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New director leading FCTA forward

Although his job title has changed, Kevin Kelley remains in the “people moving” business.

The former KenTenn EMS Director, Kelley officially took over the Executive Director position at Fulton County Transit Authority Monday, November 21. The FCTA Board of Directors chose Kelley for the post during a special called meeting on November 3.

Kelley resigned his position on the FCTA Board of Directors prior to applying for the job.

“Kevin Kelley will be a passionate leader who will bring dedication, integrity, and communication to FCTA,” said FCTA Board of Directors President Mike Gunn. “He was an obvious choice for the Executive Director position as he shares the community’s vision for the future. He remains ready to do the hard work to get us there. Kevin can recognize talent and can be a leader that supports those around him in being successful.”

Gunn has known Kelley personally and professionally for decades, even working together as City of Fulton Fire Department Paramedics.

“In my past 20-plus years working with him, Kevin is not afraid to look outside of the proverbial ‘box’ to get things done,” Gunn said. “He is the kind of leader that directs the organization into the future instead of allowing the future to direct the organization.”

Kelley’s immediate plans are to obtain more personnel to keep up with the increase in ridership FCTA has faced recently.

“I hope to continue to move Fulton Transit forward and continue to provide the communities we serve with their transportation needs in an effective and efficient means as possible,” Kelley added.

A 1987 graduate of Dresden High School (TN), Kelley received his emergency medicine training at Jackson State Community College in Jackson, TN. He earned his EMT Basic in 1995, EMT IV in 1996, and completed coursework to become a Paramedic in 1998.

All of Kelley’s career thus far has been working in emergency services. Kelley served with the Dresden Fire Department, Weakley County Rescue Squad, and City of Fulton Fire Department. He worked for Weakley County EMS from 1996-2003; Henry County Medical Center from 2003-2005, and with Air-Evac Lifeteam 31 in Martin, TN, from 2005-2013.

Kelley recently returned to the Fulton Fire Department after a 10-year hiatus.

In addition to providing hands on care, Kelley has also worked in a leadership role to make sure the Twin Cities area has professional care during emergency situations. Kelley served as Tri-Cities EMS Director from 2013 – 2017. After Parkway Regional Hospital was closed and CHS stopped providing ambulance service to the area, Kelley helped establish KenTenn EMS and served as director there from 2017 until now.

In 2019, Kelley helped develop the KenTenn EMS Academy. The program provides EMT and Advanced EMT classes and will soon host RN to EMT classes. Future plans include providing Paramedic classes in Fulton as well. All of these classes are taught at the KenTenn EMS base. Kelley has served as Program Director for the academy since its inception.

Kelley’s first day as FCTA Executive Director was Monday, November 21.

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Darryl Sims is FCTA's longest riding client. As FCTA Ambassador, Sims often represents FCTA in various activities. 

FCTA Ambassador is true regional treasure

Everybody loves Darrell Sims.

In the four-county area Fulton County Transit Authority serves – Fulton, Hickman, Graves, and Carlisle – there possibly aren’t a handful of other people someone could make that blanket statement about. For Darrell Sims, though, it’s true.

“Darrell knows and loves everyone, and everyone knows and loves Darrell,” said Kenney Etherton, former FCTA Executive Director. “He has been a FCTA client for more than 20 years and is the best FCTA driver trainer on the route he rides. If you are having a bad day, Darrell can change that by just saying good morning to you.”

Etherton thinks Darrell has never had a bad day in his life.

“He has an infectious smile and a kind word for everyone,” Etherton said. “He loves UK basketball and most of the time he is wearing something blue to show support for his UK basketball team and blue for FCTA. Darrell loves his God, his churches, UK Basketball, his job, FCTA, and he LOVED his Mother unconditionally.”

Several years ago, some members of the FCTA staff approached Etherton to do something special for Darrell because of the love for and support he’d offered the agency throughout the years. After much thought, those FCTA staff members decided to bestow upon Darrell the title of FCTA Ambassador.

“The word ambassador describes Darrell to a ‘T.’ He is one of our best supporters and advertisers. Darrell is quick to tell anyone and everyone about FCTA and the good things we do,” Etherton said. “I sometimes think if we could take a page from the life of Darrell Sims, it would say, ‘Just be happy and treat everyone with respect.’ We would have a much better world. I could tell Darrell stories all day long. He is one of the most loving and respectful people I know in the world. He’s never met a stranger and will never forget a name.”

Darrell takes his job as FCTA Ambassador very seriously.

“I like everything about being Ambassador,” Darrell said when asked recently. “I like representing FCTA.”

FCTA began its mission as a “people mover” in the mid-1980s. At 25 years, Darrell holds the record for most continual ridership of any client. Currently, Darrell rides in a FCTA vehicle daily from his home in Clinton to his job at Mayfield’s Food Giant. He celebrated his 28th year of employment there in November. Prior to working at Food Giant, Darrell worked at Smith’s for nine years.

“Guess I’ll probably work forever,” Darrell said, laughing. “You never know.”

Darrell was born in Chicago and moved to Clinton when he was 13 years old.

“I had family here,” Darrell said while explaining why they moved to the Hickman County town. “Clinton is a good place to grow up.”

