Hometown hero: Ashland has a Host with the most

Jim Host, George Rupert and Jack Ditty at the Highlands Museum’s Hometown Sports Banquet.

ASHLAND, Ky. – Jim Host, the very definition of an entrepreneur, was the first person in his huge family to graduate from college.

His impact on the sports marketing and business world are immeasurable. Host isn’t just a giant in the industry, he practically created it. He’s the King Kong of that world. It’s truly not that much of a stretch to say the March Madness that we all enjoy so much is fruit from Host’s tree as is the familiar phrase “Final Four.”

Jim Host is from Ashland and darn proud of it. The man who grew up on Elm Street in South Ashland made that abundantly clear on Friday night during the Highlands Museum’s Hometown Sports banquet.

Living history was on display with the likes of basketball greats King Kelly Coleman and J.R. VanHoose, Mr. Basketballs about 40 years apart, and high school football coaching great Ivan McGlone in the house along with Host and a host of others.

Jim Host isn’t just proud to be from Ashland, he says it was this little town on the Ohio River that helped him succeed in life. Because of the nudges he received from what he considers his “hometown,” despite only living here for eight years, Host became only the second scholarship baseball player in University of Kentucky history and springboarded from there to become a giant in the industry with more Hall of Fame rings than a team of New York Yankees.

He hasn’t forgotten how Marvin Hall took him under his wing and coached him, the impact of the legendary Ernie Chattin and Bo McMillen, who made sure kids had bats and balls to play with in Central Park before organized baseball came to our city in the mid-1950s, and the tenacity and no fear attitude that he learned from being around the coaching of George Conley.

Make no mistake, Ashland has a friend in Jim Host.

It’s not just lip service either. He’s always helped me with projects and been supportive of any effort that I’ve made to enhance sports history in northeastern Kentucky.

Ashland also has always had a friend in Dr. Jack Ditty, who joined me on the platform along with one of Ashland’s great businessmen and athletes George Rupert, who we learned was instrumental in being the one to give Dr. Ditty the nudge he needed. It was a bit humbling to stand up there with those three great men who have done so much in their lives with Ashland at the root.

Jack talked about Donald Putnam and Sam Mansbach, businessmen who were doers in Ashland and the reason why one of our town jewels – the Ashland Area YMCA – is here today. Few cities this size have a YMCA quite like Ashland.

The momentum that Ashland is currently feeling with the news of Braidy Industries arrival has revived us. Hope is no longer in the rearview mirror. Ashland has a proud past and we should look back with much pride, but let’s not discount the future at our fingertips. Braidy not only brings in jobs but it brings in bright people with big, new ideas that could reshape this area for years to come. A town has no better resource than its positive thinking people and we may get a bunch of them with Braidy. We have them here already rolling up their sleeves (think Build Ashland) and leading by example.

Looking around the fourth floor of the museum, where the banquet took place, put you in an Ashland past mode. Many of us “old Ashlanders” remember the museum as Parson’s Department Store. It was on the mezzanine in Parson’s where I learned of a love for books. When my mother shopped in Parson’s I didn’t go to the toys, I went to the books – sports books (of course). I looked through dozens of them as she shopped and almost always came away with one to read. That put me in a world of sports history that I’ve never stopped loving.

You may get that same feeling of history if you go into the old Parson’s building now that has transformed into an amazing museum. The sports exhibit that is being showcased for the next few weeks will not disappoint. Kudos to progressive thinking Carol Allen and her capable staff that includes Matt Potter and curator Heather Akers. I’ve worked with all three of them in different areas at the museum and they should all be commended.

Carol’s leadership at the museum has given Ashland another bright light for the future as we navigate toward a new beginning. It sure is a lot easier to follow the path with a spotlight in front of you.


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