Thursday, April 24, 1997
It's their party, but flood
may take it away


BY ROB KAISER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

At a glance

For more information, call Pendleton County High School at (606) 654-3355. Or send donations of money or food to Project Graduation, Rt. 1, Box 224, Falmouth, Ky., 41040.

FALMOUTH - Monday, the Dairy Queen reopened. On Tuesday, the McDonald's. Spring has come to Pendleton County, and businesses along flood-ravaged U.S. 27 are re-awakening like marigolds.

This year, the season of renewal means more than usual in this little river town. Falmouth, once brown and lifeless beneath the muddy waters of the Licking River, is shuddering back to life in bright colors. Orange building permits hang on doors. Windows glow again. And those Golden Arches. Who would have thought eating a Big Mac might do a heart good?

''These are signs of hope,'' Karen Delaney says.

Mrs. Delaney is a guidance counselor at Pendleton County High School. Unlike so many buildings in little Falmouth, it came through the flood dry; the school sits on a hill.

But don't be fooled. The Licking River didn't spare it.

Organizers of the high school's annual Project Graduation are struggling to raise money for their festivities in June. But it's hard asking for donations from the people and merchants of a devastated town.

Who will take care of the kids? Project Graduation gives members of the senior class a way to celebrate their commencement in the safe confines of the school - free of drugs and alcohol. But the Licking has threatened to claim that night, too - flooding the streets with teen-agers fresh from commencement exercises.

The river never stops. The river keeps trying to cause heartache. Karen Delaney is determined not to let it.

Tapped out

Mrs. Delaney and others like her are working hard to make sure there is a Project Graduation. This would be the 10th, if it comes to pass. Organizers remain about $3,000 short.

The school's usual patrons - local churches, businesses and residents - are tapped out after the flood. Many lost everything. Many gave everything.

Life in Falmouth changed forever the night the river came crashing across the road at the old fairgrounds.

And what did the townspeople do as the water rose? They sought out the high school for safe haven.

Fortunately, the home team had played a district tournament game there earlier in the evening; the school still was open.

The building was lit up like a beacon as those fleeing their houses trudged up the hill seeking refuge. Pendleton County is more than a high school. It's the first place many Falmouth residents think of when they need a place to go.

''We're a rural county,'' Mrs. Delaney says. ''There aren't a lot of other social attractions around here. The school's still kind of the heart and soul of this community.''

The center of town

The consolidation of small schools threatens the fabric of many towns. When you lose your heart and soul, the life drains away. But Pendleton County High School still binds Falmouth tight.

Say what you will about the state of education in Kentucky. The best civics lessons are in small schools, because they're the center of small towns. And small towns are where the idea of America lives.

Mrs. Delaney hopes the school is alive the night of June 13. After graduation. If all goes as planned, there will be games, a deejay, volleyball, basketball and door prizes - one for every student.

They will sign in between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. and stay in the school all night. And nobody will be allowed to leave without a parent's consent until after breakfast is served at 6 a.m.

But none of this will happen unless Mrs. Delaney and the other organizers raise more money.

With any luck, the last lesson this class learns will be about citizenship. And they will learn it the last time they assemble as a group at the school. No text books required.

Just food and fun and the knowledge that you helped make it all possible.

Rob Kaiser is The Enquirer's Kentucky columnist. His column appears regularly on Sundays and Thursdays in The Kentucky Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5584.

KAISER ARCHIVE