Many people have special memories of Keeneland Race Course — pleasant spring and fall afternoons spent watching beautiful horses and people, eating, drinking and, if you’re like me, losing a few dollars at the windows.
Some of my favorite Keeneland memories are from 1984, when I covered Queen Elizabeth II’s visit for the Atlanta newspapers. Everything was freshly painted, and everyone was on best behavior.
When the spring meet opens April 8, Keeneland will celebrate its 75th year.
Sisters Alice Chandler and Patricia Green have unique memories of Keeneland’s early years. Their father, Hal Price Headley, was the driving force behind creating it.
“When Keeneland opened, I was 10 years old,” Chandler said. “I had a pony named Pal and I used to ride my pony down the Versailles Road. Now, can you imagine doing that today? I would get up early and ride him down to Keeneland while they were building it.”
Headley and Louie Beard headed a group of local horsemen in 1935 who wanted to replace the old Kentucky Association track near downtown, which closed in 1933. Jack Keene gave them a good price on a piece of his farm, which included a rambling stone barn he had built as a private training and racing facility.
One corner of “Keene’s folly” became the original part of the Keeneland clubhouse. Stone from the rest of it was used by architect Robert McMeekin for the track’s grandstand and paddock.
Much of the equipment used to build Keeneland came from Headley’s Beaumont Farm, which once covered several thousand acres between Harrodsburg and Versailles roads.
“He took everything we had on the farm,” Chandler said. “The mules, the tractors, the wagons, everything. There just wasn’t enough money to buy that sort of thing and they needed it.”
Despite an aggressive construction schedule, the track wasn’t finished in time for a spring meet, so racing didn’t begin until October 1936.
Chandler, 85, said she will never forget what happened to her on that first opening day. “I was walking up the steps in the grandstand and some guy behind me pinched my bottom,” she said, laughing. “I couldn’t believe it!”
Green, 83, remembers spending many childhood afternoons playing on the clubhouse lawn. “We were given the run of the place,” she said.
Furniture from the Beaumont Farm mansion, which stood where Sullivan University is now on Harrodsburg Road, was taken to Keeneland for use in the clubhouse during those early years.
Green remembers the Beaumont gardener starting what is now the giant infield hedge that spells “Keeneland” in a plot behind their home. “It was a tiny little thing,” she said.
Their older sister Alma’s husband, Louis Haggin, succeeded their father as Keeneland’s president. Alma also played a key role: her taste defined Keeneland’s interior decoration for decades until her death in 2008 at age 96.
Headley had five daughters, then a son. With so many children competing for his attention, “Me now!” was a common expression in the Headley home, Green said. It became the name of one of Headley’s most successful horses. Menow was the champion 2-year-old in 1937, placed third in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1938 and sired 32 stakes winners.
Chandler and Green, the youngest of the Headley’s five daughters, have fond memories of their father treating them more like sons.
“I just adored him,” Chandler said. “If my toe wasn’t under his heel I was running behind. My mother insisted on sending me to boarding school from time to time. I hated every minute of it, because it kept me from going to Keeneland.”
The sisters have remained close to racing. Green’s ex-husband managed two horse farms and she owned Silks Unlimited, a maker of jockey silks that her daughter now owns.
Chandler became a prominent horsewoman. She turned part of Beaumont into award-winning Mill Ridge Farm, where she bred Sir Ivor. He won the 1968 Epsom Derby and helped attract European buyers to Keeneland’s sales. Giacomo, winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby, was foaled at Mill Ridge.
Chandler and Green think their father, who died in 1962, would be proud of what Keeneland has become. “It’s a tremendous place,” Chandler said. “There’s no other race track like it.”
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Demographics is destiny, which is why Kentucky’s business and political leaders should be taking a close look at data released this month from the 2010 census.
Here are a few of those demographic trends from the census and other recent reports that are worth keeping in mind:
Diversity and age: Kentucky’s population grew 7.4 percent between 2000 and 2010, bringing the total number of state residents to 4,339,367. Almost all of that growth was among minorities, especially Hispanics, whose numbers more than doubled.
“Immigration is a positive, not a negative,” said Ron Crouch, research director for the state Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and one of Kentucky’s most respected demographers. “Without immigration, we would be a state in decline.”
The population of Kentuckians younger than 18 grew at only one-third the rate of older residents. “We’re not going to have a growing work force unless older people work longer,” Crouch said.
What’s more, minorities accounted for all of the overall growth among the state’s younger people. To keep its economy strong, Kentucky must do a better job with education, especially considering the achievement gap that often exists in schools between minority and white students.
Health and well-being: Crouch said one alarming trend is the continued rise in births to unwed mothers. Almost 42 percent of children born in Kentucky in 2009 were to single mothers — up from 36 percent in 2005 and 8 percent in 1970.
“A growing portion of our families are at risk,” he said, because most of these unmarried mothers are already poor, and single motherhood is a big factor in keeping them and their children poor.
When looking at government transfer payments in Kentucky, Crouch said, the big money is in retirement, disability and rapidly rising health care costs. Those costs will increase as the overall population continues to age. By comparison, he said, “Welfare, food stamps and unemployment insurance are drops in the bucket.”
Another concern is that, in many Kentucky counties, large segments of the population are chronically jobless, a situation that doesn’t show up in traditional unemployment measures. Because these people haven’t paid into Social Security and Medicare, taxpayers will face even bigger costs as they age and require medical care.
“The Medicaid crisis today is going to get much worse,” Crouch said.
