Alltech pitches WEG media on Haiti relief project

September 30, 2010

Alltech threw a party at its Kentucky Ale Brewery downtown Thursday night for journalists covering the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Alltech President Pearse Lyons used the opportunity to pitch the company’s efforts to help Haiti.

Lyons promoted the company’s Haiti-grown coffee, Café Citadelle, and offered a performance by a Haitian children’s choir, which sang at the Games’ opening ceremony Saturday night and will appear with the Irish super band The Chieftains next week.

Alltech has adopted the children’s school in the city of Ouanaminthe, and profits from Café Citadelle will help create jobs in the city. Alltech began the effort after the Jan. 12 earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation.

Kicking up dust at WEG’s reining competition

September 30, 2010
Tim McQuay finishes his performance and takes an early lead. Photo by Tom Eblen

Tim McQuay takes an early lead with this performance. Photo by Tom Eblen

I went over to the Alltech Arena this afternoon to see the individual reining finals of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. It was the first time I had had a chance to watch these impressive displays of Western-style horsemanship. I can see why it is one of the Games’ most popular events.

As I left, American Tim McQuay, riding Hollywoodtinseltown, took the early lead after an impressive performance. For more about the McQuays, the reigning family of reining, see Herald-Leader reporter Beverly Fortune’s story here.

Tim McQuay rides off after his performance. Photo by Tom Eblen

Tim McQuay rides off after his performance. Photo by Tom Eblen

Translators help bridge language gaps at WEG

September 30, 2010

Love of horses is the universal language at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. But when that isn’t enough, the volunteers from Language Services are standing by.

Sandy Suffoletta of Georgetown has a staff of 90 volunteer interpreters (spoken) and translators (written), chosen from more than 400 applicants from across the nation and several foreign countries.

They work at the Kentucky Horse Park each day and are available by phone around the clock to assist the athletes from 58 nations and everyone else at the Games, from grooms and veterinarians to journalists and spectators.

“We try to be available at any time and place language facilitation is needed,” said Suffoletta, who did similar work at the Olympics in Atlanta and Vancouver, as well as the equestrian World Championships that opened the Horse Park in 1978.

Language Services has volunteers fluent in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Czech, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Japanese and Hungarian. Others are available by phone should Turkish, Hindi and Hebrew skills be needed. Several volunteer applicants spoke Chinese, but there is only one athlete here from China, and she speaks fluent English.

As I spoke with Suffoletta in a trailer behind the Media Village that is the Language Services command post, we were frequently interrupted by telephone and two-way radio calls for assistance. “We hadn’t had a request for sign language until now,” Suffloletta said after taking a call about a spectator needing help. “But I do have people I can contact.”

Language Services volunteers began work before the Games at the quarantine facility at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, where many grooms, athletes and team officials entered the country with their horses.

“They come off the plane exhausted,” Suffoletta said. “To have the opportunity to be met in their own language was important. And they were very appreciative.”

Many international visitors are like Americans, who may have learned another language when they were young but don’t use it enough to be proficient, she said.

“A lot of what we do are little things, like helping them know where to get the passes they need, getting them to the right place at the right time, helping the athletes do interviews and press conferences,” Suffoletta said.

“Every volunteer has a story to tell about why they’re here, and we all love horses,” said Marcelle Rousseau, who grew up in Atlanta and now lives in France. Both she and her husband ride, so being a French interpreter at the Games seemed like a natural thing to do.

Interpreters have helped remedy misunderstandings and defuse a few tense situations, such as a few grooms who were dissatisfied with their accommodations.

“When you are upset, you don’t tend to think well in another language,” Rousseau said. The same goes for when you are tired. Interpreters were waiting at the end of the endurance course to remind the exhausted competitors to unsaddle their horses and go to the scales to be weighed.

“An important role we have is to be ambassadors,” Suffoletta said. “We want to leave people with a lasting impression of Kentucky, that they spoke my language and were able to help me.”

How Kentucky became the Thoroughbred capital

September 29, 2010

Maryjean Wall learned a lot about the “Thoroughbred capital of the world” in 35 years as an award-winning racing writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. But it wasn’t until she retired and finished her doctorate in history at the University of Kentucky that Wall figured out how it came to be.

Kentucky’s domination of Thoroughbred breeding during the past century wasn’t really about the mineral-rich bluegrass and limestone water, although they certainly helped. It resulted from a chain of events during the turbulent decades after the Civil War that Kentuckians cleverly exploited.

Maryjean Wall. Photo by Mark Cornelison

It involved crafting an Old South image for Kentucky at the turn of the last century that appealed to the nation’s richest horsemen — and all but erased African- Americans from the picture. Wall pulls this story together in a new book, How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders (The University Press of Kentucky, $29.95)

I had heard pieces of this fascinating story for years. When Wall was still at the Herald-Leader and I was the managing editor, she would occasionally wander into my office and tell me about her research.

The finished book is a remarkable page-turner that earned glowing cover blurbs from some of the best historians of Kentucky and Thoroughbred racing. The book puts together many pieces of a complicated puzzle, and it is filled with well-documented stories that explain a lot about the evolution of Kentucky society and the horse industry.

Kentucky dominated Thoroughbred breeding in the early 1800s, thanks to its grass and water. But the Civil War devastated Kentucky’s economy; much breeding stock was killed, stolen by raiders or moved out of state for safe-keeping.

Northeast industrialists and Wall Street speculators emerged from the war as the nation’s richest men, and they embraced the “sport of kings.” They began buying the best mares and stallions and installing them on new farms in New York and New Jersey.

Kentucky breeders realized they were losing their grip on the industry and needed to attract that Northeast capital. But there was a problem: Kentucky had a well-deserved reputation for violence and lawlessness that scared away the tycoons who now dominated horse racing.

Kentucky was a Civil War border state that officially remained loyal to the Union. But as industrialization led to more anxiety and racism in American society, the public imagination was captured by “lost cause” nostalgia for an idealized Old South.

Until the 1890s, African-Americans had been some of the most successful jockeys and trainers. Jockey Isaac Murphy became a rich man. But as racism grew, blacks were forced out of all but the most menial horse racing jobs, not just in Kentucky but across the nation.

Wall writes that Kentucky breeders eagerly exploited this Old South myth to rebrand the state. Novelists and newspapermen started depicting a land of white-suited “Kentucky colonels” on columned verandas — a place where the living was easy for wealthy white people and black folks knew their place.

New York’s leading equine journal, Turf, Field and Farm, published by Lexington-born brothers Benjamin and Sanders Bruce, offered Northeast horsemen a steady drumbeat of Bluegrass boosterism.

That led several Northern moguls, including August Belmont and James Ben Ali Haggin, to start breeding farms near Lexington. Many more followed after anti-gambling forces outlawed racing in New York and many other states about 1910.

Modern Kentucky has many legacies from this period, including the large number of absentee farm owners and a professional class of bloodstock agents, trainers, veterinarians and others who have made horses a vital part of the state’s economy.

“I hope readers put this book down with a greater respect for the (horse) industry,” Wall said over lunch last week. Like many, Walls fears for the Thoroughbred industry’s future in Kentucky, but she thinks the solutions are more complex than the long fight over expanded gambling.

