Empowering members to be advocates for rural telecommunications

By Keith Gabbard
Chief Executive Officer

The results are in. Almost 200 readers responded to The PRTC Connection readership survey in our January/February issue. Your responses gave us good insight into what we’re doing right and how we can serve you better.

I appreciate those who took the time to share this valuable feedback with us.

Not surprisingly, the stories about local people in our community and the articles about food are the most popular pages among respondents. But I was pleased to see readers also enjoy the articles with information about your cooperative.

Perhaps that readership is why 85 percent of respondents said this magazine gave them a better understanding of technology, and 90 percent said they have a better understanding of the role this cooperative plays in economic and community development because of The PRTC Connection. It’s very gratifying to know our efforts are working.

I shared this data not to boast about how proud we are of this magazine, but to explain the reason why I’m proud of it. I believe having informed and educated members is a key factor to the long-term health of this cooperative.

In fact, educating our members is one of the seven core principles that lay the foundation for a cooperative. The National Cooperative Business Association says members should be informed about company and industry news “so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative.”

Informed and engaged members make our cooperative better.

Broadband has been in the news quite a bit lately, from net neutrality to the president discussing high-speed network expansion. It’s important for our members to know how federal regulations, state policies and shifts in the industry can affect their broadband and telephone services.

Educating you on issues that matter to rural telecommunications and your community empowers you to become advocates for rural America. Big corporations and urban residents certainly find ways to make their voices heard, and it’s up to cooperatives like us and members like you to let legislators and policymakers know that rural America matters and decisions that affect telecommunications cooperatives matter to rural America.

I hope you enjoy the stories and photos in this magazine. I always do. But I also hope you come away with a little better understanding of your cooperative, the role we play in this community and the role you can play in making rural America better.

Earle Combs: ‘just a country boy from Kentucky’

By Brian Lazenby

Earle Combs, born in Pebworth, Kentucky, played 11 seasons with the New York Yankees. He earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

Earle Combs, born in Pebworth, Kentucky, played 11 seasons with the New York Yankees. He earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

Earle Combs loved spring, because by the time the jonquils began to appear, he had worn holes in his wool socks.

It wasn’t that Combs hated wool, or even wearing socks, but every spring his father would unravel the worn threads and wind the yarn into a tight ball. He would then cut leather pieces from a pair of his wife’s old shoes and stitch them around the yarn. Then, with a piece of wood cut from a poplar tree, Combs practiced the game he loved — baseball — a game which he later said he owes for everything he ever had.

It was baseball that helped him get an education and took him all over the country — from Pebworth in Owsley County to the Big Apple as a member of the New York Yankees. Ultimately, it led him to the infamous 1927 New York Yankees lineup that struck fear into the hearts and minds of many opposing pitchers. And not only was Combs a part of “Murderers’ Row,” as the gang of sluggers came to be known, but he was also their leadoff hitter. He set the table for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Toni Lazzeri. He helped lead the Yankees to seven American League pennants and four World Series Championships, and according to his friends, “always wore the same size hat.”

Kyle Bobrowski played baseball in high school and portrayed Earle Combs in the “Homesong” community play in Owsley County. He learned a lot about the local hero and became a big fan. “He was very humble and never wanted to be in the spotlight,” Bobrowski says.


Earle Combs, known as “The Kentucky Colonel,” played for the New York Yankees from 1924 until 1935. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

Earle Combs, known as “The Kentucky Colonel,” played for the New York Yankees from 1924 until 1935. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

The son of a farmer from just outside of Booneville, Combs is one of only two Kentuckians inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. The day he was inducted at Cooperstown, he referred to himself as “just a common guy from Kentucky.”

“All he knew his whole life was farming,” Bobrowski says. “He always believed in honesty, hard work and the Golden Rule — treat others the way you want to be treated.”

Combs never imagined he would make a living playing baseball, so he left Pebworth for Richmond to study to become a teacher at Eastern State Normal School, now Eastern Kentucky University. But baseball was always part of his life. After a remarkable performance in a student-faculty game at Eastern, Combs was convinced to try out for the school team, where he became a star and hit .591 his final year at the school.
Combs returned home to begin his teaching career, but in the summertime he played semi-pro ball for several Kentucky towns: Winchester, High Splint and Lexington. It was while playing with the Lexington Reos in the Bluegrass League that he caught the eye of a scout from the Louisville Colonials of the American Association. They offered him $37 a month — more than his salary as a teacher. It was only then that he realized a career playing baseball might be possible.

