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WKU president won't recommend dropping names linked to slavery

Despite recommendations from the Naming and Symbols Task Force he convened nearly a year ago, Western Kentucky University President Timothy Caboni said he will not recommend to the university’s board of regents the removal of campus building and college names whose namesakes were historically linked to slavery.

“After much consideration and reflection, I am not prepared to recommend to the Board of Regents the removal of any names from university buildings or academic colleges,” Caboni announced in a campuswide email Wednesday, in which he outlined about a dozen other recommendations the task force developed that the university will immediately implement.

These include establishing a Jonesville Reconciliation Working Group, named after a local African American neighborhood WKU displaced to make room for its expansion, and hosting an annual reunion/conference for Jonesville residents/descendants and the WKU community, among other actions.

But Caboni said he wasn’t prepared to recommend that the university remove any campus names because doing so would be too “divisive.”

Caboni’s decision contradicts the task force’s recommendation that WKU remove the names for Van Meter Hall, the Potter College of Arts and Letters and the Ogden College of Science and Engineering and in each case “provide context for the change.”

“The topic of removing names from buildings and colleges generated the most public interest and comment since I announced the task force at Faculty and Staff Convocation last year,” Caboni wrote in a lengthy email Wednesday.

“The removal of honorific names has been the most polarizing and divisive of considerations. Even the task force could not reach unanimity in support of its three recommendations to remove the names Robert Ogden, Pleasant J. Potter, and Charles Van Meter.

“The same schism appears in the comments solicited from our community, alumni and friends. However, as an institution of higher learning, we have an obligation to engage in these challenging conversations and to educate our community about the role slavery played in the history of both our nation and in the lives of early university supporters. Education involves telling stories, and allowing some parts to be omitted results in an incomplete and disingenuous story,” Caboni wrote.

“In many ways, Robert Ogden, Pleasant J. Potter and Charles Van Meter illustrate the ongoing conflict with which America has wrestled for more than two centuries: a nation founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all, even though many of its citizens remained enslaved long after its establishment,” Caboni continued in his email.

“While we fervently disagree with their views on slavery, we also acknowledge that their perspectives were not unlike many of their time. We should exercise caution when judging those in the past using a modern lens. The decisions we make today also will meet with the scrutiny of future generations. We hope our choices will be evaluated with the same humility and the understanding that after decades or longer of history, views and perspectives necessarily will change,” Caboni wrote.

Caboni also stressed his “fiduciary responsibility” to the university and said he could not “accept any recommendations that would cause us immediate and lasting financial harm. Nor can I put at risk any agreements that are in the long-term best interest of the institution.

“Make no mistake: the views of these three individuals from more than a century ago are inconsistent with our university’s values. However, we recognize that their contributions, particularly those of Ogden, have made a better life possible for individuals of all ethnicities and backgrounds. Yes, these names are reminders of their namesakes; but they are now also associated with well-known traditions of excellence in the liberal arts and social and physical sciences. Potter College and Ogden College have developed international reputations for academic excellence, and Van Meter Hall is recognized as one of the premier performing arts venues in the region,” Caboni wrote.

Going forward, Caboni announced he would recommend to the board of regents at its next regular meeting that WKU rename Northeast Hall to Munday Hall, “in honor of Margaret Munday, the first African-American student to attend WKU, who graduated with a degree in music in 1960.”

Caboni said Munday Hall would be the first building named after an African American on WKU’s campus.

The university will also “contextualize and make visible the full histories of the names on our buildings and other important spaces,” beginning with the Ogden College of Science and Engineering, the Potter College of Arts and Letters, Van Meter Hall and Kelly Thompson Hall.

“While the Task Force recommended this for only Thompson Hall, we will implement this recommendation and extend that contextualization to Ogden, Potter and Van Meter. We must share honestly the backgrounds and the lives of those who contributed to our university,” Caboni wrote.

