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Campbell County Historical Society starting 16th season for annual essay content

By Patricia A. Scheyer
NKyTribune reporter

The Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society is for the 16th season for the annual Dr. Frank Steely Memorial Essay Contest.

There are some rules as to what participants can write about, but to people who like to write, the rules translate into challenges which pique their interest.

One rule is that it could be about an ancestor, who lived or lives in Campbell County, telling the story of where they came from, and how they lived. Participants can relate that person’s life to the history of their time, and how it is important now.

Winners of last year’s essay contest: Josie Bedinghaus, 1st place/Junior; Lucy Phirman, 3rd place/junior; Martha Pelfrey, sponsor; Sabrina Gogzheyan, 2nd place/junior; father of Cora Bertsch, 1st place/senior. (Photo provided)

They can write about an event which occurred in Campbell County, something like a Civil War battle, or a murder, or a visit by a historic figure, a politician, or an inventor, or artist of some kind, who visited the area, past or present.

A good topic would be researching the history of a place, or a specific site in Campbell county, relating how that site played a role in the county today. Photos can be included and are encouraged.

“The topic that is covered most is the Beverly Hills fire, and the main problem with that, other than the fact that it is written about a lot, is that there is no new information; it is all regurgitated information,” said Carol Kirkwood, who has been a part of the Society for years. “Also, the Pearl Bryant murder, which occurred in 1900. That subject has been thoroughly written about.”

There is one student, Cora Bertsch, who has entered the contest since she was in the sixth grade, and she is in college now.

“It (the contest) seemed like an amazing, unique opportunity,” Bertsch related in an appreciation letter she wrote to the Society. “I wrote my first essay that year (when she was in sixth grade) on St Anne Convent in Melbourne. I interviewed my aunt, Sister Eileen Bertsch, about the history of the convent, and her own story.”

Bertsch entered again the next year, interviewing Paul Busse, the founder of Applied Imagination, a local garden railway company which has exhibits all over the United States.

Cora Bertsch

Buoyed by her success, Bertsch went on to interview and write about Keith Neltner, a local graphic artist, and Nancy Winstel, former Northern Kentucky University women’s basketball coach, who guided her teams to two National Championships.

“This past year, I researched the history of Southgate House revival, two local music venues,” she said. “My 2018 essay on Paul Busse and Applied Imagination led to a connection with the company, Applied Imagination LTD is an award winning, nationally renowned garden railway company located in my hometown of Alexandria, Kentucky.”

She explained that her essay on her aunt at St. Anne’s Convent led to a request to have her read some parts of her interview for the essay at her aunt’s funeral, which Bertsch regarded as a high honor, and provide an insight into her aunt’s life.

Bertsch said the essay contest has been a remarkable experience and has brought several opportunities and connections into her life that she might not have had otherwise.

Shirlene Jenson is a board member of the society, and she started the contest in memory of Frank Steely. She said they generally get about 25 to 30 entries every year.

“This year we have opened the contest to children and grandchildren of members of the Historical and Genealogical Society,” Jenson explained. “We are getting the flyers ready to go out to the schools now, and everything will definitely be out by Thanksgiving. Essays are due in by next February, and we announce the winners in April. We invite the winners to come to our September meeting and read their essays, and the prizes are awarded then.”

They have also increased the award for first place winners, both in the high school division and in the junior division, from $300 to $350. Second place winners receive $200, and third place winners are awarded $100.

Teachers like the contest because it fosters creative thinking and experience with research techniques, which underscores what they teach. Students like it because it helps them understand more about the places and people that helped create their hometowns. Having prizes doesn’t hurt either.

“Writing for the Dr. Frank Steely Memorial Essay Contest has been an incredible experience in every way,” said Bertsch, who has won the contest three times. “It has pushed me to explore the rich history of my home county, while also connecting with some truly inspiring individuals. The contest has also challenged me as a writer, allowing me to develop essential skills (such as researching, incorporating outside sources, organizing, telling a story, and looking at the big picture) which have been and will continue to be invaluable throughout high school and college.”

For more information, the number to call is 859-635-6407. The website for the Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society, and the essay contest is listed under Projects.

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