Danville is an old city that has long benefitted from the contributions of new residents.
Newcomers who have lived here only a couple of decades have joined natives whose family trees have been growing in the soil of Boyle County for two centuries to build a community that ranks as one of Kentucky’s leading educational, cultural and commercial hubs. The high ranking and reputation are in no small measure due to people who have chosen to call Danville home.
An excellent example of a person who helped make Danville a better place after making the city his adopted hometown was retired Kentucky School for the Deaf superintendent John W. Hudson Jr., who died last Wednesday at the age of 72.
The Greeneville, Tenn., native, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee, came here in the early 1980s to serve as the new superintendent of KSD. Hudson had served as superintendent of the Central North Carolina School for the Deaf and the South Dakota School, and he also served as a teacher at the Tennessee School for the Deaf and the Louisiana School for the Deaf.
While at TSD, he also worked as a coach and led the school to national championships in football and track and field.
Hudson, who was hearing, worked at the five schools for the deaf during an era of major changes and challenges in deaf education. In interviews with The Advocate-Messenger over the years, he recognized the changes and was frank about the challenges, but was determined to meet them.
Enrollments were rapidly declining as the number of children whose deafness could be traced to major measles and mumps outbreaks in the 1950s and 1960s was dwindling. It also was a time when many deaf people were calling for schools for the deaf to reflect a growing sense in the deaf community that deafness was a culture, not an affliction, and should be treated and respected as such. They campaigned for schools for the deaf to hire and promote more deaf faculty and administrators.
While deaf education was the main mission of Hudson’s life, he didn’t confine himself to classrooms or campuses. He was fully dedicated to the concept of a “town and gown” partnership and participation, and he adhered to that concept of community service and involvement not only during his tenure at KSD but also after he retired from the school several years ago.
He was an active member of The First Presbyterian Church, where he served as a deacon and elder. He was a member and past president of the Danville Rotary Club, and a past member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board. He also served two terms as a magistrate on Boyle County Fiscal Court.
Hudson was able to combine his dedication to education with his commitment to community service through his work with Danville-Boyle County Dollars for Scholars Foundation, which he helped found. At the time of his death, he was president of the foundation. The organization has given thousands of dollars in scholarships — more than $27,000 in 2012 alone — to deserving local students.
Hudson surely will be remembered for his work in deaf education and his many roles in community service. But no story about the man would be complete without recognizing another love of his life — his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, and the UT Volunteers’ storied football program.
He was a three-year letterman on the UT team in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The “Big Orange” offensive star, who made many big catches during his college football career, including game-winning hauls, was selected to play in the prestigious Senior Bowl and the Blue-Grey Bowl and played for the BC Lions in British Columbia in the Canadian Football League.
Fall always found Hudson and family and friends at UT football games. He loved the mini-reunions at Neyland Stadium so much that he always wanted to share the experience with people back home and often invited friends and neighbors in Danville to accompany him to Knoxville.
In the game programs during the time he played for UT and later in the stands in Neyland where he watched Vol home games as a loyal alum, he was known as “John Bill” or “Johnny Bill.”
While Hudson was proud to wear his orange uniform and later his orange fan gear, he was just as proud to wear another outfit, one that resonated with historic significance in his adopted home state and hometown.
About two decades ago, he was chosen to portray Gov. Isaac Shelby during the 1992 Kentucky Bicentennial Celebration, and he often donned a late 18th century costume and rode a horse to many towns around the state to play his role as the commonwealth’s first governor.
Of course, Hudson probably would have preferred the horse he was riding had been a Tennessee Walker but it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that under the period jacket he was wearing in his Shelby role was an orange sweatshirt with “Tennessee Volunteers” on it.
Whether you called him Superintendent Hudson or “Johnny Bill” or just John, Hudson spent his life as a loyal Volunteer to his alma mater and football program and as a true volunteer as well as dedicated educator in every community in which he lived. Danville was fortunate that he chose our community to perform his many good deeds.