Caboni outlined 11 other task force recommendations the university would implement immediately, including:

  1. Update the Philanthropic and Honorific Naming Policy and Protocols
  2. Establish a Jonesville Reconciliation Working Group: “We will establish a working group to appropriately address the issues that remain from the dismantling of the Jonesville neighborhood,” Caboni wrote.
  3. Add honorific naming of spaces on campus after Jonesville.
  4. Host an annual reunion/conference for Jonesville residents/descendants and WKU community.
  5. Increase financial support for the Cynthia & George Nichols III Intercultural Student Engagement Center.
  6. Recruit African American owned businesses to develop feeder programs. “This year we will create a program to increase minority owned business participation in university (request for proposal) processes. We will continue this work and enhance our efforts to target local businesses who would benefit from doing business with WKU and educate them about the processes of being considered,” Caboni wrote.
  7. Ensure the Admissions Office maintains bi-lingual staff.
  8. Add minority-owned restaurants on campus that serve culturally diverse food options.
  9. Join the National Studying Slavery Consortium.
  10. Change the names of the bus lines to no longer be associated with colors. “I have directed WKU Parking and Transportation Services to begin redesigning and relabeling our transit system to use labels that are not associated with colors,” Caboni wrote.
  11. Solicit the Ogden College Foundation: “We will engage them to determine their interest in being involved with implementing these and other Task Force recommendations,” Caboni wrote.

Murray's, once meeting spot for leaders, to be demolished

Former Warren County Sheriff Jerry “Peanuts” Gaines remembers it as a “lively place.”

Former Bowling Green Mayor Charles Hardcastle recalls it was THE place to get the “pulse of the community.”

It will soon be reduced to rubble, erasing the last physical evidence of a structure that was once the regular meeting place for prominent local politicians and power brokers.

The Murray’s Restaurant building at 1313 U.S. 31-W By-Pass, vacant and deteriorating for more than a decade, will soon be demolished.

Greg Gary Trucking has a $12,000 demolition permit for the building that dates to the 1940s and will level it soon.

“It was just past financial repair,” Greg Gary said. “It’s such an old building that they decided to take it down.”

Gary and Jerry Shelton, a part-owner of the building, said there are no immediate plans for the property.

“It was just time for it to go,” said Shelton, managing partner of the Shelton CPAs accounting firm and manager of the OGW Investments LLC that is listed in Warren County property records along with Joe Travelstead as owners of the property.

For those new to Bowling Green, seeing the building turned into debris may be seen as a needed step in the progress of a fast-growing city.

The squat, rectangular structure, after all, had become little more than an eyesore and a hangout for the homeless in recent years.

But for those who frequented Murray’s in its heyday, the demolition of the building amounts to destruction of a bit of Bowling Green history.

Back before the proliferation of restaurants along the bypass and Scottsville Road, Murray’s was a regular stop for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Through ownership changes, the one constant was that Murray’s was a bit like the fictional Rick’s Café Americain in the movie “Casablanca” – everybody went there.

“It was a happening place at one time,” said Jody Richards, who served in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1976 through 2019 and was House speaker for 14 years. “Judge-Executive (Basil) Griffin would always go there to drink coffee, and others joined him to talk about city, county, state and national politics and activities.”

Gaines, whose 32-year tenure as Warren County sheriff ended in 2019, recalls Murray’s as a place where politicians from “all over the state” would come.

“Everybody used to meet at Murray’s,” Gaines said. “Governor candidates, Senate candidates, everybody.”

Political careers may have been made or broken at Murray’s as local movers and shakers held court over biscuits and gravy or hamburgers, but Richards recalls those informal meetings as cordial.

“Nobody ever got mad,” he said. “We just teased each other a lot.”

Those meetings evolved into what became known as the Liar’s Club, a group of influential locals who got together at Murray’s every Saturday morning to learn about local issues and make their thoughts known.

At least one prominent leader even drew his last breath at Murray’s when it was known as the Barnyard Café after an ownership change.

Floyd Ellis, who served four years in the state Senate and retired in 2000 as president and chief executive of Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corp., collapsed and died at the restaurant on a Saturday in 2009, adding to the Murray’s mystique.

