Middlesboro native writes book in celebration of heritage

Published 3:06 pm Thursday, October 10, 2019

George Stapleton moved to Middlesboro when he was six years old. Before that, he had never seen electricity and had never known indoor plumbing.

In his newly released book “Just a Hillbilly,” Stapleton describes what it was like growing up in Middlesboro during the time of World War II.

Stapleton will be the guest of honor at the Carnegie Historical Museum, which is home to the Bell County Historical Society, Friday from 11 a.m. until he runs out of books or runs out of people to speak to.

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“I was raised in Middlesboro and moved there from Little Sycamore in Tennessee when I was about six years old with my family,” Stapleton said. “Before we lived in Middlesboro, we didn’t have running water or electricity. We didn’t have basic facilities, no inside toilets, plumbing or anything like that. It was a really big difference when we moved to Middlesboro.”

He explained that he had seen cars before but had never been in one until his family made their move and they rode in a friend’s truck to get there.

“Middlesboro was so different,” he continued to explain. “It had paved roads and big wide boulevards with a lot of cars. We moved into a house that had indoor plumbing with indoor facilities and running water. I had never seen electricity before and that was new to just push a button and have the lights come on. That was a real thrill to be able to do that.”

He explained that the book is the result of years of his wife telling him to write the book and explain to their children how he had grown up in Appalachia.

“She kept nagging me a little bit about how my kids have no idea how I grew up,” he said of his wife’s encouragement to write the book. “She would say ‘You need to tell them how it was back then and how you grew up in Middlesboro and all that back then because they have no idea about that.’ I kept putting it off and putting it off.”

Stapleton explained that about a year ago there was a book that came out that didn’t give the most positive insight into growing up in Appalachia.

“The author was born in Kentucky then moved up to Ohio when he was a kid and he wrote this book that was supposed to be about growing up in Appalachia,” he explained of the book. “He really painted a very, I thought, unflattering picture of quote ‘hillbillies’ back in Appalachia.”

He said reading the book somewhat made him mad.

“This was a very good reason for me to write this book,” he said as he laughed. “My wife has been nagging me, and it was time to set the record straight about what hillbillies are really like because I’m one of them.”

He explained that he proceeded to start writing the book and it took the better part of a year to get it finally completed.

“I try to set the record straight that they’re really not a bunch of hicks who do nothing but sit around drinking moonshine and hunting,” he said. “We make contributions to our society all over. We make contributions wherever they’ve gone and my classmates are proof of that, and I think I’ve done that somewhat with my life too.”

He said he wanted to spell that out and say what “hillbillies” are really like.

“I attempted to do that in ‘Just a Hillbilly,’” he said as he continued to talk about contributions to society. “My life has been all over the world, and I think I’ve made some contributions by going to college and graduating and working in the government. I went to seminary and became a minister.”

Stapleton explained that he has pastored at different churches around the country.

“I’d like to think that my life counted,” he said. “I know some of my buddies; my classmates that I grew up with in Middlesboro have made contributions and been successes in their own rights.”

When Stapleton graduated, he said it was a class of approximately 100 students.

“That was the only high school in the area before they built the county high school,” he said. “So, people came in from all over the county to go to Middlesboro High School. We had a pretty good class for that day in time.”

He said it was exciting and different to go to Middlesboro because he came from a school that only had one room and housed grades one through six.

“In Middlesboro, we had elementary, junior and high school there,” he explained. “It was a big school with a lot of kids and a lot more things to do, and life was really different and exciting to a country boy who grew up in the country.”

He said it was exciting to grow up in Middlesboro and it was a great experience with a lot to do.

“We arrived in the middle of World War II, and it was a booming town with a couple of factories and coal mines were producing back in that time,” he said in regards to his experience growing up. “It was an exciting time and we had great basketball and football teams. They won state championships then and, of course, the city changed after the war. It grew to over 12,000 people and it was the main shopping area. It was more of a booming town then. It was different then than it is today.”

After high school, he went into the Navy where he served and then went to George Washington University. Following his graduation, he got married and he and his wife went to seminary in Louisville. He pastored several churches and then went to work for the federal government until he retired. He has been writing books for several years.

“I have five of them that I have written and published and this is my latest one,” he said of “Just a Hillbilly.” “It was very satisfying and something I had always wanted to do and I finally did.”

He and his wife live in Colorado and he continues his writing throughout his retirement.

“The book really reflects what it was like growing up in Kentucky and Appalachia and then what I’ve done with my life since then and so that’s where I am,” he said.

He and his wife have spent time traveling the world and sharing their lives with others throughout the world.