On February 3, Darrell celebrated his 62nd birthday spectacularly.

“My birthday is the same day as Morgan Fairchild’s birthday,” Darrell said, smiling. For those of you who DON’T recognize her name, she’s a longtime actress from soap operas, TV shows, and movies.

Being FCTA Ambassador does have its perks. Darrell and the late Sam Jones, a longtime driver for FCTA, traveled to Frankfort to represent the agency for Transit Day at the Capitol one year. Darrell also represents FCTA at various public events around the four-county area. During the recent holidays, FCTA staff members kept Darrell busy riding in a Transit van on a five Christmas parade schedule including Mayfield, Arlington, Fulton, Clinton, and Hickman. Each September, Darrell represents FCTA in the Twin Cities’ Banana Festival Parade. In October, he can always be seen waving from a FCTA vehicle participating in the Clinton/Hickman County Halloween Parade.

The FCTA Ambassador is so faithful to go to church, he attends two of them weekly.

“I go to First Baptist on Sunday and the Assembly of God on Wednesday,” Darrell said, smiling broadly.

Following a recent Hickman County Spring Chicken Festival, employees who manned an informational booth for FCTA reported back at work that several people told them Darrell has the people at the churches he attends pray for Transit employees every Sunday or Wednesday.

“They said Darrell even calls most of us by name when he prays for FCTA,” one of the employees recalled. “I don’t think we could have a better Ambassador than one who asks God to bless FCTA and those of us who work here.”

When not working or representing FCTA at events, Darrell said he likes to listen to music, keep up with St. Louis Cardinals baseball, or hang out with friends. Many who know Darrell probably don’t know about one of his many skills. He doesn’t just listen to music, but Darrell apparently has memorized who sang every song he has ever heard. Recently, while hanging out with some of his FCTA friends, they began singing a line or two from songs they knew – including obscure ones from the early 1970s. Every line they would sing, Darrell would answer, “Alright, Tammy Wynette!” or “Alright, Aerosmith!” If two people or groups had recorded the song, Darrell was quick to educate those singing the lyrics for him about that fact as well.

Almost daily, Darrell will call the FCTA Dispatch Office on his ride home from work to check in and ask how everyone at Transit is doing. Often Darrell has heard about an illness, a death in a family, or something that has happened to one of the FCTA employees. He never fails to ask about those situations first.
“When he calls in you obviously know who he is because he has that cheery disposition,” said FCTA Dispatch/Scheduling Supervisor Christy Snow. “Darrell asks about everyone, and he always leaves us a good word for the end of the day. Darrell always tells us to tell everyone to have a good day and a good evening and that he is ready for the next day for us to pick him up.”

FCTA Operations Manager Rachel Cook considers Darrell unique and an integral part of the FCTA canvas.

“Darrell Sims is one of a kind,” Cook explained. “His personality is big and his love for life is bigger. He knows how to make anyone’s day. I remember the first day I met him, he gave me a big hug and welcomed me to the FCTA family. Since that day, Darrell has been such a positive staple in my career.”

According to Cook, Darrell can remember anything and everything.

“Darrell never forgets a face or a birthday,” Cook explained. “His birthday call each year is one I look forward to. I am so thankful that I have had the privilege to know and spend time with Darrell.”

Cook is not the only employee impacted by knowing Darrell.

“Darrell means a lot to all of our employees, and we mean a lot to him,” Cook said. “He had a very special relationship with Sam Jones and Charles Cavaness, two FCTA Drivers who have passed away. Every time I get to sit down and chat with Darrell, he reminds me how much he misses them both and how they were his family. We are his family and Darrell is ours. I couldn’t imagine a better person to represent us.”

Peers name Gardiner
Employee of the Year

Gardiner receives top honor

Drivers Supervisor Jo Ann Gardiner has been named Fulton County Transit Authority’s Employee of the Year for 2022.

The honor, chosen via individual ballot voting by FCTA employees, is traditionally announced prior to Christmas each year.

From the look on her face when her name was announced, it was obvious that the honor was a complete surprise to Gardiner.

“When you pick up the phone and call Jo Ann, it’s handled,” said FCTA Assistant Director Kristin Grooms who counted the ballots. “She’s dependable; you can always count on her. I believe that is why her coworkers chose Jo Ann this year.”

Gardiner, who started out at FCTA as a Driver, celebrated her fourth anniversary with the agency in October.

Although Gardiner is a team player and quite kind and helpful to her coworkers, she admits the people in the four counties FCTA serves are the real reason she attempts to do her job well on a daily basis.

“The best part is our clients,” Gardiner said. “They make the job worth it. We have some great coworkers here. Another benefit is being home which makes all the difference.

In addition to receiving the title, Gardiner has a framed certificate touting her honor, a newly minted ID badge with Employee of the Year 2022 printed across the top, and a few gifts from her coworkers.

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Jo Ann Gardiner poses with the certificate she received after being named FCTA's Employee of the Year. Gardiner is married to Bob Gardiner and has two sons, Robert and Dewayne. She also has two granddaughters - RayBell and Addie - whom she calls her "greatest gift ever."

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