Service to Kentucky History
On Nov. 10, the Kentucky Historical Society recognized excellence in the public history field at our annual Kentucky History Awards. This year, my excitement was tinged with a bit of sadness. Two winners—both of whom I have gotten to know over the years—are retiring after worthwhile careers.
I met the first, Ken Reis of Campbell County, at Northern Kentucky History Day, a great event that highlights the history of that region. Ken was a co-founder of that event, and I quickly learned that he is a wonderful ambassador for northern Kentucky. His passion for the history of the region is unparalleled. Moreover, his energy and hospitality at Northern Kentucky History Day was always inspiring. KHS recognized Ken with the Frank R. Levstik Award for Professional Service for having a long-term impact on the public history field. A co-founder of the Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society, Ken served as president of that organization for nearly 30 years. Under Ken’s leadership, the society has become a leading history organization in northern Kentucky.
It has created a library and museum at the historic Alexandria courthouse, published several dozen volumes of local history and genealogy, conducted oral history and preservation work and much more. Ken’s dedication has greatly enriched the public history field. The same holds true for the second retiring award winner, Kurt Holman, whom I have worked with for more than two decades.
Kurt served as manager of the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site for 27 years, and KHS presented him with the Lifetime Dedication to Kentucky History Award. Before coming to KHS, I helped manage historic preservation efforts at Perryville. One of my favorite projects there was creating a large battlefield interpretive trail with Kurt. We spent hours crisscrossing the battlefield, talking history. Yes, I learned about the battle, but, more importantly, I discovered Kurt’s unwavering dedication to that place. No one knows the history of Perryville like Kurt Holman. Thanks to his kindness and generosity, thousands of people—including me—have learned about the importance of Kentucky’s largest Civil War battle.
Although I am sad to see Ken and Kurt retire, I know that the future of public history in Kentucky is on solid footing. At the History Awards, KHS also presented Hannah O’Daniel with the inaugural Kentucky Public History Intern Award. A current graduate student at the University of Louisville, Hannah served as an intern at KHS, where she worked with the Kentucky Oral History Commission. She also served as a Graduate Research Assistant with KHS’s Civil War Governors of Kentucky project.
In giving O’Daniel the award, my colleague Amanda Higgins said, “Hannah embodies the spirit of the intern award—she never hesitates to take on a new challenge, expand her own knowledge and skills, and to continue to make history relevant.” We at KHS know, thanks to Hannah’s work ethic and enthusiasm, that she and the next generation of public history professionals will shape the field in a meaningful way.
While KHS is honored to recognize those who have already made their mark, we are also proud to see the torch passed to a new generation of public historians. Rest assured that, today and in the future, public history in Kentucky is in good hands.