One of this year's East Kentucky Leadership award winners is a nationally known authority on the history of the Appalachian region and he teaches history at UK.
The 2009 Private Individual Award goes to Ron Eller.
West Virginia native Ron Eller is a descendent of eight generations of families from Appalachia, and the first among them to attend college.
His work during the 1960's War on Poverty raised some personal questions.
“Why was I the first one in my family to go to college? Why had my father and his father before him have to leave the community that they were part of and loved so deeply, in order to survive?” Dr. Eller said.
He spent the last 40 years looking for answers.
Along the way he published more than 60 articles and reports, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and worked with policy makers to break down stereotypes of the region and address the real issues facing the people of Appalachia.
“The conditions that created the economic inequalities in the mountains have less to do with our culture than they do with the structural problems that have shaped the history of the region over time,” Dr. Eller said.
Dr. Eller's latest book, Uneven Ground, examines government programs and development in Appalachia since World War II.
He appears this month in a PBS documentary on Appalachia, and spoke recently at Union College about 20/20's controversial report on Eastern Kentucky.
“The solutions to those kinds of problems in the mountains aren't going to be found just in Appalachia, they're national issues, and we need to recognize that connection,” Dr. Eller said.
He hopes Appalachian people never lose their connection to the land, or pride in their heritage.
“I hope that the work I've been able to do brings value to that. That we can find alternative ways to change, to address the problems that we have in healthcare and education, make a meaningful life in the mountains. That the mountains are not just a place to be abused and left and move on, that there's value there,” Dr. Eller said.
The 2009 East Kentucky Leadership Award for Private Individual goes to Ron Eller.
Several individuals and organizations will be honored with East Kentucky Leadership Awards this Thursday in Hazard.
There is still time for you to register to attend the awards.
You can contact Ron Daley at 606-487-3158.