Commonwealth Journal

March 2, 2013

Former county judge Garner dead at 80

By BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

A former Pulaski County judge-executive, long-time educator and owner and part owner of numerous businesses in Pulaski and surrounding counties is dead.
  Jacob V. (Verl) Garner died about 8 p.m. Friday at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital. He was 80.
  Garner, a resident of Cains Store, served two consecutive terms as county judge-executive. He was first elected in 1973 and took office in 1974.
  “Verl was a visionary,” said Rick Barker, a close friend and former director of Pulaski County 9-1-1 Communications Center and county jailer. “He brought Pulaski County government into the modern age.”
  Barker recalled that Garner, during his first term in office, initiated the CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act), a federal program that brought tremendous changes to Pulaski County government. Garner was instrumental in establishing rural fire departments in the county, bringing fire protection to rural residents.
  “There was not a single rural fire department when we started,” recalls James O. “Jim” Burdine who served as public safety director during the Garner administration.
  “Fiscal court said we couldn’t do it (establish rural fire departments) ... they said it wasn’t legal,” said Burdine.   
  Garner’s response: “I’m going to do it whether it’s legal or not.”
  “He did it ... we never did find out if it were legal,” laughed Burdine. “Now, you couldn’t take the fire departments from rural communities,” Burdine added.
  “Garner never asked ‘How is it?’ but ‘How can it be?’” said Barker. “He was a great county judge.”
  Elected twice as a Republican and eventually calling himself an independent, Garner’s effectiveness was his willingness to cross the isle. He was a really close friend with Kentucky Governor Wendell Ford, a Democrat. This relationship resulted in building the Chesterview interchange on the Cumberland Parkway to allow residents in the western part of the county to access the four-lane highway.
  Most of the rock that formed the surface of the eastern half of the 88-mile Cumberland Parkway came from a quarry on Garner’s farm near Cain’s Store. 
  Money from this quarry gave Garner, a former schoolteacher, financial ability to fund one of the most hard-fought and expensive campaigns for judge-executive up to that time. 
  Garner defeated former magistrate and state representative Lavey Floyd in the 1973 GOP primary election, and Gilmore Phelps, a Democrat and popular sheriff, 6,262 to 5,473 in the November 7, 1973 general election. Garner was judge-executive when the Pulaski County Governmental Complex (courthouse) was completed in 1974.
  Following two-terms as judge-executive, Garner launched a business career that made him probably the most varied business entrepreneur in the history of Pulaski County.
  His business interests included Sav-A-Lot stores  in Campbellsville, Liberty, Russell Springs and McKee, the former Jerry’s restaurant in Somerset, a Druther’s restaurant in McKee, a Dairy Queen, Wilbert-Vaught Monument and Conder’s Service Station, both in Somerset and well as several motels. The family still owns some of these businesses
  Garner was an educator for 17 years. He started teaching in one- and two-room schoolhouses and then in the former Ferguson Independent School System before teaching in the Pulaski County School District. He was a history and social studies teacher at the former Nancy High School for about 10 years.
  “He always wanted to be county judge,” said his wife, Betty. “He said that time and time again.”
  Garner was a member of the Pulaski County Draft Board for five years. He was a member of the Kentucky County Judges’ Association and the Kentucky Coal County Judges’ Association.
  He served as chairman of the Lake Cumberland Area Development District and chair of the Lake Cumberland District Health Department.
  Garner also served on the governor’s commission to study needs of Kentucky. He was a member of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, Bradley’s Pleasure Baptist Church, a Mason and Shriner.
 A sergeant in the U.S. Army, Garner served 3 1/2 years, from 1949 to 1953. He was stationed overseas for two years.
 Garner graduated from Eastern Kentucky University and did graduate work at Western Kentucky University. He was a member of Bradleys Pleasure Baptist Church.
  Funeral services for Mr. Garner will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Lake Cumberland Funeral Home and burial will be in the Bradleys Pleasure Church Cemetery. Visitation begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home.
  A complete obituary will be published later in the Commonwealth Journal.