Wayne Stephenson

“I was in the Army for three years, and I was in with Elvis. We were in Germany together [and] he was just an ordinary guy, to be honest with you… He was just a country boy that made it good, and got rich.“

Wayne Stephenson, Retired Welder, Retired Pastor; Greenup, Kentucky:

“It was nice [growing up here]. It’s a lot like you see on Mayberry. We could walk to walk to the theatre and go in the on a movie for ten cents. We could walk home, and even after dark, no fear of anything happening to us. There used to be a dime store right there. The elementary school was right back of here, on our lunch hour, which we could never do today, we could come over in town, go wherever we wanted. We could come over and look at the things in the dime store. You could get something if you wanted to eat, if you had the money. It was a real safe place. Laid back town, and just about everybody knew everyone else. You could ride your bicycles up and down the street with no problem.

A group of us boys would gather a lot of times by the railroad track up there. We had an old hoop, didn’t have no net on it. We played basketball until dark, and then we’d go home. In the wintertime, we couldn’t do anything much because we had chores to do. We had to get in coal and wood, and stuff for the fire. My dad worked evening shift, and I had to do most of that, because I was the only boy. The other ones were so small they couldn’t do that, and they didn’t make the girls do that. They did the housework. (Laughs) 

[My parents] had eight kids, and wages weren’t that high. My Mom would can, oh, hundreds of [cans]! She didn’t can in quarts; she canned in half gallons because of the size of the family. We canned everything that we could. We canned tomatoes. We even canned sausage. Any more, it’s a lot more practical to just freeze it, because it’s easier, but we didn’t even have freezers. We had an icebox, and in the wintertime, everything froze outside. We always butchered two hogs in the fall, and my Dad would salt cure them, in a smokehouse. We didn’t smoke them. . We always had a milk cow. We had that meat and all the canned stuff, [and] that’s what we lived on during the winter. All she had to buy was flour and meal 

My Dad was the youngest of thirteen children, and I never saw my Grandma Stephenson, but my Grandpa Stephenson, I saw him. He died when I was six years old. My grandparents on my mother’s side were Sturgills, and they died pretty early, too. I was about fourteen or fifteen when they died. I didn’t get to hang out with them, but we were a family of eight kids, so there were never any dull moments around there.

Oh, my goodness, that’s been a long time since I was a boy. (Laughs) Dad was always talking about his work. He enjoyed farming [and] gardening. He had a job at a creosote plant in Russell and I used to go to work with him. It was a place where they pressure treated creosote ties and electric poles. It was on a railroad track, and he worked, he worked at that plant there several years until it went out of business. Then, he worked at the National Mine Service Company in in Ashland. They built mining equipment. 

Growing up, everywhere dad went, I went, too. We didn’t have a car, if you can believe that, with eight kids. If we had a real need, he would borrow my uncle’s car, once in a while. But everywhere we went, we walked, and I would take about three steps to Dad’s, to keep with up with him. I was the first boy that was born. I had five sisters. Four girls born, and then I was born, another girl, and then two boys. I just recently lost of my sisters. One died in December. She was eighty-three, and another one died in June, she was seventy-nine. We were a real close family, and still are. 

Mom was the disciplinarian. She always taught us to have respect for others, and when we didn’t, she didn’t spare the rod. I tell you that. I’ve often said, if we lived in an area today like it was then, with the discipline and stuff, dad would have been in jail. It is, but it didn’t hurt us [and] it probably did help our personality. 

Everybody knew everybody else. You didn’t really see poor people and wealthier people. There were those, but nobody emphasized it, nobody paid any attention to it, because the most of us were poor. But it was a nice town to grow up in. I really hated it, because a lot of the buildings and stuff they let go, and they didn’t restore them. 

The Blue Ribbon Bus would come down, and the Greyhound too, later on. Going south, it stopped right in front of the drug store there. You went in [the drugstore], and there was a little food bar on the right as you went in. It was a fountain and had stools down through there. They sold sandwiches and milkshakes, and Coke, and they had a pharmacy that was in the back. This pharmacy up here that’s in Greenup, Stultz Pharmacy? Well, Dave’s Grandpa was the one that run that one, and now his great-grandson is running Stultz Pharmacy, up here now. He was the type person, if you had something wrong and you needed medication, he’d go in there any hour of the night and open up and get it for you. 

