Hoskins ends over 50 years at Harlan County Clerk’s Office

Published 12:28 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

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The Harlan County Clerk’s Office will close for several days on Thursday, reopening in January with a new Harlan County Clerk, Ashely Sullivan, at the helm.

When the office reopens in January, it will mark the first time in over 50 years that current Harlan County Clerk Donna Hoskins will not be working in the office in one position or another.

Hoskins explained why the office will be closed for a few days before Sullivan’s arrival.

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“We’ll be closing on Thursday, Dec.22, then the new clerk will open the office on January 3,” Hoskins said. “We have so many reports that need to be done before the end of the year. Starting in January, there will be a new clerk, and it will be a whole new system.”

Hoskins became Harlan County Clerk in 2011 when she was appointed to the office upon the death of then-Harlan County Clerk Wanda Clem. She is ending a tenure at the Harlan County Clerk’s Office that began approximately 53 years ago.

“I’ve been a deputy clerk and county clerk,” Hoskins said. “I’ve enjoyed the people, and I’ve seen a lot of changes come about, and there will be more changes starting next year.”

Hoskins was first elected Harlan County Clerk in 2012. She expressed high regard for the people she has served during her career.

“The people of Harlan County are so special,” Hoskins said.

Hoskins began working at the Harlan County Clerk’s Office in 1969 under then-Harlan County Clerk Gene Cornett. Before she became the Harlan County Clerk, Hoskins worked for Harlan County Clerks Tommy Lee, Larry Lee, and Wanda Clem. She has seen many changes in her time at the office.

“When I started, we stood up at the counter and actually typed the registrations to transfer a vehicle,” Hoskins said. “We hand-typed the deeds to be recorded in the deed room. We had 52 precincts in the county at that time because there were probably about 62,000 people in Harlan County. We’re down to about 25,000 people and 32 voting precincts.”

Hoskins pointed out that nearly every type of work performed by the Harlan County Clerk’s Office has been modernized and improved during the years she has been on the job.

“There have been a lot of changes in all the aspects of the clerk’s office,” Hoskins said. “We have a brand-new system for the process of registering a vehicle. We have improved the deed room; we can now scan the documents as they’re brought in, and it’s all available on the computer for people to look up. Everything has changed for the better.”

Hoskins has experienced quite a few out-of-the-ordinary events in her time on the job, many dating to the days when the Harlan County Jail occupied the top floor of the Harlan County Courthouse.

“Once, they thought there was going to be a riot in the jail,” Hoskins said. “The jail was upstairs here at the courthouse at that time. The county clerk at that time was Tommy Lee. He came in and said we all needed to get out of the courthouse.”

Another time, an inmate threatened to blow up the courthouse, Hoskins said. 

“He said he had dynamite around his waist,” Hoskins said. “They cleared us out of the courthouse, and we went across the street…if it had blown up, it would have gotten us all anyway.”

Hoskins explained the individual did not have dynamite but had used rolled-up tissue to simulate the appearance of dynamite. She also recalled one election night when prisoners attempted to escape the jail.

“We were counting votes,” Hoskins said. “They were breaking out of jail and had sheets hanging down from the windows.”

Hoskins laughed as she recalled the large number of sheriff’s deputies who were on duty at the courthouse for election night at the time the prisoners attempted to escape.

“I’ve had some experiences, good and bad,” Hoskins laughed. 

Hoskins is a Harlan County native.

“I went to Harlan Independent Schools,” Hoskins said. “Then we moved to Cumberland. I graduated from Cumberland High School, then went to Southeast (Southeast Kentucky Community College). I taught kindergarten for a year before kindergarten was mandatory. Then I got my job here at the Harlan County Clerk’s Office.”

Hoskins noted she has worked with many county officials and coworkers over the years.

“We’ve all had good relationships,” Hoskins said. “I’ve worked with all the magistrates, and we’ve had several during my time. I’ve gotten along with everybody, and I’ve had some people come in and thank me for what I’ve done and wish me well. That is what’s important.”

Many employees at the Harlan County Clerk’s Office have worked with Hoskins for a long time.

“Donna has been a wonderful boss,” Chief Deputy Clerk Ginger Turner said. “She’s been really good to all of us here. She treated us really well.”

Deputy Clerk Geraldine Merrill expressed her feelings on Hoskins’ departure.

“She’s been a terrific boss,” Merrill said. “She’s going to be so missed. She’s always taken care of us and looked out for us. She’s part of our family.” 

Deputy Clerk Bonnie Byrd has worked with Hoskins for approximately 40 years.

“She’s always been a nice person,” Byrd said. “I’ve enjoyed working with her. She’s a really good boss. She will go out of her way to help you. I’m really sad to see her go.”

Hoskins has no plans to retire once she serves her final day as Harlan County Clerk. 

“I’ll find something to do, because I’m not ready to retire,” Hoskins said. “I want to thank all the people of Harlan County for all the support. And as I always say, when there’s an election, come out and vote!”