The restaurant served its last meals shortly after that, and regulars like Richards believe it left a void in Bowling Green.

“It was one of the main restaurants in the city and was a popular place,” Richards said. “They set it up every Saturday morning for us. It got to be a tradition.

“It was sad when it closed because it was such a central meeting place.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

City OKs repaving contract for 18 miles of roads

About 18 miles of city streets are scheduled to be repaved in the upcoming fiscal year.

The Bowling Green City Commission on Tuesday approved a $1.59 million bid from Charles DeWeese Construction of Franklin for the city’s annual road repaving effort.

That amount will allow for repaving about 18 miles of city streets, City Manager Jeff Meisel said, as well as installing 57 handicap-accessible ramps and repaving roads in Fairview Cemetery No. 2 and Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

Scotty’s Contracting & Stone of Bowling Green submitted the other bid for the work at $1.74 million.

In response to a question from Commissioner Dana Beasley Brown, city Public Works Director Greg Meredith explained the process for choosing which roads are repaved.

He said each road in the city is evaluated at least once every three years on the basis of the roughness of the road, cracking, joint failure and other issues.

Roads are then ranked based on their need to be repaved.

Meisel said the repaving will be completed this fiscal year.

Commissioners also approved on a first reading two rezoning requests.

Vita Nova LLC was approved for a rezoning from light industrial to general business for a commercial development at Russellville Road and Old Tram Road.

Developers told planning commission members previously that the plan calls for a commercial building that will include a 4,000-square-foot portion for either a restaurant or liquor store and two other smaller portions for other businesses.

JJEM Properties LLC was approved for a rezoning from agriculture and highway business to multi-family residential at Bristol and Louisville roads. The rezoning will allow the expansion of the adjacent 160-unit North Pointe apartment complex.

– Follow Managing Editor Wes Swietek on Twitter @WesSwietek or visit bgdaily news.com.

Community Ed lacks workers for before-, after-school programs

Bowling Green-Warren County Community Education, which provides before- and after-school child care for local students, is having trouble gearing up for the upcoming school year.

Bill Oldham, Community Education’s executive director, said the organization is struggling to hire a sufficient number of staffers for its programs.

Community Education would like to open as many before- and after-school programs as possible when public schools in Bowling Green and Warren County open Aug. 4 and 5, Oldham said. To do so, Community Education must meet Kentucky’s staff-to-child ratios.

“Like every other business owner, I don’t know why this is happening,” Oldham said. “It’s really easy to say that people are getting more money from unemployment (benefits). There might be other factors, too.”

Oldham said Community Education looks to a particular group to fill most of the staff openings.

“Our staff mostly consists of (Western Kentucky University) students, who aren’t in town yet,” Oldham said. “We’re making an effort to reach the broader community.”

WKU’s first day of classes will be Aug. 23, so Oldham is open to the possibility of bringing in retirees who are willing to commit a few hours to serving in a Community Education program.

“We’re open to hiring all sorts of people.” Oldham said. “This could be someone who would like to work in the morning or three to four hours in the afternoon.”

Community Education raised worker wages this year and is currently offering a hiring bonus plus an additional $150 bonus for those who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, Oldham said.

To apply for a Community Education staff position, people can visit www. commed.us/employment/.

Community Education’s hiring process includes a face-to-face interview and a background check. The organization will also contact an applicant’s listed references before the interview is conducted. Anyone who is at least 18 years old and has a high school or GED diploma can apply for a child care staff position, according to Erin Lightfoot, Community Education’s associate director for school-age programs.

Lightfoot said if applicants are interested in working with children in an after-school program, they can expect to pick up a shift that lasts from 2 to 5:30 p.m. or 3 to 6 p.m.

Staffers who work during a morning program have a shift that usually lasts from 6 to 8 a.m.

“You don’t have to apply for both a morning and afternoon program,” Lightfoot said. “You should choose what works best for your schedule.”