Making a Difference: The First Lady of Volunteering

Isabel Yates, KET supporter and civic volunteer

When Isabel Yates first arrived in Lexington with her family in 1963, it wasn’t long before she rolled up her sleeves and got busy doing what she loves best: volunteering for civic organizations.

“It’s a good thing I like it because the pay is miserable,” Yates said with a laugh. “But I love working with people. And I think people who volunteer make the world go ‘round.”

Even at age 94, Yates continues to be a civic tour-de-force. Dubbed “the first lady of all things Lexington” by a former mayor, Yates has spearheaded countless projects in the city over the years.
“I believe everyone should be interested in the place where they live,” said Yates, who served on the city council from 1991 to 2002. “They should try to make it a little bit better off than when they found it.”

It’s why, she says, she’s always been a supporter of KET from its early days when O. Leonard Press established the network, looking to provide equitable access to high-quality instruction in schools throughout the Commonwealth.

Yates has helped with KET’s fundraising efforts, serving as co-chair of KET’s first Summer Celebration event in 1989. She’s happy to do it, she says, because she knows a valuable resource when she sees one.

“Education is the key to a good life and to a good community,” Yates said. “And KET has been one of the most valuable educational resources for the whole state. It’s made a big difference for a lot of people, and I think we would be poorer without it.”

She’s also a fan of KET’s programming, gravitating to KET’s public affairs series, such as Kentucky Tonight and Comment on Kentucky, which she says help residents stay informed about their home state. And she prizes KET’s children’s programming, recalling the days when her children watched Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which she says helped nurture their young minds and prepare them for their school years.

“KET is an educational resource in so many ways — and education, at least to me, is the answer to so much of life and what we can accomplish,” Yates says. “It plays a large role in determining how far we can go.”

The daughter of a physician in a small town in South Carolina, Yates says her civic instincts stem from her formative years watching her father, who shared her inclination for public service. He chaired the local school board and rotary club and continually worked to improve their community.

“That’s my model,” Yates said. “He had a saying he liked to tell me: ‘You better be proud of the place where you live, and you should live so the place is proud of you.’”

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