Sensational Summer Experiences
Kentucky Living readers prove that giving, getting, and living go hand in hand, as we share your stories entered in our Unique Summer Experiences contest
SUPPORTING SOLDIERS WITH MUSIC
It was a glorious summer day, hot and sunny, not a cloud in sight as Eddie Groves and his band, Inside Out, prepared to play for U.S. troops stationed in Kuwait near the border in Iraq. The band had played just one note when a sandstorm hit. The swirling sand pelted the band and audience, stinging their faces and coating their clothes. Although band members rushed to put their instruments away, they too were quickly covered in the gritty substance.
The sandstorm was just one of many surprises awaiting Groves and his band members as they toured overseas during several summers to perform for U.S. troops through Armed Forces Entertainment.
"As the official Department of Defense agency for providing entertainment to U.S. military personnel overseas, Armed Forces Entertainment and its performers have the honor of supporting soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors by bringing them the very best in American entertainment," Groves notes. "I and the rest of my Inside Out band mates feel it was a great honor to go and support our troops with music."
Inside Out, a country/Southern rock band, played from June through August of 1993 and then returned for another tour that year. In all, they made five tours across the world from 1993 through 1998. They received no pay for their performances, just a per diem to offset living expenses.
What they did receive, however, made the trips more than worthwhile, according to Groves.
"The soldiers were so glad to see someone from home," Groves says. "We were able to bring them music they didn't get to hear live. On one base, we were playing to nine or 10 Seabees (construction battalions of the United States Navy). They didn't get to see anyone, and they just had the best time of anyone with the concert."
The band even met soldiers from their home county, including Billy Peed, who lives 10 to 15 miles from Groves, and Gabe Free, who grew up in the same area of Kentucky as the band members.
Like the soldiers, the band members faced their share of adversity. They had machine guns pointed at them as they entered the demilitarized zone in Korea and drove through a riot while there. They went two weeks without luggage and endured temperature extremes.
But Groves has no regrets.
"Who would ever have thought that a little country music cover band based out of Augusta would be touring Saudi Arabia, Korea, Japan, Guam, Kuwait, Bahrain, Greenland, and the Marshall Islands?" asks Groves. "That is something Bob Hope did."
Just as Groves and members of Inside Out honored U.S. troops, Kentucky Living honors Groves and his band. They are our first-place winners in the Kentucky Living Unique Summer Experiences reader contest.
Congratulations also to everyone who entered. As we suspected, Kentucky Living readers have been busy in their hometowns and across the globe, helping others, savoring life, and making a difference in the world. Here are our second- and third-place winners, and a few more of the inspiring stories we received.
SAVING A CLOUD FOREST
Although she is still in college, our second-place winner provides a good example of the innovative ways readers have found to help others and simultaneously explore their world.
Julie Anne Duncan of Burlington worked for the Department of Environmental Management in Pelileo, Ecuador, for 12 weeks last summer. She developed a project to turn a local cloud forest (similar to a rain forest but at a much higher elevation) into a regional park to protect the forest.
"The forest, Teligote, sits at the top of a mountain and belongs to the 150-person community at its base," Duncan says. "They had long agreed among themselves not to use the sacred forest for hunting or agriculture. However, neighboring peoples were trespassing and doing just that. I realized that if the forest were declared a park, the government would be obligated to provide funding to help protect it. Additionally, the community could make money from ecotourism. I presented the idea at a town meeting and everyone seemed very excited. Some even got teary telling of past attempts to protect the forest."
That meeting stands out in Duncan's mind.
"I had been there only two weeks, and this was the very first night I had spoken to the people because they lived a 20-minute drive from town. It was pouring down rain, but we made it up there in a 4x4 truck. The whole village has about 150 people, and 100 of them were jammed into the building, everyone from babies to grandparents. I was there with my boss, the head of environmental management in Teligote. He did all the talking at first, and I was just sitting quietly.
"One person said, 'I want to hear what that female engineer has to say,' meaning me. I explained that I was just a student, but I told them that I really wanted to help and acknowledged that people don't trust the government sometimes. I made them a promise to work this out and told them I really wanted to help. They lined up and shook my hand. They had been waiting so long for someone to help protect the forest."
Duncan is now a junior at Harvard University, studying the history of science, a major that focuses on the interaction between science, society, religion, and culture. Her focus remains on environmental conservation, but she would now like to earn a Ph.D. and become a professor.
"The process of declaring the forest a park would take over a year," she says. "As I had just 12 weeks, I set about gathering the information to get them started. Then, with the $600 I'd obtained through a micro-grant, more than 40 volunteers and I were able to build a two-mile hiking trail and a rest cabin at the mountain's summit, print promotional flyers, and create a Web site (www.pelileo.gov.ec/pl_teligote.html).
