Kilbern Aldon Cormney, a man whose name was attached to many successful businesses in Lexington including the Campbell House Inn and the legendary La Flame Club, died Monday at University of Kentucky Hospital after a short illness. He was 93.
Former Herald-Leader columnist Don Edwards wrote in 2005 that Mr. Cormney would deserve a whole chapter in a post-World War II entertainment history of Lexington. Mr. Cormney owned so many clubs in Central Kentucky that, at one time, he had 27 liquor licenses.
His name was synonymous with the Campbell House, which he owned or co-owned from 1968 to 2002. He lived there for years before he sold it and afterwards went frequently for lunch.
In 2005, he recalled how a group from the Lexington Junior League Horse Show once sneaked a winning horse into the Campbell House so it could drink champagne out of a bathtub.
"Oh, what a mess," he said with a laugh.
Up until his time at the Campbell House, Mr. Cormney owned La Flame, referred to as Lexington's first real nightclub. Founded in 1959, the club was run by Mr. Cormney until 1967 and featured performers including Frank Sinatra Jr., saxophonist Boots Randolph and actor-dancer Stepin Fetchit, as well as exotic dancers.
The strip-tease artists went on late at night, "so the mayor's wife wouldn't get upset — that's what I promised her," Mr. Cormney said in 2005.
Over the years, Mr. Cormney also held interests in the Springhurst Club, which had dice tables, slot machines and an outdoor dance pavilion, and the Tradewinds, where women couldn't serve drinks lawfully until he fought the law and made two of his barmaids partners in the business. He also held interests in West's Bar and the Mayfair Bar and, during the 1960s and 1970s, he owned the Continental Inn and the Downtowner motel.
In the early 1960s, he built Boonesboro Beach and sold it to the state.
Mr. Cormney had a reputation as a gambler. He said he won $100,000 on the 1948 presidential election, betting on Harry S Truman, and he began frequenting Las Vegas before the streets were paved.
"His first 13 trips out there, he was a winner," said his grandson, Allan Cormney of Lexington. "Vegas was his place. He came close to buying a place out there one time."
A Lancaster native who grew up on a Garrard County farm, Mr. Cormney, along with his brothers, owned a general store and a hardware store by the time he was a teenager.
Intrigued with flying, he also became a pilot while still a teen. Early on, he and one of his brothers gave flying lessons in Junction City. Mr. Cormney went on to fly many missions in World War II, including 168 with cargo planes and bombers over the Himalayas.
Mr. Cormney was the widower of Ethel Mae Whicker Cormney. In addition to Allan Cormney, he is survived by two other grandchildren, Regina Barnette and Timothy Dalton Cormney; three brothers; a sister; and seven great-grandchildren.
Services will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at W.R. Milward Mortuary-Southland. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.