O'HARA: This is an interview with Mr. William Sullivan in his office in Henderson, Kentucky, conducted by Adina O'Hara on March 29, 2007, for the Community College Oral History Project. Mr. Sullivan, the University of Kentucky's Northwestern Center in Henderson opened its doors to students in 1960. The 1962 Community College Act authorized the UK Board of Trustees to transform its existing extension campuses, including Henderson, into community colleges. What was your role in the, in the, uh, creation of Henderson Community College?

SULLIVAN: Uh, I was- -(clears throat)- -Senator, Kentucky State Senator from 1953, elected that year, until, uh, '58, uh, and then later 1:00for sixteen more years, but at that time, we had just finished a legislative session in which I was Majority Leader of the Senate under Governor Chandler. And we, uh, got to talking here at Henderson about how nice it would be if we could have a college, um, in our town or in our area, and Hecht Lackey was a prime mover, uh, of the effort. Hecht, uh, had, I believe, was mayor of Henderson at the time, uh, and we got to talking. He said, "Now you're Happy's Majority Leader. 2:00Um, he owes you something over this last session. Uh, let's see if we can't get him to agree to build this college." Well, the talk got started, and we first thought we would build it at Corydon on his home site or near his home site. But it turned out that, that distance from Henderson didn't work out, uh, well, and so, uh, I kind of led a delegation of Henderson people, uh, to Frankfort to talk with the governor about it. And, uh, he agreed to do it. He agreed to, uh, to build it, put it in the budget for the next session, um, of the Legislature, and we were so proud at the time that it was connected with University of Kentucky. That meant a lot here. It meant a lot 3:00on the degree that they would receive that it was, uh, connected with University of Kentucky. Uh, well we lost that later with the KCTS switch, but it, perhaps it will be all for the best in the long run.

O'HARA: Now when you initially proposed the idea of a college in Henderson, from the very beginning did you already know that you wanted a two-year college or was there some aspirations for possibly a four- year institution or a four-year branch of UK?

SULLIVAN: Well, we know- -uh, you have to crawl before you walk, you know, and (clears throat) we knew that a four-year college would be rather out of the question. And so we settled on the two-year community college, and I believe we were the first actual community college, uh, in Kentucky, uh, here. Uh, and it has just, from the 4:00beginning, worked out so well, uh, with our nurses' program. Almost every nurse in this area, you can't find one that wasn't, didn't graduate from Henderson Community College.

O'HARA: And Henderson is known as being the very first community college to offer the nursing program, um, so it's got that rich history of starting the nursing program for the state of Kentucky. Um, going back to the concept of a community college, I found in the 1957, uh, Board of Trustees' minutes, September 1957 was the first time the term community college was used, and it was used in, when Henderson came to petition the UK Board of Trustees to establish a community college. 5:00And it was you that led that local advisory group, correct?


O'HARA: Where did the concept "community college" come from?

SULLIVAN: We had read of national efforts, efforts in other states, uh, to create community colleges and got to talking about the concept, and it just took off, took off from there. We organized, um, a corporation, uh, in 1957.

O'HARA: Uh-hm.

SULLIVAN: Uh, it was declared and named, um, probably thirty people as initial members and then a list of those who, uh, were also, uh, named 6:00as, as members of the college, but the people of Henderson just jumped in and started volunteering, giving money, help and that sort of thing. And it went really, really nicely.

O'HARA: It was so much community effort. In fact, um, on March 28, 1957, a Higher Education Committee was formed, and they met in Mayor Lackey's office. Who was responsible for forming that committee?

SULLIVAN: I guess Mayor Lackey, uh, Hecht Lackey got that together, and I'm sure that (clears throat) the people on that committee, uh, would be found among the, uh, various members who later signed the articles of incorporation.

O'HARA: And what was the name of the, the formal corporation?


SULLIVAN: It was College Foundation, Incorporated.

O'HARA: And does it still remain today?

SULLIVAN: It still remains today.

O'HARA: Great.

