A1 A1
top story
Ashby announces plans to retire as school superintendent

Many tears were shed at the Hopkins County School Board meeting Monday when Superintendent Dr. Deanna Ashby announced her retirement, effective June 30.

After 29 years with the local school system, Ashby said a desire to spend more time with family was the driving force behind her decision.

“Through the years, I have been blessed beyond measure by students, colleagues and the community,” she said. “I was warmly welcomed to the Hopkins County Schools family and developed a firm foundation for a rewarding career.”

Ashby said the decision to retire was not due to the ongoing pandemic.

“While this year has been very stressful on everybody, it is not the reason I am retiring,” she said. “I think if anything, it has caused all of us — within our staff, administrators and in our community — to pull together.”

In the early 1990s, Ashby took a job at the former South Hopkins High School as a business and marketing teacher and cheerleading coach. Since that time, she has served as principal of Hanson Elementary; district director of secondary instruction; principal, assistant principal, and guidance counselor at Madisonville North Hopkins High School and assistant superintendent of student services before accepting the superintendent position in 2016.

“My time serving in various district leadership positions has given me the opportunity to develop long-lasting friendships and valued colleagues across the county and state,” she said.

During the meeting, Ashby noted several accomplishments she was most proud to be a part of, including placing school resource officers at every school, building a top-notch district leadership team, creating an Inclusivity Committee and HCS Health Task Force that provides greater resources to students and staff and fostering the #TeamHopkins philosophy and culture of working together across the district.

“There have been many heartfelt moments and life-changing events that have occurred during my 29 years in education,” said Ashby.

Many people at the meeting spoke about how Ashby changed their lives and reflected on when they first met. The entire board thanked Ashby for her commitment to the students and her creativity.

Board member J.W. Durst said her creativity and determination translated to the board, which made each of them better board members.

The board said it will announce plans to form a search committee to begin the process of finding Ashby’s replacement at its Monday meeting.

In other news from Monday’s meeting, the board:

• recognized Browning Springs Middle School Custodian Kendra Davis and the entire cafe staff at Hopkins County Central High Schools with the #LionChaser/#GiantSlayer award for their dedication to the school and its students.

• approved the graduation dates and rain dates for Hopkins County Academy, Hopkins County Central High and Madisonville North Hopkins High.

The Academy’s graduation will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 13 at Hopkins Central.

Hopkins Central’s graduation ceremony is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 20. Madisonville North’s graduation will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, May 21.

• approved an agreement with the Ballard Convention Center to host ACT testing for Hopkins County Central and Madisonville North Hopkins juniors.

• approved invoice payments to Downey Construction in the amount of $138,651.55 for the Browning Springs Middle School Fieldhouse/Bus Driver Training Center.

• approved invoice payments to Lynn Blue Print & Supply Co., Inc. in the amount of $21,857.77 for blue prints for the new Hanson Elementary School.

• approved invoice payments to Ronald Johnson & Associates for $300 and Sherman Carter Barnhart Architects PLLC for $9,876.05 for architect services for the new Hanson Elementary School.

• approved invoice payments to SKY Engineering in the amount of $11,760 for mechanical designs for the James Madison Middle School cooling tower.

• approved to advertise for bids to replace the network cabling in Madisonville North Hopkins High School, South Hopkins Middle School, Pride Elementary and Grapevine Elementary.

• approved an agreement for the Hopkins County Central High School and Madisonville North Hopkins High School swim teams to use the Hopkins County Family YMCA pool.

approved the purchase of the builder’s risk policy from Cincinnati Insurance Company for construction of the new Hanson Elementary School.

approved a memorandum of agreement with the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative and partnering local law enforcement to help improve school safety.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 1 at the Hopkins County Career and Technology Center.

Chamber recognizes Baptist Health employees' commitment to patients

What would 2020 have looked like for Hopkins County without Baptist Health Madisonville?

That question was asked by the immediate past chair of the Hopkins County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Aaron Spencer, when he presented Baptist Health Madisonville with the 2020 Business of the Year Award.

