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Hargis Ison

Hargis was born on Bill Walters Branch in Letcher County, Kentucky, on February 23, 1931. He graduated from Stuart Robinson High School at Blackey, KY, attended Caney Junior College at Pippa Passes, KY, then Lees Junior College at Jackson, KY, and the University of Cincinnati at Cincinnati, Ohio.

He is one of eleven children and has two children of his own. His son, David Hargis Ison, is a supervisor for MSHA at the Whitesburg office and is here at the contest. His daughter, Dianne Adams, is a professor at Hazard Community College. He also has three granddaughters, two grandsons, and two great granddaughters. One grandson, Willie Adams, is here participating as a team member for Cumberland River Coal Company. Hargis lovely wife, Jackie, is sitting by him at the table.

Three times as a young adult he went off to seek his fortune, three times he failed. First was Detroit, next Chicago, and finally Detroit again. The lure of family in the mountains of East Kentucky pulled him home each time.

So in February, 1961, Hargis began working for the engineering department of Blue Diamond Coal Company, Perry County, KY. Later he was promoted to section foreman and then mine foreman.

In April, 1967, he was employed as a mine inspector at Hazard, KY, by the Bureau of Mines, US Dept. of the Interior, which is now MSHA, US dept. of Labor.

On April 1, 1969, he was invited to Bruceton, PA, to experience firsthand a planned experimental coal mine dust explosion. What he heard and saw allowed him to get a good grip on the tremendous amount of energy released during the propagation of a mine explosion. In December, 1970, he had his first encounter with a coal mine disaster (coal mine dust explosion). An explosion had occurred at Finley Coal Company, Leslie County, KY. Thirty-eight miners were killed, only one escaped. His involvement in this rescue and recovery endeavor helped mold and shape his ways of thinking about mine safety.

The following March, he testified at a congressional hearing held by the committee on Education and Labor about his part in the rescue and recovery operation.

He served as supervisor at Hazard and Whitesburg, KY, and as Engineering Coordinator at Pikeville, KY. He also served as Sub-District Manager at Norton, VA, and later at Hazard, KY.

Hargis and Ray McKinney, also a MSHA Inspector at the time, received the US Dept. of Labors Valor Award for courage beyond the call of duty for rescuing a miner trapped by a roof fall at Scotia Coal Company, Letcher County, KY. They also recovered two bodies that were trapped in the same fall. He helped in the rescue and recovery of several other mine disasters and fatalities.

Hargis was Chief Judge of the National Mine Rescue Contest from 1985 until 1995, serving as Chairman of the Rules Committee. During this period several mine rescue rules were modified, deleted, or added. These changes relied on his personal knowledge and experience gained while working mine disasters.

He retired from MSHA in March, 1995, and now Hargis is living in the same Kentucky hills of Bill Walters Branch where he was born.