“It was never a given that the horse industry would stay here after the Civil War, and that is still relevant today,” Wall said. “The grass was never enough. And it’s still not enough.”

If you go

Maryjean Wall will discuss and sign How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders:

■ 4 p.m. Oct. 2, Morris book shop, 408 Southland Dr., Lexington

■ 7 p.m. Oct. 5, Woodford County Public Library, 115 N. Main St., Versailles

■ 6:30 p.m. Oct. 7, Kentucky Historical Society, 100 W. Broadway, Frankfort

Haitian children’s choir tours the Games

September 26, 2010

The children’s choir from Haiti that came to sing at opening ceremonies of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games on Saturday night got a tour of the Alltech Experience pavilion Sunday afternoon.

After enjoying activities in the kids’ area and some Dippin Dots ice cream, they took a turn on Alltech’s outdoor enterainment stage. They sang “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” as pavilion spectators and members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra looked on.

“The kids are having a great time,” said University of Kentucky Opera Theatre Director Everett McCorvey, who started the choir after Alltech President Pearse Lyons adopted the children’s school in the Haitian city of Ouanaminthe following the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the already impoverished country. “They are learning so much.”

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Equestrian Games’ opening day is a hit

September 26, 2010

Note: Because of newspaper deadlines, this column was filed Saturday night before Opening Ceremonies began. For a full report on that, click on these links for stories by Rich Copley and Linda Blackford. Click here for a photo gallery.

The first day of WEG was a WOW.

That seemed to be the consensus among locals, visitors, athletes and officials at Saturday’s opening of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The weather was perfect. The crowd was large, but never uncomfortably so. The facilities were beautiful, the pavilions were impressive, the events ran smoothly, the glitches were minor and everybody seemed to be having a good time.

I took the LexTran shuttle to avoid traffic. It was a quick and easy ride from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park where there was … no traffic. In fact, Iron Works Pike was so clear I couldn’t believe how many people I saw in the park.

Even for those who didn’t attend the reining competition, the only event Saturday, there was plenty to see and do. The Horse Park has been transformed into a horse-themed world’s fair, with exhibits and horsemanship demonstrations at the Equine Village, more than 300 vendor booths and pavilions and the impressive Kentucky Experience and Alltech Experience complexes.

“It has exceeded my expectations, even though I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Doran Bradford of Lexington, who was there with his wife, Anne, and their two young sons. “We’re having a good time.”

A Chinese vaulting competitor sat beside the Bradfords at lunch and told them all about her sport. “That was really neat,” he said. “I’ll probably be more interested in these sports now after coming out here.”

The Kentucky Horse Park drew rave reviews from some international equestrians. Having all of the venues in one place is an advantage over previous Games, although they noted the park’s size makes it a challenge to navigate.

“It’s a fabulous facility, but it’s huge,” said Francesca Sternberg, a reining rider from Great Britain who will be competing Sunday but spent Saturday taking her children around the trade fair. “The show grounds are outstanding. They’ve done an impressive job.”

Many international teams had golf carts and bicycles to help them get around. For spectators, though, the Games mean a lot of walking — and dodging golf carts and bicycles. (Some shuttles are available for elderly and disabled visitors, but you can’t bring a bicycle into the park.)

“It’s a fantastic place, and the people are so nice — friendly and helpful,” said Jenny Champion, who had hoped to be on the New Zealand endurance team but ended up coming as a spectator. “The park is so big you need a map.”

But Eduardo Tame, a Mexico team official and tour operator, complained that the prices he had to pay for buses, hotels and other necessities for the 120 people he brought to the Games were outrageous.

“I have been to every Equestrian Games and Olympics, and this is the most expensive of all of them,” he said. “I’m really surprised with these prices.”

Spectators complained a little about food prices but noted the food was quite good and prices weren’t out of line with other special events. The main food tent, staffed by Rotary Club volunteers from across the country, had so many food and checkout stations that there was rarely a line.

“I’m genuinely delighted to see everyone’s hard work coming together,” said Alltech President Pearse Lyons, the driving force behind the Games, who spent the day greeting visitors at the 4-acre Alltech Experience.

“This has all been in my head so many years it’s nice to see it happen,” added his wife, Deirdre, who designed much of the Alltech Experience.

The Kentucky Experience pavilion also was a big hit, as much with Kentuckians as with those from elsewhere. Visitors could hear bluegrass music, see exhibits about all parts of the state, sample Kentucky’s “unbridled spirits” — bourbon and wine — and sit behind the wheel of a Corvette.

“People keep asking, ‘Can I have it?'” said Coni Sheppard, who was watching over the Bowling Green-made sports car. “I tell them that, for $75,000, I’m sure they can fix you up.”

“These Games are going to be wonderful for this state,” said Gov. Steve Beshear, who toured the pavilion after a ribbon-cutting ceremony and joined Beam Global Spirits CEO Matt Shattock in dipping souvenir Maker’s Mark bottles in red wax.

“What fun!” Roger Leasor, the president of Liquor Barn, said as he wandered the trade fair. “I’ve always liked being in places where you hear a lot of languages and accents, and now you can do it in Lexington — at least for the next 16 days.”

Bourbon home has two centuries of family history

September 25, 2010

Ed and Kay Thomas were born and raised in Bourbon County but spent 42 years in Pennsylvania, where he worked for GE/Lockheed Martin. As he was nearing retirement, they got to live in England for a couple of years.

But as Christmas Eve 2004 came to Yorkshire, and the Bourbon County Citizen-Advertiser arrived in the mail, they knew they would be coming home soon. Ewalt’s Crossroads was for sale.

Kay’s great-great-great-grandfather, Henry Ewalt, came to Kentucky from Pennsylvania in 1788. He bought 200 acres northeast of Paris and built a home at what is now the corner of U.S. 27 and Clay Kiser Road in 1792, the year Kentucky became a state.

The beautifully restored home, which includes a trove of antiques that the Thomases have collected over the years, will be open as a fund-raiser for Historic Paris-Bourbon County.

The home has been called Ewalt’s Crossroads since at least the 1840s, and it has never left the family. The Thomases bought the home from Kay’s cousin, Joe Ewalt, who acquired it in the 1990s.

At that time, the house was in bad shape, and Ewalt and his wife, Joanne, did significant restoration. They fixed the foundation and front façade and replaced all of the home’s major systems, among other things. They also built an addition with a family room and a first-floor master bedroom.

“Joe baked the cake; what we are doing is the icing,” Kay said. The couple work on the home constantly, and it shows. “We don’t play golf and we don’t play tennis,” she said. “This is our hobby.”

The Thomases, both 71, had restoration experience, having renovated a circa-1840 house in Chesapeake City, Md., that they used as a weekend getaway. Kay made most of the window treatments for Ewalt’s Crossroads, and Ed has been kept busy with carpentry projects.

The 1792 frame portion of Ewalt’s Crossroads retains much original detail: a fortified rear door, made to protect against the Indian attacks that were a serious threat in the area 218 years ago; horizontal cherry board paneling and walnut woodwork, which has always been painted to keep the house from being dark; and fancy crown molding in the front parlor.

