The Appalachians and a code 'improvise, adapt, overcome' underscores the life of a former commissioner's wife
Written by Cindy Abraham
“I was born in the Parris Island Naval Hospital in 1957. The Code of this location was to "Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.” This code has underlined my whole life.” Cindy Abraham
Over the past two centuries, my paternal and maternal families were centered in Eastern Kentucky (with the exception of the years my brothers and I spent in a proverbial boot camp due to my dad’s Marine background). My father was a die hard member of the GOP in Montgomery County and my mother was a ‘Yellow dog Democrat’. At this point you may notice that ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’ were healthy directions for children of this beginning.
My playmates were mostly boys (brothers and male cousins) and we “green broke” our horses, fished, learned how to raise hogs and cattle, went hunting and just enjoyed running around wild on family farms.
I attended Mt. Sterling High School and life was sprinkled with cotillions, fancy dresses, rival football games, and basic 70’s teenage mischief. One of the highlights of the year was Mt. Sterling Court Days where court was held once a month and people came for miles to buy, sell, and trade.
It was the mid-70's and the Vietnam War was drawing to a close. Mt. Sterling embraced our troops who were loyal to the directives of the United States and our Commander in Chief. After graduating in 1975, I continued my education at Transylvania University.
While at Transy I majored in political science. After a couple of years, I decided to take a hiatus and move to Hilton Head, South Carolina. I always had an interest in art and decided to pursue it. While there, I worked in an art gallery and studied with local artists. In 1981, I went back to school.
One of my brothers was at the University of Kentucky, so I decided to move to Lexington where I would stay in his apartment for awhile. Within the first month, I met the man I knew was going to be my husband. He was my brother’s best friend, Richard Abraham.
Richard and I hit it off pretty quick. We had many of the same interests and experiences. Both of us had traveled to Europe while in high school. Both families had first hand experiences with the Vietnam War. Richard’s cousins had served and lived to tell about it. I know today’s youth may not understand the political implications of the Vietnam War. It ‘colored’ the notions of those that came back from the war and those affiliated with its presence.
I wasn’t raised to be judgmental. Both sides of my family have been educators for the past 100 years. My great grandfather rode a mule into Appalachia regularly to teach. We were taught to examine people and situations and make decisions based upon character.
However, when I announced to my mother that I was marrying Richard (remember as a daughter of a marine, you NEVER bring home an intended until you’ve decided to stand your ground, no matter what) she said, “I hope he’s Jewish."
My family’s only concern was for ‘the union’ itself and the perceived difficulties I might encounter, rather than saying Richard was not for me, because of the color of his skin.
After much flurry of conversations and concerns, my Grandmother Caudill and my Grandmother Nolan made ‘the ruling.’ Grandmother Caudill said, “If they marry, then he is family. No more shall be said about it.” Grandmother Nolan said, “He is a Christian. Done is done”. Contrary to many notions, Richard’s family had more difficulties with him marrying me. But here we are, 38 years later and smiling.
We got married in 1983 while in college. Shortly after the nuptials, Richard attended a professional football camp in Texas. When he returned from the ‘try-out,’ he said, “Cindy, I know you think I’m big, but girl, those guys are giants!” On that note, Richard decided to continue advancing his strengths in personal training, music and working with special needs kids.
While Richard finished up college, I worked for a CPA firm in Lexington. In 1984, we were blessed with our first daughter Scytha T. Abraham. After moving to Paducah, our second daughter was born Mckynleigh.
So here we are, in Richard’s hometown. He worked in the medical field while I worked in retail. I kept up with my art and went from painting on canvas to making dolls and toys. I actually sell items under “Kentucky Lace: Island Creek Critters.”
When it was time for my girls to start school, there were some concerns. Back in eastern Kentucky, I had come from a long line of educators so I was familiar with the process. My oldest was in public school for four years before I decided that homeschooling would be the best option. There were two reasons why I homeschooled. First, I was a registered volunteer with McNabb Elementary within the Paducah City Schools for a number of years and observed the tying of hands of our educators. Second, the Kentucky Education Reform Act was initiated.
One of the girls' outlets for social interaction with their peer groups was the Market House Theater. The Cochran's style of theater classes had a tremendous influence on both of the girls. I attribute much of their confidence and self-assurance to this organization.