SULLIVAN: And I started out as vice-president, uh, of it, and then when Hecht Lackey died, what, twenty-five years ago I guess, I became president of it and have been ever since.

O'HARA: So you still play a very active role in maintaining the college and its growth and development?

SULLIVAN: It's just such a thrill to see it develop and grow and, and educate more people.

O'HARA: Well, there are some new initiatives going on. Um, tell us about what it took to get a technology center at the campus. This is more current day. What years did you start, um, working with the college on trying to secure funding?

SULLIVAN: Well, at least ten years ago, uh, or more. (Clears throat) 8:00We started working on it. We saw the need for it. We saw the need to, uh, educate, uh, people along the technology and scientific line, and we had no true facility for it. We rented a facility here in town to carry out the instruction of the program that we, uh, did have at the time, and the need was there. Uh, and so we started legislative efforts, uh, to get an appropriation for a technology building, and it would look like it was going to pass and then it would fail at the last minute. And that went on for years, but finally, finally it did pass and we got the funding for it out of local effort. (Phone rings.)


[Pause in recording.]

O'HARA: You were talking about securing funds for the technology center which is named for you, Sullivan Technology Center.

SULLIVAN: Yes. They did that, and I'm very proud of it. Um- -

O'HARA: When was ground broken on it? Can you tell us about that ceremony?

SULLIVAN: I am not certain when, but I think, um, hopefully in, uh, probably early, uh, '08, uh, they would be. They're making great progress out there. I keep my eye on it, and- -

O'HARA: So that's '08, early '08 is when they hope to have it opened, right?


O'HARA: But you broke ground on it already?

SULLIVAN: Oh, yeah. We broke ground on it, had a ceremony, a nice ceremony, and, uh, now the framework is up and the bricks are going on and it's moving fast.


O'HARA: What types of programs do you hope are going to be offered there?

SULLIVAN: Well, uh, all sorts of technological, uh, uh, programs. Uh, I don't know. They'll be, uh, programs, uh, oh- -for example, in auto mechanics. Uh, there'll be many, many scientific and technological programs; electronics, uh, and that sort of thing. Uh- -

O'HARA: There's currently an industrial maintenance program that's being offered downtown here, and I understand it's going to be transferred over?

SULLIVAN: Yes, but it will be much expanded.

O'HARA: Many more options?


SULLIVAN: With our new, with our new facility. Uh- -

O'HARA: That'll be exciting.

SULLIVAN: I think it will.

O'HARA: Yeah. Open up, up some new avenues for the local community, and business and industry, were they involved in, in this new technology center and, um, um, as far as giving input about what some of the local needs are for training?

SULLIVAN: Yes. Yes, indeed. Uh, yes, indeed. We worked closely with, uh, for example, Gibbs Die Casting Corporation. Uh, they manufacture, uh, or cast automotive parts and that sort of thing, and of course they use all the modern, uh, computer science tools. And so we work very closely with them, uh, in educating employees that they need.


O'HARA: And that's an important community service that the, the college- -

SULLIVAN: It's, um, sort of- -it's just a critically important one. Unless we're innovative, unless we really move forward on technology, uh, this country can't compete with the rest of the world, and we're going to fall behind.

O'HARA: Right.

SULLIVAN: That's why our focus is, uh, so fortunate, uh, to come as it did because the need is there.

O'HARA: Definitely. You're absolutely right. It's critical. What, um, the fine arts center was built, I believe, by the college in the early nineties?


O'HARA: '94 possibly it opened. What can you tell me, um, about your involvement in, in the creation of the fine arts center?


SULLIVAN: Uh (clears throat) well, we had a fund drive led by Dr. John Logan, and, uh, John did a wonderful job in, in leading that, that drive. And we were able to, uh, raise quite a large sum of seed money for it, and having that promise that people would support it and the funds would be there to, uh, a very substantial level, we were able to get additional funding through Legislative bill and get it built. And it changed the way of life for a lot of people in Henderson. It's been so enjoyable.