Location and economy: While much of the nation’s Northeast and Midwest are in decline, and the Southwest faces serious issues, Kentucky’s location in the growing Southeast offers economic growth potential. The state’s abundance of water will be an important asset in the future, Crouch added.
Kentucky’s population growth was primarily in the center of the state — especially inside the so-called Golden Triangle of Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati — and along interstate highways.
The Golden Triangle counties have the highest per-capita income, while the lowest is in parts of Eastern Kentucky. “But if you have a job in Eastern Kentucky, you are making wages at or above the rest of the state,” Crouch said. That is mostly because of health care and retail jobs, he added. The coal industry, where employment has fallen dramatically in recent years, plays a much less significant role.
Bowling Green outgrew Owensboro and became Kentucky’s third-largest city, thanks largely to its location along Interstate 65 between Louisville and Nashville.
The Elizabethtown region also experienced strong growth. It is likely to continue to become a more significant player in the state’s economy as growth follows the Army’s decision to move more support personnel to nearby Fort Knox.
While Kentuckians continued the trend of moving from rural counties to urban and suburban counties, most of the state’s rural counties saw less decline than those in most surrounding states, such as Illinois and West Virginia.
Since consolidating some of Kentucky’s 120 counties will likely never happen because of politics, the growth of urban regional economies will make cross-county planning and cooperation more important than ever. And booming suburban counties will have to do a better job of managing sprawl to protect quality of life.
Overall, Crouch thinks, the state’s trends show promise for good economic growth, but it will require more investment in education, infrastructure and health care to keep Kentucky competitive.
When Kentucky writer James Still died in 2001, three months short of his 95th birthday, he left behind a rich legacy of novels, short stories and poetry — and a mysterious manuscript in a leather briefcase that was held together with a belt.
That manuscript — a haunting and sometimes disturbing novel — has just been published as Chinaberry (University Press of Kentucky, $21.95). But much of the story remains a mystery.
Silas House, the author of Clay’s Quilt and other acclaimed novels, puzzled over the manuscript while editing it for publication.
“I’ve spent five or six years with this book, and I still don’t know what to think about it,” he said. But he does know this: Chinaberry is a master fully written story about the complexities of love, relationships, childhood and memory.
Still’s literary advisers and adopted daughter, Teresa Reynolds, approached House in 2004 about editing the manuscript. He said he was both honored and intimidated at the prospect of finishing the final novel of his literary hero.
Still’s work had always inspired House, who grew up in Laurel and Leslie counties and had dreamed of becoming a writer. The title of House’s 2003 novel, A Parchment of Leaves, is taken from one of Still’s poems.
House, 39, met Still a couple of times at the Appalachian Writers Workshop at Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, where Still lived for nearly 70 years. House was then an aspiring writer; Still was in his 90s and a bit gruff. “He certainly didn’t suffer fools, which I totally was in his presence,” House said.
Still was an economical writer; his few words were carefully chosen and arranged in precise rhythms. House said the manuscript’s chapters seemed almost finished, but they were in no particular order.
“Scenes were written in two or three different versions; it was like the Gospels,” he said. “Most of what I did was I found the best things from both versions and put them into one version so that (the story) moved in a more linear fashion.
“I really wanted every single word in the book to be his, and for the most part it is, except sometimes I would have to create transitional sentences,” he said. “It would take me weeks to write one sentence because I wanted to capture his rhythm and make sure every word was as carefully chosen as he would have chosen it.”
House said the biggest decision he made was the title: Chinaberry, the name of the Texas ranch that is as much a character in the book as any of the humans.
Still apparently began writing the story in the mid-1980s, biographer Carol Boggess said. I interviewed Still for a couple of hours late on the afternoon of his 80th birthday — July 16, 1986 — for a profile in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In that piece, I wrote that Still said he was “hard at work writing a book he isn’t ready to discuss.”
He was still working on it almost 15 years later; the manuscript was in his hospital room when he died.
Unlike his other writing, Chinaberry is not set in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. It takes place in the wide-open cotton and cattle land of rural Texas nearly a century ago, and in Still’s native Alabama.
Chinaberry is about the epic journey of an unnamed boy of 13, who often seems much younger. He leaves Alabama with family friends for a summer of picking cotton in Texas. During the next three months, his life is transformed.
“I think it’s a love story on so many levels,” House said. “It’s a love story between the author and childhood, between a person and a place. I think there’s a palpable love for Texas in the book, and for a way of life that’s gone forever.”
At the heart of the story is the relationship that develops between the boy and the Chinaberry ranch’s owner, Anson Winters, and his second wife, Lurie. Anson virtually adopts the boy, treating him as a replacement for the young, handicapped son whose death he still grieves.
“What’s so brilliant about the book is that (Still) doesn’t make any judgments; it’s a psychological thriller in a way,” said House, who found some scenes almost creepy.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the reader to decide what is really going on here, and that’s the brilliant thing James Still does,” he said. “He gives the reader all the power. It’s a great book-club book for that reason because you can sit and discuss it on and on.”
Perhaps the biggest mystery about Chinaberry is this: How much is fiction, and how much is Still’s autobiography?
The boy and Still share the same Alabama home. The boy’s father is a “horse doctor” who lived in Texas as a young man, as Still’s father was and did. “There’s all this autobiography in the book, but nobody knows if the main thing is true,” House said.
Among the manuscript pages in the battered briefcase, House found notes that Still had made on things he read about selective memory. “He seemed to be struggling with what was true memory,” he said.
Whether it’s autobiography, fiction or some combination of both, House thinks Chinaberry is a worthy companion to Still’s masterpiece novel River of Earth, published in 1940 to national acclaim.
