Wednesday, November 07, 2001

A salute

Colonels redeem themselves

        I'm sure my fellow Kentucky Colonels will agree that we are not complete without our sipping tools.

        Whenever we feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of colonelship, we whip out our silver-plated julep cups and our gold-embossed, 3-ounce jiggers. Filled with the appropriate liquid, these are powerful tools, indeed.

        OK, confession: I didn't know I was supposed to be using the official cups. I thought colonels were colonels mainly because their friends thought it would be funny. Your name gets forwarded to the governor's office, and you end up with a cute certificate.

        I was wrong. We colonels not only get certificates, but also a note by our names that says, “This person might be willing to buy a 10K gold tie tack stamped with the official seal.”

        The source of my enlightenment was the updated catalog of colonel collectibles, newly renamed the Kentucky Colonels Emporium. It arrived on my doorstep, just as the country was acknowledging that no more survivors would be pulled from ground zero in New York.

        Besides the usual T-shirts and caps with the colonels' logo, the catalog offers items like clip-on string ties, gold-plated cuff links, embossed “sipping tools” and combination paperweight/magnifying glasses.

        The Honourable Order was on the verge of mailing the catalogs when the terrorists struck America, taking some of the shine off mail-order string ties. The trustees quickly decided to have this message stamped on the cover: “A major donation to the American Red Cross has been made on behalf of all Kentucky Colonels. God Bless America!”

        That's the colonels for you. Just when you suspect they may be ridiculous, they do something nice.

        The truth is, The Honourable Order isn't just a bunch of men with official, handcrafted humidors. Some colonels are women. And together this year, they donated $1.54 million to charity in the name of the order. Northern Kentucky groups received $108,000 of that.

Good company

               There are hundreds of thousands of Kentucky Colonels scattered around the globe. The “commissions,” as they are called, were created in 1931 by Gov. Flem Sampson, who wanted the honorees to “more closely band together into a great non-political brotherhood for the advancement of Kentucky and Kentuckians.”

        Foreigners especially love to be named colonels because they associate it with Kentucky Fried Chicken.

        In 1999, the Beijing-based newspaper China Daily ran a front-page photo of two Chinese tourism officials receiving their commissions. Pope John Paul II is a colonel. So are Tiger Woods, Mae West and the jockey Pat Day. All it takes is nomination by another colonel, who must describe what the person has done for Kentucky.

        The Emporium catalog is very educational. I did not realize, for instance, that Kentucky once had a governor named Flem, followed by one named Ruby Laffoon.

        Among various quotes, the catalog contains this 1915 commentfrom women's suffragist Madeline McDowell Breckinridge: “Kentucky women are not idiots — even though they are closely related to Kentucky men.”

        Who would have thought the colonels would promote such a notion? See, they redeem themselves every time.

        Karen Samples can be reached at (859) 578-5584 or at


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