O'HARA: And how does it meet the needs of the community even more than just the offering of traditional programs? What are some of the 14:00cultural programs that are offered there?

SULLIVAN: Uh, well, we saw our, uh, first full opera the other night.

O'HARA: Really?


O'HARA: Figaro, fascinating.

SULLIVAN: Done by a Bavarian, uh, State Orchestra, uh, and, uh, it was good. But, uh, the programs are good and well-attended, and people enjoy them.

O'HARA: Sounds like a magnet for the fine arts. The whole region enjoys getting to watch these special performers and people that are brought in from a national and international level as well as the local. Students are participating.

SULLIVAN: Yes, they are, and they have events, uh, with local talent, 15:00uh, usually every year.

O'HARA: I understand there's a chorus associated with it as well?

SULLIVAN: Some of the- -

O'HARA: -Um, a community chorus?

SULLIVAN: - - Uh, yes. Uh-hm. Yes, it is. Uh-hm.

O'HARA: There's a lot of diversity in, in those. Um, you've been here since the beginning of the community college in Henderson, and you still remain an active member. What do you see as the biggest challenge that the community college faced in its development and growth?

SULLIVAN: (Clears throat.) Well, I'm not sure what it would be right 16:00now. There's always need, of course, uh, and I don't know when we get started with our technology, uh, program, uh, what might branch out from that. I would rather suspect that needs will develop within that program which will be new that we don't even know of now, but I do know that it will guarantee every youngster who wants to have a good paying job, uh, in the future the chance to, the chance to do that. They're going to have to be- -we have to raise our level of education. Other 17:00countries are doing it, countries that have a fraction of the wage rate that we must pay here in this country, and unless we advance through innovation, through technology, uh, we're going to fall behind as a nation.

O'HARA: And how- -what steps is Henderson taking? They're doing the technology center. Is there collaboration with the local high school?

SULLIVAN: Yes. They collaborate closely. Yes, they do.

O'HARA: And they're offering- -I know some community colleges offer the local high school students college credit while they're in high school. Um, it's called a dual-credit program. Are you familiar with that? Do you know what I'm- -

SULLIVAN: I may have heard of it, but I don't believe or I don't know whether, uh, it's applicable with our community college or not. Uh, 18:00Dr. Lake has been very visionary, uh, as our leader, and he's right on, right on top of things. And he's a regular bulldog when he starts after something. (laughs) We've been very proud of him.

O'HARA: And he is only the third president. I think it's important to point out that the turnover here at Henderson Community College, as far as presidents, has been very minimal, and it shows a loyalty over many, many decades because you're going, getting close to fifty years.

SULLIVAN: Three and fifty years. That's true.

O'HARA: So that's an impressive, uh, ability to maintain, to maintain and to build a stable campus and a stable environment, and I'm sure you've had a, had a lot to do with that. Um, what can you tell me 19:00about his predecessor, Dr. Lake's predecessor?


O'HARA: The second- -the first and second presidents of Henderson Community College, what can you tell me about them?

SULLIVAN: Well, certainly, uh, certainly did well. Um, uh, the one before Dr. Lake, uh, Marshall Arnold, uh, a wonderful man, uh, and he was very steady. Uh, maybe we had a little harder times then for advancement of facilities and that sort of things, but he worked hard at it and did a mighty good job. And our first president--I can't remember how many years Louis was here. Uh, would you know?

O'HARA: I don't know his, him offhand. I don't know. I don't know. I, 20:00I know that, um, Dr. Arnold and Dr. Lake have been here the longest.

SULLIVAN: Yes, they have. Uh-hm.

O'HARA: So, um, I wasn't as familiar with the first president. Back then, I think, they were called directors and it kind of merged into a presidential role.

SULLIVAN: Yes, you're right.

O'HARA: I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Charles Shearer who is now the president of Transylvania University. He was the, an early faculty member at Henderson Community College.

SULLIVAN: I'll be darned.

