By Don White, CV&T Staff Writer
A loving family, good friends, a great job.
Mike Chaney had it all.
With one exception.
“I really wanted my first car to be the sharp Mustang Larry Honchell had for sale, but my parents wouldn’t let me have it,” he says.
Instead, the president of the Estill High class of 1972 had to tool about town in a Volkswagon Beetle.
But what a town it was, recalls the present-day co-owner of The Country Place Gallery just north of Richmond.
“I got to grow up in Irvine during a wonderful period of time,” he says, reflecting on memories of downtown businesses such as Begley Drug with their “great ice cream at the soda fountain.”
Many happy lunches were enjoyed at Cedar Village, and the shopping was fun at Ben Franklin and Jeweldean’s (Glynn’s) Clothing Store.
The best shopping trip of all was to Bunt Gross Chevrolet where he was finally able to swap that Beetle for a brand new ’76 Monte Carlo, using money he had earned working at Irvine Kroger since he was 16.
He still laments the closing of the Kroger in Irvine, noting the staff there was like an extended family.
With the closing of the local store, the son of Eugene and Betty Chaney moved on to Lexington where he helped operate several stores and where he became known as ‘The Mountain Man’ due to his love for his native home.
He had put in 38 years with the company when he left to devote full time to his own business.
“I had figured after Kroger I would do something more related to the outdoors,” says Chaney, while standing in a former barn filled to the rafters with oil paintings, fine furnishings, and crystal chandeliers.
“But after 40 years in retail, this is what I know.”
A love for the outdoors was fostered early on, growing up in the countryside along Rice Station Road with siblings Harold, Curtis and Lisa.
He has “great childhood memories” of sitting out in the backyard, listening to the sounds of the whippoorwills.
A love of the mountains also grew out of trips to his mom’s native Harlan County, a place he says still makes him gasp with “an ahhhh feeling” when he visits.
As a person not inclined to play sports, he turned to such outdoors pursuits as hiking, kayaking and snow skiing early in life.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the son of a couple who met on a Greyhound bus, and who visited all 50 states and drove to Alaska twice, also loves to travel.
He and wife Janette, a Madison County native, still travel, canoe, and head up family ski trips to Colorado and West Virginia.
When their own two children, J.D. and Jessica, were growing up, they set a goal of taking them to all 50 states, but fell a tad short, never making it to Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon or Washington.
“Those trips helped our children see there was more to the world,” says Mike.
J.D., now an attorney in Lexington, was so influenced by the beauty of Montana that he decided to attend college there, graduating from the University of Montana.
He and wife Colleen have one daughter, Adaleen, three.
Jessica Masters and husband Chris have a son, Aiden, three, and she works in human resources for the Kentucky State Police.
Living in nearby Moberly, Mike has been able to continue attending the same church where he grew up, Rice Station Christian.
“A lot of folks there have had a big influence on my life,” he says.
Chaney and his business partner, former Madison County banker Bob Bates, greet people from a vast array of places, including South Africa, but some of their most favorite visitors come from very nearby.
Recently a neighbor came in with a tray of homemade cookies, and a retired teacher dropped by just to sit and chat.
Betty Chaney, 80, who has been widowed for two years, is a frequent visitor to the store at 2513 Richmond Road, often bringing along refreshments to be served to customers.
“This is not the corporate world, but a place where people can feel at home, like family,” says Mike.
A lot like the sensation he gets when he comes back to Estill County.
“When I hit that straight stretch of highway and look up at Sweet Lick Mountain, I get that ahhhh feeling all over again.”