Dixon Bank President Frank Ramsey is one of the more significant icons in basketball history, but you wouldn’t know it by sitting down and having a conversation with him. Or if you passed him on the street as he takes a casual walk to the Dixon Post Office to get the mail.
The truth is the Hall of Famer and former Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Celtics star is very easygoing and humble, and this makes sense given his upbringing.
While the folks in Lexington and Frankfort still remember him as a legend, in Dixon he is just Frank Ramsey. Neighbor. Friend. Businessman.
Ramsey’s remarkable story did not begin in some bustling city or metropolis. It began in Corydon, a small farming community in Henderson County, on July 13, 1931.
“I was born in my grandfather’s house,” said Ramsey. “This was back during the Depression and there were nine of us living in my grandparents’ house: my aunt and uncle, their two children, Mother, Daddy, me, and my grandmother and grandfather.”
The way of life that Ramsey describes here is certainly not one that a person would expect for a future Hall of Famer.
“There was no running water. We had a pump and an outside well, and there was no indoor bathroom. You had to go out around the smokehouse and we had an outdoor john. When the winter would come you learned how to use the john and keep yourself from getting too cold because you were exposed.”
Ramsey recalls some memories of his youth, with one particularly interesting one involving Joe Chandler. Chandler was the postmaster of the small village and was the father of future Kentucky governor and Commissioner of Baseball, A.B. “Happy” Chandler.
“During the day I would go down to the post office,” said Ramsey. “A railroad came through Corydon and the mail was delivered twice a day and I got to ride in the wheelbarrow that he went to go get the mail in. I rode down to the railroad station in the wheelbarrow but coming back I had to walk back.”
“I also remember going to the farm with my grandfather, and then we moved to Madisonville.”
Ramsey’s father uprooted the family from Corydon to Madisonville in 1935, where he opened a dry goods store. It was in Madisonville where Ramsey discovered his passion for basketball.
At the time Madisonville was a town of about 5,000 people and the size of the high school and just the way of life in general differs a good deal from today.
“We only had about 275 students in the high school,” said Ramsey. “The biggest event on the school calendar every year was the district basketball tournament because we had 13 teams in Hopkins County. And today there are only three teams in Hopkins County (Madisonville-North Hopkins, Hopkins Central, and Dawson Springs). But the main social event was the basketball tournament.”
As far as his teenage years goes, Ramsey had quite a different experience than the youth of America have today.
“We rode everywhere on a bicycle,” said Ramsey. “We took bicycles to school because we didn’t have any buses and we would walk in the snow in the winter. We would ride slides all the way down the big hill (near the school).”
“We all worked and at night after work we would go down and sit at the corner of Main and Center and talk and go back home. We didn’t have television and you didn’t have all the amenities that you have today. But it was a good life, I thought.”
Ramsey was also fortunate enough to be in the company of several gifted athletes during his time at Madisonville High School.
“It’s funny because being a small high school we had six guys on my team that all went to college on athletic scholarships. We were all in high school at the same time, and it was very unusual at that time to see that many guys go to play for major colleges.”
Ramsey and his teammates were skilled enough on the hardwood to make the state tournament both his junior and senior years of high school.
“My junior year we were beaten by Owensboro 68-34,” said Ramsey. “They had Bobby Watson and Cliff Hagan (a future teammate of Ramsey’s at UK). We played at Jefferson County Armory and we had never played in a gym bigger than what is now Browning Springs Middle. (My) mouth was dry, couldn’t catch my breath, we were scared playing in front of that big a crowd.”
“The next year we were beaten in the semifinals by Paris. That’s the farthest we got to winning the high school state tournament.”
Ramsey made several friends during his high school career, but no friendship would be more crucial to Ramsey’s future than his with John Ball.
Ball was a year older than Ramsey and had gone up to UK one year before on a football scholarship to play for the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, who coached the Wildcats from 1946 to 1953.
“I would go up to visit (Ball) in Lexington,” said Ramsey. “I had contact with assistant coach Harry Lancaster, and when I was offered a scholarship I got to meet Coach Rupp.”
Reach Cameron Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org