Students Take Matters in Hand to Remember Local Man
People in Owen County won’t forget Willis Lee, thanks to students from Maurice Bowling Middle School who took matters into their own hands to tell his story. It all started in the fall of 2016 when their language arts teacher, Denise Humphries, shared a newspaper article about Lee with them.
The article told how Lee, an Owen County native, made history at the 1920 Olympic Games when he and a teammate won the most medals any single athlete had ever won at one Olympic Games. Each won seven individual medals. Their team, the American Rifle Team, won 13.
That record stood for 60 years. Lee’s Olympic feat was only part of his story. He also commanded a battleship division in World War II that played a pivotal role in the Japanese defeat at Guadalcanal. The students’ reaction: “Why didn’t we know about him?” For a class assignment, they broke into small groups, pulled together information and applied for a Kentucky Historical Marker, nominated Lee for inclusion in the Owen County High School Athletic Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, and requested him as the subject of a Hometown Hero Banner.
The banner was unveiled at the Sweet Owen Festival last fall. After that, students made presentations throughout the community and raised money for the historical marker. They unveiled it last week at this year's festival. Lee’s story, they said, made an impression on them and let them know that someone can come from a small county and still do something great.