The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels

A guy in a white suite and a black string tie. Somebody who fought in the Civil War. A guy who sells chicken. All are mischaracterizations of the Kentucky Colonel, most of them spread by the image of one of its most famous members- Colonel Harland Sanders. With its origins in the early 19th Century, the Order of Kentucky Colonels is today an organization of 'good will ambassadors' for the state of Kentucky, supporting charitable causes throughout the state. Furthermore, becoming a Kentucky Colonel is the traditional reward for public figures and local heroes who have contributed to the state- not to mention old fellers throughout the state with friends in Frankfort!


The Order of Kentucky Colonels traces its creation to an actual Colonel; in 1813, Governor Isaac Shelby appointed his son-in-law Colonel of the Kentucky militia, presumably for his service to the state (and one can guess that being married to the governor's daughter had a little to do with it). Later, Shelby commissioned as Colonels many of the men who had volunteered to serve in the regiment that he had lead during the War of 1812. In the years that followed, commissioned colonels were called upon to provide security for the state governor, presumably acting as a sort of local Secret Service. In 1885, Governor William Bradley began appointing the first purely honorary colonels. In 1931, the Colonels were grouped together as the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, and at their organizational meeting then-governor Flem Sampson called for the Colonels to become a non-political brotherhood with the aim of uniting the state and advancing the fortunes of its citizens.

In 1935, the Colonels suffered a brief official setback, when Governor A.B "Happy" Chandler announced that he would appoint no new colonels, and that the commission for all existing colonels had expired when the previous governor (who bestowed a commission on Harland Sanders) left office. The Colonels continued to operate privately, and in 1937 gathered funds from around the country to support victims of the '37 flood. Public attention surrounding the charitable activities of the Colonels caused Chandler to capitulate in 1938, and he began appointing new Colonels, and re-instated those who had been appointed by previous governors.

During World War II, the Colonels organized to support the armed forces, giving funds to relief societies run by the army and navy. The Colonels also 'adopted' the troops stationed at Fort Knox, raising money to build recreation facilities and sponsor holiday events, and to provide for patients in the Nichols Veterans Hospital. In addition to cementing the Colonel's legacy of public service, the war years saw the beginning of the tradition of the Colonel's Banquet; each year on Derby Eve (a holiday in many parts of Kentucky!), the Colonels would gather to toast the President and the many Kentucky Colonels serving in the Armed Forces- privates all the way to Five-star Generals.

During and following the war, the Colonels began to focus more effort on supporting the state of Kentucky through charitable causes. In 1946, the Colonels established a scholarship to help provide rural areas with doctors, and in 1951 formalized their charitable commitment in the Good Works Program. Throughout the rest of the 20th Century the Colonels would continue to provide for Kentucky's healthcare needs, pledging funds for Kentucky's first cancer treatment center, an eye center, and a new wing for a cerebral palsy school. As of 1992, the Colonels annual grants amounted to over U.S $1.1 million, giving support to some 140 organizations.

In addition to the charitable aims of the organization, the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels bills itself as a program of good-will ambassadors for the state of Kentucky. Commissions are bestowed upon regular Kentuckians who distinguish themselves in public service, or in the honorable and conscientious execution of everyday life, as well as to celebrities, politicians, and other public figures.

Becoming a Kentucky Colonel

Colonels can only be appointed by the current governor of the state of Kentucky. The applicant must be recommended by a Colonel, and must be at least 18 years old. There are no other specific guidelines, and appointments are at the discretion of the governor. The Colonels are open to women. Commissions are very occasionally given posthumously- to Stephen Foster, for instance - and in one occasion was given to a dog (the dog and its owner were eventually both stripped of their commissions). Because it requires approval from the governor, outside of becoming famous, the best way to become a Kentucky Colonel is to know someone who has worked in state government in Frankfort, Kentucky. Distinguishing yourself through citizenship, social service, or entrepreneurial feats couldn't hurt either.

Famous Names

All of the following Famous Folks are Kentucky Colonels:

Know a famous Kentucky Colonel not mentioned here? Are you a Kentucky Colonel not mentioned here? /msg Spasemunki with additions.

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