Drenda Crider has established a lengthy and successful career in the hotel and leisure industry. Crider now leads several of the area’s notable tourist sites.
With nearly two decades of experience in the field, the Harlan native has been hired as director of external education at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. She is in charge of overseeing the day-to-day operation of the Benham School House Inn, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum and the Portal 31 Mine Tour.
The college owns the museum and Portal 31 attractions, while Harlan County owns the inn with its operation delegated to the school.
Crider, who began the job several weeks ago, is in charge of approximately 20 employees whose assignments are to successfully operate the venues that over the years have grown to become popular throughout the state as well as across the region.
Crider said she will be working to improve the sites for prospective patrons and also work to more vigorously market the properties which she calls a “well-kept secret.”
“This is a great thing we have,” she said. “While these locations have enjoyed success, I feel we can work to make them even more attractive to travelers as well as for those who live right here in the area. We are eager to get the good word out about the Benham School House Inn, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum and Portal 31.”
The hotel, once home to Benham High School, boasts 30 rooms. Over the nearly 20 years of existence as an inn, it has been transformed into a fashionable place for reunions, getaways, parties and other special events, including banquets, weddings, dances and dinner theater productions.
The museum, located a leisurely stroll down the hill from the inn, pays tribute to the coal industry and miners who worked to build the area. Visitors can learn about coal mining and view a reproduction of a typical coal miner’s home from bygone days.
Additionally, a mock mine, located in the basement of the structure, serves to educate those to the particulars of coal mining.
Portal 31 is located in nearby Lynch. This state-of-the-art attraction chronicles the development of mining in the town that at one time was the largest coal town in the world. Mining began at Lynch in 1917, and Portal 31 was one of the original portals producing high-quality bituminous coal for nearly 50 years before it was closed in the early 1960s. Today, the site is an attraction featuring a 30-minute ride into the mountain where, at various stops along the route, computer-driven animatronics spring to life telling the amazing story of the area and the evolution of coal mining.
Crider, who is married to Ken Crider, a former Kentucky State Police Trooper, began working in the hospitality industry in 1993 as the assistant manager of the Best Western in Harlan. She eventually became manager before being promoted to the director of operations for Humphrey Hospitality, where she managed 17 hotels in nine states. During the past eight years, she served as a regional vice president for Resort Housekeeping Inc. She directed 16 properties in nine states.
She noted she has enjoyed her previous jobs, but is happy to be able to finally stay at home.
“I am very glad to be running these local sites,” she said. “I wanted to be home in Harlan County, and I wanted to be able to make a contribution to my home area. I want to help push the inn, museum and portal along on a path toward growth and success.”
“We have so much to be proud of here in our area,” she said. “These locations are a jewel that many don’t know of, or, they know very little about. It will be our goal, or mission, to make the inn, museum and the portal quality destinations for folks to enjoy and to be excited about.”
As the holiday season arrives, Crider said the inn and museum are bustling with activities, including the Festival of Trees display at the museum.
The inn will be the place for several holiday events and offers catering for holiday entertaining needs.
For information about the sites contact Crider at 606/848-3000.