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Ida Lee Willis Memorial Awards

Nominations Now Being Accepted for Kentucky’s Most Distinguished Historic Preservation Awards

Nominations are now being accepted for Kentucky’s most distinguished awards honoring excellence for the preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings, and cultural and archaeological sites. Presented annually since 1979, the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Historic Preservation Awards ceremony will take place this May in Frankfort during National Historic Preservation Month.

The awards are named for Kentucky’s first state historic preservation officer and recognize contributions to preserving our collective heritage at the local level and throughout the Commonwealth via personal commitment, investment, advocacy, volunteerism, building partnerships, public involvement, lifelong dedication or significant achievement. The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation hosts the event in partnership with the Kentucky Heritage Council.

Awards are presented in four categories, and all nominations must be received or postmarked by Friday, April 20. Click here for preservation awards criteria, a nomination form, or an editable nomination form in Word format.

Preservation Project awards honor outstanding examples of rehabilitation, restoration and adaptive reuse including, in 2017, a former lumber mill in Covington converted into a community placemaking hub, a Paducah Coca-Cola Plant restored to its former Art Deco glory, the painstaking rebuilding of iconic Rabbit Hash General Store following a fire, and a former Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Paris converted to apartments and retail.

Service to Preservation awards recognize individuals, organizations, nonprofits, public officials, financial institutions, news media, volunteers and others whose contributions have had a positive impact in their communities. In 2017 these included a Midway couple honored for their hands-on rehabilitation of multiple family homes, two Lexington neighborhood associations documenting their African American heritage, and the annual University of Kentucky Historic Preservation Symposium.

The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award goes to the individual who has demonstrated outstanding dedication to the cause of historic preservation in the Commonwealth. Last year, Linda Bruckheimer of Bloomfield was recognized for more than two decades of preservation philanthropy, investment and advocacy.

Grassroots Awards are given at the selection committee’s discretion and honor those who have committed their personal time and resources to successfully take on a challenge that addresses a preservation issue at the most fundamental level, such as, in 2017, a Mt. Washington youth group that preserved a historic limestone mile marker and a Johnson County man who extensively restored an all-wood vernacular frame structure.

The memorial foundation was chartered in 1979 to honor the late Ida Lee Willis, the first executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Commission (now Kentucky Heritage Council). Current board members are Stephen L. Collins of Shelbyville, chair; William Averell of Frankfort, vice chair; Barbara Hulette of Danville, secretary; Robert Griffith of Louisville, treasurer; and Christopher J. Black, Paducah; Marion Forcht, Corbin; Jolene Greenwell and Charles W. Stewart, Frankfort; Alice Willett Heaton, Bardstown; David L. Morgan and Charles Parrish, Louisville; Donna Horn-Taylor, Springfield; and Milton and Anne Thompson, Washington, D.C.

About Ida Lee Willis

The annual statewide historic preservation awards are named for the late Ida Lee Willis, a former Kentucky first lady who was appointed first executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Commission (now the Kentucky Heritage Council) in 1966. Under her direction, the agency began in earnest to survey the state, nominate sites to the National Register of Historic Places, award grants and promote preservation statewide.

Mrs. Willis was the widow of former Gov. Simeon Willis, and she was directly responsible for saving the historic Vest-Lindsey House in Frankfort, an anchor in Frankfort's "Corner in Celebrities." The Vest-Lindsey House is one of nearly 40 homes that remain in the Corner in Celebrities, first described by Alice Trabue in her book of the same name, published in 1922.

In the opening paragraphs, Ms. Trabue explains that there is “…a quaint corner of the town from which have sprung, probably, more distinguished men than from any like area in the United States. Covering about four acres, bounded by four streets bearing the historic names of Washington, Wilkinson, Montgomery and Wapping, is the central group of some noble old houses which sheltered sires and sons whose deeds brought fame and ever lasting glory to Kentucky.”  These include:

  • Supreme Court justices John Marshall Harlan and Thomas Todd
  • Nine United States Senators, including John Brown, first US Senator from KY
  • Six Congressmen
  • Eight Governors including Charles S. Morehead and John Jordan Crittenden
  • Seven foreign ambassadors
  • Three Navy Admirals
  • And John Bibb, nationally prominent as a Senator, Secretary of the Treasury and Assistant Attorney General, who developed Bibb lettuce in the back yard of his Wapping Street home.
The Vest-Lindsey House was home of a long-time early Kentucky Congressman, George Graham Vest, who is best remembered for his closing trial arguments in an 1870 lawsuit over a man’s killing of his neighbor’s dog. In his famed “Tribute to a Dog” speech, Vest coined the well-known phrase “Dog is man’s best friend.” In 1846 the house was sold to prominent attorney and state legislator Thomas Noble Lindsey, whose son, Daniel Weisiger Lindsey, was adjutant general and inspector general in charge of all Union Army forces in Kentucky.

The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation was chartered in 1979 to honor Mrs. Willis for her efforts in helping preserve Kentucky’s historic and archaeological resources. A line drawing of the Vest-Lindsey House (above) serves as the foundation's logo.

For Information

Diane Comer
Public Information Officer
Kentucky Heritage Council
(502) 892-3611