer survivors.”
Milliken will continue to defy limits and push boundaries. She's that kind of fighter and that kind of person. All the best to one of the best.
It’s the twelfth season, fourteenth episode of Grey’s anatomy and Owen Hunt and Amelia Shepherd are discussing plans for their first date. Amelia had a bad day. She lost a patient to a brain bleed. Not a great night for Hunt’s elaborate romantic evening.
What does Hunt do? He cancels the date and tells Shepherd he has a surprise. Hunt swings open the door to the peds ward and behind a glass partition are 20 plus puppies. Hunt said, “If you had a crappy day, this will make it less crappy.” Once the glass gate is open, Shepherd and Hunt are surrounded by furry, playful puppies. Not only are the cuddles plentiful but the puppy breath is free.
If you’ve experienced a bad day, being around loving animals is a sure antidote for the blues. Having an arm load of puppies kissing your face and snuggling your neck would give anyone a warm, fuzzy feeling. If you’ve never experienced the affection given by donkeys, you’re missing out. Bell Meadows Farm Miniature Donkeys has given birth to four furry foals all within the last month. It’s a love-fest right out of the gate.
After writing the last article about the donkeys, Melanie Graves Bell graciously invited my husband and I for a visit to the farm. Bell and her husband, Kevin are owners of Bell Meadows Farm located in the heart of Lone Oak, Kentucky. In fact, their farm is right across the street from our subdivision. We’ve witnessed the donkeys playing in the field from a distance but never had the pleasure of being up close and personal.
As we pulled up to the farm, Bell was on the tractor...ears equipped with noise reduction headphones mowing the sprawling acres where the donkeys graze and play. Four of the Jenny’s were in the field with their babies enjoying the fresh air. Two Jenny’s were in a separate containment area. One was about a month into her pregnancy and the other, Loretta, was a ‘wanna-be’ mom. In fact, Bell had her in a separate gated area for that very reason. Loretta’s maternal instincts were so strong, she tried to adopt one of the babies.
As we made our way to the field, we were greeted by Elvis, Bell’s 25 year old gelding. Bell said he looks for ways to get into the bedding stalls. We had to make sure we kept the 2 x 4 in place so he wouldn’t escape. You could tell Elvis was a wise old donkey.
One of the first babies to greet us was Alan Jackson. Jackson was the third foal born on the farm this season. Patsy Cline, Jackson’s mom, is the dark-haired Jenny that’s a first-time parent. Bell said “she (Patsy) didn’t know what to do at all.” after Jackson was born (many human mom’s can relate to that feeling). For the first night or two, Bell had to hold Patsy in place while Jackson nursed. Now, Patsy's cooperating.
Alan Jackson is an affectionate little fella. He’s healthy, active, and eating well. Patsy is still learning the ropes on ‘the joys of motherhood.’ Lucky for me, Jackson directed all his love and attention to me while visiting. He’s my buddy.
Jackson doesn’t know a stranger. He decided not to let me get too attached and made his way over to my husband for some extra lovin’. No worries, Martina McBride showed up for a pet.
Martina was the first foal born on the farm to Daisy Mae mid-August. ‘Marti’ as she’s affectionately called, was born at 5:53 am, August 13. Bell stayed up most of the night with Daisy Mae as she paced and got ready for the birth. Bell said, “She’s a labor pacer and is very sweet and loving while pregnant.” Almost immediately after giving birth, Daisy Mae had Marti nursing.
“Daisy Mae is very maternal,” said Bell. “She doesn’t let Marti get too far from her side.” Like many kids, Marti will push the envelope testing her freedom. She’s very independent. Bell did say that Daisy Mae and the other moms are letting the babies play together in the field. “It’s so sweet to watch,” said Bell with a big smile.
Ten days after Marti was born, Sheldon, a.k.a. Mudpie, arrived at the farm. Sheldon is a small foal and is very affectionate. His fur is mostly white with brown spots sprinkled here and there. You can tell he’s a momma’s boy. He stayed close to Gracie, his mom, while we were enjoying the company of the other donkeys and foals.