“It’s such a cinematic book; it would make a wonderful movie,” House said of Chinaberry. “I still don’t understand it, but I think that’s sort of the beauty of it.”
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Keeneland changes constantly, yet never seems to. Behind stone walls and an image of timeless tradition, the elegant race course has faced one challenge after another.
To kick off its 75th anniversary, Keeneland invited Lexington’s business community to breakfast Friday to hear President Nick Nicholson and his two predecessors swap behind-the-scenes stories.
Nicholson, president since 2000, was joined by Ted Bassett, who became president in 1970, and Bill Greely, who succeeded him in 1986. They entertained a Commerce Lexington crowd of 185 people with tales of triumphs and troubles — and all the funny things that happen when you play host to movie stars, tycoons, Arab sheiks and European royalty.
“We worked hard, but we played hard, too,” Greely and Bassett both said.
“The biggest difference between then and now is we no longer play — we just work, work, work,” Nicholson added, sending the other two into gales of laughter.
Bassett recounted Keeneland’s founding on a shoestring budget in 1935, the middle of the Great Depression. Horsemen Hal Price Headley and Louie Beard wanted a racing venue to replace the old Kentucky Association track near downtown, which had closed in 1933. Their unorthodox vision was to create a non-profit institution to benefit the sport and the community.
After Bassett arrived in 1968, after heading the Kentucky State Police, he added barn space to bring in more horses for racing, and a new sales pavilion to boost the horse auctions that are the Keeneland Association’s bread and butter.
Although steeped in tradition, Keeneland has always been an innovator, opening with the state’s first electronic tote board. Bassett added the state’s first turf track in 1984, where half of Keeneland’s stakes races are now run.
Bassett resisted installing a public address system. Like the founders, he didn’t want to disturb Keeneland’s ambiance. The PA system came under Greely, in 1997, which Bassett jokingly reminded the crowd — several times.
“I had almost all of the support of the board,” Greely replied.
Innovations have continued under Nicholson, from high-tech electronic systems to a synthetic track surface that has reduced injuries to both horses and riders. Still, Nicholson is passionate about maintaining Keeneland’s timeless beauty, down to tiny details of the landscaping.
“We take our traditions seriously,” Nicholson said. “We take our trees seriously.”
Keeneland also takes its Clubhouse dress code seriously, but that, too, has evolved. Denim is still not allowed, though, as actor Joe Pesci found out once when he showed up wearing jeans.
Bassett recalled that the prohibition against women’s pant suits ended in 1975 after Anita Madden, the flamboyant owner of Hamburg Place farm, wore one and was told she must have a dress. So, she stepped in the ladies room and removed her pants. Her suit jacket became her dress.
Two of Bassett’s favorite Keeneland guests were actress Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Elizabeth II. The queen’s visit in 1984 had Bassett worried, although she turned out to be a friendly guest and knowledgeable horsewoman.
“She was very easy to talk to,” he said, although there were some anxious moments when she lost a shoe under the table at lunch. Who should retrieve it?
“He got Queen Elizabeth, but I got Ashley Judd,” Nicholson said. And Charlize Theron, whose photograph standing beside Nicholson during her 2009 visit is reproduced in Keeneland’s new 75th anniversary book.
Nicholson recalled taking Judd and her husband, race car driver Dario Franchitti, to meet some famous jockeys at Keeneland. They compared notes about their two racing sports, and Franchitti concluded that racing horses was more difficult, Nicholson said.
Nicholson said Keeneland has faced big challenges under his watch, beginning with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which occurred the morning of what he had expected to be one of Keeneland’s biggest-ever auction days. The economic slowdown that followed the attacks hit Keeneland hard, as did the mysterious disease that killed many Kentucky foals that year.
When Keeneland finally managed to recover in 2008, the worldwide financial crisis began. Things are getting better, Nicholson said, but the horse industry’s long-term prospects remain challenging.
What will not, change, Nicholson promised, is Keeneland’s commitment to providing the highest-quality horse racing and sales environment possible. “That was our founders’ philosophy,” he said. “It is a wonderful philosophy that has made this organization strong.”
Central Kentucky has more public art than most people realize, from edgy new murals and sculpture to historical architecture that has become so much a part of the landscape that we take it for granted.
Finding and learning more about this art has never been easier, thanks to a new, free tool that is as close as the palm of your hand.
The Kentucky Museum Without Walls project will soon release an Android version of its TakeItArtside! application, which was launched in November for Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iTouch.
The app is the brainchild of faculty and students at the University of Kentucky’s Art Department and Gaines Center for the Humanities and was developed by Lexington’s APAX Software. You may download it free from Apple’s App Store or the project’s Web site, Kentuckymuseumwithoutwalls.com.
The application uses GPS mapping technology to direct users to art in public places in Fayette and surrounding counties. There is a photograph of and information about each piece. Users may search for public art in the region and make a gallery of favorites.
But that is just the beginning, said Christine Huskisson, the project’s co-founder and a part-time UK art professor. “It has the ability to engage people in public art who haven’t been engaged before,” she said.
Users may send feedback and information to project developers, such as whether a piece of art has been vandalized. Soon, they will be able to add additional artwork to the database, along with photographs and background information.
“We’re using the community to help us build the content,” Huskisson said, adding that submitted information will be edited and verified by project volunteers.
Interdisciplinary lesson plans for middle school and high school students are available on the app and the Web site, and discussions are under way about using them in local school systems. The app also has a calendar of events.
The app will soon launch an interactive game — ArtFit — that will help users count calories they burn while walking to visit artwork. Streaming video interviews with local artists will be added soon.
