Scholars, performers, athletes and public servants were among the first inductees into the Woodford County Public Schools Hall of Fame, announced Wednesday.
The hall honors not only alumni of Woodford County High School, but former schools including Versailles High, Midway High and Simmons High (an all-black school before the advent of integration).
And the hall recognizes not only athletes but performers, educators, leaders and others who have made an impact either in Woodford County or in their sphere of influence.
Bob Gibson, a lifelong Woodford resident and assistant principal at Woodford County High School, came up with idea for the hall.
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"I've just seen so many great kids and adults come through our school system, so I thought we needed to create a way to recognize the contributions of those individuals," Gibson said.
He said a hall of fame would be a way to inspire current students to achieve to the best of their abilities. So with the help of an 11-member committee, the hall of fame solicited nominations.
In academics, for distinguished achievement as a student, teacher, professor or administrator, the inductees are:
■ William Brown Jr., Versailles High School, 1960. He was the first Woodford student to be named National Merit Finalist.
■ Elizabeth Dickey Grimes Woodford County High School, 1988. She is a professor of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University.
In arts and humanities, the inductees are:
■ John Conlee, WCHS. The country music singer and songwriter has had seven No. 1 hit singles, according to Billboard magazine. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1981. He also is a member of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.
■ Ron Lowry, WCHS, 1976. He is the principal cellist with the Boston Pops Orchestra. He has performed on national TV shows and televised concerts.
In athletics, for extraordinary achievements as a high school athlete or as a coach in a Woodford County school, the inductees are:
■ Priscilla Blackford, WCHS, 1980. She was a basketball player with more than 1,000 points and she was the first Woodford female to receive a full athletic scholarship. She also is a member of the Morehead State Athletic Hall of Fame.
■ Don Lane, VHS, 1961.The basketball player and coach was the all-time VHS leading scorer, he had 509 wins coaching Transylvania University, and he is a member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the NAIA Hall of Fame.
In the category of career achievement for exceptional leadership or service, the inductees are:
■ Joe Gormley, VHS, 1953. He has 30 years as public school teacher, coach, counselor and principal, including 18 years as superintendent of Woodford County Schools. He also was Woodford County judge-executive from 1999 to 2006.
■ Vic Hellard Jr., VHS. He was executive director of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission for 19 years; he served in the state House of Representatives in the 1972 and 1974 Kentucky General Assemblies. Hellard died in 1996 at age 57.
In the patron category for advancing a Woodford County public school as an non-graduate, through leadership of time or money, the inductees are:
■ Luther Bland, who served on the Versailles City Council for 33 years. He devoted many hours of support to WCHS and to Simmons and Versailles elementary schools. Bland died in 2010 at age 89.
■ Charles O. Dawson, WCHS principal from 1964 to 1973 and Woodford County Schools assistant superintendent for the next 20 years. He died in 2006 at age 82.
Those inducted for extraordinary achievement in public service are:
■ Ben Chandler, WCHS, 1977. Chandler has represented Kentucky in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2004. He served two terms as attorney general of Kentucky and one term as state auditor.
■ Ernest West, VHS. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1954; he also received the Purple Heart during service in the Korean War.
Special recognition was given to the 1937 Midway High School boys' basketball team, the Kentucky state champions. Coach G.L. "Bobby" Burns and his Blue Jays squad of Jack Penn, Ernest Jefferson, Armon Portwood, Carl Thomas, brothers Raymond and Harold Sanderson, James Murphy, Sherman and Quentin Columbia, and Karl Jefferson used their natural abilities and athleticism to play against their taller competition. They averaged only 5 feet 8 inches tall, the smallest team to ever win the state tournament.
In addition, the Legacy Award went to eight students who, in 1957, were the first black graduates of previously all-white high schools in Woodford County. "During a period of turmoil throughout much of the United States, these students helped guide the county through a peaceful transition to school integration," the hall of fame organizing committee said in a release.
The students are Richard Beasley, Stella Howard, Helen Jackson, Lewis Johnson, Wendell Stepp and William Weaver, all from the former Versailles High School.
Also receiving the Legacy Award were Ayé A. Aton (formerly known as Robert Underwood) and Alfred Guy from the former Midway High School.
The inductees will be honored at an Aug. 25 induction ceremony at Midway College.
An organizing committee composed of Woodford County educators and alumni worked for more than a year to design the admission criteria and solicit detailed and documented nominations.
The committee is seeking contributions to support the new hall of fame. Gibson said the committee would like to build a "monument park" that would be open to the public.
Supporters can mail contributions to Bob Gibson, Woodford County High School, 180 Frankfort St., Versailles, Ky. 40383. Checks should be made out to Woodford County Schools, with "Hall of Fame donation" in the notation. Questions can be directed to Gibson at (859) 879-4630.