“It is hard to put into words how much the business community values and appreciates each and every Baptist Health employee,” said Spencer. “Despite their fears, challenges with childcare and everything else we faced in 2020, they have never failed in their commitment to care for their patients.”

Christy Tapp, a registered nurse in the COVID-19 Unit, said the recognition from the community is a token of appreciation for what they are doing at the hospital.

“As hard as it is, as many hours as we put in and the impact it has had on staff and family, it has also had an impact on the community,” she said. “It is an appreciation award to let us know that they are supporting us and they do recognize what we are doing,” she said.

Through the pandemic the hospital staff showed up to work because that’s what they do, she said.

“We show up, and that is the most important thing because we can’t help people, we can’t fix this if we are not here,” said Tapp.

In the beginning, when very little was known about the COVID-19 virus, it was a scary time for the patients and staff, she said. The patients didn’t know what was going to happen and the staff was afraid of infecting their families.

“We have learned so much in the past year that I never dreamed we would be doing nursing and patient care this way,” said Tapp.

She said the hospital has developed ways to keep families involved by using Facetime to allow interaction with patients. In addition, staff tries to communicate with the patient’s family throughout the day despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“It is difficult for them, they have no idea what is going on with their family,” she said.

Cathy Cobb, a registered nurse in the Critical Care Unit, said the only way staff has gotten through this challenging time is by leaning on each other and the community for support.

“In Critical Care, we have had in the beginning, more losses than victories and that is hard on families that can’t be here to hold the hand of the person they loved,” she said. “They have drawn support from us, but I have gotten a great amount of support from the families.”

Cobb said the pandemic has asked a lot of people, and she knows the community is hurting, but the best way to get through it is for everyone to do everything they can to protect themselves and their loved ones.

“It takes every single one of us to get through this, and this will forever change us, but I also think we will be a lot stronger and have better relationships,” she said.

With a hopeful end in sight, everyone has to remain diligent in wearing masks, socially distancing and getting vaccinated when able, she said.

“Nobody wants to be back with our families more than any of us, so I know the community is feeling the same way,” said Cobb.

Cobb and Tapp said the community has been extremely supportive during the pandemic through prayers and food donations.

“They have rallied us throughout the entire thing,” said Tapp.

While Baptist Health Madisonville was the first business to be recognized by the Hopkins County Regional Chamber of Commerce, it won’t be the last as plans call for additional awards to be announced each Monday in March.

Semi believed to be linked to Dawson man's death located

By The Messenger Staff

Investigators have found a semitrailer they believe hit and killed a Dawson Springs man earlier this month, according to a news release from the Kentucky State Police Post 2.

The body of 29-year-old Michael Andrew Dowd was found off of the southbound lanes of I-69 near Nortonville Sunday, Feb. 7.

On Thursday, the KSP announced investigators were looking for a white 2018-2022 Freightliner Cascadia semitrailer in connection to Dowd’s death, saying the suspected vehicle would have damage to the passenger headlight assembly and hood.

At 10:40 p.m. Friday, the state police post announced that troopers were able to find the semitrailer after receiving multiple tips from the public. No further details were released about the vehicle or its driver, but KSP Post 2 says the investigation is ongoing.

State police have said its possible the driver of the semitrailer they believe hit Dowd didn’t realize they’d hit a person — instead possibly believing they’d struck an animal or an object in the road.

Virus’s tragic reach claims half million in U.S.

For weeks after Cindy Pollock began planting tiny flags across her yard — one for each of the more than 1,800 Idahoans killed by COVID-19 — the toll was mostly a number. Until two women she had never met rang her doorbell in tears, seeking a place to mourn the husband and father they had just lost.

Then Pollock knew her tribute, however heartfelt, would never begin to convey the grief of a pandemic that has now claimed 500,000 lives in the U.S. and counting.

“I just wanted to hug them,” she said. “Because that was all I could do.”

After a year that has darkened doorways across the U.S., the pandemic surpassed a milestone Monday that once seemed unimaginable, a stark confirmation of the virus's reach into all corners of the country and communities of every size and makeup.

