Stephen L. Collins, of Shelbyville, was honored with the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award during the 35th annual presentation of the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Historic Preservation Awards, May 23 at the Governor's Mansion. The memorial award is the highest honor the foundation bestows during the ceremony.
The awards are presented in partnership with the Kentucky Heritage Council. Collins is vice chairman of the council, chairman of the Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission and longtime chairman of the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation. His fellow foundation board members chose to honor him this year for his lifetime of service to preservation.
Collins was presented the silver memorial cup by Marcheta Sparrow, secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, and Sally Willis Meigs, daughter of Mrs. Willis, for whom the awards are named.
“Steve has many accomplishments to his credit, and his influence and service to history and preservation in the Commonwealth extends to every corner of the state,” Secretary Sparrow said. “He has served the preservation community since he was a teenager – giving his time, money and leadership to the field – and Kentucky is the better for it.”
The awards are presented each May, observed as National Historic Preservation Month. They recognize those who have demonstrated an understanding of and appreciation for the value of preserving and reusing Kentucky’s historic resources, whether through the rehabilitation of an important structure or community resource, or lifetime commitment to encouraging and promoting historic preservation.
Read the 2013 tributes [Word - 68KB]
During the ceremony, others were honored for outstanding projects and service. Preservation Project Awards, for outstanding examples of restoration or rehabilitation of historic buildings, went to:
The Cox Building, Maysville – Accepted by Mayor David Cartmell. Rehabilitation of this circa 1887, 19,500-square-foot building in Maysville’s historic district, following years of deterioration and a devastating fire, was cited “for having a major, positive impact in the community, and it goes on record as one of the most significant endeavors that the city of Maysville and the Maysville Renaissance/Main Street program have undertaken.”
Rockcastle River Historic Truss Bridge – Accepted by advocate Jim Hays and Phil Logsdon with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC). The 1930s-era Pennsylvania Petit steel truss bridge linking Rockcastle and Laurel counties, one of only three still existing in Kentucky, was scheduled to be replaced; however, KYTC made the decision to restore it instead, following advocacy efforts to preserve it. The project was honored “in recognition of the passionate advocacy efforts of Jim Hays to save the Highway 490 bridge, and the willingness of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to reassess its initial decision to rebuild.”
Sadieville Rosenwald School – Accepted by Mayor Claude Christensen and City Clerk Cindy Foster. Rehabilitation of the school, a modest, white-frame structure built to educate African American schoolchildren during the era of segregation, was cited “as a true community project” championed by Christensen and Foster.
Service to Preservation Awards, honoring those who have furthered historic preservation activities or had had a positive impact in their communities, went to:
Nancy Adams, Pine Mountain Settlement School – Cited for launching a series of hands-on preservation training workshops on the buildings of this National Historic Landmark campus, starting in 2003, in partnership with the Kentucky Heritage Council. The workshops drew participants from across the nation for training in traditional building skills such as wood and steel window repair, plaster and masonry repair, and removal of vinyl siding. Adams has announced she will be leaving her position in June, and “she leaves behind a legacy of creativity and innovation worthy of this school.”
Keith Nagle, Discover Downtown Middlesboro – Recognized for his “ongoing dedication and service to historic preservation” in this Bell County community, including his leadership of Discover Downtown Middlesboro Inc., the local Main Street program. Nagle was compared to the character of George Bailey in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” for his efforts. “Such is the impact that he has had. Today, Middlesboro is a better place because of him.”
Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation deTours Committee, led by board member sponsor Pamela Perlman – The monthly outings at downtown locations, free to the public, were cited for attracting a new generation of young professionals to become more engaged in historic preservation. “The deTours are literally opening doors to unique locations and providing a social venue to encourage residents to become more familiar with local history and the process and benefits of adaptive reuse.”
New this year, the awards selection committee voted to give special awards to two groups “for the extraordinary passion the nominees had for the historic sites they were working to preserve, and for the very personal commitment of time and resources these individuals had invested to ensure these places were preserved for future generations.” Recipients of the first Grassroots Preservation Awards were:
Obie Fardo, Frank Hussung, Billie Newman and Charlie Pyles, for rehabilitation of Bethel Church and Cemetery in Pendleton County – Presented by foundation board member Chuck Parrish, who noted the average age of these men “was about 70, all were retired, they shared a knack for ‘fixing’ things, and each had compassion and respect for history… Individually and as a team, they worked with sustained dedication from 2007 to 2012, in the common cause of cleaning up and preserving the site. Extraordinary hardships and disasters were experienced that might have caused others to abandon the project, but their belief in the importance of what they were doing was strong.”
Friends of Sherman Tavern, Dry Ridge – Presented by board chair Collins, who recounted that this group of volunteers began work in 2007 to preserve this circa 1812 tavern. “By 2011 more than $30,000 had been raised and spent on preserving the building – all from private donations, yard sales, bake sales and dinners. An estimated 6,000 man-hours were donated by a core group of about 20 men and women, assisted by inmates of the Grant County Detention Center. Work continues today as the restoration process continues, but the Friends of Sherman Tavern’s goal is in sight, as the building is put back into use as a community meeting place, museum and educational learning lab.”
The annual statewide historic preservation awards are named for the late Ida Lee Willis, a former Kentucky first lady who was appointed first executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Commission (now the Kentucky Heritage Council) in 1966. Under her direction, the agency began in earnest to survey the state, nominate sites to the National Register of Historic Places, award grants and promote preservation statewide.
Mrs. Willis was the widow of former Gov. Simeon Willis, and she was directly responsible for saving the historic Vest-Lindsey House in Frankfort, an anchor in Frankfort's "Corner in Celebrities." The Vest-Lindsey House is one of nearly 40 homes that remain in the Corner in Celebrities, first described by Alice Trabue in her book of the same name, published in 1922.
In the opening paragraphs, Ms. Trabue explains that there is “…a quaint corner of the town from which have sprung, probably, more distinguished men than from any like area I the United States. Covering about four acres, bounded by four streets bearing the historic names of Washington, Wilkinson, Montgomery and Wapping, is the central group of some noble old houses which sheltered sires and sons whose deeds brought fame and ever lasting glory to Kentucky.” These include:
- Supreme Court justices John Marshall Harlan and Thomas Todd
- Nine United States Senators, including John Brown, first US Senator from KY
- Six Congressmen
- Eight Governors including Charles S. Morehead and John Jordan Crittenden
- Seven foreign ambassadors
- Three Navy Admirals
- And John Bibb, nationally prominent as a Senator, Secretary of the Treasury and Assistant Attorney General, who developed Bibb lettuce in the back yard of his Wapping Street home.
The Vest-Lindsey House was home of a long-time early Kentucky Congressman, George Graham Vest, who is best remembered for his closing trial arguments in an 1870 lawsuit over a man’s killing of his neighbor’s dog. In his famed “Tribute to a Dog” speech, Vest coined the well-known phrase “Dog is man’s best friend.” In 1846 the house was sold to prominent attorney and state legislator Thomas Noble Lindsey, whose son, Daniel Weisiger Lindsey, was adjutant general and inspector general in charge of all Union Army forces in Kentucky.
The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation was chartered in 1979 to honor Mrs. Willis for her efforts in helping preserve Kentucky’s historic and archaeological resources. Sally Willis Meigs is her daughter, and she continues her mother’s legacy with her service on the foundation board. A line drawing of the Vest-Lindsey House serves as the foundation's logo.