By Beth Goins
Chris Black has a philosophy about buildings. “They’re the bones of a community and all the other things are attached,” he said, speaking from his office at Ray Black & Son, named for his grandfather and father.
The practical, simple beige building in Paducah, Kentucky, belies the grandeur of the awe-inspiring spaces the family company has built or restored, from historic homes and churches to high-tech hybrid operating rooms. Perhaps the company motto is a clue as to why: “Building with Integrity Since 1925.”
The Blacks are known for construction, but their legacy goes far beyond bricks and mortar.
“We could just build very nice buildings, but for us, it’s about being in a position to help our community,” Black said. “Without a healthy heart, it’s difficult for a small town to survive.”
Through the National Main Street Center and the Kentucky Main Street Program, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and city and state resources, the people of Paducah have worked hard since the late 1980s to revitalize their community.
Black’s voice conveyed his enthusiasm for what they were collectively able to accomplish. “We decided our vacant downtown would survive if we took responsibility as a group,” Black said with conviction. Paducah’s downtown pulses as the center of an arts and entertainment district. People clamor to live downtown. There are more than a dozen thriving local restaurants, an award-winning community theatre, a world-class performing arts center, a symphony, a cinema, a lively local music scene, the National Quilt Museum, and much more; all attesting to a much healthier city. “Paducah’s downtown is vibrant now,” Black said.
His construction philosophy and his family’s legacy of building with integrity led Black and his wife, Nancy, to look to an entirely different arena of service as they sought to help their community – and others.
Black’s father, William Black, passed away in 2002. He was a 1942 graduate of the UK College of Education, played football and baseball, and was player/coach of the baseball team as a senior in 1942 when the full-time coach enlisted in the military. Bill Black, as he was known, had a lifelong love of the University; he served as an alumni representative on the UK Board of Trustees for four terms. He also served as the chairman of the Paducah Board of Education for 22 years, and Chris’ brother, Bill Black Jr., served for a quarter-century on the school board for the same system. His sister, Ginny Coltharp, also a College of Education alum, was a teacher in Paducah Public Schools, too.
“Our family has always believed that public education in the United States is the best opportunity to level the playing field,” Black noted.
Black wanted to honor his father’s memory and life’s work. He and Nancy decided the best way to do it was to establish a scholarship in his father’s name at the College of Education.
“My father was concerned about the disparity created when economic needs interfered with academic achievement,” Black said.
And so, the Blacks established a scholarship for students who ultimately want to work with at-risk students in Kentucky.
Through the scholarship, the Blacks want to help talented young people become great educators, hopefully in Kentucky, thus helping them to become part of their community’s foundation for building a vibrant future.
“It’s about planning, building and putting in place something that will last,” Black said. “From there, opportunities abound.” «