Alumni Spotlight

Bennie Bartley, '64

By: Devin Hanners, '09
January 21, 2014

In such a fluid and boisterous world, staying optimistic can prove to be a daunting task. Often we feel like change itself is all we can rely on; the only constant in an age where technology and the pace of life itself so rapidly advance day by day. But now and again, an exceptional someone comes along and helps us remember that even among a sea of change, the power of positive thinking can keep us anchored and afloat. My conversation with Bennie Bartley, the guest of this month’s Alumni Spotlight, helped me do just that.
 
Not all changes are negative; in fact many changes are refreshing. Bartley, former president and current member of UPIKE’s Alumni Association Board of Directors, related to me one such change; the quantity of students pursuing higher education today is much higher than it was when he first attended then Pikeville College in the 1960’s. Of his Hellier High School graduating class of 55 in 1960, Bartley told me only “a handful went on to college.” Of those, Bartley estimated no more than a couple graduated. Championing our area, Bartley continued, “We think we are behind the rest of the nation, which we are somewhat. But all in all, we’ve made wonderful progress. Nobody realizes it.”
 
Other changes can leave us wistful. Bartley advised me “In some ways we’ve gone backwards.” For example, when he attended Pikeville College, our graceful town possessed an extensive public transportation system. Bartley expanded, “The train came right through town at the foot of the college steps. The train depot was there, and even on Sunday, that train would run.” He continued, “A commercial bus went by. From Hellier to Pikeville, from Elkhorn to Pikeville, from Jenkins to Pikeville; all headquartered at that station down at the foot of the ‘99 steps.”
 
Bartley himself is no stranger to transition. Originally graduating from Pikeville College in 1964 with dual majors in social studies and English, he taught eighth grade for two years before moving to high school instruction. He enjoyed teaching young people, but cared little for the unavoidable disciplining of students the job brought with it.
 
In 1966, he made a visit to Pikeville’s employment office to inquire about a possible career change. The visit proved to be quite eventful. Bartley was advised to speak with the manager who informed him that the office was soon to be hiring an employment counselor and Bartley’s experience as a teacher made him a perfect candidate for the job. For 10 years he assisted the community in locating jobs, until he moved into the manager position in 1977. He held the position until he retired in 1999.
 
A sedentary retirement proved to be nowhere on his agenda. He joined Alumni Association’s Board of Directors where he enjoyed reconnecting with young people and participating in the local community. After a couple of years, his efforts resulted in his nomination as president of the association, a title he held for a number of years.
 
Still serving on the board of directors, Bartley remains actively invested in the university. He is passionate about the institution. His father was the first member of his family to attend classes at Pikeville College. Continuing the tradition, Bartley’s daughter, Rebecca McGuire, graduated on “the hill,” and now her own daughter, Lauren McGuire, is the latest in a continued tradition for the family.
 
Possessed of a contagious cheer, Bartley has displayed over the course of his life and career a relentless pursuit of optimism. He has consistently “… really tried to focus on the positive.” Positive reinforcement in his experience has proven to be a powerful motivational tool. Throughout his career of leadership, he “… didn’t ever have many problems” collaborating with any of his varied charges. He added, “A lot of leaders can’t say that.”
 
Bartley heartily appreciates his retirement. He enjoys gardening and reading the newspaper. When he and his wife, Lorraine, desire some adventure, their destination of choice is Gatlinburg, Tenn. Bartley advised me he and his wife visit the travel town a few times a year and have been doing so since 1979, the year they were married. He shared that retirement, like life, is what you make of it. “For the most part it works out. I’ve always said it was always a lot like pulling your hand out of a bucket of water - it will fill back in.”
 
This eloquent metaphor as well as the entirety of my conversation with Bartley reminded me that perception is our greatest ally in the adventure of life. Bartley is a model example for the power of positive thinking. He left me with the following advice for today’s young people attending UPIKE (and other colleges): “Plug away at it, don’t give up. Most of the time it will work out in the long run.” His advice prompts us to remember that while some things will always come and go – charming Pikeville certainly no longer has a substantial public transportation system for instance; some things don’t have to change at all. And that may be the most wonderful constant any of us could ever hope for.

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