Feature Maddie Blankley

Music For Life

Teacher brings her love of voice into the classroom

By Maddie Blankley

Heather Lawson

Heather Lawson works as an adjunct professor at Campbellsville University, all while developing the younger music community through vocal and piano lessons and still performing in shows.

Lawson’s life has been filled with music in different ways since she was born, which is what made her want to pursue a career in it.

Feature Kiki Wagner

Gettin’ Wiggy With It

Behind the scenes with a rising costume design major

By Kiki Wagner

Raegan Calvert puts the finishing touches on car crash victim Thomas Yehling

“Wigs flying in the air,”, “sweaty seven-second costume changes,” and “backstage adrenaline rushes” are only some of the thrills of being a wig and makeup design major, according to Raegan Calvert.

Behind the curtains, Calvert and her wig designer run around backstage with the “actors’ sweaty shirts and jackets like mad men.”

“As dorky as it sounds, I get such an adrenaline rush from working backstage,” Calvert said. “It’s not as glamorous as being in front of the curtains, but it’s equally as important.”

Feature Meredith Neltner

Python Perfect

WKU student thinks outside the box with her new pet

By Meredith Neltner

McCall Ponzer

After two years in the dorm, it was finally time for McCall Ponzer to move into her first apartment and more importantly, get her first pet. It couldn’t be a boring, high-maintenance pet.
It needed to be interesting, yet easy to take care of despite her busy lifestyle.

“I saw one of my high school friends post a picture of her snake on Snapchat, and I thought it was so cute. That’s when I decided to do some deeper research,” Ponzer said.

Turns out ball pythons are gentle snakes who require feeding once a week. For someone who describes themselves as irresponsible, like Ponzer, this seems more manageable than a more high-maintenance pet like a dog or a cat.

Annalee Hubbs Long Reads Uncategorized

Save the republic for Ralph Smeed

A chance meeting leads to a strong ‘tie.’

Chris Derry
Western Kentucky University Professor Chris Derry ties one on each day for his life influencer, Ralph Smeed.

By Annalee Hubbs

It was Sept. 7, 2010, and several men wearing fitted black suits tucked one-of-a-kind bolo ties neatly beneath their button-down collars before lining up as honorary pallbearers for the funeral of a man who had become a constant in their lives — up until his death.

The bolo ties were gifted by this man, and the pallbearers were expected to keep them in his honor. Self-titled as the “Bolo Brigade,” the pallbearers swore a blood oath that day to wear bolo ties henceforward, and one man in particular did just that.

Chris Derry is known throughout WKU’s marketing department as the man whose daily attire is unwavering. He wears suspenders and a different bolo tie each day because to him, a promise is a promise.

On the first day of class each semester, the Barnesville, Ohio, native tells his students a story of the funeral he attended as an honorary pallbearer and how he left it a strict member of the Bolo Brigade.

That first tie Derry received from the funeral, a braided leather cord threaded through a pink agate, is the tie he wears on the first day of class. Although there wasn’t any blood involved in their blood oath, the gusto behind it was no less impactful for Derry, who thinks of his old friend, Ralph Smeed, every time he gets ready for work in the morning.

“He was an inspiration to me,” Derry said.

Long Reads Manny Dixon-Peralta Uncategorized

Being Jerry Wayne

Sarah and Jerry Wayne are heading toward 50 years of marriage.

Leading a full life under the radar.

By Manny Dixon-Peralta

Burdine Street. Late July. The sun has fallen. All is quiet, bar the tunes of the crickets and cicadas drifting aimlessly into the warm summer dark. In his humble home, along this modest street in Somerset, Kentucky, Jerry Wayne, 76, is almost ready for bed.

He sits in his recliner, drinking a cold glass of water. The television is playing, but he is not watching.

He keeps it on to fill the quiet of the house.

His wife, Sarah Jane, 75, is on vacation with her sister in sunny California. They have been married more than 50 years. She loves him almost as much as the sound of her own voice.

He is not accustomed to the quiet.