The newest baby was only 48 hours old when we came to visit Bell Meadows Farm. “Emma is an amazing mom,” said Bell. She stayed within a snout's reach of the newborn as we loved on the others. Bell said she’s very protective and doesn’t let her wander far.
Baby number four is waiting on a name that reflects her personality. Bell prefers to name her Jenny’s after female country music singers. Her girl ‘Marti’ was named after Martina McBride. In fact, several of Bell’s friends played a game on Facebook trying to provide the most authentic name for Marti. There was Wynona, Dixie, Hillary, Reba, and others. Ultimately, country music legend Martina McBride won the hotly-contested name-game.
After the fourth and final baby of the season was successfully birthed, it’s time to pay ode to the dad. “The herd sire, Opie, has done an amazing job,” exclaimed Bell. All the babies are healthy, happy, and beautiful.
Watching the foals grow up and mature is an amazing experience. Most of the neighbors in Lone Oak get glimpses of their lives from cars while driving by or at the farm’s edge while taking a walk. Bell Meadows Farm Miniature Donkeys is a happy place filled with lots of love. And, Bell’s right. The donkeys are just like dogs. They enjoy cuddles, pets, and a good conversation. Thanks Melanie Bell for sharing your world.
Carlos Chavez is the local COVID-19 patient who experienced heart attack-like symptoms approximately one month ago. He had attended his daughter’s T-ball game and started having severe pains in his chest, ‘the worst indigestion of his life’. His wife, a Baptist Health nurse, believed the symptoms Chavez was experiencing could be a heart attack.
After spending an evening in the ER, the following day he was tested for COVID-19 and the test came back positive. The diagnosis of COVID-19 sent a shockwave through his body. Chavez wasn’t ready to face a potential death sentence. He didn't want the family to witness his demise. It was ‘his’ worst case scenario.
It’s hard to hear a diagnosis about a disease that’s taken so many lives. Even if you’re young and healthy, it can happen to anyone. The symptoms of COVID-19 have varied from person to person. Some have a mild cold, others flu-like symptoms, while others experience severe respiratory distress. It’s no wonder people fear the virus.
Chavez was experiencing less than optimal oxygen levels. He was monitored by using an oxygen pulsometer and as long as levels remained above 90, he could avoid a more invasive treatment. After he was no longer in immediate danger, Chavez was released from the hospital to begin (what he hoped) recovery.
The last time Chavez spoke with WKY Community Living he was still in recovery...that was two weeks ago. During the conversation, Chavez said he had just been cleared by the health department to resume life before COVID-19. Though declared recovered, he still got winded. A trip to the mailbox and back was exhausting. Chavez continued working half days at Computer Services, Inc. as he regained his strength.
The contact tracer with the health department said normal recovery would take 10 - 14 days. It took that and some. As another two weeks passed, it was time to reach out to Chavez again to see how recovery from COVID-19 was going.
When asked how he was feeling, the response was, “I’m feeling great! I may have a breathing issue from time to time but things are going great.”
Chavez said he completed a two mile walk on Tuesday, September 8 and it felt really good. Tuesday was the start of a brand new exercise program. The two mile trek through his neighborhood went much better than expected. He contributes his ‘better than expected’ recovery to his successful efforts to quit smoking. Almost a month before contracting COVID-19, Chavez quit ‘cold turkey.’ “That’s quite an accomplishment after 10 years of smoking,” stated Chavez.
“Labor Day weekend was very productive. I smoked some ribs, did several loads of laundry, vacuumed the floors, shampooed the carpets, and fixed a big supper,” said Chavez. His wife, Liz worked all weekend at the hospital so taking care of the household chores was more of a blessing than a hindrance. After a scary bout with an unfamiliar respiratory disease, having the energy to be useful at home was embraced.