Eventually, Huskisson said, the project hopes to grow into its name and expand statewide, perhaps with help from UK’s network of county extension agents.
Georgetown College, where art department chair Juilee Decker has been active in public art projects, has joined as a partner in the Kentucky Museum Without Walls. Discussions are under way to bring in Transylvania University, too.
“It kind of has this life of its own,” Huskisson said. The collaborative nature of the project has allowed it to come a long way in less than a year. It recently won a regional award from the Association for Continuing Higher Education.
The project began when Marnie Holoubek asked Huskisson and her museum-studies students to help develop a public-art master plan for the Legacy Trail. As that project progressed, ambitions grew.
Huskisson discovered that Lisa Broome-Price, associate director of the Gaines Center, wanted to create a public-art database for the region. After receiving a $10,000 Commonwealth Collaborative grant from UK to develop their vision, they attended a professional conference in Baltimore and were inspired by mobile apps in New York and Portland, Ore., and an online public-art database in Philadelphia.
They and their students visualized the user experience — including games and lesson plans — and APAX Software figured out how to turn it into reality. Subsequent funding has come from the Gaines Center and private donations.
UK and Georgetown College students have collected information about artwork for the database — taking photos, writing descriptions and plotting GPS locations. The process has led to some interesting discussions about what is public art.
Huskisson said TakeItArtside! is including any painting, sculpture, mural or other work that is outside or in a building accessible to the general public. But project leaders are taking a broad view. Many historical homes were added to the database because they are architectural works of art, Broome-Price said.
By increasing awareness of public art, the project hopes to develop more appreciation for the art Kentucky has — and an appetite to create more.
“It’s about cultural assets in public places,” Huskisson said. “And we have a lot more of them than many people realize.”
If we can learn anything from recent headlines, it is that powering our economy and lifestyle will only get more difficult and expensive, at least in the near future.
Japan is struggling to avert catastrophe from an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant. The crisis has the rest of the world taking a second look at the safety of its nuclear systems.
Kentucky outlawed nuclear power in 1984 until the federal government came up with a plan for storing spent fuel, which it has yet to do. The ban was prompted by a leaking radioactive dump in Fleming County that took years to contain. The state Senate voted last month to repeal the ban, but the bill died in the House.
Should Kentucky reconsider nuclear power, which now provides 20 percent of this nation’s electricity? Maybe so. We’re in no position to ignore any source of energy. But Japan’s disaster reminds us nuclear power is an imperfect, unforgiving technology that can be dangerous and costly.
I spent the early years of my career covering another example, much closer to home.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to parts of Kentucky and six other states, narrowly averted a nuclear accident in 1975 when one of its reactors in Alabama caught fire.
By the time I started covering TVA in 1981, the utility was raising electricity rates and writing off billions of dollars in investment because officials realized the agency was building too many nuclear reactors.
Then, in 1985, TVA shut down all its reactors after its own nuclear engineers secretly came to me and other reporters with evidence that raised questions about whether those plants had been built safely. That led to years of repairs and billions in additional cost.
Coal provides half the nation’s power and more than 90 percent of Kentucky’s power. Electricity has been cheap in this state, because many of the health and environmental costs of mining and burning coal have been ignored. That is changing, because it must.
The Environmental Protection Agency last week proposed tighter rules for how much mercury, other toxic substances and particle pollution coal-fired power plants can release into the air. The EPA claims the rules will save 17,000 lives a year, and the $10 billion cost of making plants cleaner would produce $100 billion worth of health and environmental benefits.
Utilities will fight the new rules, just as they fought many previous rules that made coal-fired plants much cleaner and safer. Expect opposition, too, from many politicians, especially those in the pockets of industries that fund their campaigns.
They will say we “can’t afford” to protect public health or the environment, and higher standards will “kill jobs.” Change is inevitable, though, because research shows that pollution and climate change are killing a lot more than jobs.
Many of those same politicians have fought against fuel-economy standards for vehicles, leaving us all the more vulnerable to political instability in the Middle East and rising demand for oil in developing nations such as China and India.
Increasing domestic oil production in ways that harm the environment isn’t the answer, because that would barely make a dent in the price or supply of what is now a globally traded commodity.
So what is the answer? There isn’t one, but many.
We must invest in research and technology to mine, drill and burn coal and oil more cleanly and efficiently. We must incorporate whatever lessons are learned from Japan’s crisis to make nuclear power safer.
We must develop renewable energy sources — solar, wind and biomass — that will be able to sustain civilization long after coal and oil are gone. Government must play a significant role in this research where private industry cannot or will not.
Perhaps more than anything, we must get serious about designing buildings, vehicles and gadgets to use less energy. Conservation isn’t as difficult as many people think. Take, for example, Kentucky’s many new energy-efficient school buildings, including one in Warren County that will generate as much power as it uses.
We have a choice: ignore the headlines and fight inevitable change, or learn from them and get serious about balancing our needs and desires with those of future generations. Anyone who thinks we can maintain our energy status quo is a dim bulb.
The event features intimate group dinners with top authors from Kentucky and beyond, hosted in Lexington homes.
This year’s lineup includes three best-selling writers from elsewhere: Rita Mae Brown, Andre Dubus III and Jerome Tuccille. Two of them have local ties: Brown is a fox-hunting equestrian who has ridden in Central Kentucky, and Dubus has relatives here.
Kentucky authors include Ed McClanahan; Neil Chethik; Ron Pen, biographer of the famous balladeer John Jacob Niles; and Maryjean Wall, the retired Herald-Leader racing writer whose book, How Kentucky Became Southern, explains why the Thoroughbred industry flourished here after the Civil War.
