The following article by Charles Hartley originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 4 Sep 2013. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
I wonder how many of the students who pass through the entrance to Roby Elementary School in Shepherdsville notice the picture of the grandfatherly-looking gentleman who seems to be watching over them?
He is, of course, Mr. Ora Lee Roby for whom the school is named.
Ora Roby was born in 1881 on a Bullitt County farm to William and Joan Roby, the first of their three children. As he was growing up, the family lived for a while in Missouri, but returned to Bullitt County sometime before 1900, and after his father had died.
From the time he was old enough to go to school, his mother saw to it that he was in attendance in whatever school was available near where they lived. And Ora was an eager student, soaking up as much knowledge as his teachers could provide.
It seemed clear early on that he wanted to become a teacher himself.
Teachers in those days in rural parts of Kentucky rarely had a college degree; indeed some with less than a high school education found themselves at the head of a classroom. To become a teacher, one had to pass an examination for a teaching certificate. While many were bright and dedicated to their jobs, sad to say, some managed to obtain their certificates by buying copies of the test ahead of time, or by bribing the school trustee.
Fortunately for Bullitt County, Ora Roby was one of the bright, dedicated ones. We know that he passed the examination for his teaching certificate in July 1905, and began teaching, likely at the Bardstown Junction school.
He married Miss Cora Belle Hardy in 1908. She was a daughter of George W. Hardy, for a number of years a prominent merchant at Pitts Point, Kentucky.
They both taught at the Bardstown Junction school. The correspondent from that area reported in the paper in November 1909 that "Mr. & Mrs. Roby are progressing nicely with their school at this place, with large attendance." Then the following February, the paper reported that "they have quite a large attendance with new pupils from Cane Spring, Clermont, Chapeze and Belmont."
The previous March, Ora Roby had announced his candidacy for county school superintendent. However, Miss Jennie Carpenter defeated him in the June primary election. Her term was cut short when she became ill in early 1911, and a Mr. McCormick was appointed to fill her unexpired term. Almost immediately, McCormick began suffering from tuberculosis, and was forced to resign as well.
Thus Mr. Roby, who had already announced his intention to file for the job in the next election, was appointed to it in June 1911.
One of his early accomplishments was hiring Jack Sanders to teach in the Shepherdsville High School. With Roby's support, Sanders soon became the school's principal, and under his leadership the school prospered and soon became the pride of the community.
Roby easily won the 1913 election to retain his position, a mark of the approval of the community in his early efforts.
In 1913, in his annual report to the state superintendent of schools, Roby wrote, "In the last two years we have succeeded in building five new school houses, most of them being one-room 24 x 32 feet, at a cost of from $550 to $700 each. We now have under construction a two-room building with hall between, built on a modern plan, to cost near $1,400, and propose another building to be finished in two months, thus making most of the houses new or nearly so, as about 75 per cent of them have been repaired and painted. In most instances the schools are very well equipped with blackboard, space, seats, charts, maps and globes, though we have few libraries in the county, but now that the houses are owned and cared for by the board of education, small libraries are being started from money made from box and pie socials and other entertainments."
He also reported, "Our school fair, held in September, was the greatest day in the history of Bullitt County. More than a thousand school children marched in the parade. The floats of the different schools were beautiful. The exhibits in manual training, domestic science and art were splendid and the contests interesting and entertaining."
In a 1922 volume titled History of Kentucky edited by Judge Charles Kerr, we find Roby described as "earnest, enthusiastic and energetic in his methods, practical in his aims and successful in the application of his principles. In his work he is able to secure the co-operation of his fellow-workers, the teachers, and this spirit of helpfulness has done much to raise the standards and to advance the general system. Mr. Roby is a democrat in his political views, is a Master Mason fraternally, and in his religious connection belongs to the Baptist denomination."
Ora Roby continued as the county school superintendent until 1934. After that he served as Secretary to the Bullitt County Fair Board, Secretary and Treasurer of the National Farm Loan Association, was an appraiser for G. I. Loans for Veterans, and was very active in Red Cross work for many years.
But his first love was always teaching, and he could be frequently found in the classroom as a substitute teacher.
Then in 1956 the Bullitt County Board of Education named the new elementary school that was soon to be erected in honor of Ora L. Roby. When the school opened a year later, Mr. Roby was the first substitute teacher to be called to the school.
Ora Roby's passing in 1962 marked the end of an era, but his memory still remains; and each day when eager children pass through the doors of Ora L. Roby Elementary School, perhaps now they will cast a glance at that picture with pride in the man whose name graces their school.
Copyright 2013 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.