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BGCAP Driver Rebecca Hafley (left) and RTEC Driver Michael Dixon (above) were among those who kept free relief rides going in the Mayfield/Graves County area.

Commonwealth 'cavalry' helps keep FCTA's tornado relief program going

By Kim Jobe

Fulton County Transit Authority Marketing Director

Just like in the old TV Westerns, Fulton County Transit Authority put out a call for help and the “Transit cavalry” showed up.

On December 17, a week after a tornado tore through portions of Western Kentucky, FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton sent out a call to members of the Kentucky Public Transit Association for assistance – in the form of 10 vehicles and 10 drivers - to help with relief efforts in Cayce and Mayfield/Graves County.  

KPTA answered quickly and largely.

Later that day, the FCTA Leadership Team put together a plan of action for the tornado relief transportation utilizing FCTA personnel and the visiting drivers from across the Commonwealth. That weekend, drivers from Paducah Area Transit System (PATS), Murray-Calloway Transit Agency, Audubon Area Community Services, Inc., and Pennyrile Allied Community Services Organization, Inc. arrived in Mayfield to work.

Under the leadership of FCTA Operations Manager Rachel Cook and FCTA Driver Supervisor Frank Glisson, the volunteer drivers transported those displaced residents from local hotels and shelters to seek assistance from state and governmental agencies as well as food and supplies from donation sites around the area on Saturday and Sunday. Some of the drivers transported those assigned to the area Kentucky State Parks, with what belongings they had gathered up, to their temporary shelter. 

Sunday evening, three vehicles and three drivers from Bluegrass Community Action Partnership, Inc. arrived in Fulton to go to work in the Mayfield area Monday morning. Throughout the week before Christmas and the next week, drivers from Federated Transportation Service of the Bluegrass (FTSB), Rural Transit Enterprises Coordinated, Inc. (RTEC), Frankfort Transit System, and Transit Authority of River City (TARC) also arrived ready to do what they do best – moving people from place to place.

Transit Authority of River City (TARC) also brought a Louisville city bus loaded with supplies and employees to the area to help make certain water, baby formula, diapers, and other items were available for those needing them.

When asked, many of the drivers said they really didn’t know what to expect from their assignment.

“I took a guy over to his apartment building near downtown Mayfield,” said Rebecca Hafley, a driver from Bluegrass Community Action Partnership, Inc. in Frankfort. “He had lived on the third floor. The whole upstairs was gone.”

The man, Hafley said, told her that he heard a tornado was headed their way and attempted to get his neighbors to evacuate to the building’s basement with him. One refused, Hafley recalled the man saying, and was found later under a fallen wall where she perished.

“You can see his belongings and his clothes still hanging in the closet there,” Hafley said, pointing to the apartment building and the area where the man had once resided.

Driving through a neighborhood near downtown Mayfield where cleanup had yet to begin, Hafley said the devastation was amazing and weighed somewhat heavily on her emotions.

“I’ve been through downtown way too many times,” the driver added. “It’s very sad.”

Hafley also said seeing the Mayfield/Graves County area in person gives you a better perspective of the power of the storm than seeing it on TV.

“You’re more desensitized sitting at home,” Hafley explained.

Driving a woman from a church in Mayfield to a hotel in Paducah, Hafley said the woman began sharing about her experience during the tornado.

“She said during the storm she fell on her knees and began praying, ‘Lord, Jesus, save me!’,” Hafley recalled. “And he did.”

Hafley also recalled transporting a woman who was at home in a Mayfield housing project prior to the storm.

“She said her apartment is the only thing still upright there,” Hafley said. “She opened the front window and a back window and locked her and her doggie in the bathroom. She believes that saved them.”

The kindness and goodness of humanity made a real mark on the BGCAP driver while in the Mayfield/Graves County area.

“People from everywhere have come to Mayfield and are making a difference,” Hafley said. “I took some people to Mayfield High School. When we pulled up, some volunteers asked one man how many children he had. When he told them two, they gave him two gift cards with $500 each on them – one for each child – and age-appropriate toys for the children as well.”

Given the widespread damage and the amount of people forced from their homes because of the tornado, Hafley thought she would be busier.

