I remember when my parents became Kentucky Colonels. As a kid, my first thought turned to the old American Basketball Association (ABA) team, but then I figured--even as a child--that that was ridiculous.

Then, Mom and Dad explained the honor to me after receiving their certificates in the mail. I still have both of them--framed and a little dusty. And it IS an honor to be so designated.


The commission of Kentucky Colonel is given to select individuals as recognition of their service to their community, state, and nation. The governor is the one who bestows the honor, which is for life. Once a Kentucky Colonel, always a Kentucky Colonel. And it's a program that goes way back to just a couple of decades after Kentucky became a state, with connections to the War of 1812.

After a successful campaign in that war, the Kentucky Militia had returned to the Commonwealth in 1813 and then disbanded. The governor at the time, Isaac Shelby, named Charles Todd as his aide-de-camp, who acts as a special assistant to a high-ranking official. In this case, Shelby commissioned Todd as a "Colonel."


According to the Kentucky Colonels' website, the distinction--while, at the time, military, obviously--became more ceremonial toward the end of the 19th century. By the 1930s, a "society" had been formed under Governor Flem Sampson and the Kentucky Colonels, as we know them today, were established.

But the long list of Kentucky Colonels includes many individuals who not only are or were not natives of the Commonwealth, but also those who NEVER lived here.


That can likely be attributed to a meeting between Sampson's successor, Ruby Laffoon, and a Kentucky Colonel named Anna Bell Ward Olson who was joined by another colonel--whose name was not published--who represented movie theaters from across the country.

Social events were planned and some were intended to coincide with the Kentucky Derby in an effort to attract as many famous people as possible to the iconic event.

Perhaps the presence of all types of celebrities at the Derby, even to this day, can be traced back to those social functions coordinated by Colonel Olson.

Again, "Kentucky Colonels" does not mean just people from Kentucky, which is why you might be surprised at some of the names in the list of such honorees below.

I Bet You Didn't Know These Celebrities Were Kentucky Colonels

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We could have a whole OTHER list of country stars from Kentucky--and athletes, for that matter. But how many of THESE celebrities did you know were from the Bluegrass State?

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