Kentucky History and Genealogy Network, Inc.
The following articles are submitted by Shirley Noe Swiesz.
“I do a weekly article for three newspapers and several sites. It is old-time stories.”
Well, the sun is shining today up here on Sukie Ridge, but we have had some nasty cold weather in the last few days…had to turn the heat on and we did get a frost last night. But of course it is that time of year again. Sometimes I miss the weather in SC and then again I love a bit of snow now and again.
I have been promising you an article about my friend, Marcus Ely’s brother, George, for a couple of weeks now and today I hope I can get it together. Faith wrote an article about him in 2000 but I would like to tell those who did not read it or have forgotten, a bit about this awesome man. Now, I am a big fan of Marcus’ and he is a big fan of his older brother so I felt compelled to write this story.
George was born in Lynch, Kentucky in 1927 to Mary and George Ely. His dad was a surveyor in the coal mines in Lynch for many years, but eventually he started a small mom and pop type grocery in Cumberland. Many of you might remember Ely’s Grocery which was located across from Creech Lumber Company.
George had an older brother, Everett, who worked in the mines with his father for a while. He served during WWII. He died in his fifties.
Their father’s family was from Virginia and they came to Lynch in the 1917’s to work in the mines and other family members settled in Hazard.
George married his childhood sweetheart, Margaret Ramona (Mona) Booth. They had known each other since the fourth and fifth grade. Mona didn’t have any brothers and he was like a brother to her and they were good friends which eventually developed into more. She was from Alabama and her father brought his family to Lynch where he worked in the mines and they raised their children in the Lynch coal camp.
George graduated from Lynch High School in 1945 and shortly thereafter he joined the Army where he specialized in the Reserve Training Program. He was sent to pre-engineering school at North Georgia College.
He was discharged from the Army in 1947 and came back home to work at Clover Lick Coal Sales Company. In 1951 he enrolled in the Civil Engineering Program at University of Kentucky and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1955. As he attended college, he worked as a part-time draftsman for the Kentucky Department of Highways on school grounds. Later he began employment with Howard K. Bell, Consulting Engineers.
When he graduated from college, his employment services were retained and he was immediately assigned to the field as a resident engineer on water and sewer construction projects in Kentucky and Tennessee. He continued to work on many projects until he was assigned to lead the design and project management on sanitary sewer projects in the city of Lexington. In 1965 he was given the job of Project Manager for the Master Plan for the sanitary sewer needs in the Lexington area where he would stay for the next twenty years.
In 1968 Ely and an associate left Howard K. Bell in order to start their own firm. The firm’s purpose was to provide services in environmental engineering to public entities. They later included the private developing community. As the company progressed it offered services to a subsidiary firm in Florida, to residents there and later established with Anchor Engineering.
The firm, still going strong, offered an additional office in Lexington. The firm has to date, has such credentials as Lexington Town Branch Waste Water Treatment Plant, development of the Hartland and Griffin Plant, subdivisions in Lexington and University of Kentucky Coldstream Research park design, along with many others.
He served as a member of the Kentucky State Board of Registration of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, and was its chairman in 1991-92; president of Kentucky Society of Professional Engineers, given the Arthur Sidney Bedell Award and the S Leary Jones Award by the Water Pollution Control Associates; the Kentucky/Tennessee Pollution Control Associations, given the Distinguished Service Award, by the Kentucky Society of Professional Engineers; and is a member of the Kentucky Chapter of the American Public Works Association.
He received the Civil Engineering Achievement Award by the University of Kentucky Department of Civil Engineering. The award, prestigious in nature is considered a great honor and is given by alumni of the University of Kentucky who recognize civil engineers who have demonstrated a considerable amount of ability, integrity, service, ethical behavior, and overall significant achievement, during their professional careers.
He and his wife Ramona have been married for sixty-eight years and have five children and several grandchildren. They live in Lexington.
George boasts that he has not worked a day in this century. He retired December 31, 1999. He says, “My career was very exciting and it was a pleasure to serve the public’s interest.”
George is still serving the public. He played saxophone at Lynch High School and one year in college. He told me, “I laid my horn down for forty years and then twenty-five years ago I had the opportunity to join a Seniors Big Band and that is keeping me busy in retirement. I have been booking the many performances and generally managing the band for fifteen years. We have some excellent musicians (me not included) I am very proud of the band and its’ mission.”
Young at Heart Big Band has been performing since 1980 throughout Central Kentucky to preserve and introduce new listeners to the joy and uniqueness of classic, swing-era, big- band music. Additionally the band raises funds to support young musicians and other musical organizations. The band began as the Donovan Scholars Program in 1980 under the direction of Dr. Jessica Davidson. Today the band enjoys entertaining and sharing tunes from the big band swing era such as Glenn Miller, Hoagie Carmichael, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, and Duke Ellington.
The band consisting of sixteen to twenty seniors from Central Kentucky, performs for nursing homes, veteran centers, schools, churches, civic events, senior centers, art centers and numerous charity fund-raisers. It has performed over 120 different venues about thirty to forty times a year! All members are volunteers. Contributions received by the band are used to support young aspiring musical students with instruments in area schools, along with other musical programs.
In May of 2005 it received the first Annual Community Service Award by the Bluegrass Area Jazz Association for outstanding service to the community. In April of 2013, the Big Band was invited by the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College to provide pre-show entertainment for the Boston Brass and Enso String Quartet. In September 2013 it was presented the Friend of Music Award by District Seven of the Kentucky Music Educators Association. In 2015 it was nominated by the Lexington Music Awards for Best Big Band. The average age of the band members is eighty!
Well, I have given you all the things that this man, from deep in the mountains of Kentucky, has done; and is still doing.
I have never met him, but I have talked with him and reading between the lines, I know this man is very smart and very humble. There are a lot of people like this from these hills, deep in coal country. We have been much maligned by ‘outsiders’ but in truth, we are a great people.
I hope by telling his story, young people might be encouraged and older people will stand up straight and tall and wonder just what new career they can begin! George Ely is a wonder and I am proud to write a story about him, although I have to admit that Faith did most of the work when she wrote an article in 2000.
It is with great pride for our mountains and the people who are born and raised here, many in the coal camps, who have given so much to help and to pave the way for others, that I hope you stand tall and remember men like George Ely, his brother Marcus and that other good man Claude Ely, a songwriter and preacher from Virginia who often preached in this area. I hope when you read this, you think of your Mama and Daddy, some who might not have been able to read or write but were hardworking, soul giving people.
I am so proud of people like George, who worked so hard and keeps giving to the community.
I also would like for you to look up something done by our own Carla Hatfield Barrett. 2017-Thank you Harlan County Veterans. She does one each year. It is on U Tube. You will probably cry when you watch it, especially if you know any of the veterans from here or someone who died during battle and they are marked with a cross. If you are a veteran or know one, send me their picture and name and I will get it to her for next year. It deserves to be with the other ones.
Well, my feet are cold and I need to finish this so remember to smile at someone and pray for your enemy. Blessings. And do remember how very great mountain people are!
Author; Shirley Noe Swiesz
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