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Blue Ribbon Bear Board Re-awakens To Its Proud Tradition With Astonishing New R

This article first appeared in issue 16, and was written by Ed Waggener. The full title appeared as: Blue Ribbon Bear Board re-awakens to its proud tradition with astonishing new reports.

Science explains

apparent BRBB

news slowdown:

Bears hibernate,

BRBB members


Way back when-I don't remember exactly when- I read an article or a book entitled, "Let's do away with August."

The piece had a sound premise. August is a dud month. August in Adair County is a generally foul time, when you'd invite Sylvester Stallone, Jessie Helms, Mike Tyson, or the likes, to visit here.

It is not the kind of month one would want to welcome Elle McPherson, Roy Rogers, Stephen Jobs, Billy Graham, Quenton Farrentino, Tiger Woods, E. Fay Jones, or Lena Horne to inspect our county.

As everybody knows, Adair County enjoys a year round temperature of 72 degrees F.-just ask Sue Stivers or anyone at the Chamber of Commerce-in every month except August. The eighth month, even the Chamber folks will have to admit, is downright sultrating.

(Warning: The following bear board report contains explicit, hard-core science which may frighten small children, the weakminded, or anyone who failed Miss Mary Lucy Lowe's General Science class. Parents should NOT read this as a bedtime story)

In August dogs go mad. Cows go dry. Tobacco withers. Corn twists. Milk sours. Mildew spreads. Mosquitoes bite for no damned good reason. Tempers flare. A simple cut often leads to gangrene. Just looking at the humidity outside from an air conditioned room saps energy, will, and purpose.

In humans.

Bears on the other hand are quite active. They are still charged up on the energy they have conserved in the winter, during hibernation.

Humans-and Blue Ribbon Bear Board members belong to this group, I'm afraid- aestivate in the summer, with their most dormant stage in August.

What we are saying is that there has been no diminution in Adair County bear activity in mid-summer; only a breakdown in Blue Ribbon Bear Board reporting.

Why it has happened is just a cruel fact of science and theology. Oh, yes, there is a religious factor here. That writing about doing away with August was pure heresy. Ministers of the Gospel have a difficult time scaring the hell out of unrepentant Laplanders by describing a fiery hell. So dreadful situations and states- Rivergate Mall, Florida, and August -were devined as a menace threatening anyone who would be so foolhardy as to scoff at hell. How could any man, facing an impending eternity in a large shopping mall, not get hisself saved?

That's why the Omnipotent, in his or her all knowing wisdom, created August in Adair County.

Anyway that is as good an excuse as could be mustered as to why all the amazing true bear stories which have been happening are just now drawing ink.

We are going to do better. Hereinafter follows a portion of the True Adair County Bear Tales of Late, and there are many.


A bear sighting you can take to the bank; Board Dean, Gary Coomer, sees middle sized bear in a short lope, going across his hayfield.

"I went in Tuesday night and told Jenny (Mrs. Coomer) that I was going out to see what I could see," Dean Coomer said.

It is important to note the significance of this account. A person who is out hunting hickernuts will know them when he sees them. His eye is calibrated to see hickernuts. He may say, "I was out hunting hickernuts and I seen the biggest patch of 'sang I ever saw in my life." Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't, spot ginseng. His sight was fixed on seeing hickernuts. This is not to say that he would not know a pawpaw from a piss-ellum, but his optics and his brain were fixed on hickory, and you couldn't really trust his judgment, at the time, as regards 'sang.

When Gary Coomer has free time away from keeping things running at Lindsey Wilson College-he has been there longer than the Chancellor, longer than even Betty Brown-he is fixing on seeing a bear.

All his senses are concentrated on that one obsession: to personally verify the great reality that bears are here, that the animal which sustained Daniel Boone when he came to Adair County with the Long Hunters is still very much present.

The intensity of his search has been greatest in the immediate past 24 months.

These have been trying times for the man we Bear Board members look to for leadership.

It was an uneasy mantle to wear, being the Bear Board Dean without having seen a bear.

Still, he had learned to hide his disappointment well. That is why, when he sallied forth last Tuesday, he did not tell his wife, "I am going to look for a bear." No, he was more subtle, modestly saying he was going for a walk, to see if he might see a deer or some wild turkeys.

But it was The Bear he was really after.

He was in the second field behind his house, on the Bennett Ridge side of Moss Creek, when he saw it.

It was about a quarter of six, p.m.,-still clear, strong daylight.

"He came out of the right-hand side going to the left-hand side, over there across the hollow from the creek, about 150 yards away. I could see him real clear," Dean Coomer said.

"He was about half-grown or a little better. He was as black as that ash tray," he said, pointing to a jet-black receptacle. "He was full-blooded."