Then there is former University of Kentucky basketball player Mark Krebs. His new book, Beyond a Dream, chronicles his time as a Wildcat as his mother battled deadly cancer. His dinner includes a tour of UK’s Joe Craft Center.
Jon Carloftis, a Kentuckian famous for his New York City rooftop gardens, will be at a dinner, as will Fran Taylor, who wrote Keeneland Entertains, and Margaret Lane, author of Beyond the Fence: A Culinary View of Historic Lexington.
“The dinners are small, and you really get to know the author, which is a treat,” said Meg Jewett, owner of Walnut Hall Farm and the L.V. Harkness & Co. gift shop. She has chaired the event all four years. “It’s a perfect fund-raiser for the library.”
The main event, April 1, begins with a cocktail reception, a silent auction and book signings at Central Library. Then everyone breaks into groups of about 20 for dinner with an author in the home of a library donor.
Those who buy $250 tickets get guaranteed seats at the dinner of their choice. Those who buy $150 tickets are placed as space is available, based on their author choices. For those who can’t attend the dinners, there will be free coffee and book signings the next morning at The Morris Book Shop.
This year, the foundation hopes to raise $65,000, up from $45,000 last year, foundation director William Watts said. The first two years, the event raised $14,000 and $25,000, respectively.
Authors donate their time; the foundation pays any travel costs. Dinner hosts provide the meals. Corporate sponsors include Community Trust Bank, L. V. Harkness, Evangelos S. Levas, and the law firms Stoll Keenon Ogden and Stites & Harbison.
Lexington has an excellent public library system. A big reason for that is steady funding for basic services from a small cut of local property taxes, and additional money raised by the foundation and an active “friends” organization.
Much of the money from this year’s event will go toward a new Story Time Bus. The library bought was given a school bus by from Fayette County Public Schools, and it plans to renovate it and send it to children’s day-care centers. Tens of thousands of kids now attend literacy programs at the library’s six locations, and the bus will take that work much further.
With so much information available on television and the Internet, some people might think that libraries are an anachronism. As the son, nephew, husband and father of former librarians, I know better. So do other patrons of the Lexington Public Library.
The library’s 178,233 active cardholders checked out more than 2.9 million items last year. The libraries’ 250 public-access computers were used 535,753 times. More than 5,100 people attended 748 computer classes taught by the library system.
“We have seen our visitors increase every year,” said Ann Hammond, a former naval officer, forensic scientist and California library manager who took over as executive director of the library system last September.
Hammond said fund-raising events such as A Night of Literary Feasts are essential for the future.
“We have an imaginative staff,” she said, “and they are always looking for ways to serve the community.”
If you go
A Night of Literary Feasts
When: Reception at 6 p.m. April 1 reception, dinner at 8 p.m.
Where: Central Library, 140 E. Main St., then private homes.
Tickets: $250 and $150; reservations required.
Coffee with the Authors
When: 10 a.m. April 2
Where: The Morris Book Shop, 408 Southland Dr.
Reservations and more information: LexPubLib.org/feasts or (859) 231-5557.
America has a tragically bad track record when it comes to understanding the political dynamics of the Middle East.
So what should we make of the popular uprisings now sweeping the region? How will they affect the United States? What about oil?
I posed those questions to John Stempel, a career foreign service officer who is now a senior professor at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, which he directed from 1993 until 2003.
Stempel’s 24-year diplomatic career included a dozen years overseas, five of which were at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran just before the 1979 hostage crisis. He wrote a book, Inside the Iranian Revolution, based on the experience. A former naval officer, he also held senior Middle East policy jobs with the Defense and State departments.
While the turmoil is likely to continue for some time, Stempel is hopeful that change could be good for America — if we play our cards right. “Understanding how the Muslim world functions politically is our basic problem,” he said.
The Internet-enabled uprisings point to an age divide in the Middle East. Young, educated people there tend to be more sympathetic to American ideals, such as democracy. Still, there is less separation between church and state than in Western societies. “Whatever comes out of the governments will involve a religious element,” Stempel said.
Those are just some of the things Americans must keep in mind, he said. Another is the distinct cultural and political differences among nations in the Middle East, which are the results of unique histories of tribal, religious and political strife.
The king of Jordan will likely be able to pacify unrest, because that nation has a political system in which many people feel they have a voice. On the other hand, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi is probably on his way out.
Iran remains “a serious problem,” Stempel said, “But we should back off and let China and the European countries deal with Iran.” China could be especially influential because it has a multibillion-dollar oil deal with that nation.
Stempel thinks America would be wise to maintain good working relationships with all factions in the Middle East as societies change and new governments emerge.
“It doesn’t have to be perfectly democratic, as long as you don’t have ayatollahs screaming ‘death to the infidels,’” he said. “If you see people who want reasonable popular participation dominating the dialogue over the fundamentalists, then things will be going our way, I think.”
The best thing American government and business leaders can do is try to create partnerships that are mutually beneficial, Stempel said. That is especially true with oil. The United States has 4.5 percent of the world’s population, but consumes 40 percent of its gasoline.
“There’s always going to be a shortage of oil,” he said. “The demand is growing so much in India and China, we’re never going to be in a soft market.”
There’s no way America’s domestic oil production can be increased enough to make more than a dent in the increasingly international market, despite what the “drill baby, drill” crowd thinks. America needs oil from the Middle East, but those nations need Western technology and expertise to maximize the value for their oil reserves, Stempel said.
That creates fertile ground for consortiums of American and international oil companies to do business in a reshaped Middle East. Stempel thinks deals could eventually be done with some of the biggest producers: Iraq, Algeria, Iran and Libya.