O'HARA: And he told me an interesting story about coaching a basketball team in the late sixties. Do you recall anything, uh, any- -hearing anything about that?

SULLIVAN: You know, I probably should, but I, I don't. I can't remember the particulars.

O'HARA: It was just a couple of years that, that they had a program and 21:00a couple of the other community colleges had a program. And they even played each other and played some other schools inside and outside of the state, but, uh- -

SULLIVAN: And they probably had to practice at the high school gym.

O'HARA: I think so. They didn't have their own facility.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. I do remember that. Uh-hm. I do remember that. (laughs)

O'HARA: (laughs) So, uh, do you have any fond stories or memories that you would like to share?

SULLIVAN: Oh, gosh. I do not know Adina. None come to, come to mind right now. Uh, it's been a wonderful facility for Henderson, and when I, uh, think of the thousands of youngsters who had a chance for a college education that would not have had otherwise, it gives me a warm 22:00glow. Uh, it's been a lot of hard work and sacrifice and cooperative effort to bring it back, and we're proud of it and we're growing.

O'HARA: You are growing. It's amazing. I can't wait to come back and see the new Sullivan Technology Center when it's opened, and I hope to get a tour.

SULLIVAN: Good. I hope so.

O'HARA: I'm looking forward to that. One other question I just thought about was the relationship between Henderson and Owensboro over the years. Um, within thirty miles of each other on the southern bank of the Ohio River, the cities of Henderson and Owensboro have developed a healthy competition for status and resources. Ever since the beginning, there has been a healthy competition between the two. Can you describe the relationship- -


O'HARA: - -over time?

SULLIVAN: Uh, on the whole I think it's been very good through the 23:00years. As a matter of fact, uh, our president, uh, served as president of both of them, uh, at one time for, for quite a, quite a spell of time. Uh, Owensboro, of course, got a big boost when, in one legislative session, they built six or eight buildings at one, at one time. Uh, that's something we've had to fight for ours, one at a time, you know, over a long period of time, um, but they were able to do that. And they have cooperated, uh, with our community college, uh, quite a bit. Uh, we're proud of our nursing program. We're jealous of our nursing program, and I think they have respected that through the years that, uh, Henderson graduates the nurses.


O'HARA: Uh-hm. You've been the very first program to ever offer that in the state, and you've continued that tradition very well.


O'HARA: Um, I understand from Dr. Lake that a new president for Owensboro Community and Technical College has been selected, and she is a native of Henderson. And, uh, I can't recall the name off the top of my head, um, but, uh, you may be familiar with her. Um, but it's new news that just came out, so I'm going to have to check my, my news sources when I get back to the office. So I think that'll be real interesting. It'll continue that tradition of cooperation and collaboration between the two institutions.

SULLIVAN: It surely will, I'm sure.

O'HARA: Well, are there any other questions you wish I had asked that I have not?

SULLIVAN: Well, I can't, uh, really think of, uh, any right now. Uh, 25:00the early incorporators included most of the influential people, uh, in the, in the county. Uh, one of them owned the land on which the college was built, Houston Keach, and he let them have the land at probably a fraction of what it was really worth at the time. And we had that sort of effort that went into it to build it, and it makes me proud to see that.

O'HARA: Are there other people that you recommend that I interview from Henderson that were on these early, early committees and played an active role in the creation?

SULLIVAN: Uh, my friend John Palmore, uh, later Supreme Court Justice, uh, drew the articles of incorporation.


O'HARA: Really.

SULLIVAN: And Carl Dempewolfe, Senior, who was, I believe, on the UK Board of Trustees, uh, helped out. Dr. Bob English for whom one of our buildings was later named; our administration building was later named. Uh, and so many- -most of them now gone but, uh, so many that, uh, were so loyal and did so much.

O'HARA: I'm glad we can record this, and you've preserved so much history for Henderson. And I know the community really appreciates everything you've done for them. Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Sullivan.

SULLIVAN: Well, thank you, Adina. It's nice, certainly nice to talk with you.

[End of interview.]

Search This Transcript