As part of Kentucky Living’s 75th anniversary celebration, we want to highlight a group of people who once had a highly unusual experience.
In their youth, these Kentuckians were featured on the cover of a magazine widely read by their relatives, friends and community—this magazine, in fact. Kentucky Living has featured dozens of children and teens on its cover over the years. We caught up with a few of them to find out what they’ve been doing since we first met.
Gene Cravens, July 1954
As a teenager, Gene Cravens’ passion for tinkering earned him a spot on the cover of what was then known as The Rural Kentuckian, which touted him as “State F.F.A. rural electrification champion” and illustrated his prowess in radio repair.
Electricity was still fairly new to rural communities like Utica in Daviess County when Cravens was growing up there. “I remember seeing kerosene lights in some farmhouses,” he says.
As a boy, Cravens became fascinated with how electrical devices worked. “There were so many electrical things I didn’t know existed,” he says. He learned fast, wiring buildings on the family farm and converting an old school bus into a brooder house for chickens.
As previewed in the magazine write-up, Cravens did go on to study at the University of Kentucky. Though he studied agriculture, he wound up spending his career in insurance and real estate and becoming a philanthropist who has supported institutions including the University of Kentucky. Cravens married the same girl (Jean) he was dating at the time of his cover shoot, and together they’ve volunteered extensively through Habitat for Humanity, visiting about 100 countries for their work with the nonprofit.
Nearly 70 years after he appeared in this magazine for his work with electronics, Cravens’ own motor seems as charged up as ever. He divides his time between Lexington and Vero Beach, Florida, where he volunteers about five days a week, often at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. There you can often find him fixing up donated electronic devices. His advice for the rest of us who might love to be active at 87: “Be thankful for every day and do something new every day,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to tinker.”
Janine Courts, October 1974
For 40 years, Kentucky’s rural electric cooperatives sponsored a beauty pageant in which young women and teen girls from around the state competed to earn the title of Miss Kentucky Rural Electric.
Janine Courts (now Combess) appeared on the cover of this magazine in October 1974, when she won the pageant held at the Kentucky State Fair that summer.
“I was totally shocked,” she recalls. She hadn’t thought about pageants as part of her future until a neighbor persuaded her to enter. Combess grew up on a farm in Bracken County, pulling her weight as needed, whether that meant hoeing weeds, stripping tobacco or sewing and mending. In fact, she says, “We made our own clothes.”
Combess says that through the various rounds of the pageant, she encountered a coach who gave her some useful advice. “She said, ‘When you get out there and think you’ve done all you can, take a deep breath, think of me, and then go the extra mile and see what you can do better.’”
That guidance helped Combess advance through the pageant’s formal wear and swimsuit evaluations as well as an interview in which, she recalls, “They asked my feelings about married couples having individual bank accounts, which seems very strange today.”
With her victory, Combess also earned a place in the National Miss Rural Electrification Beauty Pageant in New Orleans, an invitation which led her and her parents to take their first plane ride.
Perhaps more importantly, she won a scholarship that would help Combess, already a good student, become the first person in her family to graduate from college.
She later opened an embroidery shop (Creative Stitches) in Frankfort, where she and her husband raised their children. Combess ran the shop successfully for 24 years, eventually selling it to an employee.
She credits her success as an entrepreneur to a number of factors, including the work ethic she learned on the farm, her inclination to “always set my goals high” and the advice she received to always do a little bit more.
Lory Beth Holbrook, October 1999
“My mom was super excited,” says Lory Beth Vanhook (formerly Holbrook), referring to her own appearance on the cover of Kentucky Living. “She had it framed and it’s on her dresser in her bedroom to this day.”
Vanhook appeared on the cover sitting on a tractor above the words “Future Farmer.” She’d earned the designation by being the first woman to win the Future Farmers of America’s State Star Agribusinessman award.
Vanhook grew up in an agriculture family in Wolfe County. Her parents, Ted and Kaye, ran Holbrook Implement Company (now Holbrook Equipment), which sells farm machinery and supplies in Campton. Lory Beth worked there throughout high school and then followed in her parents’ academic footsteps by becoming an agriculture major at UK.
Plans change, of course. As a student at UK, she heard a speech pathologist speak one day and says that right then, “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Today, Vanhook is a speech pathologist in Somerset and loves the work. “It’s so rewarding,” she says, “from helping a child say their first word to helping a stroke patient who’s just come off a feeding tube eat their first meal.”
That said, this magazine’s prediction turned out to be accurate. Vanhook may have another career, but she’s still upholding her family’s tradition. In 2018, she and her husband, John, bought a 180-acre farm where they’re raising cattle and their three kids.
Coty Minnis, July 2001
“After school, I had to go to the park,” says Coty Minnis, who appeared on the cover of the July 2001 issue, brandishing a soccer ball. He was 10.
The park in question was Shelby County Clear Creek Park, where his dad, Albert “Chip” Minnis, worked in various capacities, including as assistant athletic director and occasional coach.
While many of today’s child athletes might be more likely to specialize, Minnis and his siblings found joy in all kinds of games. “I loved it,” Minnie remembers. “I’d get done with soccer go over to the baseball field.”
He says, “I thank my parents for allowing me to play all those different sports,” because on the fields of his hometown’s public parks, he learned, “a lot of life lessons—how to work with others … taking responsibility, holding yourself accountable.”
He also developed his own athletic skills. Minnis played basketball on teams that made state tournament and he played football at Georgetown College, performing well enough as a starting wide receiver to earn an NFL draft profile at ESPN.com. A wrist injury ended his pro dreams, in part because, “I didn’t have the passion to put my body through what it takes to play at that level.”
Minnis still has a passion for sports and for what playing sports can do for young people. That’s led him to coaching, most recently as an assistant boys’ coach at Doss High School in Louisville. He’s recently gone back to school to get his teaching certificate so he can teach full-time as a special education teacher and coach.
Like his dad before him, Minnis works to convey to his players the character-building lessons team sports offer, while also, he says, “Making sure they’re having fun.”