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.

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.”