A circa 1815 stone addition to the home has walls 22 inches thick and includes an entry hall/formal dining room and a kitchen, dining and family room, where the Thomases spend much of their time.

In the formal dining room, there is a small stairway leading up to a “travelers’ room,” where weary strangers could be offered lodging. The room locked from the outside, though, to keep any of those strangers from leaving in the middle of the night with the silverware.

Don’t expect to see the travelers’ room on the tour; the Thomases use it for storage. “I don’t think we’ll live long enough to ever get it cleaned up,” Kay said.

There’s nothing stuffy about this historic house, because of both its human scale and the Thomases’ classy and humorous decorating. It is an attractive blend of old and new that makes you feel at home. For example, the kitchen table is a 13-foot-long antique from a Paris upholstery shop, and it’s surrounded by modern, shiny aluminum chairs.

Is that an ancestor’s portrait over the parlor fireplace? No, just a regal 18th-century gentleman whose painting the Thomases bought in England.

“We don’t have a picture of Henry (Ewalt), but I like to think he would have looked like this in his later years,” Kay said. “We do have a picture of his son, Sam. He wasn’t the most handsome guy, let’s just say, so he’s hung in a dark corner of the hallway.”

The Thomases brought many treasures to Ewalt’s Crossroads, but the house is constantly revealing its own.

While having fireplaces restored, the Thomases discovered Civil War newspapers stuffed in chimney spaces. When replacing paneling, Ed found a heap of junk stuffed in an interior wall: old shoes, tools, hickory nuts, peach pits and a wicker torch, all well over a century old. The items are now on display.

The surrounding five acres has yielded many pieces of china and pottery dating to the early 1800s. They are displayed in an antique platter made into a table in front of the parlor fireplace.

“We dig things up in the garden all the time,” Kay said. “When I find that stuff out in the yard, I can’t blame it on anybody else. It was my family!”

If you go

Ewalt’s Crossroads tour

When: 2-5 p.m. Oct. 3

Where: U.S. 27 at Clay Kiser Rd., Bourbon County

Cost: $15, $10 for Historic Paris-Bourbon County members

Other: Refreshments served

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Sixteen things to do during the 16 days of WEG

September 22, 2010

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games promise to be much more than the Olympics on horseback. Get ready for an international festival and non-stop party in our backyard.

So, here are 16 things you should do during the 16 days of the Games:

1. Watch the opening ceremonies

The Games officially begin Saturday evening in the main stadium with a 2 ½ -hour show that has 40 acts and a cast of 1,500 people and 200 horses. If you don’t have tickets, WLEX-TV will have live coverage at 7 p.m. Headliners include Muhammad Ali and Wynonna Judd; opera stars Denyce Graves, Cynthia Lawrence and Ronan Tynan and an ensemble from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Plus a 100-piece orchestra debuting British composer Jamie Burton’s “World Equestrian Games Fanfare.”

2. See the best of something familiar

The reliable crowd-pleasers of equestrian sports are jumping and cross-country riding, as Kentuckians who attend the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event already know. Those events and the 100-mile endurance race should draw big attendance to the Games on the first two weekends.

3. Try something new

Want to see horses and humans do things they don’t even dream about at Keeneland? Buy tickets to vaulting, which is human gymnastics and dance on the back of a moving horse. Or reining, where riders in Western gear guide horses through spins, circles and sliding stops.

4. See para-dressage

This is the first time human athletes with physical disabilities have competed in a World Games. Cheer them on; you may be amazed by what they and their horses can do.

5. Learn more about horses

The Equine Village showcases the variety and complexity of American horse culture. There will be exhibits, performances and demonstrations involving every kind of horse you can imagine, and many you can’t. This is likely to be one of the Games’ most popular venues.

6. Have the Kentucky Experience

Much of the Kentucky Horse Park’s grounds has been turned into an international festival, and the Kentucky Experience pavilion gives visitors a glimpse of the state’s highlights. You can dip a Maker’s Mark bottle in red wax, sit behind the wheel of a Corvette, listen to all kinds of local music and learn things about this state you probably didn’t know.

7. Have the Alltech Experience

The Games’ title sponsor, which does nothing in a small way, has a four-acre pavilion showcasing its products and global initiatives, which include trying to solve hunger, climate change and disease. After seeing the science exhibits, enjoy Alltech’s Bourbon Barrel Ale or Dippin’ Dots ice cream. There is a special kids’ area that includes penguins and petting sharks from the Newport Aquarium.

8. Eat, but not like a horse

There will be much good eating at the Games, from gourmet dinners cooked by celebrity chefs to special concession-stand fare. The Games are being catered by Patina Restaurant Group, which operates many high-profile venues around the country. “We’ve been sampling some of the concession food and it’s off-the-charts,” Games CEO Jamie Link said this week.

9. Shop non-stop

The Games’ trade show will have more than 300 merchants, selling everything from sportswear, jewelry and art to that custom-made saddle you have always wanted.

10. See the unexpected

Many sponsors and vendors have set up cool exhibits to showcase what they do. Among them: the UK solar house, which was displayed on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and the Rood & Riddle pavilion, which showcases the high-tech Lexington horse hospital and will have speakers including Hall of Fame jockeys Pat Day and Chris McCarron.

11. Enjoy the Alltech Fortnight Festival

This statewide concert series during the Games is jam-packed with talent: Loretta Lynn, Charlie Daniels, Tony Bennett, Marvin Hamlisch, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and many more. The Chieftains will perform a benefit concert with a Haitian children’s choir.

12. Take in the Spotlight Festival

Downtown Lexington will be rocking from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day during the Games with food, arts and crafts vendors and concerts at Cheapside and Courthouse Plaza. Entertainers include bluegrass legends J.D. Crowe and Sam Bush.

13. See horse art

Horse Mania was just the beginning. Equine art of every variety is on display around town, most notably at the horse park’s International Museum of the Horse, the UK Art Museum and the Headley-Whitney Museum.

14. Check out alternatives

HRTV is presenting its own International Equestrian Festival, with exhibits, vendors and speakers at Lexington Center. And a few miles up I-75 from the horse park is the Georgetown Equine Expo.

15. Soak up color

Spend some time just walking around the horse park or downtown and taking in the scene. Introduce yourself to visitors and ask them what they think of Kentucky.

16. Say farewell

Singer Lyle Lovett will headline the Games’ closing ceremonies on Oct. 10. Although less elaborate than opening ceremonies, it should be another good show. By then, we’ll all be exhausted — but at least a little sorry to see the non-stop party end.

A novel approach to exploring Kentucky archaeology

September 22, 2010

Consider the archaeologist’s challenge: Figure out how people lived and their societies worked centuries ago, based on little more than what remains of their bones, their buildings and a few timeworn artifacts.

And then there is the unknowable: What were their joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams?

“There are so many bigger questions out there,” said Kelli Carmean, an archaeologist, anthropology professor and chair of Eastern Kentucky University’s Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work.

