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June Hook’s living room window looks out at her motel, bait shop, campground, and boat storage space in Farmers. She manages the small businesses she started with her late husband from the rocking chair on her front porch. Right across the highway from the Cave Run Lake, the Hook family has created a community for fishermen, campers, and vacation-goers in the Eastern Kentucky area.

Tall boats and fish

story by Madeleine Cook

June Hook, 84, sits on the porch of her home behind the Lakeview Motel in Farmers, Kentucky. Her hands are clasped, still wearing her wedding ring, despite nine years of widowhood. She sits lightly, ready to stand and greet another of a constant flow of visitors and customers: her son saying hello, a boat-owner paying monthly storage rent, a motel guest returning to a room. Her 85-acre property encompasses her home and two others, a campground, boat-storage space, a bait shop, a motel and rental log cabins.

The small farming community of Farmers was irrevocably transformed in 1973 by the damming of the Licking River to create Cave Run Lake, the largest man-made lake in eastern Kentucky. June and her late husband, Hayward, recognized the new opportunities for fishermen, boaters and vacation-goers and started their own business in the budding community.

“I felt peace when I saw the lake for the first time,” says June, a fourth-generation Kentuckian originally from Morgan County. “I had never seen a boat before, but I felt such peace when I did.”

One of her businesses, Captain Hook's Boat Storage, plays a vital role in the area boating economy. Its large storage barn is the only local place that accommodates sailboats with the 35-feet-tall masts necessary for serious lake sailing.

“Without them, sailing in Eastern Kentucky wouldn't be possible," says David Duncan, 61, who has stored his boat there for five years.

Some things are changing though. Bill and Denise Ferguson have been camping on June's campground since 1983.

“Ms. Hook created a community of campers here,” said Denise, 68. "There used to be 30 of us. Now we're the last ones that come."

June manages her property with the help of her son, Daniel Hook, 49. He’s been painting and working on boats since he was a teenager. The wrinkles on June's face crease as she smiles at the memories.  She leans on her cane as she arises to meet an arriving fisherman.

“My customers are my neighbors," she says, "and my family.”

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June sits in a lounger in her living room that is brimming with pictures of family, knick-knacks given to her by customers, and aging furniture. She lives alone in a five-bedroom home that once housed two teenage sons and her husband. Now, it is filled with four young grandchildren that visit her before and after school most days.

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Bill Ferguson, a camper, walks through June’s quiet campground that also functions as a boat storage space. "Business has slowed down a little," June said, shaking her head. Customers say business around the lake has slowed since coal production has slowed and significantly damaged the local economy.

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David Duncan, 69, hands June a small wad of cash to pay his monthly rent. She charges $20 a month to store a boat or camper on her property.

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An empty camper sits in a clearing of the 58-acre campground. There has been a significant drop in the number of campers on the property, according to current customers. Abandoned campers litter June’s property, aging through the seasons.

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Seth Ferguson, 16, splits wood in a shed behind June’s home. Seth has lived on June’s property with his father and stepmother who help June clean and maintain the motel. "They’re like our extended family," said Seth, between labored breaths as he moves a bale of hay out of his way.

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An abandoned boat is weather-damaged as the heat of summer gives way to the coming winter’s frosty grip.

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June shoots the breeze with David, a long-time customer, on October 27, 2017 in Farmers, KY. David and his friend come several times a year to fish muskies, a rare breed of catfish well-known fish in Cave Run Lake.

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Daniel Hook, 49, June’s son, applies a fresh coat of paint onto a sailboat stored on the property in Farmers, KY, on October 27, 2017. June says she hopes that her son and grandchildren will continue to run the business when she’s no longer able to.

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The sun sets in the reflection of the Lakeview Motel in Farmers. "I taught myself how to do this," June says, referring to the small businesses she has managed for the past 60 years. "And I don’t want to do anything else."

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