I have always loved mountains! For as long as I can remember, I have loved gazing up at them, walking in them, and imagining the secrets that must lie concealed within their folds. Predictably, when it came time for me to leave my childhood home, which is nestled at the head of a hollow on Keen Mountain, Virginia, it was no surprise that Pippa Passes was a place that interested me.
I loved the story of Mrs. Lloyd and how her journey, in the early 1900s, took her from the comfortable lifestyle she had known in Boston to the poverty-stricken mountains of Eastern Kentucky. As someone who spends a lot of time imagining how things must have been for the folks who settled our little corner of Appalachia, Mrs. Lloyd’s story particularly appealed to me and I was excited to visit the college which bore her name.
What I found there did not disappoint! From the moment I saw the campus, I knew I had found my place. When I was told that I could work to help offset the expense of my education, my assurance that ALC would be my home for at least the next four years became even greater.
Finances were a real concern for my family, as I am the son of a single mother. My mom worked tirelessly to provide for my sister and me, earning a bachelor’s degree while we were young. Despite all of this, our finances would simply not allow us to attend most schools without incurring massive sums of student debt. In ALC, I found the perfect blend of a respected and affordable education being offered in a place that really felt like home to me.
One thing I didn’t expect, was that this little college on Caney Creek would expose me to people, places, experiences, and concepts that would expand my horizons well beyond the mountains of Appalachia. While those opportunities are far too numerous to recount individually, there are a few that stand out.
The leadership and communications experience I gained while serving as a Head Residential Advisor at ALC has come in handy countless times in my career. Under the capable guidance of Ms. Christine Stumbo, I often conveyed to my fellow RAs that the only real way we could get the students in our dorms to obey college rules was by talking to them with respect…after all, we couldn’t write anyone a ticket! Now, even though the law enforcement aspect of my job provides me with a few more enforcement options than I had as an RA, I have never forgotten, nor ceased to apply, the important lessons that I learned in the hallways of my college dorm.
Another experience I had while attending ALC took me physically out of the mountains when I participated in a research project that required traveling to other work-study colleges around the Eastern and Central portions of the country. The experience of accompanying our sponsors, Mrs. Nancy Melton and Mrs. Teresa Grender, to other colleges and meeting people from all different walks of life was certainly interesting. However, the most exciting thing for me personally, happened during the hours of travel back and forth in our white, ALC van. It was on those trips that I began to take increasing notice of a fellow student researcher, Angela Stiltner. Angie was a very pretty young lady who had grown up in a town not far from where I was raised, confirming that it is a small world! Not long after the research project concluded, Angie gave me the honor of my life when she agreed to become my wife.
I went on to graduate from ALC in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies and Angie graduated a year later, earning a teaching degree. We have now been married for 16 years, and have welcomed 4 wonderful children into our family. We live at Breaks Interstate Park where I serve as Park Superintendent and Conservation Officer. Every day, I am reminded that we are blessed to be raising our children on the top of a mountain, on the border of Kentucky and Virginia.
Oftentimes, as I look westward over the ridge of Pine Mountain into the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I reflect on my time at ALC – the little college – just a couple hours to the West, which had such an enormous impact on my life.