“It’s very hard for me to imagine an American who doesn’t know someone who has died or have a family member who has died,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We haven’t really fully understood how bad it is, how devastating it is, for all of us.”

Experts warn that about 90,000 more deaths are likely in the next few months, despite a massive campaign to vaccinate people. Meanwhile, the nation’s trauma continues to accrue in a way unparalleled in recent American life, said Donna Schuurman of the Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Oregon.

At other moments of epic loss, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans have pulled together to confront crisis and console survivors. But this time, the nation is deeply divided. Staggering numbers of families are dealing with death, serious illness and financial hardship. And many are left to cope in isolation, unable even to hold funerals.

“In a way, we’re all grieving,” said Schuurman, who has counseled the families of those killed in terrorist attacks, natural disasters and school shootings.

In recent weeks, virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day.

Still, at half a million, the toll recorded by Johns Hopkins University is already greater than the population of Miami or Kansas City, Missouri. It is roughly equal to the number of Americans killed in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. It is akin to a 9/11 every day for nearly six months.

"The people we lost were extraordinary,” President Joe Biden said Monday, urging Americans to remember the individual lives claimed by the virus, rather than be numbed by the enormity of the toll.

“Just like that,” he said, “so many of them took their last breath alone.”

The toll, accounting for 1 in 5 deaths reported worldwide, has far exceeded early projections, which assumed that federal and state governments would marshal a comprehensive and sustained response and individual Americans would heed warnings.

Instead, a push to reopen the economy last spring and the refusal by many to maintain social distancing and wear face masks fueled the spread.

The figures alone do not come close to capturing the heartbreak.

“I never once doubted that he was not going to make it. ... I so believed in him and my faith,” said Nancy Espinoza, whose husband, Antonio, was hospitalized with COVID-19 last month.

The couple from Riverside County, California, had been together since high school. They pursued parallel nursing careers and started a family. Then, on Jan. 25, Nancy was called to Antonio’s bedside just before his heart beat its last. He was 36 and left behind a 3-year-old son.

“Today it’s us. And tomorrow it could be anybody,” Nancy Espinoza said.

By late last fall, 54 percent of Americans reported knowing someone who had died of COVID-19 or had been hospitalized with it, according to a Pew Research Center poll. The grieving was even more widespread among Black Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.

Deaths have nearly doubled since then, with the scourge spreading far beyond the Northeast and Northwest metropolitan areas slammed by the virus last spring and the Sun Belt cities hit hard last summer.

In some places, the seriousness of the threat was slow to sink in.

When a beloved professor at a community college in Petoskey, Michigan, died last spring, residents mourned, but many remained doubtful of the threat's severity, Mayor John Murphy said. That changed over the summer after a local family hosted a party in a barn. Of the 50 who attended, 33 became infected. Three died, he said.

“I think at a distance people felt 'This isn’t going to get me,'” Murphy said. “But over time, the attitude has totally changed from ‘Not me. Not our area. I’m not old enough,’ to where it became the real deal.”

For Anthony Hernandez, whose Emmerson-Bartlett Memorial Chapel in Redlands, California, has been overwhelmed handling burial of COVID-19 victims, the most difficult conversations have been the ones without answers, as he sought to comfort mothers, fathers and children who lost loved ones.

His chapel, which arranges 25 to 30 services in an ordinary month, handled 80 in January. He had to explain to some families that they would need to wait weeks for a burial.

“At one point, we had every gurney, every dressing table, every embalming table had somebody on it,” he said.

In Boise, Idaho, Pollock started the memorial in her yard last fall to counter what she saw as widespread denial of the threat. When deaths spiked in December, she was planting 25 to 30 new flags at a time. But her frustration has been eased somewhat by those who slow or stop to pay respect or to mourn.

“I think that is part of what I was wanting, to get people talking,” she said, “Not just like, ‘Look at how many flags are in the yard today compared to last month,’ but trying to help people who have lost loved ones talk to other people.”


Associated Press video journalist Eugene Garcia contributed to this story.