By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — As I’ve often pointed out, Kentucky has some warts and seems at times defiantly anti-intellectual.
But every time I lament those shortcomings, someone or something in the commonwealth demonstrates what a warm and welcoming place it can be and how many good, smart and classy people live here.
This week Danville taught me that lesson again.
Yes, the small town and the beautiful Centre College campus were full of people we routinely read about in national publications or watch on national television programs. But for me the real stars were the people of Danville and Centre.
As a native of a small town myself, I kept thinking as I visited Danville that I wouldn’t necessarily welcome the influx of often egomaniacal and pushy people who flooded the town. And I kept reminding myself, I was one of those people.
Yet, the people of Danville and Centre appeared genuinely welcoming and glad to see us. Sure, they had been asked and were apparently happy to serve as goodwill ambassadors. But it never seemed affected.
Meet Jan Nallinger. I did the weekend before the vice presidential debate at Centre College. I asked her if there might not be some trepidation about all those people coming into town, disrupting traffic, and flooding restaurants and stores.
No, no, no, she said. “This is grand and we’re just tickled to death!”
On Thursday, I stopped by the set of MSNBC to interview some in the crowd watching the Andrea Mitchell show. The first person I bumped into was Jan Nallinger who, it turns out, had seen an article I’d written and which included her quote.
Working in Frankfort, I’m accustomed to people about whom I write criticizing what they read about themselves. But Jan saw me, smiled as brightly as the fall sunshine that day, and gave me a big hug, thanking me for including her. I kind of enjoyed that.
Wednesday I stopped in at the Maple Tree Gallery to talk to owner Julie Nelson who I’d also previously quoted in an advance story. As she looked up and spotted me, she smiled and before I could say anything, thanked me — although it was she who did me the favor in agreeing over the weekend to be interviewed for a story.
There were people like Colin Masters, owner of the Bluegrass Pizza and Pub, Beth King, owner of Karamel Kreations Gourmet Caramel and Gifts, Gina Melton of Melton’s Great American Deli (who it turns out is from my home county and in high school hoped for a date with one of my friends) and Amy Yeager who works in the Centre Bookstore. Each made my job much easier.
The people at Centre were incredible, the staff and the wonderful volunteers who helped direct visitors to their desired destinations. Dr. Clarence Wyatt, one of the debate co-chairs, was always there. He was sought out by national media and political figures, but he was just as available and accommodating to state and local media.
Laura Coleman Pritchard, the assistant director of communications, greeted reporters’ requests – sometimes demands – with a smile and warmth that melted even some of the hardened reporters’ cynicism and arrogance. Best of all, she knew her stuff and knew what we needed and promptly delivered it.
Most impressive of all were all the volunteers whose names I never learned but offered welcome, directions and conversation with smiles and apparently with genuine delight.
It’s little wonder the Commission on Presidential Debates wanted to return to Danville and Centre 12 years after their first visit. They recognize class when the see it.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.