A master Winchester storyteller

Published 12:59 pm Friday, March 17, 2017

In some ways, a community can be defined by the stories it tells about itself.

Knowledge about our past often resides in the memories of our older citizens. A few that come immediately to mind locally are Frank Vermillion, Jerry Cecil, Vic Bloomfield, Joan Mayer, Bob Tabor, the late John Venable, the indomitable Mike Rowady, and the one to whom this column is dedicated: Betty Ratliff Smith. While no one could be more pleased than I about the recent resurgence of The Winchester Sun, I do still miss reading Betty’s column in the evening paper.

Betty was born in nearby Millersburg, and her family soon after moved to Winchester.

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Her father, Bruce Ratliff, ran Ratliff Furniture Company with his two brothers, Francis and Burbridge.

Her academic career began at the old Hickman Street School and culminated with a degree from Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1952. She went to work for the Sun in 1957.

By the time she retired after 32 plus years of service, Betty had performed about every job at the paper. She began as society editor, covered city and county governments, the police and fire departments, was the newsroom receptionist and archivist, and even served a stint as sports editor.

I remember her best for her column, “Betty’s Babblins,” where she covered a wide range of topics based on her memories of Winchester, old and new.

She recounted funny incidents about herself, her family and fellow townspeople. Her early columns were published in book form in 1994 (available at Clark County Public Library). Sadly, her most recent columns have not yet been compiled.

It was once said of Betty that she knows almost everything that happens in Clark County as soon as it happens — and sometimes before.

If you know Betty, you know she enjoys people and loves her community. She has received many honors, including Winchester-Clark County Citizen of the Year in 2004 and a commendation from the Kentucky Senate upon her retirement in 2008.

I have never seen Betty when she wasn’t smiling, and that includes photographs from childhood on.

She is not only a talented writer, but also a gifted storyteller. Even if you read her account of the Patio tornado or the rooster on the Kerr Building, you would still enjoy hearing her talk about those events.

I thought it fitting to reproduce a few snippets from Betty’s articles I have saved in my files.

From “Test your memory of Winchester” (Aug. 6, 2007):

“Can you remember diagonal parking in the middle of Broadway?

“A hatchery near the site of the present Maple Street and another, Anderson’s on North Highland Street?

“Browning’s Processing Plant where Beverly White Towers and Ecton Station of the Winchester Fire Department now stand?

“Flynn’s, Dailey’s and Quisenberry’s as popular high school hangouts?

“Blue Ribbon Days when children marched down Main Street near the end of the school year?

“Reynolds Village on the west campus of today’s College Park, then homes for veterans returning from World War II and their families while attending Kentucky Wesleyan College?”

From “Changes come, but memories remain” (Aug. 13, 2007):

“The North Main Street Dairy Queen stands where Hollar’s Grocery once stood. I remember during World War II my mother would order groceries, and when we got them home, once in a while a can of Dole pineapple was in the box. That was hard to come by, but the Hollar family — Cora, Mary and Bill — knew our family loved pineapple (I’m sure other families got a can, too), so when the store got pineapple, we got pineapple.”

From “Downtown no stranger to forces of change” (Oct. 3, 2003):

“St. Agatha Academy, now a modern educational facility, was once a two-story residence that at one time had been a private home. I attended St. Agatha in the seventh grade and recall going outside from the room that housed seventh- and eighth-graders to a kitchen at the rear of the structure. I am certain that we had other food for lunch, but the lumpy mashed potatoes stand out in my mind!”

From “Names and places of the past” (Jan. 22, 2007):

“A question came up the other day about early Winchester and I turned to my hidden treasure. That’s what I call the city directory of 1911-12-13, because it contains lots of information that is not readily available today.

“On the inside cover of the hardback book was a picture of the Citizens National Bank located at the corner of Main and Court streets and home today of Subway. But I have a question. In the photograph there are steps leading up to the entrance. So where did they go, and how did today’s building get even with the street?

“Winchester’s post office was located at 4 S. Main St. The Brown-Proctoria Pharmacy offered pure drugs, Huyler’s candies and the coldest soda water. The Baldwin Brothers, located under the Sign of the Big Watch, were jewelers and opticians and J. A. Hughes was proprietor of Broadway Livery, Food and Sale Stables. Kerr & Bean were undertakers and embalmers and offered ambulance service. Sam Jett was proprietor of the Winchester Poultry Farm specializing in S. C. Leghorns. Many of the names mentioned are familiar names today, some totally unknown, but for lovers of history of our hometown, this makes good reading.”

So do all of Betty’s old columns. And I think it especially fitting to recognize her contributions during Women’s History Month.

If you see Betty before I do, tell her I still miss her.