Acting as Devil's Advocate, Bear Board Member Jimmy Dale Bledsoe asked about the animal's gait. "He wasn't running like a chow, was he?" Bledsoe asked.

"No," Dean Coomer said, "he was loping-going in sort of a short lope," he said, ending once and for all the notion that he, Gary Coomer, had mistaken a dog for a bear.

"That's the first one I ever saw, and I've been looking for two years," he added.

Mr. Coomer has not gone back to the bear fields since, being busy with Malvina Farkle Day and affairs at LWC, but he does plan more extensive hunts.

Those who have followed the BRBB reports will recall Loren Bennett seeing two bears right near where this one was seen, and that Tony Bragg abruptly ended a hunt when he was chased to his car by a bear on Moss Cemetery Road, just across the hill from this latest sighting.


Photographic proof of bear at Archie Burton's; but who needs it when the source is impec-cable?

In some ways, this is a sad story. In most ways, it is a happy one.

When Joe Flowers told me he had a matter of great importance to the Bear Board, I dropped everything. He said that he had spotted a bear off 206, on his mail route. "I am going to get a photograph to prove it," he said. And then he asked, "Will that qualify me for the Bear Board?"

It was moving to know how much respect there is for membership in this great organization. Many of us so blessed simply take it for granted, I suppose.

But it did get me a little testy to have Joe Flowers think that the Blue Ribbon Bear Board would require photographic evidence of his sighting.

After all, we are men and women of honor; our word, in cases like these, should suffice.

And here, this scion of one of the great pioneer families of Adair County was suggesting that he might need photographic proof for the Bear Board!

"Man!" I reproved. "You are a part of the United States Postal Service, the greatest organization yet devised by earthly governments! You don't need photographs to prove anything you say. If we can't believe a United States Post Office Rural Mail Carrier, who can we believe?"

Nevertheless, Joe Flowers took the picture above, which was authenticated by Johnny Vaughn. "There is no doubt," Vaughn judged. "This is a bear. I can smell his foul, rancid bear breath just looking at the picture."

Johnny Vaughn is still the only BRBB member to have been treed by an angry momma bear. He asked that he might be the ranking Bear Board member at Flowers' induction ceremonies, a condition acceded to by Dean Coomer.

When Johnny Vaughn first saw Flowers in the cast he wears after his encounter with the bear, he wiped away a tear and said, "You know, there ought to be a Bear Board purple heart for this man."

I could not be more in agreement.

It was touching moment, too, because Vaughn, a shy woodsman who was born 100 years too late, a stalwart man of nature who disdains meetings and such, had said that he had even considered resigning the Bear Board because it is getting a darn bit too structured for his anarchist tastes. But he has undergone revival of sorts, inspired by the Flowers saga.

"When I first saw the bear," Flowers said, "it was sniffing around Archie Burton's house. I thought there might be little children around who might get hurt."

He says he found out too late, however, that all the bear wanted was a square meal. Too late to prevent a trip to Koontz & Kleinert, the hand surgeons in Louisville, who operated on his hand two days later.

"I wish I had known that before," Flowers said. "He could have had my dinner without the fracas. Now I'm wounded in my wing."

He wishes that he had gotten a close-up picture of the bear. That was not to be. "It was a near as I could get," he lamented. Even so, he got close enough to tell that the bear's plate had been cleaned and the beverage was all gone.

"There's no truth," he said, "to the rumor going around that the bear wanted a Michelobe. As far as I can tell, he was a teetotaller."

This is the only bear Flowers has seen, but he doesn't think it will be the last. He said, "I'm afraid they are thick up 206."


At the Breeding Mall, they all said, "If Marilyn says she saw a bear, she saw a bear"

This is the story of a brave woman, her watchful dogs, and fearless eyewitnesses who saw a creature which would change life in this small village forever.

In the beginning, time was reckoned in Breeding the same as it is in other parts of civilized Adair County.

Now, it is determined as "BMB" and "AMB," Before- Marilyn's- Bear and After- Marilyn's-Bear, though that may not be entirely accurate, because the bear may not be exclusively Marilyn's. It may belong to Cephus Garmon over on South Fork at Ravenna, or to the hills of North Cumberland County.

It is reported that a man from Louisiana, a very great bear man, moved to Cumberland County. Along his travels, in North Carolina, he bought two show bears. He imported them to Cumberland County. He turned one loose on Jones Ridge. The other he let out at the head of Big Runox (Renox, if you must). This must have been about 3 years ago, Charles Gibson reported one day at the Breeding Mall. And one or both of these bears may have wandered into Adair or Metcalfe Counties. Both locales are very close, in bear miles, from North Cumberland.

Dividing Ridge Road-some people call it Firetower Road; the County call's it Dividing Ridge Road-goes from about the Gibson place on 61 over the mountain to Ravenna in Metcalfe County, and every inch of it is bear friendly. So one of these bears from Cumberland County may have gone off to Cephus Garmon's thataway, or simply alongside Hwy 61 to Breeding.