Scytha is married and lives in Paducah. She’s a Registered Nurse and has blessed us with five grandchildren. Mckynleigh is engaged and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Her pursuit has been the stage since she was four years old. When asked at a young age what she wanted to be when she grew up, she stated, "I am going to be a star." She was performing on Broadway Tours before COVID shut it down. She has her Life Coaching Certification and is building a business that’s gaining traction while waiting for Broadway to reopen.
In 1996, Richard co-founded VIP (Vision Inner-City Paducah) with the late Carol Hoover. We continued our involvement in street ministry and had a talk radio show on WGCF called ‘The Safe Haven Show.’ We ministered to inmates and youth fleeing abusive situations. We discovered that south of Owensboro, Kentucky, there was no safe organizational home for these youth.
Since the local youth distress issue wasn't being addressed by our city commissioners, Richard was unhappy with their lack of interest or action. He said there weren't enough questions being asked by it members. “The people aren’t being represented,” he said. In 2000, Richard decided to run for office and won a seat on the Paducah City Commission.
Richard has always stated that “hard questions should not be a problem and citizens need to see transparency in those they’ve elected”. I truly believe that Richard accomplished everything that God put him to address during his 14 years of service on the Paducah Board of Commissioners. As Richard said, “if God wants me as mayor right now, no man can stop it. And if He doesn't want me there, I do not want to be there.”
As for me, along with the joy I've had as Mrs. Richard Abraham, I, like many others, have experienced abuse, pain, loss, and hardship over the last 63 years. Again, the “...adapt and overcome’ life motto, has served me well. I am a believer in our Creator and in His son Yeshua ha Mashiach. This has strengthened me beyond words.
I’ve been married to an All American, public servant, teacher of the Word, excellent father, one that has dined with a U.S. President and sang for another, a certified personal trainer/life coach, sports and radio announcer, and advocate for troubled youth and those with special needs. If I accomplish nothing else in my life, being his wife has been beyond fulfilling and always exciting. Who knows...he may be drawn to another genre of public servitude in the future. Stay tuned for the next journey.
Just a small town girl living in Barlow, Kentucky with a 150 acre farm and big plans. Waterfowl hunting is a sport that’s either loved or never tried again. The love/hate relationship may lie in the hands of the teacher.
On the one hand, duck season takes place during the winter months when it’s cold, damp, and generally miserable. Much time is spent in the mud and the muck. The hours are long and feelings of being cold, wet, and tired are likely to be experienced at the same time. On the other hand, if there’s a proper guide that leads you to the ducks, shares the ethereal beauty of the sunrise in the wee hours of the morning, and encourages the challenge of the hunt, it could be the best time of your life.
Desiree Owen and partner David Jones bought a farm in the Barlow River Bottoms five years ago with development plans for premier waterfowl hunting. This isn’t the first time Owen has ventured out in favor of unconventional and ‘out of the box’ career moves.
“I was fortunate to grow up in such a beautiful area where you could enjoy lake life and farm life.” said Owen. A native of Lyon County, Kentucky, Owen enjoyed both boating and horseback riding growing up. Her mom had been a teacher for the Lyon County Schools for 28 years. In this western Kentucky county, Owen received a well-rounded education in life.
Her dad was very interested in the events of the day. “My father read two newspapers everyday as well as two weekly news magazines...I ensured that I did too.” Owen said she knew at 15 years old she wanted a career in broadcast journalism.
In addition to being an avid reader, Owen took dance lessons and twirled a baton for many years. She was involved in beauty pageants and was the Captain on the Drill Team at Lyon County High School. After graduating, Owen went to Murray State University to pursue a career in news.
Majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in political science and advertising, Owen was making all the right moves to prepare herself for her dream job. There were several professors and mentors that looked out for Owen and encouraged her to go after what she wanted.
While at MSU, Owen was on the Homecoming Queen Court furthering her allure to the beauty pageant world. As a former beauty queen, she worked as a consultant to other beauty pageant contestants. From time to time Owen sat in the judges seat at various local beauty pageants. But the world of pageantry was only a stepping stone to a bigger fascination with using its platform to delve into politics. Those political interests led her to join the Kentucky Young Democrats.
Owen's first job after graduating college was with the radio station in Paducah, WKYX/WKYQ. “I answered an ad for a sales job but the owner of Bristol Broadcasting made a rare visit to Paducah and sat in on my interview. He told the GM to ‘put her on the air’.” They offered the Lake Patrol position.