He also sees opportunities for America in helping the region develop agriculture and, perhaps, even nuclear energy, with proper safeguards.
Stempel, who was very critical of the Bush administration’s disastrous Middle East policies at that time, gives good marks so far to the Obama administration for keeping dialogue open with all factions in the region. He thinks Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is doing an especially good job.
A self-described “radical moderate,” Stempel said he fears that the right-wing elements that have seized control of the Republican Party will make it harder for America to forge good working relationships with these new and changing Middle East governments.
“The important thing is to get people to understand these countries,” Stempel said. “We do have people who understand the Middle East, if they’re allowed to function properly. That’s been a problem since 9/11.”
Strike up the band: Lexington’s music man will be 90 years old Thursday.
Some people remember Don Wilson as the drum major of the University of Kentucky Marching Band. He and his oldest daughter, Donna, were the baton- twirling stars of the halftime show from 1949 to 1955.
But Wilson’s most enduring legacy might be the generations of children in Central and Eastern Kentucky who got the chance to play in a school band or orchestra because his store rented or sold them an instrument and kept it repaired.
“I’ve had a great life,” Wilson said last week as we sat in his office at Don Wilson Music Co. on Southland Drive and paged through a thick notebook of photos and newspaper clippings.
It all began when Wilson’s parents gave him a saxophone for his ninth birthday. By the time he was old enough to play in his high school band in St. Joseph, Mo., he had discovered another talent.
Wilson soon became the band’s drum major. He thought he was pretty good until he went to Kansas City and saw another drum major wow the crowd with baton twirling.
“I went home and taught myself to twirl a baton,” he said. “I wore the grass off my folks’ yard practicing.”
By the time Wilson graduated, he was the state champion drum major and baton twirler. He went on to perform with the band at what is now Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville.
Wilson spent World War II touring the South with an Army band, playing three parades a day and four dances a week. Each military band picked one member to be trained to repair everyone’s instruments. Wilson was chosen.
After the war, Wilson decided he could make more money fixing horns than playing them. So after further training, he and his wife, Mary, moved to Lexington, where her brother lived. Wilson became the repairman at Shackleton’s music store.
The director of UK’s marching Wildcats soon found out about Wilson’s baton-twirling past. He asked him to become the band’s drum major, even though Wilson wasn’t a student.
Wilson might have been the band’s oldest member, but he was always being upstaged by the youngest. By the time she was 7, Donna Wilson was wearing the grass off her folks’ yard. She became as good a twirler as her dad.
“She stole the show,” Wilson said. “I became known as the father of the little girl.”
The Wilsons accompanied Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s UK football team to the Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl. It was quite a run. Donna returned for an encore during her years as a UK student. She is now retired in Florida.
Wilson spent his free time for the next three decades performing with American Legion and Oleika Shrine bands. “Every vacation involved a parade,” daughter Peggy Wilson said. “Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., and I don’t know how many he did in Chicago.”
After Don Wilson worked 10 years at Shackleton’s, the store decided to get out of the band-instrument business. So Wilson opened his own store with borrowed money and help from Mary, his wife of 64 years, who died in 2005.
Sales and repairs were important, but the key to Don Wilson Music Co.’s success was horn rentals. Instruments are expensive, and parents are hesitant to buy them until they are convinced their children will stick with band.
“He always rented good-quality instruments in good repair, which we needed to make our bands great,” said J. Larry Moore, director of the Lafayette High School Band from 1973 to 1980. “He and Mary supported us any way they could.”
Arthritis ended Wilson’s baton-twirling career long ago, but he comes to work at the store every day. Peggy Wilson runs the business with help from her brother, Gary, and several longtime employees. Another sister, Sally, lives in Georgetown.
“This is his baby,” Peggy said of the store that has played such an important role in Kentucky’s school band tradition. “We have kids come in all the time with a parent or grandparent who says, ‘I got my instrument here, too.’”
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Many entrepreneurs think their business ideas are the greatest things since sliced bread. They think they have the vision, and their companies have the growth potential, to attract investors.
So make your pitches. And make them quick.
That’s the challenge five local entrepreneurs face every other month when they come to Awesome Inc. on Main Street to play a real-life game called 5 Across.
The concept is simple: Five entrepreneurs are chosen from applicants to make a presentation before an audience, as well as three experienced business people who serve as judges. Contestants must make a pitch in five minutes or less, using no more than five PowerPoint slides.
The winner of each 5 Across session in February, April, June, August and October receives $500 cash. Those five winners then compete in December for $2,500. But the learning is often more valuable than the prize money.
“It’s just phenomenal to have opportunities like this in our own hometown,” Anthony Schmidt, last year’s 5 Across champion, told players, judges and about 50 spectators during this year’s first competition on Feb. 23.
When Schmidt made his first pitch last year, he didn’t grasp his business’s potential. He had developed online management software for Alpha Phi Omega, a coed service fraternity he was president of at the University of Kentucky. “I was just playing on the Internet,” he said.
His AOPonline software is now used by more than 50 chapters. His 5 Across experience helped prompt him also to start GreekTrack.com, which creates customized online systems for any campus organization to use for everything from social networking to recruiting.
The Lexington Venture Club and Awesome Inc., which provides workspace and other services to startups, created 5 Across to help connect entrepreneurs with each other and potential investors. They also wanted to raise the visibility of local entrepreneurship.
“It’s a way of keeping in touch with the future of Lexington,” Lou Allegra, a business consultant, said when asked why he serves as a judge. “I don’t know that many people are aware of the vibrant entrepreneurial culture that’s in Lexington now.”
