Bill Daugherty: Creating Opportunity in Appalachia
Bill Daugherty ’76 has a rare kind of Berea College legacy. His great-great grandmother Martha Drew Sparks attended in 1876, and his great-great-great grandfather John Drew, an African American, preached alongside founder John Fee at Camp Nelson in 1864. Growing up just 12 miles from the College on a Jackson County farm, Daugherty couldn’t have known one day he’d be named Distinguished Alumnus, as he was in November 2017.
Forty-one years after graduating, Daugherty still owns the 1940 Chevrolet flatbed pickup his grandfather gave him to drive to college, and he’s still married to the woman he married in Danforth Chapel after his freshman year—without permission of the administration, which was required at the time. His punishment: a year of marital counseling to ensure he was mature enough to be married.
“I wasn’t,” he laughed. “Zella wasn’t either.”
He was mature enough, however, to purchase his own Jackson County farm and raise tobacco to make extra money while attending school. Naturally, he had labor positions to go along with it. Daugherty worked at the Log House Craft Gallery, in the agriculture department as a lab assistant, and at Indian Fort in the summer. Somehow, among all this, he also managed to land a job at a farm-lending company in Somerset. Berea College, he said, taught him how to be efficient in his work.
“We only had so much time to get things done, and Berea made me think about the end result and ways to efficiently get the job done.”
We were all put together with no money but a desire to learn. We had to make do with what we had, and we had to create opportunity at the college. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all my life—look at a situation and try to create opportunity.Bill Daugherty '76
Work ethic served Daugherty well in what would become his permanent career in the oil and gas extraction industry. With a career even more prolific than his early days at Berea, he has established a truly singular resume, the details of which earned him his Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 1984, he founded Daugherty Petroleum, Inc., which later would become NGAS Resources, Inc., a NASDAQ-listed company focused on oil and natural gas in the Appalachian Basin.
In addition to NGAS, he also co-founded BlackRidge Resource Partners LLC, an oil and gas prospect generation firm, and BlackRidge Stables LLC, a thoroughbred racing and breeding organization. The latter owns interests in several horses, including 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome.
Daugherty has served on numerous boards and maintains affiliations with many associations. Currently, he serves as the Kentucky Governor’s Official Representative and is a former Vice Chairman to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. He also has enjoyed tenures with the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Kentucky Energy Council, the Kentucky Oil & Gas Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Eastern Kentucky University Foundation, and the Unconventional Resources Technology Advisory Committee of the Department of Energy. In addition, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of science degree from EKU during the school’s 2008 commencement, for which he also served as the keynote speaker.
Over the years, Daugherty has maintained his Berea connections and values. In a partnership with another Berea alumnus, Terry Fields ’72, NGAS acquired Red River Hardwoods in Clay City, Ky., out of bankruptcy and turned the company around, saving around 50 local jobs. Originally a company that produced furniture parts, Red River Hardwoods won environmental awards for innovating ways to transform waste wood into architectural molding and hardwood flooring. For 15 years, Boone Tavern used Red River Hardwoods-sourced reclaimed hardwood in its lobby floors.
Daugherty cites his experience with Red River Hardwoods as a way in which he has lived out a devotion to Appalachia and environmentalism, both focuses of his alma mater.
“I worry about Appalachia,” he said, noting that entrepreneurial endeavors in the region are just as important as education. “I think it’s important we don’t forget where we came from and help people down the road.”
This is one reason Daugherty’s career has been primarily focused in the eastern Kentucky portion of the Appalachian Basin. During his tenure at NGAS, the organization grew to employ more than 140 people in its Lexington-based headquarters and field operations in eastern Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. In addition, Daugherty has always pushed his organizations to be as low impact as possible on the land, controlling for run-off and erosion and reclaiming land based on the needs of local wildlife.
Having forged a long career from creating economic opportunity in Appalachia, Daugherty says the seeds of his success were sown at Berea.
“We were all put together with no money but a desire to learn,” he said. “We had to make do with what we had, and we had to create opportunity at the college. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all my life—look at a situation and try to create opportunity.”