As far as home life, the children are back in school and Chavez is working full-time, no more half days. The family welcomed a new addition to their home and his name is Norman, a blue tick beagle puppy. The sweet, fur baby has melted the hearts of the whole family. Chavez said, “He’s awesome. He’s a puppy so he’s into everything.” And as far as Chavez’s attitude, “I’m back to my old self...happy and cracking jokes.”
COVID-19 has made Chavez more mindful. He realizes there 'could be' the potential to contract the virus again (studies are ongoing). He said, “The possibility of being reinfected with COVID-19 is small...it’s important that I protect myself and others from the disease.” Chavez continued, “I wash my hands every time I go out and I don’t touch my face. I’ve been out for my birthday dinner and to Sam’s Club. Other than that, I’ve stayed home.”
The new CDC guidelines suggest people that have recovered from COVID-19 can safely interact with others for three months, indicating that immunity will last at least as long. The CDC also states that people who have recovered from COVID-19 could test positive for the virus for up to three months. As a result of these findings, it’s recommended that recovered patients not be tested for 90 days after the initial infection.
Chavez explained that he still has some anxiety about being around people. “I don’t come within six feet of people for their safety and mine. I don’t want to live in fear. I want to live my life. I’ll wear a mask, keep my distance, and practice good hygiene.”
It’s important that recovered patients allow themselves time to heal emotionally as well as physically. A big part of recovery is self-care. Get plenty of rest. Exercise. Eat healthy. Limit alcohol. Keep a regular routine. Avoid too much media. Connect with others. Connecting with others is a big one for those suffering from anxiety or fear of being around others. If working remotely, such as Chavez, find time to connect with co-workers by virtually socializing. Slowly ‘get your groove on’.
Nicole Conway Williams educator, Korean linguist, flight attendant and international traveler
Jean Nicole Conway was the girl with her nose in a book. She was tall and willowy with shoulder length dark curly hair, fair skin and freckles, with two distinct laughs...one felt deep in the belly and one unmistakably polite.
Flash forward, Nicole Conway Williams is modelesque with beautiful silver wavy hair and a personality that’s confident and ready to take on the world.
Over the past several days, Williams has posted on Facebook that she will be taking a six month break from her job as a flight attendant. Along with the post, is a picture of Williams standing in front of a plane in skirted uniform wearing a red bandanna mask covering and red scarf tied neatly around her neck. Her girlish posture implying ‘until we meet again.’
After graduating from Paducah Tilghman High School in the 80’s, Williams attended Murray State University. She spent her last semester studying abroad in France, staying after graduation to work as a nanny for a year, before returning to Paducah.
One afternoon, Williams cruised past a billboard and a light bulb turned on. “I joined the army...on a whim... after driving by a billboard in Paducah. I always knew I wanted to travel the world but I didn’t know how to earn a living.” Williams was never one to let anything get in the way of her dreams.
While in the army, Williams became a Korean linguist in the intelligence field focusing on North Korea. Kim Jung IL was dictator at the time and he began strengthening his military force and tightening economic controls by collectivizing agricultural land. He restricted the media to essentially isolate the country from the rest of the world. Williams security clearance was top level.
During the three years as a Korean linguist, Williams lived in Monterey, California. It was here where Williams met her husband, a Chinese linguist. Shortly after marrying, the couple moved to Taipei Taiwan.
Both Williams and her husband had a passion for international travel. After Taiwan, they returned to California, each earning Master's Degrees in Education and U.S. teaching credentials. They both sought careers as middle school and high school teachers instructing Expat children (American or other Nationalities) that needed to continue traditional education while living abroad.
For 17 years they taught in Taiwan, Manila, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Tokyo. As teachers, they had summers and holidays off, free to travel and see more of the world. They traveled extensively from Indonesia to Thailand and Turkey to Morocco.
Williams said, “I’ve loved living in all those countries because each one has taught me about other cultures and helped me understand others.” She continued, “While in Saudi Arabia, I wandered around spice souks where the aromas of Frankincense and saffron were amazing. I learned about various carpets and how to look for a bargain.” Williams added that lots of small talk and tea drinking were required for insider information.