After each contestant makes his or her pitch, judges ask questions. Judges score the presentations on creativity, feasibility, profit potential and how far the entrepreneurs have taken their ideas. “What I look for is whether the entrepreneur has a view beyond a year or so,” Allegra said.
Although judges pick the winner, audience members rate each business concept and presentation by texting a score, which shows up on a display screen.
While some potential investors come to watch 5 Across, the main purpose of the game is to give entrepreneurs practice, coaching and feedback, so they will do a better job when they make more detailed pitches in the future.
The first 5 Across session of 2011 included a diverse group of local entrepreneurs: A man whose company organizes social sports leagues for adults; three partners who design video games that can be played on a variety of devices; a man whose company uses online software to organize virtual golf tournaments; and a man and woman who have an online coupon service.
The fifth presenter and winner was Michael Hartman, a video game developer whose 15-year-old company, Frogdice, has published two games and will soon launch a third. He is looking for perhaps $1 million in capital to hire more developers to help his company grow faster.
“It was stressful, but the practice was valuable,” Hartman said after his pitch. He will be making a more detailed presentation this month to the Lexington Venture Club.
Randall Stevens, a 5 Across judge whose Base 163 on Main Street rents space to startups, thinks the game is a good way for entrepreneurs to get advice.
“One thing Lexington has been missing is the mentoring aspect,” he said. “So this is one way I try to practice what I preach.”
If you go
What: 5 Across entrepreneur pitch contest
When: 5 p.m. on April 27, June 22, Aug. 24, Oct. 26 and Dec. 7 (finals)
Where: Awesome Inc., 348 East Main St.
Learn more: 5across.org or (859) 494-9302
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.
That is how Charles Dickens might have started a report about Lexington’s potential for economic development, just as he began his classic novel A Tale of Two Cities.
That is how I might have started such a report, too, if I were the consultant being paid $150,000 by the city and Commerce Lexington. If you are going to recycle language, you might as well borrow from the best.
Last year, after then-Vice Mayor Jim Gray and others complained that the city’s strategic plan for economic development had not been updated in years, Commerce Lexington and the city hired AngelouEconomics of Austin, Texas, to conduct a local market study and develop a plan.
Commerce Lexington scheduled a public unveiling of Angelou’s final report for March 18, but that has been postponed. Instead, now-Mayor Gray has summoned the head of the consulting firm, Angelos Angelou, to meet with him Monday morning. Angelou has some explaining to do.
That is because Ben Self, a Lexington technology entrepreneur, read a final draft of AngelouEconomics’ report and discovered that large passages had been cut-and-pasted from previous reports done for other cities. He detailed examples in a post Thursday morning on the blog of ProgressLex, a new grass-roots civic group.
Since the report appears to be half recycled, Self wrote, AngelouEconomics should refund half its $150,000 cost. Angelou Economics staffers initially defended the report, but by Thursday night, Angelou had fallen on his sword.
Angelou apologized for the lapse, which he said was the result of a staffer’s personal problems. But, he said, “There is no excuse or rationalization of what has happened.” Angelou asked for two or three weeks to rewrite the report personally to make sure it addresses Lexington’s specific conditions and needs.
Angelou must now scramble to try to restore his firm’s credibility. But there is a bigger lesson here for Lexington.
This should be a wake-up call about the way Lexington deals with economic development, just as the CentrePointe fiasco was a wake-up call about the way Lexington handles downtown development.
The business world is awash in consultants. Some provide valuable services. But others are little more than a crutch for leaders who are afraid to lead and are willing to pay so-called experts big money to say what everyone already knows. Too often, hiring a consultant is a way of creating the illusion of action while avoiding real work and responsibility.
I am no economic development expert, so I will leave it to others to assess AngelouEconomics’ final work and decide whether taxpayers are owed a refund. But the “recycled” draft report didn’t tell me much about Lexington and its challenges and opportunities that I didn’t already know.
I didn’t find the report’s recommendations any better than those of two economic development transition teams Gray commissioned after he was elected mayor. Those were researched and written by local business people; they cost taxpayers nothing.
The point here is that consultants can sometimes provide good information, analysis, perspective and advice. But they are no substitute for leadership. If Lexington’s leaders trust consultants from Texas more than their own judgment, we are in trouble.
The previous mayor, Jim Newberry, basically outsourced the city’s economic development function to Commerce Lexington, which gets about a half-million dollars a year in public money to do the work. It may have been a smart move then, because Newberry, a lawyer, didn’t have an economic development background.
But it makes less sense now. Gray has worked on economic development for decades, both in civic roles and as an executive with his family’s construction company, which specializes in building industrial plants. Commerce Lexington can play a valuable supporting role, but the mayor and the Urban County Council should lead.
These are, indeed, the best and worst of times for Lexington. Business conditions have been tough lately, but it is obvious that Central Kentucky has enormous potential to succeed in the 21st-century economy.
Lexington must harness its own brainpower to develop smart economic development strategies, and then make them happen. We need more wisdom and less foolishness.
In his first two months in office, Mayor Jim Gray hasn’t been shy about wading into swamps to wrestle alligators. The question is: Will he keep it up?
Gray moved quickly to launch management reviews of Lexington’s troubled jail and emergency call center. He was involved behind the scenes in last week’s ouster of the two top officials of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, where poor management seemed to be at the root of longstanding problems.
Last Monday, Gray asked for the resignation of Fire Chief Robert Hendricks, saying he had not demonstrated the level of leadership the department needed. The flash point was Hendrick’s failure to manage overtime, resulting in an $80,000 budget overage that was on track to grow to $500,000 by the end of the year.
