A reader called in 2012 to say readers needed to know about a couple who had cared for 238 foster children over two decades.
That's how I first met the Rev. Willie Howard and his wife, Betty, of Lexington, foster parents who simply loved to nurture children.
Not only had they fostered hundreds of children, but they had adopted six and produced one biological daughter.
Sadly, Willie Howard died in May. Because of his illness, Betty McDowell Howard said, the couple had stopped taking in additional children.
"Me and my husband said we weren't going to adopt any more," she said. "When the youngest graduated, we were going to take time for ourselves. That would be our time."
That didn't work out as planned. And now, after his passing, "I got four girls and myself," Betty Howard said. "They keep me going. I don't know what I would have done without them."
The four girls are one adopted daughter, one foster daughter nearing 18, and two girls Howard is adopting. The latter two Howard has nurtured for eight years and can't imagine giving up to another family.
At 71, Howard, a former orphan herself, still has love to give and life to live.
That's one reason she is being honored by members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Beta Gamma Omega Chapter, as one of seven women from Central Kentucky whose community work makes life better for all of us.
"We are looking for those who are forward-thinking," said Dana Branham, a financial adviser and owner of Lasting Legacy Wealth Management. "We are looking for those who do work in the community, innovators, doing extraordinary things for the betterment of us all."
Howard was selected in the community leader category of the 10th Annual Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Awards. She will be recognized at the awards luncheon Jan. 17.
Howard's nominator had met her during one of Howard's many training classes for foster parents, and had been inspired by Howard's passion. And rightly so.
Branham said the 80 members of the local AKA chapter have an opportunity annually to nominate women in seven categories. Alison Lundergan Grimes will receive the award for connections, Ruby Wiant for creative and performing arts, Taunya Jones for single mother, Tara Johnson for young entrepreneur, René Mitchell for business owner and Barbara Connor Stewart for outstanding educator.
The idea for the awards developed 11 years ago, after Branham and sorority sister Samanatha Anderson attended several Unity Breakfast events sponsored by the local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
The focus of the breakfast is to honor the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., she said. "I thought it would be good to highlight what Coretta Scott King did in her life," Branham said. "We could honor her and local women and girls who are doing similar things."
Each award category reflects stages in Coretta King's life.
King had studied singing and violin at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music during the 1950s after graduating with a music and education degree from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
She put that career on hold to marry King. After he was killed, she became a single parent and business owner and educator through The King Center in Atlanta. Throughout the rest of her life, she was a community leader, sharing herself and her late husband's vision by connecting with people throughout the world.
Ivy, Branham explained, is the sorority's official symbol. "It means strength and endurance, which also exemplifies the life of Mrs. King," she said.
And it exemplifies Howard.
Since I met her, the number of foster children who have blessed Howard — that's how she describes it — has risen to 243, and while she doesn't conduct classes anymore, she still serves as a panelist at those classes for parents interested in foster care.
"I still want them to be foster parents," she said, "especially African-Americans. I still stress how our children need homes.
"As long as I'm able and in good health, I have not closed my home."
Clearly Howard is very deserving of the award for community leader.