Carmean, 50, wrote a conventional archaeology book, Spider Woman Walks This Land: Traditional Cultural Properties and the Navajo Nation, in 2002 that drew on her research into Native American cultural anthropology.

But she wanted to do more, and she needed another vehicle to do it. So she recently published Creekside: An Archaeolog ical Novel (University of Alabama Press, $27.50)

“The tools of archaeology are really good, but they can’t re-create individual lives,” Carmean said. “So I decided to use fiction to try to imagine some of these things and tell people more about archaeology and why this is important.”

Creekside weaves together two fictional stories, separated by two centuries.

The first story is about Virgil and Estelle Mullins, a young 18th-century couple who leave family in Virginia to cross the mountains and settle in the wilderness of Central Kentucky. Over three generations, the family experiences joys, hardships and tragedies common to people in those times. Before the Civil War, descendants abandon the farmstead for urban life.

The second story is about Meg Harrington, a 21st-century archaeologist who is working with students to excavate that pioneer farmstead. They must work quickly because bulldozers will soon turn it into a subdivision called Creekside.

Carmean faced the usual challenges of writing historical fiction: creating characters with whom readers can identify and rich, interesting plots grounded in historic accuracy. But with a twist.

As chapters go back and forth in time, the reader learns details of the pioneer family’s life that the archaeologist can only speculate about: the violence and accidents that left disfigured bodies in graves; deeply personal stories behind bits of ceramic and jewelry found buried in the soil.

Carmean wanted to explain something about archaeological excavation techniques and artifact analysis. “It’s an effort to bring the public into archaeological thinking and processes,” she said, adding that it bears little resemblance to an Indiana Jones movie.

Although Carmean’s research has focused on Native American cultures, she decided that her first novel should tell the story of white settlers because readers could more easily identify with them. She is working on a second novel about Native Americans who populated Kentucky long before it was “discovered.” That novel’s working title is The Village at Muddy Creek.

Creekside explores the tension between preservation and development. Carmean is passionate about preventing destruction of archaeological sites so they can be studied into the future. The more we know about the past, she said, the better we can understand the present and gain insight for the future.

Preservation is problematic because it often comes down to money. Archaeologists usually have few resources to work with, and ancient and historic sites are usually destroyed to make way for well-financed development.

The academic culture of archaeology, which is focused on data collection rather than storytelling, often hurts archaeologists’ ability to communicate their values. “We’re not providing the general public with what they hunger for,” which is the humanity of our ancestors, Carmean said. “We have the tools, but we just haven’t done it.”

Carmean hopes Creekside will help change that. “You have to write about it in such a way that people will pay attention to it,” she said. “You have to make them want to take a more active role … and educate themselves about the scale of the destruction around us, the destruction that accompanies modern life.

“We lose something with each site destruction,” she said. “The past and vestiges of the past are important because they enrich our communities. They help us understand more about the human condition.”

If you go

Kelli Carmean will read from and discuss Creekside

■ 4 p.m. Sept. 23, EKU’s Crabbe Library grand reading room

■ 4 p.m. Sept. 24, UK’s Lafferty Hall, Room 108

■ 2 p.m. Oct. 9, the Morris book shop, 408 Southland Dr.

■ 7 p.m. Nov. 2, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, The Mall at Lexington Green

■ Nov. 11, Kentucky Book Fair, Frankfort

Kentucky, businesses hope to cash in on WEG

September 20, 2010

Much of the competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games won’t be among the equine and human athletes on the field.

In the stands, in the hospitality tents, across the grounds and even throughout the state, Kentucky business executives and economic development officials will be busy trying to figure out how to make the Games pay dividends for years.

“This will be huge,” Commerce Lexington president Robert Quick said. After all, for two weeks, an international spotlight will be trained on some of Central Kentucky’s most positive aspects during its most beautiful time of year.

“The rolling, green hills and smiling faces will be our biggest advertisement,” he said.

Commerce Lexington, which is part of the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership that also includes Lexington’s city government and the University of Kentucky, has invited some business prospects and site-selection consultants to the Games, but Quick said he doesn’t know yet how many will attend.

The group is partnering with chambers of commerce in Louisville and Northern Kentucky on business- recruiting efforts, and with the Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau to reach out to national, international and niche media.

At the Kentucky Horse Park, Commerce Lexington’s most visible role will be staffing 58 shifts at the information desk in the VIP hospitality tent. “We’re not going to do a hard sell,” Quick said. “But we want to be the go-to information source to guide them.”

Kentucky’s Cabinet for Economic Development will play host to about 50 guests, said Mandy Lambert, director of marketing and communications. Plans are similar to what the cabinet does each year when it brings prospects to attend the Kentucky Derby in Louisville.

“They’ll be attending the Games, as well as enjoying other outside activities during their stay,” Lambert said. “Our goal is to showcase the state’s business and quality of life advantages and encourage future economic development opportunities for Kentucky.”

Individual companies will be using the Games to entertain clients, reward partners and build business. And none will work harder at it than Alltech, the Games’ title sponsor.

Alltech is investing more than $30 million to make the Games a success and leverage them for its own business development, president Pearse Lyons has said. In fact, in recent months, the line between the Games organization and Alltech has seemed increasingly blurred.

Alltech is using the Games to launch two animal feed products, a malt whiskey, a brand of Haitian coffee and an after-dinner drink, spokesman Billy Frey said. The company’s Bourbon Barrel Ale is the official beer of the Games, and its Alltech Angus beef will be served frequently and promoted heavily.

The company also is sponsoring the Alltech Fortnight Festival, two weeks of concerts and other entertainment during the Games that gives it a way to reach out to a wider audience and forge stronger ties with more than 60 Central Kentucky restaurants and bars.

Alltech has used the Games as a marketing engine to build relationships with 67 customer companies. And, in an effort to boost ticket sales and attendance, Lyons created the Commonwealth Club, which provides ticket and hospitality packages that other companies can use to entertain guests. So far, 115 companies have joined the club.

Lexmark International plans to host customers from Canada and Europe at the Games, said Denis Giuliani, vice president of U.S. marketing and supply sales for the company’s laser printer division.

“WEG could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, just like the Ryder Cup,” Giuliani said, referring to the golf tournament at Louisville’s Valhalla course in 2008, where Lexmark was a sponsor. “They’re great customer-hosting events.”

While some deals might get done amid all the vaulting, jumping and reining, the real payoff, at least for Lexington and Kentucky, will be long-term. “We learned from Aachen (the German city that was host to the 2006 World Equestrian Games) that a lot of what happened with the Games happened later,” Quick said.

“It will be all about image and impression that people have as they go around the region and how they might see economic connections, business connections,” Quick said. “I think we’re going to have the benefits of this for decades to come. People will be talking about this.”

How WEG could affect Lexington, Kentucky politics

September 19, 2010

Some of the biggest winners and losers to come out of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games won’t be riding horses.

High on the list are Mayor Jim Newberry, Vice Mayor Jim Gray and Gov. Steve Beshear. Whether each ends up as a winner or loser could depend a lot on how well the Games go.

The 16-day competition at the Kentucky Horse Park comes at a tricky time for Gray, who is challenging Newberry for re-election. The election is Nov. 2, only 44 days from now and 23 days after the Games end.