HUMBLED HABITAT FOR HUMANITY HOMEOWNERS
Emotions ran high for the Hobbs family, of Beattyville, concerning their unique summer experience. This time, the Hobbses, our third-place winners, were on the receiving end.
"As I think back to the summer of 2001, I'm filled with a flood of emotions: thankfulness, humility, and great joy to name a few," says Tina Hobbs. "It was the summer my husband and I became homeowners, thanks to Habitat for Humanity in Lee County.
"My husband and I, along with family, wonderful friends, and countless volunteers, began construction on June 3, 2001, and were presented the keys to our beautiful new home on June 9. Yes, our home was constructed in one week during what was called a blitz build. It was the most amazing and memorable experience I had ever been a part of."
Church and community volunteers prepared three meals each day, and people from all walks of life donated their time.
"I had the honor of working alongside some of the most talented and caring individuals I had ever met," she says. "There was a lawyer laying shingles on the roof, while nuns from different churches and community leaders hammered nails. My husband and I and others painted, poured concrete, put insulation in walls, and put up vinyl siding. It was so humbling to know all this time and hard work was for my family and me.
"We have lived in our home for almost seven years now, and I don't think I have ever pulled out of my driveway without pausing for a moment to just look at our home. I thank God for Habitat for Humanity and the countless people that made our dream come true. God bless them all."
DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, ONE FAMILY
Family also figured into a memorable summer for Reece Bors. He traveled to Budapest to meet Hungarian relatives he had never seen.
"My great-great-grandfather, Alexander Bors, immigrated to the United States with his family in 1896 from Budapest, Hungary," says Bors. "I traveled to Budapest and met up with family friends who helped me tour and communicate. Hungary is truly a magical place–everything about the experience was incredible.
"I'd never been to Europe before, and once I arrived in my ancestors' country, I realized how different it was. Budapest, the capital, was so much older than any city in the United States. It has been torn by two world wars and the 1956 revolution against the Russians. Just seeing the bullet holes and the blasted walls from these conflicts amazed me.
"The greatest event during my time in Hungary was finding my family. They were very nice and as excited to meet me as I was to meet them. I have a cousin the same age, and I was able to spend time with him and his family. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
ON A MISSION
Many of the entries we received recounted mission trips readers had made to help others. Here's one example of the impact Kentucky Living readers are making on the world, in Gary Templeman's words.
"The summer of 2006 is one I'll not soon forget," says Gary Templeman. "God led me on an exciting, life-changing journey to the small country of Uganda in East Africa.
"Uganda is roughly the size of Oregon, situated right on the equator just north of Lake Victoria. The source of the Nile River, it is a truly unique place found right in the center of this diverse country. Today, with almost no government assistance, HIV/AIDS is the new genocide. Roughly 50 percent of the population is under the age of 15, and in many families the head of the household is less than 20 years old. There are some 1.7 million orphans (at the time of the visit) in the country with a strong desire for an education but an unlikely reality. The average yearly income for a Ugandan family is $350.
"During our mission trip, I was able to work with a medical team, providing much-needed assistance and education to the people in the area. I also served on a youth team with the opportunity to offer Bible school to young people. I learned these people, no matter how little they had, were always willing to share everything. They had a strong spirit, and an uplifting atmosphere surrounded each village I visited.
"Journeying into the bush, often on dirt paths, a totally black night full of twinkling stars, meeting warm, welcoming villagers, seeing cockroaches the size of dollar bills, and remembering how delightful a single cup of cold drinking water can be, are memories I'll cherish for a lifetime."
CREATING A LIBRARY
Sometimes to make things right, you have to take matters into your own hands. Kaye Whitson of Lewisburg did just that.
"In August 2006, the county library closed our branch library," recalls Whitson. "Even with 800-plus signatures, they wouldn't reopen."
So in July 2007, Whitson and three other members of the Lewisburg North Logan Historical Commission decided to reopen a library in a building the commission had remodeled. Within weeks, they had thousands of books donated. Then came long hours of getting the books arranged and making shelves.
In October 2007, they had a grand opening, and now a core group of four women and Whitson volunteer three days a week, with help from other occasional volunteers, to keep the library going.
"If you have never worked with books, it is an experience you won't forget," says Whitson. "I spent long hours with strangers who I now call friends."
The group was awarded a Governor's Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service last month from the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service.
1,003 MILES OF MEMORIES
April Benson and her brother made a lot of new friends last summer when they walked down California's coast–from the airport in Crescent City to the airport in San Diego. It took them 56 days, 1,003.5 miles, and $2,887.87.
"We slept in a Sitka spruce tree grove above the ocean, in a trashy motel, hidden behind long grass on the side of Highway One, on a bed of pine needles, and on the warm sand of the Lost Coast," says Benson. "We ate raisins, peanuts, cold beans, loaves of bread, peanut butter, protein bars, and chips. In the north, I wore all of my clothes at night–including my bathing suit and my rain jacket. In the south, I craved cold sodas and swam in the ocean with tourists from France.