On the mantle above the hearth sits an old clock. At the change of the hour, the show he was not watching comes to an end, and the clock chimes 10 times. He clambers up from the chair, slowly, and by the dim light of a lamp, begins making his bed on the couch.

Though the bedroom is vacant, he is accustomed to the feel of the couch, and climbing up into the bed would be too big a feat for his ever-aching back.

The television is now off as is the lamp. He lays still and stiff on the couch. He wears nothing but his bloomers — no blanket covers his hairy, freckled body.

The home is decorated with things he once was: a picture of him wading in a river fly fishing sits on the table by the lamp; his painting of a Native American man hangs above the old clock on the mantle; a plaque inscribed with “To ‘Mr. D’ our teacher, father, friend” hangs on the wall by his computer; and the plans of various houses and business around Somerset he designed sit stacked on his desk.

Of these things — fisherman, artist, teacher, architect — he was and still is.

But add old man to the list.

On the couch he does not sleep. There is a pain in his right side, and it is growing ever-more sharp. His breath becomes laborious, shallow, painful. He lays like this early into the morning, until it becomes unbearable.

Long Reads Sara Krog Uncategorized

A wounded soldier

Megan Karr suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder caused by sexual assault while she served in the military. She awaits a disability payment to compensate for how one night in 2009 changed her life. To acknowledge assault and rape in the armed forces, American military law has designated it officially as “military sexual trauma.”

Megan Karr faces mental and physical challenges that appear in myriad ways.

Story by Sara Krog

Photos by Sofie Skødt Mortensen

Megan Karr, 36, walks back and forth in her bedroom in Louisville, Kentucky, on a Friday in November 2019 looking for her hat in a pile of clothes.It does not hang on the wall with the rest of her neatly sorted hats — a contrast to the rest of her apartment, where most of her belongings lie all over the place.

She is still trying to get everything organized after moving in back to her home town in August, she says.

“It sounds stupid, but this dumb hat can make me relax,” Karr says. “Kind of in the same way as a kid relaxes with its favorite blanket. It is frustrating that I can’t find it. I saw it yesterday.”

Tonight, she gets easily irritated.

Earlier today, her divorce was final. The court decided that Karr’s two daughters, age 6 and 9, will live with her ex-wife.

If she stays away from alcohol, she can eventually gain shared custody.

Karr finally finds the hat.

She puts the green military cap onto her head and sits down in her brown armchair in front of her TV. Her service dog Blaze rests right beside her in the flickering light of the TV screen. He calms her down when she needs it and carries her medicine in a little dog bag.

This is how the U.S. Army Military Police veteran spends most of her time —  in the brown armchair. If the anxiety kicks in, it is easier just to stay in the dark living room and when Netflix is on, she can let out most of the bad thoughts and focus on the program. Today, she chose “Mindhunter.” She usually binge-watches because she can’t cope with cliff-hangers if an episode features an open ending.

“Some days it is even hard to get out of bed,” she says. “TV is really good for me if I need to shut down disturbing thoughts.”

All of these symptoms of the diagnoses Karr will carry for the rest of her life.

Her medical records show she suffers from anxiety, depression, tinnitus and a lower back injury. Her injuries came from working in the military, serving at Guantanamo Bay guarding some of the most dangerous accused terrorists in the world. It’s a time in her life that she is restricted from discussing publicly.

“They were never afraid to let us know that they intended to kill us if they had the chance,” she said. “Because of security circumstances we were unarmed. I have been in a fist fight with some of them, and I am a small woman. I have had all kinds of bodily fluids thrown at me.”

Most severe is her Traumatic Brain Injury and the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by an episode she describes as a rape committed by two former colleagues. The case was never prosecuted. The Department of Veteran Affairs has recognized that this serious trauma will never leave her. She suffers from military sexual trauma, a term now used in American military legislation.

Annalee Hubbs Long Reads Uncategorized

From death ’till we part

The embalmer’s story is a tale of art and heart.

By Annalee Hubbs

Kevin Kirby, a Bowling Green funeral director, leads his life knowing the moment we breathe we start taking our last breath.