If the chief refuses to resign, the Urban County Council will ultimately decide whether to fire him. Council members voted unanimously Thursday to support Gray in gathering information that could lead to the chief’s dismissal.
Gray said in an interview Friday that, after nearly four decades as a business executive, he is comfortable with this part of his job. “This is what you do as a manager,” he said. “You’re a problem-solver.”
Gray, who is on leave as chief executive of his family’s firm, Gray Construction Co., said experience has taught him that nothing can do more to diminish an organization’s efficiency or morale than poor leadership.
“It’s always blamed on the employees,” he said. “Employees are in search of leadership. When it’s not present, the issues really elevate themselves.”
Will more heads roll? That depends, Gray said. He created the Mayor’s Office of Performance Management, headed by Sheila Hupp, who held a similar job in Irving, Texas. Her task is to work with city division directors to set standards and measurements of success.
“This is not an event, it’s a process,” Gray said. “But we do have a moment in time because of the financial crisis to adapt, adjust and learn better ways of operating.”
While Gray said he is determined to run government more like a business, it is still government, which means politics. Gray was elected with backing from Lexington’s police and firefighter unions, and his transition team reports reflected their dissatisfaction with both the fire and police chiefs.
So is Police Chief Ronnie Bastin’s job also on the line? Gray said no, because he doesn’t see evidence of poor management in the police department.
What’s more, Gray said, the police and firefighters unions’ support of his campaign will not keep him from driving a hard bargain in contract negotiations, which begin soon. For the first time, he said, the city will hire a professional negotiator to assist management.
“My responsibility is to represent the people, the taxpayers, in these negotiations, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Gray said. “That involves respecting the work of our public safety employees. But it also involves driving a hard and true bargain that’s best for everyone. Unless it’s good for everybody, it’s not good for anybody.”
Gray said he will take the same tough approach to fixing the police and firefighter pension system, which looms as perhaps the biggest financial crisis facing Lexington’s government.
When Lexington and Fayette County merged in 1974, the state General Assembly, over the city’s objections, created a separate pension fund for city police and firefighters rather than putting them in Kentucky’s County Employees Retirement System.
The city’s pension system has always been underfunded, but the liability has ballooned 900 percent since 1997. The city’s unfunded obligations to the system now total about $325 million.
There are many reasons for that unfunded liability, but a big one has been very generous disability benefits. A study showed that 42 percent of Lexington police and firefighters retire on disability, compared with 7.6 percent of Louisville police and firefighters and 8 percent in the country retirement system.
Gray said he will soon appoint a commission to study the pension problems and recommend solutions. I’m betting those solutions will require tighter rules and reduced benefits for future police and firefighters.
Convincing the General Assembly and the unions to go along with such changes is sure to be one of the biggest tests of Gray’s wrestling ability. Alligators don’t come much bigger than that.
I’m the son of a bookstore manager and a librarian, so it probably was inevitable that I would grow up to love reading.
I didn’t know that when I was little. I just knew that books were magical things. Many were filled with colorful pictures or interesting photographs. They all had mysterious words, which, when read aloud to me, sparked my imagination.
That doesn’t happen for all children. So it is important to note two events this week that are designed to help Kentuckians of all ages become lifelong readers: the Kentucky Literacy Celebration and Read Across America.
The Kentucky Literacy Celebration, new this year, includes dozens of events across the state this week. Most are at elementary schools and public libraries, but it shouldn’t stop there. Businesses are encouraged to highlight the importance of literacy in the workplace and in economic development. Parents are asked to set aside time to read to their children.
Read Across America is a 13-year-old program that happens each spring about March 2, the birthday of the late Theodor Geisel. He is better known as Dr. Seuss, the author of such classics as The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Green Eggs and Ham. Notice that I didn’t call them children’s classics; they’re simply classics.
The National Education Association sponsors Read Across America with the goal of encouraging adults to read aloud to children. The big event in Lexington will be Saturday at Fayette Mall, in the hall outside Dillard’s and the Disney Store.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., adults will read to children. Readers include state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, Mayor Jim Gray, Lexington Legends president Alan Stein, several school board members, local TV anchors and me.
In case the old folks get boring, other readers will include student athletes from the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University. The event is mainly intended for children younger than 11 and their parents, but older kids might want to come and hear members of Transy’s quidditch team read from the Harry Potter books.
The Cat in the Hat and the Legends mascot, “Big L,” will be there to meet kids and pose for photographs. There will be goodie bags for kids, and age-appropriate book lists and other information for parents.
“We just want to make sure that kids are exposed to books and an adult reading aloud to them,” said Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, which organized the Lexington event.
“Not every child is exposed to that at home,” she said. “They are exposed to it at school, but having it in a different setting can be exciting for them.”
Studies show that if children, beginning as young as 6 weeks, are read to regularly by adults, they are more likely to enjoy reading as they grow older. Reading helps students become better at writing and critical thinking. The better kids read, the better they do in school. The better they do in school, the better they do in life. You get the idea.
With a bookstore manager and a librarian for parents, my three brothers and I never lacked for books at home. Still, some of my earliest memories are of exciting trips to the Lexington Public Library, then in the Gratz Park building now occupied by the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. I grew up and married a librarian, who now works in a bookstore’s kids department.
Our two daughters are voracious readers, fine writers and successful young women. I like to think some of that can be attributed to the many hours they were read to by my wife and I and their grandparents. We read them everything from Dr. Seuss to Dickens, and my personal favorites, the E.B. White novels Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. They enjoyed it almost as much as we did.