“We have transported quite a few people, though,” she added.

Her last day spent volunteering in the area had Hafley driving to and from Mayfield and two of the state parks housing area residents which did keep her from being idle too much.

Hafley admitted the only thing she didn’t know what to expect about the area was what was available and what wasn’t for herself, her husband – who is also a BGCAP driver – and their coworker.

“I was worried about what would be available to eat,” Hafley admitted. “So, we went to the store and got Pop Tarts, honey buns, dry cereal, instant oatmeal, peanut butter and crackers – “snacky” stuff we could eat on if we had to. But we really haven’t needed it.”

Michael Dixon, Operations Manager for Rural Transit Enterprises Coordinated, Inc. (RTEC) in Mount Vernon was another driver who was impacted by his time spent helping those who were displaced by the December 10 storm.

“I had a few thoughts in my head on what the City of Mayfield would look like once we got there,” Dixon said. “It’s safe to say the pictures and media didn’t do it justice on what it looks like in person. I was overwhelmed.”

The destruction of all the buildings and houses are a memory that Dixon said would always be with him.

“One of the ladies I took to the high school to get supplies, she and her daughter were in the candle factory that night. She said she was on top of her daughter covering her up and they were trapped for five hours,” Dixon recalled. “They were unhurt, but their friend was five feet from them, and she passed away. That’s sad.”

A veteran of the United States Navy, Dixon said he has joined in relief work oversees in other countries.

“This was by far the worst destruction I have been a part of,” Dixon said. “Hopefully they will be able to build back this beautiful town soon.”

Other volunteer drivers may not have openly shared their experiences with the tornado relief, but many left visibly changed from their time spent in Mayfield/Graves County. One driver left Mayfield in tears as she was heading towards home. Several others told Glisson, their FCTA guide in the area, that the time spent driving those residents displaced by the storm gave them a more heartwarming and profound definition of the “spirit of giving” during the holiday season.

FCTA drivers were not absent during the early part of the tornado relief in the storm damaged areas. Several spent their workday staged near First Baptist Church in Cayce assisting those in need of transportation or ready to move volunteers from one place to another. Other FCTA drivers spent time between their medical or other calls shuttling displaced residents from sites to receive federal, state, or local assistance to churches and other areas to get supplies or a hot meal. Much of the time the drivers were someone to listen as survivors recalled their personal stories of December 10 and how the storm affected them.

“This really helped put a purpose to why we exist,” FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton said. “It’s about helping people and providing for their needs no matter the situation. We are more than taking people to the grocery store or to medical visits. Helping people in disasters is part of our mission as well.”

The agency leader has had a mantra of sorts during his years of service to the community.

“I have said many times when I lay my head on the pillow at night that I know we helped people that day,” Etherton said. “We proudly serve four counties. We are a part of every community we serve. We are there for them no matter what even in the day-to-day transportation.”

Etherton knows FCTA is fortunate that the foresight was there 35 years ago when it was established.

“We are an asset to these four counties,” Etherton added “We are truly going and coming your way, no matter what the way is.”

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FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton, Operations Manager Rachel Cook, and Driver Supervisor Frank Glisson helped Transit Authority of River City employees deliver donations they gathered in Louisville for area tornado victims. The group delivered about $7,500 worth of supplies via a city bus.

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TOP EMPLOYEE - Kenny Patterson has been named Fulton County Transit Authority Employee of the Year for 2021. The annual honor is chosen by secret ballot voting by FCTA employees. Patterson, a resident of Clinton, has been FCTA Mechanic for five years. “Kenny is a valued member of our maintenance team,” said FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton. Pictured (left to right) are Patterson and Etherton.

FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton, Operations Manager Rachel Cook, and Driver Supervisor Frank Glisson helped Transit Authority of River City employees deliver donations they gathered in Louisville for area tornado victims. The group delivered about $7,500 worth of supplies via a city bus.

Transit agency delivers supplies via city bus

Area residents who thought they saw a large, gray city bus traveling on I-69 and Purchase Parkway Tuesday weren’t seeing an optical illusion. It was, indeed, a city bus. 

