A Capital Tour
Each summer Kentucky electric co-ops send a group of students to Washington, D.C., for a week of making civics lessons come alive
Derrick Reeder of Vanceburg and Stan Ingold III of More-head look up at the massive Iwo Jima Memorial on an unusually mild June morning just across the river from Washington, D.C.
It's still too early for the busloads of tourists who visit the 78-foot-tall bronze statue every day. Nearby, two other early risers take advantage of the morning light to photograph one of the nation's most famous monuments and its inscription, "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue."
For Reeder and Ingold, two Kentucky high school students, the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial means more than just another statue in the nation's capital: it's a source of hometown pride.
"I was awed by the size of it," says Ingold, of Rowan County. "One of the biggest memorials in Washington, D. C., has someone from our area of Kentucky."
One of the six Marines shown raising the United States flag on an island mountaintop in the Pacific Ocean came from Kentucky. Franklin Sousley grew up near Reeder's and Ingold's eastern Kentucky hometowns. The likeness of this World War II hero towers over the teens, standing 32 feet tall.
"To think that a small-town person, kind of like me," says Reeder, "can play such an important role in ending a conflict like World War II is inspiring."
Reeder and Ingold are two of 68 students selected by their local electric co-ops to visit Washington, D.C., as part of the 31st annual Kentucky Rural Electric Washington Youth Tour. For a week this summer the group learned lessons in history, pride, and discovery.
The first national electric co-op Youth Tour took place in 1964 after then-Senator Lyndon Johnson suggested that cooperatives send students to Washington, D.C., to "see what the flag stands for and represents."
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association coordinates the Washington Youth Tour that now brings more than 1,200 high school students from all across the country to the nation's capital.
When the Kentucky students met with their state's congressional delegation this summer, Rep. Hal Rogers congratulated them for being part of "a great program...It lets you see, hear, do, and touch your government."
But the trip, coordinated by the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, offers more than government and history. Mixed in with the tours and visits were dances, pizza parties, and a boat cruise on the Potomac.
For many, the Youth Tour was not only a fun lesson in democracy, but also in a democratic form of business, their local electric cooperative. Ingold and Reeder represented Fleming-Mason Energy co-op, headquartered in Flemingsburg. Both say that although they weren't that familiar with co-ops before the trip, they felt impressed by the fact that co-ops are owned by the people they serve.
Phil Bozarth, 17, from Owensboro, compared an electric cooperative to the U.S. government.
"It was founded through volunteerism," says Bozarth. People living in rural areas wanted electricity, so they got together to bring electricity to their communities.
He adds, "Co-ops are the essence of the American spirit. They do things out of their own initiative to get things done."
Bozarth, who represents Kenergy electric co-op, says his visit to the U.S. Capitol gave him a chance to experience the statesmanship of government.
"We're civil about all kinds of ideas," he says. "Everyone's opinions are thrown out there, and everyone shares what they think is best for the nation. Then we have a vote by the majority for what's best."
Members have the same opportunity with their local co-op, he says. "This has kind of opened my eyes to the influence you can have on your community by voting in your co-op. We do have a say in what they do. We just have to exercise that right."
Volunteerism provided the theme for the Youth Tour's annual Town Hall meeting. Students gathered for a morning of inspirational speeches and a chance to talk about issues affecting rural America. Speakers included Miss Virginia USA 2002 Julie Laippley.
Mindy Phelps of Bowling Green found Laippley's message especially moving.
"She talked about the invention of the Slinky, and how it was considered a failure, but became a success, one of the most popular toys of all time," says the Warren Rural Electric Co-op representative. "She was telling us to keep our hope and not to give up on what we want to do."
The Town Hall meeting included comments from students about issues facing their communities. Phelps says that several students mentioned similar topics, such as funding for education.
"I realized a lot of people live in really small communities all across the country," Phelps says, adding that she met students from Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Wyoming.
U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning impressed Adam Rose, from Madison County's Paint Lick community. Rose asked Bunning about why he got involved in government.
"He put his kids before himself," says Rose. "He wanted to be a role model for his children. I think one of the best qualities for a leader is putting others first."
Rose, sponsored by Blue Grass Energy co-op based in Nicholasville, says the trip provided him with insight on the impact that cooperatives have on their local communities.
"I knew they did a lot of things like energy-efficient housing programs, but I didn't know they did so many things for economic development," he says. "I see the co-ops as something I would like to be involved in. They put the community and the people who want to volunteer first."
Kristy Schenk and her family are already involved in their local cooperative. The 17-year-old Henry County senior always attends the annual meeting of Shelby Energy co-op, based in Shelbyville. Like many students on the tour, a guidance counselor familiar with Schenk's interest in history encouraged her to apply for the program.
The trip gave Schenk the chance to see many of the things she read about in history books, and to learn the details behind the words. She says her visit to the Korean War Veterans Memorial left a lasting impact.
She felt especially proud of the photo she took of the site, a wall memorial featuring pictures of Korean soldiers near the more-famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Noting that her grandfather fought in Korea, she says, "Walking along the wall and seeing the people's faces, I was just glad he didn't die over there and he was able to come home and tell us stories."
Derrick Reeder, who was impressed by the Iwo Jima memorial, has a connection with another famous Washington-area site. While visiting Arlington National Cemetery he located the grave of his great-uncle, Otis Fanin. Reeder made a pencil-and-paper etching of the name from the headstone to take home to his grandfather.
Fanin was a World War II Navy veteran and is buried next to his wife, Annie. His headstone is one of many in the seemingly endless rows of white dotting the acres of well-kept green in the cemetery that is called the country's most sacred shrine.
"It's really humbling," Reeder says, "to go to Arlington and see all the graves and know that was done for you."
The Kentucky Flag Raiser
Franklin Sousley, one of six Marines in combat photographer Joe Rosenthal's famous Iwo Jima flag-raising picture, was born in the community of Hilltop in Fleming County. Fatherless at age 9, he grew up on a tobacco farm and enlisted in the Marines at age 17. He set sail for the Pacific on his 18th birthday, according to the Web site www.iwojima.com.
Sousley wrote his mother a letter from Iwo Jima four days after the flag raising on Mount Suribachi: "My regiment took the hill with our company on the front line. The hill was hard, and I sure never expected war to be like it was for those first four days. Mother, you can never imagine how a battlefield looks. It sure looks horrible. Look for my picture because I helped put up the flag. Please don't worry."
In Rosenthal's picture, Sousley is the second man from the left.
Less than a month after the photograph was taken the 19-year-old became the last of three flag raisers to die on Iwo Jima, on March 21, 1945. Sousley is buried in the Elizaville Cemetery near Flemingsburg.
How to Apply for the Youth Tour
To participate in the 2003 Washington Youth Tour, contact your local electric cooperative in January. Students attending the weeklong Washington Youth Tour in June also participate in a one-day Frankfort Youth Tour in April. The selection process, which varies for each cooperative, usually begins in January. The tour is open to high school juniors whose parents or guardians are electric co-op members.
Participating electric cooperatives publish applications and information about the Youth Tour in their local co-op section of Kentucky Living magazine. You can also get information from high school guidance counselors. Or you can visit the Web site of the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives at www.kaec.org.