The highest honor awarded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky is that of Kentucky Colonel.
Commissions for Kentucky Colonels are given by the Governor and the Secretary of State to individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation.
A list of Kentucky Colonels is a Who’s Who of outstanding men and women around the world. The certificate, signed by the Governor and the Secretary of State and bearing the Great Seal of Kentucky, has hung on the walls of such distinguished leaders as Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan, and English Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Certificates are also proudly displayed by great second grade teachers and brave volunteer firemen who have performed in an extraordinary manner.
This tradition began in 1813 during the second term of Governor Isaac Shelby. Shelby had just returned from leading the Kentucky Militia on a highly successful “War of 1812” campaign. He named one of his officers, Charles Todd, as an “Aid-De-Camp” on the Governor’s staff with the rank and grade of Colonel. Later Governors commissioned Colonels to act as their protective guard; they wore uniforms and were present at most official functions. (Today’s colonels are not required to perform such service.) Other Governors continued this practice and by 1920’s their numbers had grown considerably.
In 1928, an effort began to organize the Colonels into “A great non-political brotherhood for the advancement of Kentucky and Kentuckians.” In 1932, The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels was formally born. Today, the organization is incorporated as a charitable organization with by-laws directing it to be non-partisan, non-profit and dedicated to good works within the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Over the years, the Colonels have contributed millions of dollars to worthy causes. In 2006, with voluntary donations from all 50 states and 35 other nations, the Good Works Program Fund made grants totaling $1.5 million to 162 charitable and educational organizations. It marked the sixteenth consecutive year grants of at least one million dollars had been made. In addition to their collective charitable efforts, Colonels are Kentucky’s ambassadors of goodwill and fellowship around the world. The organization’s website can be accessed at: http://www.kycolonels.org.*
The Governor serves as the Commander-in-chief of the Honorable Order. The 12 members of the board of trustees serve on a voluntary basis.