Gray has an uphill battle to unseat Newberry, a competent if not always inspiring mayor. Newberry isn’t nearly as vulnerable as Teresa Isaac was four years ago when he ousted her.

Ordinarily, Gray and Newberry would be in full campaign mode by now, even though both tend to come off as petulant and whiney when they attack each other. The contest so far has been a low-key affair, with Gray having neighborhood meetings and Newberry cutting ribbons.

As the Games draw near, both candidates seem restrained. After all, it isn’t polite to fight in front of company, and Lexingtonians are nothing if not polite.

Expect to see a lot of Newberry at the Games and the related downtown festivities. If all goes well, he can trumpet them as the capstone to four years of progress. But if things go badly, the Games could blow up in Newberry’s face.

What could go wrong? Lots. Having covered two Olympics and many other big events, I have observed that the secret to success is smooth execution of basic logistics. The devil is always in the details.

Traffic, parking, shuttles and other conveniences for spectators, participants and the media will shape perceptions of the Games. If people are able to get in, out and about the Horse Park and the downtown entertainment venues with relative ease, and at a price they consider fair, it will go a long way toward creating good buzz about the Games.

It doesn’t help that the biggest logistical test will come the first night, when tens of thousands of people, most of whom have paid big money for tickets, converge on the Horse Park for opening ceremonies. LexTran and hotel shuttles should ease congestion if they run smoothly, but this is a city of drivers who freak out at the slightest traffic jam.

If all goes well, great. If not, the problems had better be fixed quickly or there will be hell to pay. This is especially true as it relates to visiting journalists. If they hear spectators complaining, and if bungled logistics make it hard for them to do their jobs, they won’t hesitate to tell the world about it.

While Newberry has the most to gain or lose politically from the Games, the governor also has a lot at stake. Beshear has been a big booster, as has his wife, Jane, an avid horsewoman.

Responding to concerns that spectators would have to walk a half-mile or more from their $20 parking spaces at Spy Coast Farm to the Horse Park venues, the governor’s office last week took the lead in organizing a free shuttle service to be operated by a church group.

Beshear has often stepped up to help the Games. Perhaps the most notable example was in January 2008 when he shifted nearly $30 million in state appropriations to fund the Horse Park’s outdoor stadium and other Games-related improvements that had languished in budget limbo for a year.

That money originally was intended for parks projects throughout the state, but “Kentucky’s reputation is on the line” with the Games’ success, Beshear said. About half of that money was to have gone for improvements at Dale Hollow State Park, which is in Senate President David Williams’ district.

Williams was not amused. Since then, he has become the Republicans’ most promising candidate for governor next year, when Beshear, a Democrat, faces re-election.

Don’t be surprised to hear Williams bring up the subject if the Games go badly — or even if they go well. Kentucky politicians have always been able to whip up rural voters by complaining that cities get too many of the goodies.

So let the Games begin. If there is anything Kentuckians love as much as horses, it is politics.

A quick introduction to Lexington for our visitors

September 19, 2010

Welcome to Lexington. We thought you would never get here.

We have been getting ready for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games for five years — and thinking about them even longer.

The Kentucky Horse Park opened in 1978 with the World Championship Three-Day Event. Each year since then, the park has played host to what is now called the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Years of improvements have made the Kentucky Horse Park perhaps the world’s finest equestrian facility. It is a big contributor to the local economy, with museums, horse shows and other events. But we have always had something bigger in mind, and that is what brought you here.

After the first World Equestrian Games were held in Sweden in 1990, we considered going after the second Games four years later. We competed for the 2006 Games but lost to Aachen, Germany. Our 2004 bid for this year’s Games was chosen over Normandy, France, which will host the 2014 Games.

Over the past few years, Lexington’s city motto may as well have been, “Clean up! Company’s coming!” We have raced to complete many long-deferred highway, street and sidewalk improvements. Be careful: some of the cement may still be wet.

As you can see, our natural landscape is gorgeous. John Filson, one of the first people to visit and write about Kentucky, described this place in 1784 as a “new Eden.” But much like Adam and Eve, we have not always appreciated it.

Lexington has tried for a half-century to control urban sprawl, with mixed success. Only recently have most people in the Bluegrass realized it is not a good idea to continue paving over the landscape that makes us unique. It gives me hope that eventually more people will realize that blowing up Kentucky’s mountains to extract coal isn’t such a good idea, either.

The Bluegrass has many beautiful, old buildings. The oldest ones date from a time two centuries ago when Lexington was the most progressive city on what was then America’s western frontier. We would have many more of those old buildings, but we spent the last half of the 20th century demolishing them, often to make way for nothing more special than a parking lot.

And how, you may wonder, did Lexington end up with a fenced pasture in the center of town? Don’t ask; it’s too embarrassing.

Central Kentucky is filled with good, friendly people who genuinely want you to enjoy yourself while you are here. There are many fine restaurants, museums, galleries and other attractions, although they are not always easy to find. Ask one of us for recommendations.

Kentuckians are proud of their home, but we have a bit of an inferiority complex. That’s partly because many of us are afraid of change, suspicious of new ideas and wary of taking risks. We have always been too quick to settle for second-best.

But that’s not just a Kentucky trait; transplants often have a clearer view than natives do of a place’s worth and potential. A good example is Pearse Lyons, an Irishman who came to Kentucky three decades ago and started Alltech. His energy and money are a driving force behind the Games you are about to see.

Kentuckians are working hard to show you a good time, but glitches are inevitable. Be patient. And if you get anxious, try a bottle of Alltech’s Kentucky Ale or a few sips of Kentucky wine or bourbon. (By the way: 95 percent of the world’s bourbon whiskey is made within a two-hour drive of Lexington. Most distilleries offer free tours. Some even give samples.)

So, welcome to Lexington. You love horses. We love horses. This should be fun.

Will we choose to live as brothers or perish as fools?

September 15, 2010

Pastor Nancy Jo Kemper, right, greets Dan Rosenberg, left, State Auditor Crit Luallen and Mehmet Saracoglu after an interfaith service Sunday at New Union Christian Church in Woodford County. Photo by Tom Eblen

If a tiny church in Florida could inflame religious strife around the world, the Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper figured that her tiny church in Woodford County could help heal it.

So the pastor of the 176-year-old New Union Christian Church held a special service Sunday to promote interfaith understanding. She invited a Muslim to read from the Quran and a Jew to read from the Torah.

“This church is unashamedly Christian, but we try to be good listeners,” Kemper told her two dozen parishioners. “We shall overcome hate and bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

The Disciples of Christ congregation is one of several Kentucky groups that have spoken out against the Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla. His threats to burn the Quran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists sparked deadly protests in Afghanistan and international condemnation.

Georgetown College, a Baptist-affiliated school, sponsored several well- attended events last week to promote understanding between Christians and Muslims. “I saw students from many backgrounds open themselves to learn from members of a faith community that differs from their own,” said Emily Brandon, who helped organize the events.

