Although the tobacco industry has been hard hit by government regulations and eliminations over the past years, Kentucky is still the top burley tobacco producer in the nation.

Tending that crop for the "Burley Capital of the World" has been a motto for the Stamper family of Laurel County and one of their own was honored Friday for his achievements.

Local dignitaries gathered to honor Alvin Stamper, who has competed - and won - the Garrard County Tobacco Championship since 2006. For that achievement, he was honored with a road sign commemorating his achievement.

Local dignitaries gathered to mark Stamper's achievements in a brief ceremony under the entrance of FleaLand Flea Market due to rainfall but near the site where the sign will be displayed.

Mike Calebs, Chief Engineer for District 11 of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, called Stamper "a world class athlete."

"He's been cutting tobacco since he was big enough to follow his grandpa to the tobacco field," Calebs said. "He started competing in the tobacco contest in 2002 and has won it since 2006."

Calebs is a tobacco farmer himself and is well acquainted with the hard physical labor involved with raising the crop.

"Working in tobacco is hard work," he added. "Alvin can cut 300 stick in an hour, in 61 minutes, in 58 minutes. That's what I call a world class athlete."

Representative Jim Stewart was also present for the ceremony and credited fellow representative Robert Goforth for having the resolution honoring Stamper passed by the legislature. Stewart said the decline of tobacco production now has the Garrard County contest as the sole event in the state - probably in the nation.

"This started in 1982 and has over 375 to over 600 attendees," Stewart said.

Stewart also had the resolution passed by the legislature honoring Stamper, described as "Whereas, since 2006, Alvin Stamper has won the contest every year, with his thirteenth being in September 2018, where he won by cutting 4.918 sticks per minute, and received a commemorative plaque along with $500 prize money."

Goforth said he looked forward to changing the sign next year to add 2019 to it.

Laurel County Judge Executive David Westerfield also spoke, stating that he too grew up in tobacco fields and knew the hard labor involved. He said he had worked beside many of the Stamper family during those years and had known them for many years. He congratulated Stamper for his achievements.

Stamper had few words to say, but the smile on his face was representative of his emotions at the honor. He did add, however, that the surprise presentation - which his family had kept secret - was a success.

"You pulled one on me," he said, smiling. "But I appreciate it."

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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