Transit Authority of River City (TARC) sent one of their newer buses to Western Kentucky from Louisville. Signs on the bus stated the vehicle was on a tornado relief mission. Aboard the bus were employees of the agency and a large quantity of supplies including bottled water, diapers, baby formula, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other necessities for residents of Mayfield and Graves County.

“The collection of supplies was greatly appreciated,” said Fulton County Transit Authority Executive Director Kenney Etherton. “This shows that every walk of life in the Commonwealth is coming together where other Kentuckians are in need.”

Driving an FCTA vehicle, Operations Manager Rachel Cook and Marketing Director Kim Jobe led the TARC bus to the Mayfield/Graves County Fairgrounds. FCTA Driver Supervisor Frank Glisson met the group at the fairgrounds to assist with the delivery of the items. The employees of both agencies joined the volunteers at the “infield” to help place the donations on wooden pallets so they could be distributed to the sites within the area for pickup as needed.

This was not the first Transit agency to send assistance to the area damaged by the December 10 tornadoes.

“We’ve had agencies supply us with drivers and vehicles,” Etherton explained. “We’ve provided over 300 rides to displaced residents in Fulton and Graves counties from the volunteer drivers over the past two weeks. Without the help of our partner agencies, we would not have been able to perform the services needed at this time.”

The FCTA leader is extremely grateful to those who have helped.

“Thanks is a small word for the assistance we have received,” Etherton said. “When the tornado hit the Mayfield/Graves County area on December 10, we lost 11 vehicles from our fleet at our office on North Ninth Street. That’s why our partners’ help was so greatly valued. The overall support has been almost emotionally overwhelming at times and proves there is still a lot of goodness in mankind with neighbors helping neighbors.”

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TOP EMPLOYEE - Kenny Patterson has been named Fulton County Transit Authority Employee of the Year for 2021. The annual honor is chosen by secret ballot voting by FCTA employees. Patterson, a resident of Clinton, has been FCTA Mechanic for five years. “Kenny is a valued member of our maintenance team,” said FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton. Pictured (left to right) are Patterson and Etherton.

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FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton and Assistant Director Paul Maxwell pose with FCTA Buildings and Grounds Maintenance Manager Chris Brown (left) and FCTA Dispatcher/Call Taker Christy Snow after they received their awards in Lexington recently.

FCTA employees receive statewide accolades

Two Fulton County Transit Authority employees received statewide recognition in Lexington recently for their superb work ethics and abilities.

During the 2021 Kentucky Public Transit Association Conference, FCTA Buildings and Grounds Maintenance Supervisor Chris Brown was named Supervisory Staff of the Year for service provided in the field of Transportation while FCTA Dispatcher/Call Taker Christy Snow was named CSR of the Year - Outstanding Customer Service.

“I am proud of our team at FCTA,” said Executive Director Kenney Etherton. “Christy Snow is, without a doubt, a caring person and it shows every day when she answers the phone. She tries to find a way to help get our client’s service. She also works with all FCTA staff to find the most efficient way for us to provide service daily. Christy is a team player.”

Etherton noted Brown’s amazing ability with vehicle maintenance and repair.

“There is not much Chris Brown doesn’t know about a FCTA vehicle,” Etherton said. “He has 65 ‘children’ and knows how to take care of them. You tell Chris what a vehicle sounds like, and he can probably tell you what’s wrong with it. His 21 years of experience is what helps keep us rolling every day.

“FCTA has a great team of people, and we are proud to be serving the counties of West Kentucky. Join me in congratulation two of our state award winning team members,” Etherton added.

Brown, a native of Michigan who moved to Union City, TN, when his father was transferred with Goodyear, began working at FCTA as a shop helper in 2006 and worked his way up to Maintenance Supervisor in six years.

The Leadership Team member grew from maintaining and repairing vehicles from a small toolbox in a portable building to a two-vehicle maintenance building. Brown’s knowledge of vehicles is amazing and there are few mechanical issues that he cannot fix. Because of his knowledge and abilities, FCTA has been able to save thousands of dollars from in-house repairs and maintenance measures. His preventive maintenance measures equal any within the Commonwealth. Throughout his more than two decades of service, Brown has been able to keep high milage vehicles running safely and efficiently. He keeps superb vehicle maintenance records, and all required reports are updated and submitted in a time manner.