"Throughout the state, we were humbled by the generosity of strangers. A fellow in Santa Cruz let us sleep on his porch. A couple from San Diego filled our packs with food. A state park volunteer from the Sinkyone Wilderness shared her lunch.
"About 10 miles north of Monterey we met a kind family from London, Kentucky. I moved to Kentucky three days after finishing the hike."
FAMILY ROAD TRIP
Vernon Denham didn't have to look far to find family during his most memorial summer. Beginning on September 17, 2007, Denham, his two brothers William Denham, 67, of Stanford, and Leslie Denham, 63, of Wauchula, Florida, and brother-in-law, James Davis, 62, of Danville, traveled through the western United States, stopping at all the places they had only read about and seen on television.
"We outlined our plans, but soon realized that was the point of the trip," recalls Denham. "We weren't on any time schedule and we didn't have any certain date we were supposed to be back. So we decided to hit as many tourist attractions as we could and see as much of the country as we could."
That included the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri; Kansas City; the Badlands of South Dakota; Seattle, Washington; Mt. St. Helens; the Grand Canyon; San Antonio and the Alamo, Texas; New Orleans; and Selma, Alabama.
"The memories I made with my brothers–all the sites we stopped at, the card games and stories at night, the explosion of the bag of Cheetos as we traveled up the mountains, and so on–will last me a lifetime," says Denham.
BRINGING LITERATURE TO LIFE
In the summer of 2006, Stacey Doran and her friend Devon decided to reward themselves for successfully completing their freshman year at the University of Kentucky with their dream vacation: an 8-day road trip to visit the historical sites from Laura Ingalls Wilder's classic children's book series Little House on the Prairie. They camped the whole way to get an authentic prairie experience, which Doran says also worked well with their shoestring budget.
"As any fan of her nine books or Michael Landon's 1970s television series knows, Laura was a spunky girl who grew up on the edge of the wilderness in the 1870s," says Doran. "Retracing her Conestoga wagon's tracks in Devon's 1998 Ford Escort only stressed just how amazing Laura's life was.
"We drove through eight states and visited every city that Laura lived in. We stopped in Pepin, Wisconsin, to see the rebuilt Little House in the Big Woods, ate at Nellie's Cafe in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, survived the heat in Independence, Kansas, and De Smet, South Dakota; and concluded the trip with an eerily emotional visit to her gravesite in Mansfield, Missouri.
"After eight days, Laura came to be our third passenger and a close friend. This was a great experience that I look forward to doing again with my own daughter someday."
Thanks to Stacy and everyone who shared their summer experiences. Now that summer is here again, it's time to head out on more unique summer experiences.
In 2005 and 2006, James and Joan Wexler of Frenchburg went through a particularly bad time in their lives. Jim underwent heart bypass surgery and had a pacemaker implanted. After he healed, the Wexlers' two daughters suggested the extended family spend a weekend at Cave City.
"We have raised three boys and two girls to adulthood and now are proud grandparents," writes Joan Wexler. "We never had any money for vacations or even small trips like this. We probably packed more fun and laughter into those three days than if we had spent a full month there. Jim and I laughed more that weekend than we ever have–we had the best time of our lives."
The Wexlers say they proved the adage "laughter is the best medicine." They also proved it doesn't take a big, expensive trip far away from home to build big, priceless memories.
Congratulations to our winners and to everyone who entered and shared your touching stories.
Eddie Groves, Foster
Inside Out band performed overseas for the troops for five summer tours during 1993-1997.
Wins a 3-night stay*, any nights of the week, at a Kentucky State Park plus a $50 Unbridled Spirit Gift Card.
Julie Anne Duncan, Burlington
Working for the Department of Environmental Management in Pelileo, Ecuador, last summer to turn a local cloud forest into a regional park to protect the land.
Wins a 1-night stay*, any night of the week, at a Kentucky State Resort Park plus a $25 Unbridled Spirit Gift Card.
Hobbs Family, Beattyville
Habitat for Humanity recipients of their first home in Lee County.
Wins a 1-night stay*, Sunday-Thursday, at a Kentucky State Resort Park plus a $10 Unbridled Spirit Gift Card.
Winners also receive a Kentucky State Parks Adventure Series kit to make your next unique summer experience more thrilling.
*Based on availability at various parks. Prizes good for one year from date of issuance.
www.parks.ky.gov • (800) 255-PARK
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: MORE UNIQUE SUMMER EXPERIENCES
Run in your first race at age 62, visit Alaska, eat lunch 6,000 feet high, go inside Saudi Arabia, trade places with folks from England, travel with the Convoy of Hope, help others realize their potential, and more.
These are just some of the adventures awaiting you. Read more of the entries we received in our Unique Summer Experiences contest.