When Delmar Mahan became a member of the Whitley County Board of Education in January 1991, it was two years after the school district was found to be academically deficient and came under state management.
“We were not in the basement. We were in the cellar at the time,” Mahan noted. “Two school districts were in state control at the time. One of them was Floyd County and the other was Whitley County.”
Fast forward nearly 27 years later, and Whitley County has raised itself to one of the top 10 school districts in the state.
Tim Crawford, who has served as the Whitley County Board of Education’s lawyer since 1991, said that when he goes to other counties, whether it is Fayette County, Bath County or Estill County, he always gets the same question – “How to do they do it in Whitley County?”
Other school boards want to know how Whitley County got a bank to donate the building now used as its central office. They want to know how the board has managed to at least renovate every building in the district, and so forth.
“They will ask how do they do that in Whitley County. Delmar was there when that process started. We have always had a board here that worked together as a cohesive unit and I congratulate you for that because in my travels I have seen boards of different characteristics,” Crawford said.
“I will tell you this, I have never seen a board work as a cohesive unit as, over the years, these members and these administrators and these teachers and these employees have done in Whitley County. How do they do it in Whitley County? Look at Delmar Mahan and you will see how they do it.”
The Whitley County Board of Education held a special meeting Thursday night to honor Mahan, the former school board member and former long time school board chairman, who announced his resignation from the board in October during a surprise announcement.
“In the last 26 years and 11 months that I was a board member, it took a lot of people to make this team work,” Mahan said. “Everything that has been done in this district has always been about the children. Nothing more. Nothing less.” “I’ve just been so fortunate to have been a part of it. I am just hoping the momentum will continue and the district will continue to prosper, grow, and our children will get the educational background that they need.”
Mahan served 19 years as chairman of the school board. He also served on various state boards during his tenure, including on the Kentucky School Board Association (KSBA), which he served as president of from 2009-2011.
In 2014, Mahan received the Warren Proudfoot Award for Board Member of the Year.
Bill Scott, former executive director of KSBA, noted that when he arrived at KSBA in 1995, Mahan was already a very prominent member of the association.
“I can say without a doubt that for the eight years I was Executive Director, Delmar was the single most influential board member on the association board. I can say that without hesitation,” Scott said.
Scott said he thinks one of the reasons Mahan was such a driving force for public education in Kentucky was his passion about the power of public education.
“He felt so strongly that public education was the only tie that was powerful enough to raise all children up to an improved life,” Scott said.
“He used his own family as powerful testimony to that effect, and how over three generations his family went from having parents, who didn’t have a high school diploma, to having children, who all had advanced degrees in very successful professions.”
Whitley County Board of Education Chairman Larry Lambdin noted that since Mahan started on the Whitley County Board of Education in 1991, the board of education has built five new schools, built the freshmen academy at the high school, renovated numerous other buildings, and acquired the central office building and the Whitley County bus garage among other highlights.
“There is not a better board member in the state of Kentucky than Delmar Mahan,” Lamdbin added.
Mahan left the crowd and the board with a few thoughts.
“Public education is the key to Kentucky. I don’t care about charter schools. I don’t care about anything else. Public education works. Public education is what makes Kentucky,” Mahan said.
“Continue the progress this district has made after the last almost 30 years that will make all the difference in the world, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the second district.”