By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
MANTON, Ky. — If you’ve ever crossed Hardin’s Creek near Manton, Ky., by car, you’ve driven on what locals call “Sodelbia’s Bridge.”
The concrete bridge on Kentucky Route 1183 span’s the creek that separates Washington and Marion Counties on the edge of Manton. The bridge was erected in the mid-1950s after the late Sister of Loretto Sodelbia Hughes spent years lobbying various governors of Kentucky for its construction.
On July 14, the bridge will officially be named in her honor.
The “Sister Sodelbia Hughes Memorial Bridge” will be dedicated at 7 p.m. Former students of Sister Hughes and local officials are expected to attend the ceremony.
Sister Sodelbia, as she’s called by those who knew her, established Washington County’s Manton Public School in 1925. The two-room schoolhouse, now a community center, educated generations of children from large Catholic and non-Catholic families alike in and around the Manton area. In its busiest days, it accommodated about 110 children a year.
“But the kids couldn’t get to school when it rained,” said
Sister of Loretto Kay Carlew who taught at the school with Sister Hughes in the 1960s.
During an interview at the Loretto Motherhouse, she explained that in good weather students who lived on the far side of Hardin’s Creek — in Marion County — could cross the creek bed. For decades, though, students missed class when the heavens opened.
On a dry, hot day last week, the creek was about 30 feet wide with a light riffled current. Some spots seemed to be two-to-three feet deep and others offered footpaths created by shoals of smooth pebbles.
Sister Carlew said the school’s founder was a teacher “par excellence,” a social worker and a masterful politician.
“I went with her to Frankfort many times to have the roads paved, to have water brought in” to the area, Sister Carlew noted. “On the way to school, we would get petitions signed. Oral history holds that (Governor Albert) ‘Happy’ Chandler said, ‘Give that nun anything she wants because I’m tired of her calling
That’s how the bridge came to be, said Sister Carlew.
Sister Hughes was motivated by her concern for her students living in remote rural Kentucky, said Sister Carlew.
“She led all students to believe they could do whatever they wanted to do,” said Sister Carlew. “She wanted the kids to have the best of everything.”
Sister Carlew said that after a recent Mass at Holy Rosary Church, which sits across the road from the old Manton school, people gathered to talk about Sister Hughes.
“We stood outside and I reminisced with the people,” including three generations educated at the school, she said. “They don’t believe Manton would be as it is today except for what she did.”
Dennis Hagan, a native of Loretto, Ky., who attended the school in the 1960s, is certain he wouldn’t be the same without Sister Hughes and the Sisters of Loretto.
He noted that he has always put people ahead of profits in his own business — something that makes a living harder to earn. But that’s the example he learned from Sister Hughes, he said.
He noted that when he and other alumni of Manton school reached high school, they were well ahead of their classmates.
Hagan believes the school elevated children in the Manton area and draws an analogy between Sister Hughes and her bridge.
“She was a bridge for us to education,” said Hagan.
“My dad started (at Manton Public School) in 1925. And I started in 1965. I’ve got nine brothers and four sisters. I think three or four didn’t go (to the school).
But all the rest of us did. My dad thought the world of her.”
Sister Hughes retired from the Manton school in 1969 and it closed in 1970. She died in October of 1987 and is buried at the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse, a few miles down the road from the school.