Snow, who has been employed at FCTA for almost four years, worked daily throughout the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to make certain the agency lived up to its motto of “Going & Coming Your Way.” She never complained or griped through it all and made certain those life-sustaining and other necessary trips during that time were made efficiently. A team player, Snow never hesitates to cover shifts and goes above and beyond for FCTA.

“It’s an honor to be recognized on a statewide level,” Snow said. “I do my job the best I can. You have to have a lot of patience and some days more patience than others.”

A graduate of South Fulton (TN) High School, Snow has been married to her husband, Mike, for 33 years. She has three children and two grandchildren.

“Christy is one of the most patient and understanding women that FCTA has employed here,” said Operations Manager Rachel Cook who nominated Snow. “She is determined to help FCTA run as efficiently as possible. She has never hesitated to take another team member under her wing to train and show them how FCTA operates.”

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Fulton City Manager Mike Gunn and FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton participated in a Zoom meeting recently with four officials connected to the Fulton Amtrak Station construction project.

New local Amtrak station plans remain on track

According to Fulton County Transit Authority Director Kenney Etherton, the wheels are moving slowly, but still on track for a new Amtrak station in Fulton.

Etherton and Fulton City Manager Mike Gunn recently participated in a Zoom meeting with four officials connected to the station project including Project Manager Johnathan Johnston; Ellen Pannell, Third Party ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act); Derrick James, Senior Manager of Government Affairs for Amtrak; and Karen Feider, Third Party ADA.

During the meeting, the two Fulton officials learned that the station design is currently 60 percent complete. The Fulton station is one of 500 Amtrak stations in the United States undergoing an ADA upgrade. The new station will be fully ADA accessible. The design will incorporate ADA parking and ADA ramps. A wheelchair ramp and lift will be incorporated on the platform to assist with getting those who need to use it on the train.

Specifics included in the meeting also included that the station itself will be comprised of 425 square feet for the interior waiting room. There will be 800 total square feet within the structure that will add a maintenance area and bathrooms in addition to the interior waiting room.

The preliminary plans also included an external awning for those wishing to or needing to wait for the train outside of the building as it will only be open for one hour before the train arrives and one hour after it leaves.

The station doors will be fitted with time locks and lighting there will be controlled technologically as well. Conductors will have the ability to bring the station lights to 100% use before the train arrives at the station.

Amtrak will be providing what is called a memorial sign for the station itself on the corner of Newton Road and the access road to the station. Local officials will obtain right of way access for a sign on Newton Road and U.S. 51 directing motorists into the station itself.

Local funds which were previously raised for construction of the railroad station are currently deposited in a Fulton area bank and is being overseen by the Twin Cities Restoration Foundation of which Etherton serves as president. Part of the funds were raised with a memorial brick drive and those bricks will be used in a landscaping project near the station itself.

“The Twin Cities Restoration Foundation will be upgrading and enhancing that project,” Etherton said.

There is also a proposed plan for another memorial of some sort to stand alongside the bricks and landscaping.

Gunn stated that some of the local funding may also be used for security cameras at the station which are not being included in the Amtrak design. Local officials will be responsible for maintaining these cameras as well.

Etherton and Gunn will meet with the Amtrak officials again when the design phase reaches 90 percent. The group stated they expect the drawings to be completed by mid-January 2022.

Construction for the new station is proposed to start in Fall 2022 at the latest. According to Etherton, the funding for the project is included in the Federal Fiscal Year 23 budget which starts in October 2022.

“Construction could happen in April or May of 2022, but most likely won’t,” Gunn said the officials revealed in the meeting.

No drawings of the proposed train station were released for public view during this meeting as all drawings were only a little more than halfway complete and subject to change.

Following the meeting, Gunn mentioned two “hoops” that the station officials stated must be jumped through relating to the project. These included the National Historic Preservation Act’s (NHPA) Section 106 Survey which is designed to make effective management decisions about archaeological resources in the station’s area. The other has to do with the State Historic Preservation Office and making certain any historic area is kept intact.

“It’s slow and on track, but it’s moving forward,” Etherton said. “We are looking forward to seeing it at 90% completed now.”