THE FIRST REPORT of Marilyn's Bear came over the internet at 4:32 p.m., 5/29/97, under the subject: Official.

It read:

Just to inform you of an official (verified by 3 people) bear sighting in Breeding about 8:00 a.m. today.


The official BRBB reply to Marilyn Sparks followed on 5/30/97, entitled: Undying Thanks.

It read:

Pride swells in the hearts of the Blue Ribbon Bear Board. Ironically, we also received, via answering machine, the sworn statement of the scent of a boar bear in the same vicinity, from as honest a Johnny Vaughn as we know of. But the verification by three people of a Bear Sighting undoubtedly is one for the World Record Book of Guinesses. Congratulations!


However, later that day, we realized that we needed more to certify the Breeding report than a somewhat cryptic e-mail report, and asked for it. After all, they don't canonize a new saint every time a healing preacher says he's performed a miracle. I mean, if the Vatican wants proof, we need it too.

The next response was more satisfactory. In it, we learned the identity of the witnesses. We learned that they were the heirs of "Watermelon Man," and a subsequent letter, 5/31/97, subject: BEAR, gave even more details, in Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness prose, of the sighting:

. . . it was about 7:45 AM, Breeding ky time, on Thursday - "the girls' were really upset about something - I look out the kitchen door - at first, don't see anything, "the girls" keep barking - then I look into the field, directly south of shop building. It was then the big, black, fuzzy "something" in the field - I then got the binoculars (mine, not "the girls") and verified in my mind that, yes, it is a BEAR - I then called the Breeding Mall - they sent 3 local residents to the house - I didn't tell them I had seen a bear - just ask them what is was in the field - they all agreed - it is a BEAR - what more can I say?


Indeed, what more could anybody say, but that it is indeed a Certified Bear Sighting.

On June 11, 1997, I made my way to Breeding to revel in the details of the sighting. Marilyn Sparks showed me where the bear had been on the little rise just south of her antiques store, Traditions. The girls-the Sparkses two caged black labs-joyously barked their concurrences as Marilyn described the happening.

Mrs. Sparks said that when she saw it, the bear looked like it was eating something. She said she watched it, in all, about 15 minutes. She didn't get a picture because she didn't have a telephoto lens. "But I'm getting one," she said, "I'll be ready next time.

"If Joe (Mr. Sparks) had been here, he would have shot the bear," she said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because the bear was on our land, disturbing our dogs."

In Breeding, this is the way things are.

She said the bear had sauntered off South, in the direction of grocery at the Breeding Mall. Mrs. Sparks later drove a tractor over the field where she had seen the bear, but saw no new traces of it and has not seen it since.

Later, at the Breeding Mall, a panel agreed that there have been bears seen in the area for a long time. They said that if Marilyn Sparks said she sa a bear, she saw a bear. The three witnesses to Marilyn's Bear were Bernard Hurt, Kay Dunbar, and Larry Fudge.

Larry Pelston reported on a bear he'd seen in his younger days. "Dad shot a bear and it laid in the barn lot for several days," he said. "People would come and look at it. Ask around. They'll tell you. That was 20 years ago."

Ralph Claywell said he had seen a half-grown bear down on the creek. Other sightings in the area have been made by Debbie Stotts and James Wisdom, the panel said.

"Bears are definitely here," Charles Gibson said. "But if you want to be made out a liar, just say you saw one."

Maybe so. BMB, and Before the crusading efforts of the BRBB. Not now.

This story was posted on 1997-09-15 12:01:01
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Archive Photo

1997-09-15 - Photo Staff. DENA BURTON, North Russell County, secretary at the Lindsey Wilson College Plant Building, proudly accepted her membership on the Blue Ribbon Bear Board from Gary Coomer, Bear Board Dean, and is now a bona fide bear sighter. This item first appeared in Issue 16 of the print edition of Columbia! Magazine.
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Archive Photo

1997-09-15 - Photo Staff. JOSEPH WESLEY FLOWERS, Columbia Rural Route 3 carrier, submitted the photographic proof of bears in Adair CountyThis item first appeared in Issue 16 of the print edition of Columbia! Magazine.
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Archive Photo

1997-09-15 - Photo Staff. BEAR BOARD charter member Johnny Vaughn, right in right photo, gives Flowers his coveted blue membership card in Bear Board ceremonies Friday evening.This item first appeared in Issue 16 of the print edition of Columbia! Magazine.
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Archive Photo

1997-09-15 - Photo Staff. CEPHUS GARMON did not personally see the bear on his place at Ravenna, but his house-keeper saw it on several occcasions in the second field below his house, late in the afternoons.This item first appeared in Issue 16 of the print edition of Columbia! Magazine.
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