He played for Louisville in 1922 and 1923 and transitioned from a shortstop to a ball-hawking center fielder with a penchant for stealing bases. It was in 1924 that the New York Yankees purchased Combs for an eye-popping $50,000 and brought him to the big leagues.

The hometown boy from Pebworth proved to be worth every penny. He cruised center field, snagging fly balls between Bob Meusel in left field and Ruth in right. His speed prompted many sportswriters to refer to him as a “gazelle,” “thoroughbred” and “greyhound.” He hit .400 his rookie year before a broken ankle ended his season. But the following year, he picked up where he had left off. In 1927, the year of the infamous Murderers’ Row, he led the American League in at-bats (648), triples (23) and hit a career-high 231 base hits — 39 more than Ruth. On top of that, he scored the winning run in the Yankees’ four-game World Series sweep of Pittsburgh.

During his career, Combs had a lifetime batting average of .325, had more than 200 base hits in a season three times, led the American League in triples three times and twice led the American league in putouts.
“He never really considered himself an all-star, just a country boy from Kentucky,” Bobrowski says. “But his numbers still hold up today with some of the greats.”

Combs played a role on the Yankees teams that went beyond the box score, says Earl Cox, who retired after a five-decade news career that included a stint as sports editor for The Courier-Journal in Louisville.
“He is credited with saving the Yankees a lot of games, and with saving Babe Ruth, too,” Cox says. “When Babe had been out on one of his benders the night before a game, Earl would have to play center field and right field, too.”

Combs’ career was dotted with injuries, but in 1934, he suffered skull fracture when he collided with the center field wall. He was carried from the field on a stretcher, unconscious with blood gushing from his nose and mouth. He was admitted to the hospital and listed as critical with a fractured skull, broken collar bone, dented nose and contusions on his face and knees.

He spent weeks in the hospital recovering. Despite the horrific injuries, he healed more quickly than most expected.

“I was made of tough stuff,” Combs said of his recovery.

He was beloved by teammates, Yankee fans, opposing players and fans of opposing teams. That love and admiration was shown during the time he spent hospitalized for his injuries with the thousands of letters that poured into the hospital. And in true Earle Combs form, he tried to answer as many as he could.
Combs returned to the Yankees the following year, but torn ligaments in his throwing arm sidelined him for much of the season. That fall, he decided to hang up his glove for good.

Earle Combs, born in Pebworth, Kentucky, played 11 seasons with the New York Yankees. He earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

Kentucky native Earle Combs earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played alongside greats such as Babe Ruth.

“I’m not as young as I once was,” he said at the time.

After that, Combs coached for several years, first for the Yankees, before moving to the St. Louis Browns, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. He retired from the game after the 1954 season and returned to Kentucky, where former baseball commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler served a second term as governor from 1955 to 1959. Chandler named Combs the state’s banking commissioner. The retired player also bought a farm with his wife, Ruth, and became president of Peoples Bank of Paint Lick.

Combs died in 1976 at the age of 77. He is still remembered today as one of the most humble, yet talented, players to step on the field. A dormitory at Eastern Kentucky University bears his name, and the school awards an athletic scholarship in his honor.

“In my eyes, he is the most famous person from here,” Bobrowski says. “I think he even tops Daniel Boone, because Daniel Boone wasn’t actually from here.”

Learning to work from home

Teleworks is connecting Eastern Kentucky job seekers with “brand name” companies

Editor’s note: This story is the second in a series of articles that will highlight PRTC’s Smart Rural Community award from NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association.

An advisor answers a student’s question during a Teleworks USA class at the Jackson County Industrial Park.

An advisor answers a student’s question during a Teleworks USA class at the Jackson County Industrial Park.

Expectant mother Paige Adkins needed work, but she did not want to face a nearly 30-mile, one-way commute.

“The closest job I would have been able to find would have been in London,” says Adkins, who lives in Gray Hawk, Kentucky. “There are no jobs here at all.”

Free training provided through Teleworks USA, however, may prepare her for a job with one of the growing number of companies developing remote, Internet-connected workforces.

