Wednesday, June 11, 2014
That's Colonel Cowdery, Thank You Very Much
The letter came addressed to "Col. Charles K. Cowdery." It was an invitation to attend the 2014 Kentucky Colonels' Day at Churchill Downs on November 8. Each $65 ticket gets you track admission, parking, a seat on 'Millionaires Row,' a Churchill Downs race program, the Chef's Table buffet lunch, plus some 'mementos.' The official hotel for the event (unnamed) has rooms for $91 per night.
How did I achieve this exalted rank? I was commissioned by Kentucky Governor Paul Patton in the 206th year of Kentucky statehood (1996). I know all this because it is written on the lovely certificate proudly displayed on my office wall. More specifically, I was nominated by Col. Jeffrey S. Homel, then Heaven Hill's Director of Sales. That's all it takes, nomination by a colonel in good standing, but colonels are supposed to be people who have served Kentucky in some way.
KFC's Colonel Sanders was a Kentucky Colonel just like me.
The first colonels were commissioned by the first governor, Issac Shelby, who served from 1792 until 1796 and again from 1812 to 1816. (He was a whiskey-maker, by the way.) They were an official but informal group. When Gov. Shelby raised a regiment to fight the British in the War of 1812, he made every member a colonel. In later administrations, the colonels were the governor's bodyguards, his posse, and were part of his entourage at official functions. They were authorized to carry weapons and expected to be addressed as Colonel. (I'm rather lax about both matters myself.)
Eventually, the colonels were reconstituted as the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, a charity that makes grants to worthy causes in Kentucky, mostly related to health and education. Your commission is permanent but you have to make regular contributions to the good works fund to get invited to things like the Churchill Downs event above.
My college and law school degrees are in boxes somewhere, but my commission is framed and on my wall. I'm proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and strive everyday to be worthy of it.