Lexington’s Christian-Muslim Dialogue, which meets monthly, will have a special speaker Saturday. Monica Marks, who grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness in Carter County, is a Fulbright scholar and a Rhodes scholar who studies Islamic law and reform movements in modern Middle Eastern culture. Her free lecture, “The Interfaith Issue in America and Abroad,” is at 10 a.m. in Lexington Theological Seminary’s Fellowship Hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

Kemper, retired executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, began her Sunday morning service by telling the congregation, “A church not much larger than our own sent shock waves around the world with its threat to burn the Quran. We decided to read from it and learn more about it.”

She then introduced Mehmet Saracoglu — a Muslim from Turkey, a graduate student in mining engineering and founder of the University of Kentucky’s Interfaith Dialogue Organization. He told the congregation that the Quran clearly forbids killing innocent people, as terrorists have done.

Among the Quran passages he read was this one: “O mankind! We created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know and honor each other (not that you should despise one another).”

Saracoglu was followed by Dan Rosenberg, a Thoroughbred industry consultant and retired president of Three Chimneys Farm. He read from the Torah’s book of Leviticus, including this passage: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Afterward, Rosenberg said he was pleased to participate in the service. “I think it is always important for people to speak out against intolerance and injustice,” he said.

The service emphasized beliefs that Christianity, Judaism and Islam have in common as the three religious traditions that trace their origins to a covenant between God and Abraham, described in the Hebrew Bible. In all three religions, love of God and of neighbor are inseparable.

In her sermon, Kemper asked God’s forgiveness for having called the headline-seeking Florida minister an idiot. “I think it is not for us to judge, but it is for us to act on our own values,” she said. “Too often we all let our prejudices get hold of us and lead us in ways that are not helpful.”

Jones’ stunt followed well-publicized protests over plans to build an Islamic center in New York, a few blocks from the former World Trade Center site, and mosques in towns including Mayfield and Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Kemper noted that Christianity, as well as Islam, has been perverted throughout history by zealots. People can honor their own religion and still respect others’ beliefs, she said. “All across America, people are saying ‘no’ to the Terry Joneses of the world, and for the most part they are doing it gently and kindly,” she said.

In addition to scripture, Kemper read several quotes from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But she left out the one that keeps popping into my head each time I see another news story about religious intolerance.

“We must learn to live together as brothers,” King said, “or perish together as fools.”

Kentucky bourbon a growing ‘signature industry’

September 13, 2010

Before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games begin later this month, there will be a big celebration of another Kentucky signature industry.

The annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival begins Tuesday in Bardstown with events every day through Sunday. Last year, the festival attracted 55,000 people from 43 states and 13 foreign countries. An even bigger crowd is expected this year.

Bourbon is on a roll. While Kentucky manufacturers overall cut 20 percent of their jobs during the past decade, distillery employment grew 6 percent, according to an industry study published early this year. Nineteen distilleries in eight Kentucky counties employ more than 3,200 people.

Kentucky distilleries are expanding to meet rising worldwide demand for bourbon. Just last month, Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown announced a $4.2 million project to build two new barrel storage warehouses.

Thanks to Kentucky’s central location, distillers of other drinks are shipping more of their product to bourbon distilleries here for bottling, which is creating additional jobs.

Bourbon’s popularity is splashing over into the rest of Kentucky’s economy, too, thanks to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The six distilleries that offer tours as part of the promotion organized by the Kentucky Distillers Association recorded more than 400,000 visits last year, and expect to shatter that record this year, said association president Eric Gregory.

Although no longer an official part of the Bourbon Trail because of a dispute with the distillers association, the huge Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort also has seen tour attendance skyrocket.

Bill Samuels, president of Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto and perhaps the industry’s best marketer, isn’t surprised. He said his off-the-beaten-path distillery in Marion County had 13,000 visitors in July, and they spent $300,000 in the distillery gift shop. “It’s not a big profit center, but it does allow us to give visitors a first-class experience,” he said.

As a student at the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1960s, Samuels said he saw how tourism began in California’s Napa Valley wine country. Since then, it has blossomed into a huge economic engine for that state.

Samuels thinks the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has similar potential. “It could become the most important new tourist attraction in the middle part of the country,” he said. “And without any state incentives.”

Samuels thinks it is time for communities near Kentucky’s distilleries to capitalize on the Bourbon Trail with new festivals, restaurants, bed-and-breakfast inns and other hospitality businesses.

What made Napa Valley tourism take off was when local chambers of commerce and public officials got behind the effort. “We need that same kind of community leadership to make it happen here,” Samuels said.

“A signature industry ought to be able to be leveraged for the benefit of the people of Kentucky,” he said. “And the spirits industry is in a position to do that.”

As with the horse industry, though, Samuels worries that Kentucky could lose out on a lot of economic growth because it has taken the bourbon industry for granted, punishing it with high taxes and onerous sales restrictions. Those have been driven largely by opportunistic politicians and anti-liquor church folk.

Kentucky now has the nation’s second-highest liquor taxes. More than half the cost of a bottle of bourbon bought in Kentucky is federal, state and local taxes.

How is that hurting economic growth? For example, Samuels said, only two of the nation’s 16 recent startup spirits distilleries are in Kentucky, largely because this is the only state with an ad valorem tax on spirits aging in warehouses.

Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon now. “But if we don’t do something about that ad valorem tax, it’s going to be a hell of a lot less than 95 percent,” he said.

Bourbon aging at Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort. Photo by Tom Eblen

A brief Bluegrass history lesson as the Games begin

September 12, 2010

How did Central Kentucky become the Horse Capital of the World? A clever combination of good geology, good marketing and good luck.

When the first white settlers arrived in the 1770s, they discovered that horses grew strong and fast from drinking the limestone water and munching bluegrass grown in the mineral-rich soil. Race horses became a big business until the Civil War made a mess of things.

By the late 1800s, Northeast industrialists discovered the “sport of kings” and began breeding and racing operations in New York and New Jersey. But savvy Kentuckians lured them here with a clever marketing campaign built around an Old South myth of the mint julep-sipping Kentucky colonel. That story is told in the soon-to-be-published book, How Kentucky Became Southern, by retired Herald-Leader turf writer Maryjean Wall (University Press of Kentucky, $29.95)

This is a big year for horses because of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Sept. 25 to Oct. 10. The Games will be at the Kentucky Horse Park, which is a great place to learn about our equine heritage.The Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau has information about horse farm tours. And every April and October, you can see “racing as it was meant to be” at Keeneland Race Course.

But horses are just one part of Central Kentucky’s rich and colorful history waiting to be explored. This has been a popular tourist destination since Native Americans began wandering through about 13,000 years ago. When white surveyors first came here in 1750, Kentucky was a hunting ground for the Shawnee, Iroquois, Cherokee and other tribes.

By the 1770s, Britain’s colonies along the East Coast were getting crowded, and real estate speculators began eyeing land beyond the mountains. Richard Henderson bought much of Kentucky from the Cherokee in one of history’s biggest private land deals. Henderson tried to form his own colony, Transylvania, and hired a frontiersman named Daniel Boone to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap.