“We’ve had folks who are working with Sony, Apple, Amazon and U-Haul,” says Owen Grise, deputy director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.

The classes, held at Jackson County Industrial Park and at the Kentucky Career Center JobSight in Hazard, Kentucky, are funded mostly through the U.S. Department of Labor.

The self-directed training usually requires four to six weeks. Afterward, employers recruit from the pool of certified candidates. “We have one employee in Eastern Kentucky working for a company in Paris, France,” Grise says.

Owen Grise helps oversee the Teleworks USA program in Jackson County as the deputy director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.

Owen Grise helps oversee the Teleworks USA program in Jackson County as the deputy director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.

Connecting workers to jobs
Teleworks was one of the first initiatives nationally to embrace the idea of training people in rural areas and connecting them with companies building remote workforces. In addition to training, the company manages a website to connect employers with job seekers.

Teleworks helped about 500 people secure jobs in just less than four years, Grise says.

Classes can accommodate about 15 people. Each trainee works through the program at his or her own pace. Certifications might require a testing fee, but qualified students can receive financial assistance.

Pay for an entry-level job is about $20,000 annually, and many jobs will include benefits, Grise says. For counties such as Jackson, the jobs can provide a welcome economic boost. “If we produce 15 people in a month or six weeks who can land those jobs, that’s $300,000 in wages, before taxes, that wasn’t in the county before,” Grise says.

Waiting lists exist for classes at both locations, Grise says.

Developing customer service skills
Adkins has worked since she was 16 years old. Most jobs were in customer service.

“I want to do good for people, and I want people to be happy with what they’re getting,” she says. “I know this will be good for me.”

She hopes a work-from-home job will allow her to stay employed while also preparing for her new baby.

“Classes are three days a week from 9 o’clock until noon,” she says. “We go through lessons each day. We watch videos explaining what good customer service is, and how to present yourself when doing customer service.”

Then, each lesson includes sample questions. Afterward, a quiz determines if each person passes a section. At the end of training, job seekers can earn certifications verifying their new skills.

Without the program, Adkins says she would find it difficult to pay for training. “I’ve been married almost two years, and we do good,” she says. “But, it would be hard to pay for schooling if we had to pay for it out of pocket. I feel very blessed.”

Paige Adkins works through an Internet-based lesson during the Teleworks USA training program.

Paige Adkins works through an Internet-based lesson during the Teleworks USA training program.

Business tools at home
Training, however, is only one part of succeeding at a work-from-home job. “It’s a different situation than most folks are used to,” Grise says.

Hurdles might include lack of a good computer, or coping with family and pets unaccustomed to someone working from home.

For a time, however, new employees might have the opportunity to work from the training center while they get their home office ready. “We can let them work here for a little while as they get their feet on the ground, a routine down and better understanding of the demands of the job,” Grise says.

While many work-from-home employees face a transition, quality Internet access is not a concern.

“One of the things about being here is that Jackson County is so well connected,” Grise says. “It’s an opportunity that many of them don’t realize they have.”

Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative’s service area was designated a “Smart Rural Community” by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. NTCA developed the award as a way to recognize cooperatives that are promoting and using broadband networks to foster innovative economic development, education, health care and government services.

Changing business strategies
Introducing people to the idea of work-from-home jobs is key for Teleworks. “You have to convince them that this is real — it’s not a scam,” Grise says. “These companies will hire you, even though they’ve never seen you.”

Many national employers are “off-siting” part of their workforce. The move saves on office space, utilities and other costs associated with call centers, Grise says.

Employees connect through the Internet to a company’s servers. And despite the distance, employers can still track each worker.

Grise believes demand will continue to increase for employees who work from home. Soon, the concept will need little explanation.

“We’re raising a generation of people right now who can’t imagine being out of touch,” Grise says. “Those folks are going to grow up where it’s not at all a strange concept that they should know an employer only through a laptop.”

Learn more about Teleworks USA jobs: www.teleworksusa.com

Your bill, simplified

At PRTC, we’re a community — a community that believes in helping our customers every way we can. We are converting to a new, more efficient billing system. And we are making sure your monthly bill is as easy to read as possible with a format change beginning June 1. We put important information at the top of the bill to help make handling and filing simpler for you. To be certain you always know what everything you see means, we’ve broken it down in detail, section by section below.

New Bill