For many kids, the last year of high school is a bit of a cruise — finishing up a few remaining credits, dreaming of college, hanging out with friends and generally savoring the final, fleeting days of childhood.
But it didn't work out that way for Woodford County's Wade Poor.
Wade, 17, spent much of this school year dividing his time between a seat in the classroom and the operator's seat on a backhoe, working to keep his family's excavating business from going under after his father became critically ill and unable to work.
Digging into textbooks and digging out water lines was tough, and Wade missed so many classes that Woodford County school officials wrote his parents wanting to know why.
Fortunately, school officials arranged for Wade to join the accelerated learning program, which let him spend mornings in class and have afternoons free to do excavating work. As a result, Wade was able to keep the family business going, and he's getting his diploma this year.
"Things have worked out pretty well," Wade said with characteristic modesty. "I'm happy about it."
Wade's mom, Lori Poor, puts it another way.
"I don't know what we would have done without Wade," she said. "I was the one who went into a panic, and he was the one who comforted me. He kept saying, 'Mom, it's going to be fine; I'll take care of things.'"
It all began late last fall, when Wade's father, Michael Poor, was diagnosed with cancer. After emergency surgery, he spent a month in the hospital, then was unable to work for weeks afterward.
Wade's older brother, Ryan, wasn't available at the time. And his sisters, Michelle and Crystal, helped out all they could, but the main responsibility for keeping the family business going fell on Wade's shoulders.
"I told Wade, "If you don't stay home from school and help out, we could lose everything,"' Lori Poor said. "And he just took hold."
It was no small respon sibility. The Poor family not only does excavation work; it also contracts to provide maintenance for South Woodford Water District outside of Versailles.
Fortunately, Wade knew his way around excavating equipment, having been taught by his father to handle everything from a backhoe to a dump truck. But getting called out in the middle of the night to fix a leaking water line is hard when you're 17.
"With the water district, you're on call 24/7, but Wade basically just took over," Michael Poor said. "He's always liked to go out and work with me since he was little, so he knew what to do. Anything he couldn't do, he could call the water district for help. He basically just ran things until I got back on my feet."
Wade tried to attend school every day, but work demands kept calling him away. His mother refused to let him consider dropping out to work full-time.
She called Rob Akers, principal of Woodford County High School, who suggested that Wade join the school's accelerated learning program, called HEED (Helping Everyone Earn a Diploma). Designed for non-traditional learners, it lets students who are behind catch up by doing much of their work on computer.
"For someone who is in an extreme situation like Wade's, it helps you accelerate through if you're motivated enough," Akers said.
Motivated Wade was. He not only caught up; he completed enough credits so he received his diploma Saturday, even though he wasn't scheduled to graduate until next year.
"With as many credits as he still had to go, I didn't think there was any way he could finish," Akers said. "But he used the same work ethic that helped keep his family afloat. It's really been heartwarming to see."
Michael Poor, now being treated with chemotherapy, is back at work on a limited basis. But Wade still shoulders much of the load. With school ending, he plans to keep working in the business, but he wants to focus mainly on the family farm operation, which might be his first love.
"He's just a good old country boy," his mother said.
Whatever comes along, Wade seems mature enough to tackle it.
"You sometimes hear teenagers get a bad rap today, but then you look at Wade," said Jennifer Forgy, associate principal at Woodford County High. "He was just a regular teenager until his dad got sick, but he grew up fast. It's an amazing story."
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.