Boone also built Fort Boonesborough along the Kentucky River, not far from James Harrod’s fort at Harrodsburg, the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. Harrod’s fort has been reconstructed at Old Fort Harrod State Park in Harrodsburg, and a reconstruction of Boone’s fort can be seen at Fort Boonesborough State Park (for information on both, go here).

Authorities were not amused by Henderson’s land grab, and they voided his claim. Kentucky became a Virginia county and then, in 1792, the 15th state.

Land-hungry settlers rushed to Kentucky, in part because of author John Filson, whose 1784 best-seller, The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, described this region as a “new Eden.” One place still recognizable from Filson’s descriptions is the Kentucky River Palisades, or steep limestone cliffs. You can see them on the one-hour Dixie Belle River Cruise from Shaker Landing.

The Shakers, a religious sect, sought their own Kentucky Eden, founding a utopian community in Mercer County in the early 1800s. The Shakers made elegantly simple furniture, architecture, crafts and music. But they didn’t believe in sex, which is why there are no more Shakers. The restored Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg is a great place to visit, stay overnight, eat and shop.

People found that Central Kentucky’s limestone water made good whiskey as well as strong horses. More than 90 percent of the world’s bourbon is still made here, and several distilleries welcome visitors.Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort has tours but isn’t part of the official Bourbon Trail.

Agriculture and trade made Lexington the most prosperous and cultured town in western America in the early 1800s. Young men came from all over to study at Transylvania University, and Lexingtonians proudly called their town the “Athens of the West.”

Loyalties were divided during the Civil War. Lexington was a big slave-owning town, but it also had been home to Henry Clay, who for decades fought harder than anyone else in Congress to preserve the union. Mary Todd, a Lexington girl, might have been married to Abraham Lincoln, but that didn’t stop many of her relatives from fighting for the Confederacy.

Lexington has several historic home museums that offer a glimpse into aristocratic 19th-century life, including Waveland State Historic Site (; the Mary Todd Lincoln House; Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate; and the Hunt-Morgan House.

Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are filled with history. The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation has mapped a Bicycle Tour of Historic Lexington (drive if you must), and Doris Wilkinson, a University of Kentucky sociology professor, developed an African-American Heritage Trail.

For an overview of local history, visit the Lexington History Museum downtown. A good place to explore Kentucky history is the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort.

This column is from the LexGo Guide to Central Kentucky. To read other articles from the Guide, click here.

‘There’s a dead guy in a parachute,’ 25 years later

September 11, 2010

It is hard to believe it was 25 years today that former Lexington police officer Andrew Thornton parachuted to his death in Knoxville while smuggling drugs. In today’s Herald-Leader, reporter Jack Brammer tells about the case that became known as the “bluegrass conspiracy.”

I remember that day, because I was at home in Knoxville, just a few miles from where Thornton landed in an old man’s yard in a semi-rural neighborhood on the edge of town.

I had been The Associated Press correspondent in Knoxville, covering East Tennessee, and I was then a roving regional/national reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, covering Tennessee and Kentucky. A friend at the now-defuct Knoxville Journal called and told me about the incident a couple of hours after it was discovered.

By the time I got to the old man’s house, Thornton’s body had been removed and police were packing up to leave. The old man, who lived alone and was beginning to suffer from dementia, was in the front yard with his adult nephew, trying to figure out what to make of all the excitement.

The nephew told me that he stopped by to check on his uncle every day. Early that morning, he said, the old man had called him to say, “There’s a dead guy in a parachute in my yard.”

Yea, right, the nephew thought. So it was a couple of hours before he made it out to his uncle’s home. “And, by golly, there was a dead guy in a parachute in the yard!” the nephew said.

What the ad for Lee Todd’s successor should say

September 11, 2010

Lee T. Todd Jr.’s decision to retire as president of the University of Kentucky in June has me thinking about what the advertisement seeking his successor should say.

Not what it will say, but what it should say.

Wanted: University of Kentucky president. As UK’s 12th chief executive since 1869, you will be taking on perhaps the toughest job in Kentucky. It pays about a half-million dollars a year, but you could get more money for less work at another state’s flagship university.

By the way, your salary will pale in comparison to the millions that go to your head basketball and football coaches. Don’t expect any sympathy from the faculty and staff, who are generally underpaid and haven’t received a raise lately. Or students and their parents, who have seen tuition double in recent years.

There is a lot right with UK. The university is more open, collaborative and entrepreneurial than it used to be. Enrollment, student performance, research and diversity are growing, and the university is producing some outstanding graduates, including doctors, engineers, architects, diplomats, business people and, believe it or not, world-class opera singers.

You will be succeeding Lee Todd, a passionate, energetic and visionary leader who has been president for a decade. He changed attitudes and focused UK on its most important missions: educating Kentuckians for good jobs and richer lives; and harnessing the university’s brainpower to improve life in Kentucky.

Todd set lofty goals but failed to achieve many of them. That was largely because legislators stopped funding his plans once the economy fizzled. Todd made his share of mistakes, but he led with high ethical standards and positioned the university as well as he could for the future. In many ways, he will be a tough act to follow.

UK’s state funding has been almost flat for a decade, so if you want more money to make the university great, you’ll probably have to find it somewhere else. Kentuckians have rarely been willing to invest enough in education, even though it would do more than anything else to improve the state’s long-term economy and quality of life. Long-term thinking has never been our strength.

Kentuckians like to talk about creating a top-ranked university, but we succeeded only once, briefly. When Transylvania University, now a private liberal arts college, was Kentucky’s state university in 1818, trustees hired a young up-and-coming Bostonian, Horace Holley, with a charge to make it great. He did, and for a few years Transylvania was being mentioned in the same breath as Harvard and Yale.

Despite phenomenal success, Holley was run off in 1827 by Kentuckians who didn’t appreciate the value of higher education, legislators that didn’t want to spend money on it and a governor who just wanted to build roads.

We mention this episode because it has often echoed through two centuries of Kentucky history. Perhaps the toughest job you will face as UK’s next president is convincing average Kentuckians and their political leaders that, as former Gov. Paul Patton succinctly put it, “education pays.”

That won’t be easy. Many Kentuckians are suspicious of new ideas and averse to change. They avoid risk for fear of failure or criticism. Ignorance and powerful vested interests often combine to keep the status quo.

Your biggest distraction in this job will likely be UK’s basketball and football teams and their boosters. These programs are rich and powerful and prone to trouble. They bring in a lot of money, and some of it goes to academics. But not nearly enough.

Sports are fun and exciting diversions. But at UK, as at many universities, athletics has become the tail that wags the dog. Big Blue Nation demands winners at all cost. Todd thought he could tame the Wildcat. He couldn’t.

If history is any guide — and your tenure is very long — you will face a sports scandal or several. You will constantly be at odds with rabid fans who think the university exists to support a sports franchise, rather than the other way around. Good luck with that.

This job requires masterful political skills, Oprah-like charisma, the stamina of a marathon runner and the patience of a kindergarten teacher. Still interested? You must be either crazy or genuinely committed to making Kentucky a better place.

If the latter is true, please apply. We need you.

