This article, featuring Centre College’s Gary Crase, originally ran in the September 2020 issue of KET’s Vision magazine. In addition to his work as a lab and instrument technician at Centre College, Crase teaches community education American Sign Language (ASL) classes at Centre and in the Danville community. He serves on the Board of Directors of several deaf organizations, including Kentucky Assisting Deaf Adults to Participate Totally (KyADAPT), Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) Charitable Foundation, and KSD’s Jacobs Hall Museum. Crase is also a member of the Kentucky Association of the Deaf (KAD) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).
In the 1970s, Gary Crase and some of his classmates at Campbell’s Branch Elementary in Letcher County began doing something unusual for a small school in an impoverished coal mining community: They began learning photography and processing their film in a makeshift school darkroom.
A young teacher, Wendy Ewald, on loan from the Kentucky Arts Commission, had swept into their lives and outfitted each of them with a Kodak Instamatic camera. She instructed them to take pictures, not only of the people around them but also of their own dreams.
For Gary, that part of the assignment gave him pause—for dreams were not something with which he was acquainted.
He lived alone with his parents in a ramshackle home with no vehicle or running water. His father, an alcoholic, was frequently abusive, he said. When Gary closed his eyes at night, he said, what flashed across his mind were not dreams, but nightmares.
But there was something about the new teacher—the way she read poetry to them, for instance, while the children sat around her feet—that Gary found encouraging. And he soon warmed to the photography assignments, particularly to his time in the dark room, where he loved watching his black and white pictures come to life in the strange chemicals.
“No other class that I had in elementary or high school do I remember as much about,” Gary said. “It was an exposure to something that I had no idea existed in the world.”
It was also during this period that Gary was first introduced to KET, which had built a transmission network to Kentucky schools, permitting the districts to supplement their normal curriculum with special KET educational programs.
“My school had limited resources, just our text books and a few flip charts,” Gary said. “So KET gave us a resource that otherwise would have never been available. And we didn’t have a TV at home, so it was one of my first real exposures to TV.”
KET’s arrival in the mountains—and the use of television as an instrument for education — were part of the vision laid out a decade earlier by Len Press, KET’s founder, who had sought to establish a statewide network that would aid in Kentucky’s educational efforts, ensuring that resources were available to all, regardless of place or circumstance.
Gary acknowledges the experiences he had during this period were transformative.
“I just figured it was a matter of time before I would be in the coal mines—even though that was not something I wanted to do,” Gary said. “But Wendy’s photography class was the first taste I had that I could do something different — that I could be somebody and go somewhere outside of where I lived.”
That realization, Gary said, was one of the first steps in a journey that ultimately carried him to college, on scholarship, to Morehead State University, where he studied industrial technology. Soon after, he took a job at Centre College, where he’s worked as a lab technician for the past 31 years.
“I’m just very grateful for the experiences all those years ago because I realize now how it opened up the world for me,” Gary said.
[WATCH] The story of Wendy Ewald’s photography classes in Letcher County—and the impact it had on her students, including Gary Crase—is the subject of POV: Portraits and Dreams, airing Monday, Sept. 7, at 10/9 pm on KET.
September 2, 2020