Compiled by Rita Wood
The recipients of the 2014 Susan Arthur Historical Preservation Award worked very hard over their lifetimes to preserve and promote Knox County’s heritage and history. On October 6, 2014, Peggy Kemner and Irma Gall from the Lend-A-Hand Center were named as the ninth annual winners of the award. The two were honored by members of the GFWC/KFWC Junior Woman’s Study Club in recognition of their service to the people of Knox County and southeastern Kentucky.
Lend-A-Hand Center is a non-profit organization that was begun in 1958 as a result of a dream of Peggy Kemner, a nurse/midwife from Pennsylvania, and Irma Gall, a school teacher from Indiana. That was the year that history was in the making! They moved into a 100-year-old flood-ravaged house and farm on Stinking Creek which includes nearly 500 acres of mostly hillside and forestry.
Early in Peggy’s life she prepared herself for the job of becoming what she had always dreamed of, a midwife. She has done countless home deliveries in eastern Appalachia and especially the Stinking Creek area. Peggy got her degree in biology from Eastern Nazarene College and a three-year nursing degree at John Hopkins. In 1955 she proceeded to another three-year program that would give her the special midwifery education she needed.
Irma grew up on a farm in Indiana. She went to college but graduated without a profession because she did not know what career path she desired. She knew she was interested in doing some kind of missionary work, so in September 1955 she came to Flat Creek Mission in Clay County, KY and took a teaching job in a one-room schoolhouse across Red Bird River in Leslie County.
The next three years Peggy and Irma’s paths crossed numerous times. Both being from the north, yet residing in the hills of Appalachian KY, they were both considered “foreigners.” They shared ideas about their dreams of work and later those dreams became reality.
Part of these ladies’ dreams was to be self-supporting. They were not a mission from a church but a community mission. They developed these dreams when KCEOC hired Irma at $1,000 a month to be a part of the War on Poverty. A year later, Peggy was also hired as part-time health coordinator at KCEOC. Peggy visited all the schools as the county health nurse and earned the nickname “the nurse.”
Having both of them working with KCEOC, they heard of a new law that Congress was passing that was designed to help with health needs. This law was medicare. As they searched the bill, they saw things they had already been doing. So it seemed reasonable for them to apply for a pilot project called “Contracted Transportation.” This program provided transportation for medical needs.
In the fall of 1958 the nursing program started right away, and clinic was held twice a week in the new center, which was also Peggy’s home. From the start Peggy’s health services were done in the one-room schools, homes and community centers. There she has delivered many a baby at $25 each delivery, which included prenatal and postnatal services. As of today, Ms. Peggy has delivered at total of 509 babies.
It seemed only logical that they apply for another pilot project called home health. Within a year, they had all the paperwork completed, hired and trained personnel and got the program up and running. Peggy worked with the home health program from 1968 until 2008.
Irma’s early contributions were teaching in a one-room school until she became the health coordinator mentioned earlier. It was soon evident, however, that her biggest interest lay in building projects starting with the new house and then building the bridge over Stinking Creek, the new center in 1966, the barn in the 70’s, outbuildings and moving and rebuilding of a log cabin called “So Much.” She learned to lay rock and developed the farm which is known as the animal place. All of the buildings were dreamed up and constructed by Irma with the help of countless volunteers. The center building took approximately seven years to complete and served as a place for the 4-H activities, a medical clinic, housing for the 20-25 church work groups for weeks, and housing for the staff, family and volunteers.
Their family grew quickly as they soon saw the need to provide a home for children to continue their education through high school and even college. They don’t know how many grandchildren they have, and possibly even great grandchildren, but they did their part in making them all grand. These ladies have helped to preserve our Appalachian history by setting an example of compassion, service and cooperation with one another and those in the community. Irma Gall and Peggy Kemner are well known and loved and many families would not be where they are today without them. They have been very conscientious in living up to their name, Lend-A-Hand.
In addition to a plaque presented to the ladies, their names were added to a second plaque which hangs on the the Reception Room wall in the Knox Historical Museum. Previous winners of the Susan Arthur Award are Charles Reed Mitchell (2006), K.S. Sol Warren (2007), Michael C. Mills (2008), David and Betty Cole (2009), Nancy Clay Hampton (2010), William Sherman Oxendine (2011, posthumously), Steve Valentine (2012), and David Cornett (2013).
This article was first published in the 68th Annual Daniel Boone Festival program booklet, October 2015.