LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — It is hard to accurately describe the story of Lester and Dora Sumner without using a slightly hackneyed phrase: “Big things have small beginnings.”
From a modern standpoint, it’s difficult to imagine a 19 year-old coal miner finding his one true love at such a simple, commonplace event like church. It’s hard to picture a 17 year-old girl returning such affections and agreeing to marry. To borrow another cliché, times have changed.
It is even more pressing to comprehend that this love has endured for 70 years. Things don’t seem to work that way anymore. To think that two teenagers from a rural coal mining town – without any formal education – have gone on to have seven children, 18 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren at first seems impossible – but not for Lester and Dora.
Lester Sumner was born in 1924 in McCreary County. His father and older brother worked in Stearns, Ky., a town built specifically to cash in on Kentucky and Tennessee’s then-fledgling lumber and coal industries. It was only natural that he did too.
“We didn’t go to school; we went to work,” Lester said. “When I was 18, my dad and older brother took me into the mines. I worked for two years and didn’t like it.”
Dora can recount a brief stint at high school, but the distance made attendance seem more than a little impractical.
“I lived way out in the country. I went to high school for a little while, but I had to walk three miles just to catch the bus,” Dora said. “That’s one of many reasons we didn’t get any more education.”
It was during this time that Lester met Dora Bryant, who was only 16 at the time. Luckily, the Sumners and Bryants were well acquainted, so Lester walking Dora home each week from church was no big deal.