Saudi Arabia and Singapore were Williams’ favorite places to live. While in Singapore, they took quick trips with short flights to Bangkok, Malaysia, and Bali. All of these beautiful places were easily accessed over a four day weekend or during spring and fall breaks. “Singapore is a beautiful island situated in the heart of Southeast Asia with rich cultural architecture, and an amazing array of foods from Malay to Chinese dishes.” said Williams.
While living in Singapore, Williams received the ‘best Christmas Day present ever,’ her newly- adopted son. In 2003, the couple adopted their son from Kathmandu, Nepal. “He was a very sick baby,” said Williams. They actually picked him up after being released from the hospital where he had been treated twice for pneumonia.
Williams knew he was a fighter. Through all the restless nights of no sleep with a 13 week-old newborn, not to mention sick newborn, he fought his way back and grew into a strong, active little boy. Today, her son is 17 and loving life right along with Williams.
A rewarding teaching experience was another reason Singapore was special to Williams. “My favorite teaching gig was in Tokyo where I taught high school at an All-Girl Catholic International School.” Williams said. She taught a variety of classes, from Middle School Cooking and Nutrition to High School Women's Studies, a popular class among her HS students. “Most of the focus was on mental, physical, and emotional aspects of each decade of a woman's life from her 20's to 70’s. It’s something to see confidence levels rise where there’s no competition between genders.”
Williams said traveling all over the world presented with a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes it would be frustrating because the simplest of tasks were challenging. “Like finding milk in a store. You can’t read the labels and the milk itself is different colors.” She continued, “With each move, you start to get in a routine, figure things out, and it feels comfortable and exciting again.”
Williams admitted that there were sad moments too. “A holiday or a birthday would pop up and you missed home.” Bonding together as a family helped everyone get through the tough times.
After 17 years of teaching, the Williams’ returned to the States for good. The family moved to Las Vegas and Williams entered into a real estate career. She worked for Coldwell Banker Premier Realty and since she had no connections in Vegas, she built her business from the ground up. Every weekend, Williams held open houses and really hustled. Within the first month, she had sold her first house. She went on to win several awards while working for the company.
True to her jet-setter ways, Williams returned to the skies as a flight attendant. She started flying in 2017 and has loved most everything about it. She has the flexibility to choose her own schedule, which changes month-to-month, and flies with different co-workers frequently. Williams said by the end of a three day trip, all became ‘fast friends’ touring cities and enjoying new restaurants.
Since CoV-2, her life has changed. Back in March, Williams was still flying. When the pandemic hit hard, she said, “Walking through silent, empty airports was eerie. I was worried about bringing COVID-19 home to my family. Every trip ended with me leaving bags in the garage, undressing and throwing my uniform in the washer, and heading straight to the shower before even saying hello.” Williams said in between trips she would self-quarantine in hopes of protecting her family.
After CoV-2 shut down all travel, Williams took a three month paid leave. During this time, she came home to Paducah to visit family and friends. After the three months, she returned to flying. She said her airline has fared better than most, and she attributes that to company management and leadership. There have been no furloughs this year and many employees, like Nicole, are ‘stepping up’ to take voluntary time-off with pay to lessen expenditures.
Beginning September 1, Williams is taking six months off with pay. On her latest Facebook post she said, “Just finished my last trip for 6 months . It was a bittersweet trip flying with so many co-hearts who are either retiring early or, like me, taking 6-18 months off to help our company recover until some sense of normalcy returns. I’ll miss the fun with both my passengers and co-workers who have become my second family away from home. We are a unique bunch ! Let the 6 months vacation begin:) Anybody want a visitor or travel buddy?!”
Since returning to an ‘ordinary life’ Williams is relaxing in the pool and has started running again. Nobody knows the length of time it will take her to find a new adventure. Once international travel is reinstated, a friend has already invited her to visit Rome. She replied on her Facebook post, “I’m there as soon as they let us in!”