This Day in History — February 17

February 17, 1984, Jesse Stuart, Kentucky Poet Laureate, educator and author who born in Greenup County passed away. Born on August 8 1906, the second of seven children, Jesse had a strong appreciation for the land from an early age. The child of itinerant farmers, Jesse also understood the hardships of rural poverty. Though his parents, Mitchell and Martha were uneducated, they instilled in their children the importance of education and all seven children would not only graduate high school, but become college graduates and educators themselves. For farming families in the rural South, schooling often stood in second place to planting and harvesting seasons. Jesse persevered and graduated from Greenup County High School in 1926. He attended Lincoln Memorial University, graduated in 1929 and returned to his native Greenup County to teach.

Stuart taught in one-room school houses in Greenup County throughout the depression and these experiences were the inspiration for his autobiographical book The Thread That Runs So True which was written in 1949. The book dramatized the need for education reform in the Commonwealth and the president of the National Education Association called it “the best book on education written in the last fifty years.” Stuart, who saw the need for education reform, left teaching to put his efforts toward lecturing and writing.

Jesse Stuart self-published most of his writing and was named Kentucky Poet Laureate in 1954. His poetry collections include Album of Destiny (1944) and Kentucky is My Land (1952). Stuart also lectured widely for many years, particularly on the subject of education and its value, and wrote a number of highly regarded books for children and youth. Prominent among the latter are The Beatinest Boy (1953) and A Penny’s Worth of Character (1954). His works have been part of the Greenup County curriculum and literature curriculum across the state of Kentucky for more than three decades.

As he had come to appreciate the value of the land at a very young age, he and his wife Naomi donated their property on W-Hollow in Greenup County as a nature preserve. He was able to acquire over 700 acres in Greenup County over his lifetime and his homestead is a testament to his dedication to the land. The Jesse Stuart Foundation in Ashland, Kentucky oversees that the property maintains the preserve designation and controls the rights to his literary works. The Foundation also helps local authors become published. The Jesse Stuart Lodge at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park, just down the road from his beloved W-Hollow, showcases many of his personal possessions and has a large portrait of him in the lobby. He is immortalized in the land which he loved so dearly.

Jesse Stuart died on February 17, 1984 and was buried in Plum Grove Cemetery in Greenup County, Kentucky. Kentucky truly was his land.

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