Kemper County supervisor Mike Luke is beginning his 11th term in office, representing District 4.
Kemper County supervisor Mike Luke is beginning his 11th term in office, representing District 4.
By Steve Swogetinsky

Kemper Messenger

Kemper County’s Mike Luke is Mississippi’s longest tenured supervisor, having been elected to serve 10 terms and 42 years, starting back in 1977.

 Luke was elected to his 11th term as District 4 supervisor in the General Election in November. He has had a busy life. Along with his supervisor duties, he has coached, taught school and run his family farm.

“I am so humbled that the people of my district have re-elected me each time,” Luke said. “They let me coach and teach during that time. That’s what I went to school to be. And I love the supervisor job, serving the people. And I love District 4 and Kemper County. I have the best of both worlds.”

Coming back home

Luke, 67, was born and raised in the Preston Community and has lived there all of his life on family property. He attended the Lynville School through the 10th grade. There, he was on a state championship basketball team. The school then merged with DeKalb High School and he finished there in 1970.

Luke went on to play basketball at East Mississippi Community College and then finished at Mississippi State where he got his degree in history in 1974

Out of school, Luke took a coaching and teaching job at Carthage High School. Luke coached girls basketball and track. He stayed there three years. Afterwards, he took a job to become the head boys basketball coach at Neshoba Central High School. He held that position for less than two months and then he experienced a tragic, life changing event.

Mike’s father, Danzee Luke, was supervisor of District 4 for 18 years. On July 25, 1977, a loaded dump body came off a truck and crushed him.

“My dad got killed and that’s when I came back to the farm,” Luke said. “It was a tragic accident.”

Luke came home to run the family’s 400 acre farm. He was appointed interim supervisor until an election was held to fill his father’s unexpired term. He won that election. Then in 1980, he ran for and won his first four-year term as supervisor. The rest is history.

He said he never dreamed he would hold the supervisor position for so long.

“At that time, I didn’t know if I was making the right decision to come back home,” Luke said. “We had the big farm and mother (Marceline) needed the help. But my heart was always in coaching and I was leaving that. So I came back, did the farm and was supervisor. But later, I made the decision to be a supervisor and coach, too.”

He would be out of teaching and coaching until the mid-1980s. At the time, Kemper County was under the beat system. There was no road foreman. The supervisors spent their days, working with the road crews.

But times changed. Kemper County went to the present day Unit System. A road foreman was placed in charge of the day-to-day operations of the crews. Supervisors became policy makers.

“In the beat system, I helped on with the road work,” Luke said. “I drove the truck. But the Unit System took me out of that. It put us in an administrative role.

“I receive calls from citizens, and then pass them on to the road foreman,” Luke said. “That gave me more time in my day and I started coaching again.”

He started by coaching the Kemper Academy girls basketball team in the summer. In1992, he became the Kemper Academy boys coach for a three of years. He then coached the KA girls basketball and softball team.

“I got to coach my girls, Emily and Amy,” Luke said.

He stayed at Kemper Academy until 1999. He would coach softball at Noxubee County. In 2000, he became softball coach at Neshoba Central.

“I never won a state championship but I started the fast-pitch program at Neshoba Central,” Luke said. “Look what it is doing right now.”

He then became the head boys basketball coach at Kemper County High School in 2004.

“Four years, I coached at Kemper County and my record here was 92-17,” Luke said. “We never made it to State but one year we got beat in the finals of South State by one point by Perry Central, 72-71 at the buzzer.”

Moving on

He wrapped up his coaching career in 2008 when he coached softball at Choctaw Central. Luke said it was time

“It got to the point where the long hours were taking their toll,” Luke said.

Now, he is going to his grandchildren’s ball games and enjoying time with them. He still has 60 head of cows and likes the cattle business.

Luke said the schools where he taught, always worked with his schedule, as did his fellow supervisors.

“The first Monday of the month, the schools would let me take half a day off to go to the supervisors meeting,” Luke said. “I would leave the board meeting to go and pick up my classes and coaching duties. Then the other time we met, my colleagues, James Granger and Johnny Whitsett, changed the meeting time to 4 p.m. so I could be there after school.”

Luke well remembers when there wasn’t much money to do anything in Kemper County government. Mississippi Power Co.’ came in with the power station and coal plant. And even though the coal plant is closed now, the county is a lot better off.

“We were always limited about the amount of money we had,” Luke said. “We couldn’t do things. We couldn’t blacktop roads. We couldn’t do other infrastructure work. All of a sudden, the coal plant came in. We blacktopped all of these roads because of that. We will have $122 million coming in over the next 10 years. We’ve got to make sure that money takes care of those roads.”

Luke said he was proud of the way the Kemper County Board of Supervisors has kept its eye on economic development. Communication with the towns and other elected officials is the key to moving his home county forward.