Manchester Magazine Fall 2017 - Page 29

MU| F e a t u r e s At their mission, they always had room and food enough for volunteers from Brethren Volunteer Service or work groups from churches and colleges who came to help. Gall and Kemner never married or had biological children. But they welcomed into their home mountain children in need and helped raise dozens of them over the years. Some were neglected or abandoned. Others just lived too far into the hollow to catch the school bus each day. Kemner adopted an infant girl she delivered and the two women raised her together. “I had dreams,” says Gall of Lend-A-Hand’s broad mission. “I could see all kinds of things that needed to be done.” In the 1960s as Gall’s friends Jean and Andrew Young worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to champion civil rights, the nation’s consciousness about poverty and income inequality was on the rise. President Lyndon Johnson responded in 1964 with the War on Poverty, which along with Medicare and landmark civil rights legislation, became one of his signature achievements. Johnson appointed Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver to design the War on Poverty and, through the Office of Economic Opportunity, Shriver created a myriad of government programs, some of which endure in various forms today – Head Start, Job Corps, Community Action Program, Legal Services, Foster Grandparents and VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). Gall met Shriver in Washington, D.C., on the day he was setting up a new office. “You help me set up my desk,” he told Gall, “and I’ll help you with the program.” Through War on Poverty funding, Gall and Kemner helped establish the Knox County Economic Opportunity Council, which still exists, and Gall was hired as the community center coordinator. In the late 1960s, the women founded an innovative home health agency, certified by Medicare. It provided for 300 to 350 house calls per month as well as medical equipment such as walkers, canes and wheelchairs. The agency operated until 1995. Clockwise from left: Irma Gall ’55 and Peggy Kemner pose with their dog and horse in the late 1950s when they founded the Lend-A- Hand Center in the Stinking Creek watershed of Knox County, Ky.; Irma and Peggy more recently; Irma standing on their property; and the Kentucky countryside. Now in her mid-80s, Gall returned to Manchester recently to tell students about her life’s work. Over the years, Lend-A- Hand has won numerous awards, and was the subject of a CBS television documentary and chapter in John Fetterman’s book Stinking Creek. Kemner chronicled her work in I Am With You Always: Experiences of a Nurse Midwife in Appalachia. Gall is following up her first book, Walk With Me, with a second, Let the Stones Cry Out. She remains modest about the many lives she and Kemner touched, quietly drawing strength from her Christian faith and deflecting credit to a higher power. “I didn’t pick Stinking Creek,” she insists. “God did.” By Melinda Lantz ’81 Manchester | 29