Advocate Staff Report
When it comes to meeting the needs of Lee County students, school board chairman William Owens’ commitment extends far beyond the classroom. In addition to his 22 years on the school board, for the past 34 years he has run a mission that provides children in the area with free medical and dental care, fitness and recreational opportunities, field trips, and the knowledge that someone is always there for them.
His unwavering commitment to the children of Lee County has earned Owens the 2013 Warren H. Proudfoot Award for Outstanding School Board Member. The award, presented during KSBA’s annual conference, is sponsored by the Kentucky PTA and the Kentucky School Boards Association.
In his nomination of Owens, Lee County Schools Superintendent Jim Evans wrote that Owens had worked daily since the age of 22 to do what’s best for kids.
PHOTO: Lee County school board Chairman William Owens (center), accepts the Proudfoot Award from KYPTA President Terry Gale and KSBA Immediate Past President Tom Blankenship.
“William makes known his desire that Lee County students are afforded those same opportunities as students who attend in districts where revenues may be greater,” Evans said. “To this end, he makes time to serve on the boards and committees where he can provide a voice for Lee County.”
Owens thanked God, his family, his superintendent and fellow board members for the award. And he conveyed a heartfelt message to the audience.
He recalled the encouragement he received from a missionary preacher while growing up and of his own desire to help other children. “We have a lot of kids out there who are falling through the cracks. We have parents who don’t know how to parent. We have parents who don’t care; we have parents who have given their kids up …
“And so we have the encouragement and we have the responsibility to take those kids. It’s easy to work with the straight A students, it’s easy to work with the most popular kids, but we have a responsibility to take those kids, to love those kids …”
It was through his Kentucky Mountain Mission and its recreational center that Owens was able to bring area students an opportunity few in the world currently have.
“Through conversation with a world-class rock climber visiting the area (a Microsoft employee who was working out at the center) … William was instrumental in the Lee County school district being selected as one of only four districts in the country to pilot a Microsoft computer literacy program,” Evans said. “Technology Education and Literacy in Schools is a program developed by Microsoft to bring together volunteer Microsoft employees to team-teach with local teachers.”
This program is done remotely through distance learning technology. “This opportunity to become the only TEALS school on the East Coast came about through a direct connection made by William Owens,” he said.
Through his mission, Owens also has brought medical and dental care to students and their families as well as providing an exercise facility.
“Most Lee County students know William on a first-name basis,” Evans said. “Whether through visits to the recreational center, field trips to Youth Haven Camp (where he is the director), or visits to the school to read with young students, he always makes himself available to all. He’s often been heard to say, ‘These kids just need to know that someone cares for them.’”
In a letter supporting Owens’ nomination, the leaders of the local PTA and Family Resource Center cited not only his work on the school board, but also his role as a "valuable community member."
“Mr. Owens and the FRC work together to provide summer camps for over 75 students,” family resource center Director Sherry Lanham and PTA President Chastity Fox wrote. “These camps are free and offered to children who have limited funds … when they leave camp, the children know they have several adults they can call if they a need or just want someone to listen to their problems.”
Lanham and Fox said he also works with their organizations to provide food, clothing and shelter to children and families in need.
Owens is a founding member of the Beartrack Volunteer Fire Department, where he has served as chief for the past 23 years. He has been named Volunteer Firefighter of the Year several times as well as being recognized by the local Woolly Worm Committee Citizen of the Year. He is the pastor of Beartrack Bible Church and has served on the KSBA Board of Directors as both a director at large and as chairperson of the Upper Kentucky River Region.
"His ambition and dedication to make Lee County better for families and children is seen in everything he does every day," said Lanham and Fox.
“William has a heart for the children of Lee County and for children everywhere,” Evans said. “His every action illustrates his desire to see them become successful, productive adults.”