After I finished high school, I went in the Army. I was in the Army for three years, and I was in with Elvis. We were in Germany together [and] he was just an ordinary guy, to be honest with you. The Post we were at, it wasn’t as big as Greenup. Twice a month, we’d have a mandatory, it wasn’t exercise, but you had to go out and either play football or do some kind of sports or something. He played football with us. Yeah, he was really nice. I talked to him several times, then one day, I took some pictures with him. We had an Open House for the Germans over there in that little town, and he was very popular then. [He was] a big man, but he never did do anything but his regular job. He never sang any. He never performed any. He was in the Tank Battalion, and the Tank Battalion and Armored Infantry Battalion were on the same Post, and we worked side by side with them. He was just a country boy that made it good, and got rich. 

I was in the Armored Infantry Battalion. It’s a lot like the regular infantry, but the difference is you traveled in the Armored Personnel Carriers, and you fought alongside tanks. I was in from ’58 to ‘61. Vietnam was already started when I got out, but see Vietnam was never declared a war, and therefore they couldn’t keep you after the date that you were supposed to be discharged. I was still in the active reserve for three years after I got out. Had it been declared a war, I would have been in Vietnam. I was just blessed, I guess, I didn’t have to go. A lot of others lost their lives; a lot from around here. 

After I left the Army, I came back here again. I went to vocational school, and then that’s when I moved to Illinois. It was hard to get a job around here then, [but] I got a good job working up there. When you’re young and you have to start a new way of life, you can adapt a lot easier than you can when you’ve lived a long time. I just adapted pretty well. 

My first wife and I had just got married when we moved up there. There were plenty of jobs to get up there. We finally we bought a house, and she got cancer of the uterus. She had to take treatments, and at that time they used experimental drugs on her. It was very hard on her, but she made it through it.

She always wanted to come back home to Kentucky. I promised her when she got well with cancer, we’d come back. She got a five-year clear physical that it was gone, so we decided to come back. 

Her father lived just about five hundred yards from where I live now. He had a farm, and he always told all his kids that they could have a piece of property to build their house on, but he didn’t want them to build it and sell it. He wanted them to stay on it, if they built it. 

She’d lived here all her life, and that’s where she was raised, out there on the farm. Before we moved back, we had two girls and she wanted our kids to be around their grandparents. We built a house there, and I’ve been there forty-three years. I’m glad we did, because they got to be around their grandparents, know my parents, and her parents, and I’ve never regretted that. But had she not got sick, and I had not made that promise, I was satisfied [and] I could have stayed right there [in Illinois]. I’m glad I didn’t now. 

My first wife got cancer again and she died in 1990. I remarried about two years later.

The first time I become a pastor, it was 1986. I was preaching at different places before then, but I was called as pastor in Little Sandy in 1986. I just yielded to the call and I went to school up at Southland Bible Institute. I preached at several different places. This church out there, where I’m at now…well, I’m not the pastor now, but it’s where I pastored. Their pastor left, and they called me, and it just so happened, it’s about two hundred and fifty yards from my house. 

The hardest part [of being a pastor] is dealing with someone who’s dissatisfied, or problems in the church, and you can’t solve them. Of course, it’s always hard to lose someone through death. I’ve had so many funerals in this town, in the last twenty-five years. 

There’s a little boy that lived out there by me. This has only been maybe ten, ten years ago, and his parents really didn’t care for him and he was just left to run up and down the road. We used to get him to go to Bible School [and] he’d come to Sunday school some. He went with a group over to the river and went swimming, and he wasn’t that great of a swimmer. He got out about halfway and couldn’t make it back, and he drowned. I had to have his funeral. It was really sad, because I knew him. He used to come to my house all the time. He’d always have to have his tire aired up on his bicycle, and he finally got him a little dirt bike, but he’d awful conveniently run out of gas in front of my house. I really, I still miss him. 

Anybody that lives here in this area, whether they admit it or not, are hillbillies, because that’s all we got are hills. [The media is] trying to make us less than someone in the larger cities and other parts of the country. To me, we got a better relationship and better culture than you see in New York City. You don’t seen homeless people on the street here. You don’t see drunks walking up and down the street. There is a drug problem around now, but that’s come from out of this area. Our culture, it’s different, and it’s not that we’re uneducated. A lot of people in this town are very educated. As a matter of fact, it’s safe to say there are a lot of millionaires in this town. [The media] try to downplay us, and try to make us look like hicks that don’t have any education.

I would like for [people] to remember me for the ministry, dealing with people in church and kids. I love kids, and we used to have a big ministry of teenagers when I went to Flatwoods Church. We have a lot of kids at our church today, too. If you don’t have kids growing up and getting the right teaching, and going and learning about the Lord while they’re young, they just drift away.”