PADUCAH — The hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C., is unmistakable. Our nation's capital is the epicenter of U.S. politics with a life and energy all its own.
From the White House to the Supreme Court to the U.S. Capitol, D.C. is full of men and women who wield incredible power. And behind every successful elected leader and lawmaker is at least one person who helps make it happen.
Western Kentucky celebrates three people who all grew up in Fancy Farm, Kentucky; graduated from local high schools; graduated from Murray State University and are key players behind elected leaders.
Caroline Cash serves as chief of staff for Rep. James Comer, who represents Kentucky's 1st District. Sarah Drake serves as deputy chief of staff for Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Ashlee Vinyard serves as chief of staff for Rep. Jim Baird of Indiana.
Last week, all three women gathered early Wednesday morning to discuss their experiences and local roots with a group visiting Washington, D.C., from western Kentucky. The group was comprised of representatives of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce and a delegation of business leaders and professionals. The group was in Washington during the chamber's annual D.C. fly-in aimed at rallying federal support for local projects.
"We just want to hear from you! We just want to get to visit with you and tell you how proud we are of you! So, we look at you as our meaningful Kentuckians in D.C. from west Kentucky, from far west Kentucky," Paducah Chamber President Sandra Wilson said.
"I graduated from Graves County High School, went to Murray State University, and I credit my time there with helping me make the connections to where I am now," Cash said.
Cash earned a Juris Doctor From the University of Kentucky College of Law. Before serving as chief of staff, Cash practiced law in Lexington, Kentucky, and worked for her family's auction and real estate business based out of Fancy Farm. She's been serving at chief of staff since November 2016.
Cash said that there is a big change in her responsibilities from when Comer first came into office.
"I do think the day-to-day's changed a lot from the congressman's freshman term from kind of focusing on setting up the office, getting going, building up our staff to now our second term in Congress where he has more responsibilities on his committees, and it's shifted to more to preparing him for those responsibilities," Cash said.
In her role as deputy chief of staff for Wicker, Sarah Drake assists in both the senator's office as well as the Senate Commerce Committee.
"I used to tell people when I would meet with them, our Mississippi constituents, that I grew up in north north north Mississippi, also known as western Kentucky if you just keep going far enough up," Drake said.
As the audience laughed, Drake added "but no matter how much time I've spent working with Mississippi constituents, Kentucky and Fancy Farm are home."
Fancy Farm and memories of the famous Fancy Farm Picnic featuring political speeches from men and women running for elected office is something all three women reflected on during their talk.
"I grew up, I would say, in the suburbs of Fancy Farm," Ashlee Vinyard chuckled. Vinyard previously served as chief of staff for Rep. Lamare Smith of Texas before working in the same position with Baird.
"When you tell (people) where you're from, and you're from Fancy Farm, Kentucky, you know, most people (say), 'I don't know that.' But occasionally you'll run into people and 'Oh my gosh! I've read about you in Politico, or you know, Time, Time magazine. I've read about Fancy Farm and the great things they do there,'" Vinyard said.
"It definitely laid the foundation for my interest in politics," Cash said.
"Living on the road going to the picnic, and having aunts and uncles and two grandparents that live on the highway, I started volunteering to put campaign signs out for candidates that I believed in, so that helped me make connections in the political world," Cash added.
One of Drake's fondest memories is when then Tennessee Sen. Al Gore visited Fancy Farm as then presidential candidate Bill Clinton's running mate in the 1992 presidential election.
"I think the biggest political memory for me is when Al Gore came to speak at the Fancy Farm Picnic. I remember that was a big deal. They landed a helicopter in a field back behind the speaker's stand. I think over the years I definitely gained much more of an appreciation for what it meant the role Fancy Farm plays in politics in Kentucky," Drake said.
Fancy Farm is an unincorporated community in Graves County, Kentucky, that sits about 10 miles northwest of the county seat which is Mayfield. The 2010 census put the population of Fancy Farm at 458.
"The thing I enjoy the most about the day-to-day activity is that it's never the same. What you think you're going to when you get there in the morning is never what you end up doing by the time you get to lunch. So, in a lot of ways, it's not different from what you guys do on a day-to-day basis in your individual businesses," Drake told the crowd.
"It's an exciting place to work. It's fast paced, and I am attracted to that, which is why I think I've stuck around for so long," Drake said.
The intense, fast-paced workload on Capitol Hill challenges the three professionals in ways perhaps they could never really have imagined growing up in a small Kentucky town. The values and principles instilled in them at a young age continue to pay off in their adult working lives today: hard work, determination, pride in country and helping their fellow human being.
"I think one of the most meaningful pieces of legislation I worked on a couple of years ago and it was regarding dyslexia," Vinyard said.
"No matter how much time I've spent working with Mississippi constituents, Kentucky and Fancy Farm are home, so I'm really excited to be back here with you guys today," Drake told the crowd.
From Fancy Farm to D.C., these local women are making their mark and living their own American Truth.