It made sense, Owen was from Lyon County. The county’s two tourist towns Eddyville and Kuttawa are both located on Lake Barkley. Approximately one-third of Lyon County lies in the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area. LBL offers a wide range of attractions including hunting, boating, fishing, bird and wildlife watching just to name a few.
The Lake Patrol broadcast started with a couple of disc jockeys making small talk on the radio about lake events. Owen decided to make it her own. She reported on fishing, lake festivals, interviewed locals, and created a real ‘buzz’ around the lakes. Of course, at this time there were no cell phones so all reports had to be called in by landline. After the summer gig, she was promoted to afternoon news anchor.
As the rising anchor started covering city hall, school board meetings and other events happening in the region, she was quickly promoted to news director and morning anchor. During her time at the station, she won various awards such as Best Reporter, Best Newscast, Best Investigative Reporting, Best Documentary, and the list goes on. She said, “This was one of my most enjoyable jobs ever and I couldn’t have asked for a better work family.”
Owen was in demand. She received simultaneous offers from two different companies. WPSD, the local television station, offered a morning anchor position and WKCTC (formerly Paducah Community College) wanted her as their Public Relations Director. Owens chose option two. She said, “It opened a lot of doors for me.”
After WKCTC, she became Executive Director at Kentucky's Western Waterlands, a nonprofit marketing organization that served 14 western Kentucky counties. Next, she took a position as Development Director for the KY Tourism Council in Louisville, Kentucky which worked closely with the Cabinet. Then, she became Development Director for the Paducah Chamber of Commerce.
One of the biggest, most widely respected and admired community projects in recent years was the development of the Luther F. Carson Four River Center commonly referred to as 'The Carson Center' in downtown Paducah. Owen was hired as the executive director of the center to appoint a board of directors and formulate a funding plan for the 'then' Four Rivers Center. At the end of the day, the $46 million event center was built to completion in January 2004 opening its doors the following month.
After leaving The Carson Center project, Owen worked as a political campaign consultant on local and state legislative races for the KY Democratic Party. She also lobbied and consulted for M. Shrader and Associates of Frankfort. Owen even ran for political office representing the First District as State Representative. She said the campaign budget was small but she attended every function possible to win the seat. “One way or another, I’ve always been in, and around politics and government,” said Owen. Though the seat went to the opposing candidate, she remained politically active. Even contract lobbied with her friend, Melodie Shrader for a short while. Shrader is a coordinating lobbyist in multiple states.
Five years ago, the purchased Ballard County farm named The Green Timber Duck Club became Owen's happy place just as the lakes and farm land in Lyon County had been her refuge as a child. “We’ve built roads, levees, installed deep wells with the capacity to flood corn fields, timber, or potholes for ducks.” Some of the best duck hunting can be found in the smallest and least obvious spots. “It’s important to go where the ducks want to be on any given day.” said Owen.
Currently, the farm has four floating duck blinds. Floating duck blinds are camouflaged to its natural surroundings enabling the hunter to get a closer shot. It’s truly an architectural masterpiece. The next phase of the expansion for the property is to build a hunting lodge. The plan is to have the lodge completed by next season along with a long range shooting area.
The farm offers a small number of club memberships. Owen said, “We hunt 60 days of duck season and spend the other 300 odd days preparing for it.”
Owen's partner Jones was appointed by Governor Andy Beshear in August to represent the 14 far western Kentucky counties on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission. The nine member board reports to the Commissioner and makes all recommendations for hunting, fishing, and boating regulations for approval by the general assembly.
Jones is a lifelong outdoorsman and is a professional hunting and fishing guide as well as a professional bass tournament angler. He is also a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran. Both Owen and Jones were named Persons of the Year by the Ducks Unlimited Wetherby Chapter in Frankfort March 2020. They are active members in the nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the conservation of wetlands as well as waterfowl, and other wildlife.
Most of Owen's downtime is spent around her passion which is the outdoors. When vacationing, she enjoys traveling out west. She and Jones fish on Kentucky and Barkley lakes. They love to visit national parks and historical markers. The two participate in competitive rifle shooting. It’s true love and admiration for the outdoors.
Famous women throughout history have made it possible for women to become outdoor enthusiasts. Today’s women are on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms sharing their passion and influencing young women to get involved in a predominantly male dominated sport. Owen is one of those women that is opening doors for other women to actively pursue their passion.