He reckons we’re all just a blip in the grand scheme of things. But Kirby has been tending to death all his life and knows firsthand the toll it takes.

It’s hard, “helpin’ people get through things,” he says.

The last thing on earth you can do for a person is prepare their body for burial. Some believe a body carries a soul throughout life.

Some end up on a table ready for embalming, and they get dressed and dolled up for an open-casket funeral.

Others must be pieced back together after a tragic accident — homicide, suicide, so many car accidents.

Embalming is tedious.

The embalmer replaces blood with chemicals.

Skin gets painted with Kalon restoration makeup to mimic the look and feel of a live human — for a little while.

Meeting the expectations of the deceased’s loved ones becomes the top priority because seeing people you love one last time comes with lasting impact.

“Death is not a terrible thing,” Kirby said. “But it is when it happens to you.”


Top Politics


Sanders is current front-runner in a tight race

Image Credit:

By Ken Barlow

The Democratic presidential primary race has no clear nominee. The party and many candidates have stated that their goal is to defeat President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, but this could be difficult since there is no candidate dominating the democratic primary elections.

Before the caucus and primary elections former Vice President Joe Biden was favored to win the Democratic nomination but is currently fifth in delegates. Biden announced his campaign on April 25th. Many believed that Biden would be the best candidate to defeat Trump. His electability was appealing and one of the reasons he was the leading candidate going into late January. However, after the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary election, Biden has fallen 11 points in polls conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post.

Currently, Sen. Bernie Sanders is leading the race for the nomination. ABC News and The Washington Post report that Sanders has increased in polls by 8% since Jan. 23. Sanders currently holds 21 delegates, second to Pete Buttigieg’s 22 delegates.

Long Reads Manny Dixon-Peralta Uncategorized

Fast (food) friends


The McDonald’s Man thinks you deserve a break today.

By Manny Dixon-Peralta

Monday. 3:30 a.m.: Jimmy Smith, 54, rises to the sound of a blaring alarm. His joints pop as he stretches out his arms to silence the electronic yell. To most, it is still the middle of the night.

For Jimmy, it is the start of new day.

Jimmy lets out a loud yawn, as he reaches for the pack on his nightstand, and fishes out a cigarette: a Marlboro Red 100. He takes long, slow draws and blows out thin-white clouds of smoke.

He enjoys the feeling. He takes his time.

After the butt is mashed into his ashtray, Jimmy rises from his bed and tiptoes across the hall to the bathroom. He is careful and quiet. He does not want to disturb his mother — asleep in the room next door.

In the bathroom, Jimmy showers, shaves and dresses. He stands for a moment, looking in the mirror. In a cup by the sink is a set of dentures. Jimmy picks them up, sets them to his gums.

Ensuring their placement, he smiles at his reflection.

Jeremy Chisenhall Long Reads Uncategorized

Dangerous steps when ‘walking the grain’

A Grave Mistake
Photo illustration by Jeremy Chisenhall

By Jeremy Chisenhall

Temperatures reached 91 degrees in Mount Carroll, Illinois, on the day rescuers pulled Alejandro “Alex” Pacas and Wyatt Whitebread’s dead bodies from a grain bin.

The heat started it all.

Whitebread fainted while “walking the grain,” in which a person enters the bin with an object like a piece of pipe or a shovel to try to loosen clumped-up grain, allowing it to flow out of the bin and onto a conveyer belt below.

None of the workers wore safety harnesses, and the corn beneath Whitebread gave way just before 10 a.m. Panicked, Pacas, 19, and Will Piper, 20, a coworker, tried to drag Whitebread out of the bin, said Catherine Rylatt, Pacas’ aunt and the founder of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition.

The two tried desperately to keep Whitebread from becoming a blip on the radar of a giant funnel of corn.

Just as they thought they grabbed Whitebread, the corn gave way beneath them, Rylatt said. An ocean of corn swallowed up Whitebread. Pacas and Piper became entrapped at that point, an OSHA investigation report stated.

Whitebread, 14, died first.