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50-Plus Years of Friendship

1965 was a very interesting year. In his State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed his plans for a “Great Society,” a set of programs designed to eradicate poverty. One of the earliest programs, VISTA, sent young volunteers into Eastern KY to try to make a difference.  But the government wasn’t the only player in the game. The Church had also been trying to promote economic growth and social justice, encouraged by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.  And certainly, the eradication of poverty has been an important goal of our programs housed at UD over the past 50 years as well. In fact, here is the mission statement from 1970: “The Kennedy Appalachia Program at the University of Dayton is an institution whose members are committed to the proposition of eradicating poverty in rural America.”

In November of 1965, Fr. Joseph Dunne, the pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Paintsville, KY and the director of PACE (Program in Appalachia through Christian Effort) came to UD to speak. Moved by Fr. Dunne’s speech, a student named Tony Pappano organized “Give Your Heart to Appalachia Week,” A food and clothing drive sent to Paintsville.

In February of 1966, Pappano organized the Appalachia Committee with 10 other students, Fr. Cy Middendorf and Bro. Ed Nadalsky.  They travelled to KY on weekends to help with the PACE program, work at the recreation center and develop a Bible school under the guidance of Fr. Bill Poole.

In 1967, PACE moved from Paintsville to Prestonsburg. And for a short time in Drift, KY. In February of 1967, the UD Kennedy Appalachia Program was formed, and were winterizing and wiring homes almost every weekend. They not only continued working with PACE in KY, but also began working with Appalachian folk in Dayton at the Van Buren Community Center in the Van Buren neighborhood, now called East End or Twin Towers.

By April of 1968, however, some students began to feel they were just being used as part-time free help and started to get resentful of the full-time PACE workers. They weren’t being let in on any of the decision-making.  Even so, some students began to spend their entire summer there.

In the 1969-70 school year, the students in the Kennedy Appalachia Program were frustrated after many heated discussions with PACE. So, they decided to start their own program independent of PACE. Fr. Poole connected them with Richard Whitley, who owned a couple of buildings up 22-mile branch in Magoffin County which he let them stay in. No electricity, phone, water, or stove. They were really just camping in 1970 and 1971. But they enjoyed organizing the Bible school and organizing a little league which the people of Magoffin County have taken ownership of.

Tom Liszkay, one of 12 who spent the summer there in 1970 and became president of the Kennedy Appalachia Program, bought a property on Burton Fork for the group to use after he graduated in 1971. It had electricity, an outhouse, but no running water.

In the early ‘70’s, programs continued to expand and change both in Magoffin County and here in the Van Buren neighborhood of Dayton. The students led cooking and sewing classes, an arts and crafts program, a tutoring program, a ceramics program, a Boy Scout and Girl Scout troop, etc. And somewhere in there, they got the name UD Community Action Group or UDCAG.

In 1975, Bro. Don Smith became the director of the program and spent much of the summers with the student groups.  In 1989, Sr. Nancy Bramlage spent the first of her many summers in Salyersville. And Bro. Tom Pieper has been going down every summer since 2001. Their involvement made it more than just a student organization that might survive from year to year, depending on the leadership of the students that particular year. So, the institutional commitment of the University, particularly Campus Ministry, has helped to keep it running for the past 40 years, has helped with funding, and, most importantly, Bro. Don, Sr. Nancy, and Bro. Tom have helped students to learn, grow and build community.

Here are a few more historical highlights:

1983-- the house on Burton Fork burnt down

1984—a new house was built

1988—the barn burnt down and a new barn was built

1989-90—UDCAG program was revised with a new emphasis on the cross-cultural immersion and processing the learning that students were experiencing, rather than “the eradication of poverty in rural America.” There is still an emphasis on providing community service by working with children, teens, the folks in the nursing home, and visiting families, but what emerged 25 years into the program was a much more realistic set of goals.

1991-92—UDCAG changes name to UDSAP

1995—rough year—robberies, barn burnt down and vandalism to the house after the group left in August. Tom Liszkay agreed to have the UDSAPers intentionally burn down the house and fill in the latrine. The Mine Fork property was rented from Mrs. Cooper from 1996 until today. (with running water!!!)

But it hasn’t all been disasters. In fact, over the years, some participants have fallen in love with each other and gotten married! Others have fallen in love with Appalachia and have continued to serve there in year-long volunteer programs or even moved there to teach, do social work, etc. Some have even sent their children to UD where they have become second-generation UDSAPers! The reason why alums of the program continue to care so much is that you have all fallen in love with Eastern KY—its people, its culture, its landscape, its Ale8—and have fallen in love with the idea of living together in community with a group of other students, some of whom may have irritated you to no end. You learned in that special summer or two or weekend trips or whatever, that there is goodness, there is love, and God is there in the midst of poverty, struggles, and community.


Campus Ministry's Center for Social Concern

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