Lee Todd’s leadership has strengthened UK

September 8, 2010
UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. announces his retirement. Photo by David Perry

UK President Lee Todd announces his retirement. Photo by David Perry

Lee T. Todd Jr. has always said that his goal was not simply to improve the University of Kentucky, but to use the university to improve life for all Kentuckians.

As a teary-eyed Todd, 64, announced Wednesday that he would step down next June after completing a decade as UK’s president, he made it clear that his goals haven’t changed. He just plans to keep trying to achieve them in different ways.

“I have a pulpit I can use in this state and nationally to talk about some things that we need to do,” he said.

Those things, Todd said, include exploring alternative ways to fund education as taxpayer support remains flat; improving math and science skills that will help young Kentuckians be competitive for the good jobs of the future; and harnessing UK’s brainpower to solve some of the state’s most persistent problems — what Todd has always called the “Kentucky uglies.”

While much remains to be done, Todd’s tenure will be remembered as one of solid accomplishment.

“I think Lee has done an outstanding job under very, very difficult circumstances,” said Kris Kimel, president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. “His focus on entrepreneurship led to a more active and vigorous entrepreneurial climate at the university.”

Todd was a former UK engineering professor who had achieved wealth as a technology entrepreneur when he became the university’s 11th president in 2001. He immediately set out to make UK more open, from improving relationships with city and state leaders to symbolically cutting down the hedges that surrounded the president’s mansion. Many described him as a “breath of fresh air.”

Todd’s business plan for achieving Top 20 status among the nation’s public research universities received an initial $23 million from the General Assembly in 2007-2008. But the plan became increasingly hard to pursue as economic troubles caused state funding to dry up.

Despite flat state funding of a little more than $300 million, Todd increased the university’s annual operating budget from $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion. UK completed a $1 billion capital campaign, attracted more than $150 million in additional research funds and found $112 million in cost savings.

Undergraduate enrollment rose 11.2 percent; student retention rose to 81 percent and the graduation rate reached a record 61.4 percent. The faculty and student body grew more diverse in recent years.

Many top faculty members and administrators were recruited. Many new buildings were built, including a state-of-the-art hospital now under construction.

Although he came from the world of science and technology, Todd and his wife, Patsy, were very supportive of the arts, said Everett McCorvey, director of UK’s acclaimed Opera Theatre program and a faculty trustee. The Todds took a personal interest in students, often inviting them into their home.

Todd’s ambitions for UK were often frustrated by a lack of money. Salaries stagnated and programs were cut, angering faculty members who saw what top administrators and coaches were being paid . Tuition rates doubled, angering students and their parents.

Todd faced a no-win situation when he was caught between anti-coal environmentalists and coal barons with millions to donate to the university. Author Wendell Berry pulled his personal papers from the UK archives in protest over the basketball dorm being named Wildcat Coal Lodge.

Todd increased support for women’s and minor sports that have always been in the shadow of basketball and football. But professors complained that he never seemed able to tame UK’s powerful sports programs. Todd stuck with former football Coach Rich Brooks, which proved to be a good bet. But the hiring of former basketball Coach Billy Gillispie was a disaster. UK now has two able coaches in Joker Phillips and John Calipari, if only their programs can stay out of trouble.

Despite controversies and animosities, frustrations and lack of progress in some areas, UK finds itself stronger and more adaptable to change after nearly a decade of Todd’s leadership.

“I feel like the place has blossomed dramatically in the 10 years he has been president,” said Alan Hawse, an alumnus and vice president of information technology at California-based Cypress Semiconductor. “He has focused the university on making Kentucky a better place.”

A preview ride before Sunday’s Legacy Trail opening

September 8, 2010

What is it like to bike the new Legacy Trail? That’s what I wanted to know before Sunday’s opening.

Early last week, as the sun was rising on a beautiful late-summer morning, I took a preview ride on the trail’s 7.5-mile main section with project manager Keith Lovan, Mayor Jim Newberry and Steve Austin, director of the Bluegrass Community Foundation’s Legacy Center, which is working with the city to build the trail.

We met at the Northside YMCA on Loudon Avenue and rode north to the Kentucky Horse Park. As we mounted our bicycles in the parking lot, the first thing I noticed were handsome limestone walls and pillars. They mark each end of the trail, adding a touch of Bluegrass elegance.

We pedaled over a small hill, behind a hotel and along Newtown Pike beside Lexmark. The trail then went over New Circle Road on a private bridge that IBM, Lexmark’s predecessor, built decades ago to connect its complex.

That bridge was one of two pre-existing features that made the Legacy Trail  possible. The other was a small tunnel under Interstate 75, built when the highway split the University of Kentucky’s Coldstream and Maine Chance research farms.

Other fortunate breaks for the project: economic stimulus money from the Obama Administration, and the fact that the trail required easement negotiations with only six property owners.

We left Lexmark’s property by crossing the first of seven arched steel bridges and a meadow along Cane Run Creek. The trail again took us along Newtown Pike beside Rosenstein Development property to the intersection of Citation Boulevard. We waited for the crosswalk, as everyone will have to do for a few more years. Once a planned upgrade of Newtown Pike is completed, the trail will have its own bridge over the busy highway into the Coldstream Research Park.

“I think it’s great that the trail is so visible,” Newberry said. “As motorists drive along and see cyclists on the trail, it might make them think about getting a bike, or getting out the bike they already have.”

We rode along Citation Boulevard, then glided down a small hill where the trail goes  beneath a bridge. This mile-long section of trail through a flood plain is made of pervious concrete, which allows water to pass through it. It is more environmental-friendly than asphalt, but costs four-times as much, Lovan said.

We crossed through the tunnel under I-75 to Maine Chance Farm, where we could see the sun rising over the Irish round tower on Castleton Lyons Farm in the distance. On the north side of the farm, we came to a pretty meadow that UK donated to the trail. We agreed it would become a popular picnic spot.

We rode past Spindletop Hall and reached the northern trailhead at the Kentucky Horse Park. There is a parking lot there, as there is at the YMCA and Coldstream Park. Across Ironworks Pike, the trail continues a short distance, entering the horse park beside the campground gate.

On the morning of our ride, there was still a lot of work to be done. We went around a few paving crews and had to stop and lift our bikes across most of the bridges, which hadn’t been connected to the trail yet. But by Sunday, it will be a smooth ride, Lovan said.

Landscaping won’t be finished and all of the interpretive signs and public art won’t be installed until next year. Eventually, the trail will be 12 miles long, extending south from the YMCA down Jefferson and Third Streets to the new Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at East Third and Midland Avenue.

“If this is not wildly popular, I will be stunned,” Newberry said of the Legacy Trail before he hitched a ride to an appointment downtown and Lovan, Austin and I turned around to ride back to the YMCA. “I think it’s spectacular. It’s a fabulous addition to the community.”

I agree. The $10 million investment in the Legacy Trail is a drop in the bucket of what we routinely spend on highways and other public improvements. The long-term benefits – in public health, recreation and community enhancement – will be huge.

If you go

Legacy Trail opening

Sunday, 1 p.m. until dusk

Parking at the north and south trailheads -Northside YMCA on Loudon Avenue and across from the Kentucky Horse Park campground entrance on Ironworks Pike – and at Coldstream Park.

More information:

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