by Phil Obermiller
The Appalachian Studies Association (ASA) was founded in the 1970s to provide a way for activists and academics to cooperate in regional understanding and advocacy. Since then urban Appalachians have played prominent roles in the Association – Mike Maloney was one of ASA’s founders, the Urban Appalachian Council sponsored the Association’s 1997 conference in Northern Kentucky, Phil Obermiller brought the 2006 conference to Ohio, and Dayton’s Carol Baugh served as ASA president in 2009. Pauletta Hansel and Tom Wagner have served as ASA conference program chairpersons, and many Southwestern Ohio and Northern Kentucky community leaders, organizers, poets, novelists, musicians, educators and researchers have participated in the 38 conferences the Association has organized.
The tradition of urban Appalachian involvement in the ASA continues with the selection of Debbie Zorn as ASA president-elect for 2017 and conference organizer for 2018. Debbie was involved with the former Urban Appalachian Council for 15 years, serving as chair of its research committee then as its board president for five years. She’s now an active member of the core team developing the new Urban Appalachian Community Coalition.
Her roots are in the Wells and Cottle families of Appalachian Kentucky’s Morgan County. Living on the side of what passes for a mountain in Colerain Township, she enjoys gardening and hiking in the woods every chance she gets. Her husband, Phil, is a court magistrate and may be one of the few banjo-playing bluegrass aficionados in the Hamilton County court system.
Debbie has spent a career at the University of Cincinnati and for the last 19 years has provided assessment and evaluation services to schools and community-based organizations as a Senior Research Associate and Director of UC’s Evaluation Services Center. It was this professional work that brought her into contact with groups working in Appalachian neighborhoods such as the East End Heritage School, the Lower Price Hill Environmental Leadership Coalition, and the Urban Appalachian Council.
Although relatively new to the Appalachian Studies Association, Debbie represents the best in ASA – she understands academia, is well-grounded in neighborhood issues and concerns, and is proud of her Appalachian heritage. Her approach to organizational leadership is both practical and unpretentious – she admits to “having a lot to learn.” While admitting that there is a lot more to ASA than putting on a conference, she is determined to boost grassroots involvement. “The 2018 conference will be a community effort,” she says. “We’ll be doing it together.” She also views the conference as an opportunity to bring greater attention to urban Appalachian concerns in the Greater Cincinnati community.
To that end Debbie welcomes ideas and participation from across the urban Appalachian community. Contact her at ZORNDL@UCMAIL.UC.EDU