Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 07: DIRECTORS
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY
Nancy Adams, Director 2002-2013

Nancy Adams

Nancy Adams, c. 2013. Photo courtesy of Nancy Adams.


Nancy Adams: Executive Director, January 2002 – June 2013

TAGS: Nancy Adams, directors, managing change, centennial celebration, community relations, lands unsuitable for mining, environmental education, James E. Bickford State Nature Preserve, Kentucky Heritage Council, preservation workshops, endowment management, PMSS partners, sustainability measures, Grow Appalachia program, Reading Camp, Intervention Program,  VISTA, The Sandy New Era,  The Charleston (SC) Gazette, Appalshop, WV Humanities Council, John A. Sheppard Memorial Ecological Reserve

As the history of Pine Mountain Settlement School (PMSS) has shown, the task of managing the School has always been challenging. Each director must see that the School stays grounded by its traditions and past successes, such as the boarding school era, the community school days, and its outstanding environmental education program. And at the same time, each director must also move with the present and prepare for the future.

For past PMSS directors, keeping a balance between traditions, thriving programs, and progressive change has not been an easy task. They have faced the privation of two wars, the 1918 flu epidemic, poverty that is difficult to imagine, and many more challenges.

However, as difficult as managing change has been through the years, the process has always been remarkably creative. Every director has left us valuable models to meet the new demands that future change will bring.

NANCY ADAMS, Director 

Nancy Adams’ tenure as the School’s director came during a particularly rapid period of transition in today’s world. The changes and challenges In the Appalachian coal fields included the continuing decline of the coal industry, and with it, the loss of coal employment to historic lows; the depressed economy as industry-dependent businesses struggled to stay open; the increased out-migration of residents; and the hurdles of creating a more diversified economy. These changes were occurring during one of the nation’s worse economic recessions.

During her eleven years as PMSS Director, Nancy Adams met these challenges to the School, with innovative solutions and, consequently, Pine Mountain flourished. During her last year, the School prepared for its 100th year of operation and, while looking back was an important part of the centennial celebration, looking forward was a critical necessity.

Transcribed below is her final “Dear Friends” letter, published in the spring 2013 issue of Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School. In her letter, she lists the ways the School succeeded and improved under her leadership. Her narrative captures her profound love of the region and the land and her commitment to environmental concerns.

Letter to PMSS Board of Trustees from Nancy Adams. (Source: Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School, Spring 2013.)

April 2013
Dear Friends,

At the end of June, I will be leaving the position as executive director of Pine Mountain Settlement School. What an eleven years it has been!

During the last several weeks, I have been thinking about how the School has changed since I arrived. My goal was to leave Pine Mountain in a better position than when I arrived. Time will be the judge of that. I know that I tried. I have written about some of my reflections, and listed the things that I consider to be important achievements.

In December 2001, the Pine Mountain Board of Trustees approved my appointment to serve as executive director. My most vivid memory of that day is standing in front of Laurel House as trustees drove away. As the last car crossed the rickety wooden bridge over Isaac’s Creek, I surveyed the heart of the campus and began to realize the magnitude of the responsibility I had assumed. Many times during my tenure, I would think back on that moment.

Earlier in that day, one long-serving trustee took me aside after I was hired and said: “I know you will make changes. Go slowly.” When I arrived in mid-January of 2002, I decided I would observe the School’s operation for a while. I recorded my observations and made notes about my ideas for making the operation more efficient and strengthening and diversifying the programs.

This is my list of important achievements by the Settlement School staff during my tenure:

  • We healed the breach with community members who were angry that the School had petitioned the state, and won its argument, to declare lands unsuitable for mining around the School.
  • We maintained a high return rate for our environmental education program even during times when school boards across the country had to cut budgets. Our retention rate for schools is 90 percent. We have been able to recruit new schools to participate in our environmental education program. We have been able to do this in part by updating our program, and adding new material that is consistent with state core content requirements.
  • We established the James E. Bickford State Nature Preserve on campus. The 348-acre preserve on the north side of Pine Mountain is home to rare plants and to insects that are found nowhere else on the planet.
  • We worked with the Kentucky Heritage Council to produce three preservation workshops every year for 10 years. These workshops, taught by skilled master craftspeople, drew close to 400 people to the campus. The students learned particular preservation techniques, and, at the same time, they completed needed work on Pine Mountain’s historic buildings. These workshops brought state and national recognition to the School. This spring, an important document will be published that stemmed from a window repair summit at the Settlement School in 2011. During the summit, historic window repair experts were able to prove that high quality wood and steel windows could be made as energy efficient as new windows.
  • We established many new administrative procedures that resulted in a more consistent and productive operation.
  • We worked with the board, and former Berea (KY) College president and Pine Mountain trustee Larry Shinn, in particular, to identify weaknesses in our endowment management, and, after a search for a new manager, found a firm that has served us well. During the economic downturns of the last 11 years, and most particularly from 2007 to the present, Pine Mountain has been able to draw a steady income from endowment that allowed the School to maintain programs and keep all staff employed. While much praise goes to Larry Shinn and our current endowment managers, the staff shares equally in that praise for their hard work during an especially lean financial period.
  • Through our partners – Berea College, Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, Kentucky Heritage Council, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, Appalshop, Grow Appalachia, Kentucky Non-Profit Network, Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center, University of Kentucky/Harlan County Extension Service, Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, Alpha Sigma Tau collegiate sororities and Alpha Sigma Tau National Foundation, Preservation Kentucky, Preservation Trades Network, University of Kentucky School of Architecture, and hundreds of individuals – we have gained many new friends for the School. Friends who support Pine Mountain through contributions, volunteer work, and by being goodwill ambassadors.
  • Through incremental changes, we have begun to meld our environmental education classes with an awareness of sustainability measures that can, with some planning, lead to a strong program that will be relevant to today’s challenges.
  • We have provided opportunities for staff development through off-campus conferences and classes, on-campus training, and webinars.
  • Through the Grow Appalachia program, we have helped dozens of local families to realize their potential to provide food for themselves and their families and neighbors. The School’s work with the community, and by extension, community members working with each other, have created bonds of trust that strengthen our extended community.
  • Through Reading Camp and the Intervention Program, we have helped local students receive remedial instruction in the basics of reading. Through this extra help, students have had an opportunity to catch up with their peers in academic studies. Some failing students have improved their reading skills to the degree that they have achieved honor roll status in their schools.

