A century-old friend to northeastern Kentucky took her last breath Monday morning.
She went quietly, hardly without a whimper. If not for some Facebook posts, we may have never known. We knew the end was close though. She was fading for a long time, but back about four years ago, they all but told us she was not going to make it much longer.
But, boy, was she ever awesome. In her heyday, she was the toast of town and even did her part in the war effort. Everybody was watching her and marveled at how she did everything so well, how she provided for so many in her community.
She had steel-blue eyes and looked healthier than a big oak tree. She was, well, majestic.
We never saw this day coming back then, not way back in 1954, when she was at her ever-loving best. Man, did she ever shine brightly in those days. Her reflection, so shiny, was all over the place, towering over a community built around her power. People knew her name up and down the mighty Ohio River. She commanded respect and got it.
Fifty-five years later, though, she was a shell of herself, no longer able to produce like she did before, no longer the giant and mostly empty inside, her fire nearly extinguished for good. The shine wasn’t there anymore. No amount of makeup could take away the rust. She was fading, gasping really, with each passing day and we all knew it, but there was nothing we could do but watch and wait. We were remembering her for the good ‘ol days, when she was the hope of the community, the shining star, the best there ever was.
We started eulogizing her before she was even gone because, well, we knew it was coming even if we didn’t want to believe us. They told us as much as far back as the 1990s or at least they tried to tell us. We refused to believe it was true because our rock could not be broken. Not completely. Could it?
There were some futile efforts to prop her up as much as 30 years ago, but they weren’t going to save her from this fatal disease. We all knew it.
We might as well have started making her tombstone back then, but it hurt too much. After all, she was our friend and she did so much for us. Even while she was choking out her last breath, we were hoping beyond hope that something could save her. But it wasn’t to be.
Time had a way of tarnishing her image from that shining star of the 1950s. There were still decades of beauty inside her even it if wasn’t as magnificent as before. She stayed in good shape, always being a rock in the community, always being what they counted on in northeastern Kentucky, always providing.
That’s how she was really. She was a rock and proud.
Even as a young girl, she was a superstar waiting to happen, surpassing expectation during an advancing time. She was an original, a one-of-a-kind, and she was ours. For decades, she gave us all she could. She even let the boys play football (those Armcos and Tomcats were fun to watch) and baseball (she was partial to the Dodgers and Yankees, that Joe DiMaggio was something else!) in her yard when she was a young girl in the 1930s and 1940s.
We will make it without her because we have no other choice.
But on Monday, she died. We can add the date to the tombstone.
The last operating portion of the AK Steel Mill Ashland Works plant was the coating line. It produced its final coil a little after 10 a.m. Monday and that was that.
She was gone.
Ashland will never be the same.
MARK MAYNARD is managing editor of Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org