We have maintained the spirit of Pine Mountain. Through challenges and uncertainties, this intangible, ever-present spirit sustains us and brings a sense of peace to many of our visitors.

I hope to see my Pine Mountain friends again, albeit beyond the boundaries of this lovely place. One of the great rewards of working here has been meeting you.

In the spirit of Pine Mountain,

Nancy Adams
Executive Director

In a January 2012 email to PMSS board members Nancy Adams wrote:

I thank you for the opportunity to work at Pine Mountain. I think the institution plays an important role in Central Appalachia and can be a leader in a holistic approach to environmental education and sustainable living.

NANCY ADAMS: Before Pine Mountain

Nancy Ray Adams was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and grew up in Ashland, Kentucky. After graduation from Maryville (TN) College, she worked with VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) in Mingo County, West Virginia. She helped with flood recovery efforts after the 1977 flood along the Tug River, which is the geographic feature between southern West Virginia, and parts of Eastern Kentucky. Her editing work with a small community newspaper, The Sandy New Era, led her to pursue a master’s degree in journalism from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

As a general assignment reporter and editor at The Charleston (WV) Gazette, Ms Adams wrote a series, “Holding On to Home,” which was chosen for the public service award from the Scripps Howard Foundation in 1989. She was also part of a team of reporters whose work was chosen for environmental writing awards. After leaving The Charleston Gazette, she worked with a team of people on a book about the de-institutionalization in West Virginia of adults with developmental disabilities.

Ms Adams has also worked at Appalshop, a media center in Whitesburg, Kentucky. There, she was the director of the community radio station, WMMT, and produced news reports for the station.

In 1997, Ms Adams went on to work in the office of West Virginia Secretary of State Ken Hechler where she was in charge of overseeing the state’s campaign finance laws and monitoring campaign finance reports for legislative offices statewide.

After the 2000 election cycle, Ms. Adams was hired by the West Virginia Humanities Council to work as a staff writer for the West Virginia Encyclopedia project. She left that position after being hired for the executive director’s position at Pine Mountain Settlement School.

NANCY ADAMS: After Pine Mountain

Ms Adams continues to work on writing projects, including a book about her uncle who was killed in World War II. She has volunteered to help several non-profits in West Virginia and Kentucky, and serveD as president of the John A. Sheppard Memorial Ecological Reserve in Mingo County, West Virginia.


Nancy Adams

Alt. Title

Nancy Ray Adams




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt, Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Nancy Adams, Nancy Ray Adams ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; executive directors ; Appalachian coal fields ; coal industry ; out-migration ; economic recessions ; managing change ; centennial celebration ; Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School ; community relations ; lands unsuitable for mining ; environmental education programs ; James E. Bickford State Nature Preserve ; Kentucky Heritage Council ; preservation workshops ; Berea (KY) College ; Larry Shinn ; endowment management ; PMSS partners ; sustainability measures ; staff development ; Grow Appalachia program ; Reading Camp ; Intervention Program ; Maryville (TN) College ; VISTA ; The Sandy New Era ; Marshall University ; The Charleston (SC) Gazette ; Appalshop ; WV Secretary of State Ken Hechler ; WV Humanities Council ; John A. Sheppard Memorial Ecological Reserve ;

Subject LCSH

Adams, Nancy Ray, — 1953- .
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY ;




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 07: Directors




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 07: Directors

Coverage Temporal

1953 – 2013

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ;  Louisville, KY ; Ashland, KY ; Maryville, TN ; Mingo County, WVA, Tug River, WVA ; Charleston, SC ; Huntington, WV ; Whitesburg, KY ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Nancy Ray Adams ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Nancy Ray Adams ;




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY, [date].

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann .Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2015-03-18 aae ; 2015-03-26 hhw ; 2016-11-02 aae ;



Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Pine Mountain, KY. Spring 2013. (accessed 2015-03-18). Internet resource.

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