• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

2018: the year in review ,Coyle’s death, school tax vote, July storms among biggiest stories

For our final issue of the year, we’re resuming an old Sun tradition and taking a look at some of the big events in Woodford County over the last 12 months. We hope our words and photos remind our readers of the people and events – good, bad and otherwise – that had a major impact on our county in 2018. The defeat of a property tax hike to pay for a new school, a historic storm that caused the most power outages here in 15 years, and the unexpected death of Judge-Executive John Coyle were among the most important events in Woodford County this year. Here’s a chronological look back at the events that left a mark on Woodford County this year.


On Jan. 4, we reported the death of Mack Calvert, who was not only the longtime radio voice of Woodford County High School athletics, but also the onetime sports editor of the Sun. Calvert, who died Dec. 31, was 59.

The 9th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast Jan. 15 was, according to organizers, the best-attended ever, with 303 people purchasing tickets. Guest speaker Dr. Sara Elaine Farris’s message was, “We’re not done yet.” The weather worsened later in the day, and at the annual MLK service at First Baptist Church that evening, State Rep. James Kay said his wife had asked him earlier whether the service would be called off. Kay said he told her, “Honey, they’re not going to call off the movement. And it is a movement.”


On Feb. 3, Journey Provisions, the thrift shop aimed at making clothing and other items affordable to the needy, moved to a site at 516 Fielding Circle that was three times larger. The Feb. 1 issue with that story also included a tribute to longtime Woodford County Fire Chief Bennie Green, who died Jan. 23 at the age of 92.

The Amsden Bourbon Bar, one of several new businesses that opened on Court Street in 2018, held a soft opening Feb. 8. As the year went on, the people who renovated the historic Amsden Building also opened The Galerie in the old Versailles United Methodist Church, the Rolling Oven pizza restaurant and other Court Street shops.

Midway City Council Member Libby Warfield died Feb. 24, and in our next issue, we featured a story about her work on the council. “She was probably the hardest-working person I ever worked with in government. No detail was too small, and you need that on city council, because she was kind of the person who would catch things before they fell through the cracks,” said Mayor Grayson Vandegrift.

March Vice President Steve Pence headlined a rally for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr March 8, with Pence telling a large crowd at More Than A Bakery, “I’m here today on the president’s behalf, first and foremost, to say, ‘Thank you, Kentucky,’ for everything you’ve done, not only to see this president elected, but also to stand with our administration and those who supported us … every day since. Because of your support, the last year’s been a year of action, it’s been a year of results, it’s been a year of promises made, promises kept. Pence drew loud cheers when he said, “Make no mistake about it – we’re going to build that wall,” a reference to a wall between America and Mexico that, during the campaign, Trump said would be paid for by Mexico. The appearance may have helped Barr hold off a strong challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath eight months later, as he won Woodford County, 6,932 to 5,878. Major Jason Thompson had a very happy reunion March 23 at Bluegrass Airport with his wife, Karie, after 10 months in the Middle East. Their son, Jaxson, accompanied Karie to the airport. When they drove home, Thompson, an Army reservist, surprised their daughter Olivia.


Dozens of Woodford County teachers were among the thousands of people who gathered at the state capitol April 2 for a massive rally against the pension reform plan passed by the General Assembly. The bill was later thrown out by the Kentucky Supreme Court because of the way it was passed, and Gov. Matt Bevin’s hastily-called Dec. 17 special session on the subject was adjourned by the Republican legislators the following day without action. People protesting the 20-year sentence of Ronald Exantus for killing 5-year-old Logan Tipton in December 2015 marched in front of the Woodford County Courthouse April 24. Exantus was tried and convicted in Fayette Circuit Court, but sentenced in the Woodford County Courthouse Annex for killing Tipton and assaulting other family members. The boy’s family and others were outraged by Exantus’s sentence, which included convictions for assault but a “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict for killing Logan Tipton.

May Ground was broken May 3 at the site of the old St. Leo’s School for the new Versailles Police station. The $5.5 million project is expected to be finished in late August of 2019.

On May 5, WinStar Farm’s Justify won the Kentucky Derby – and, later in the year, the Preakness and Belmont.

U-Haul representatives held a public meeting at the Versailles Brewing Company May 9 to discuss concerns over the company’s plans for the Lexington Road Plaza. Riva Walsh said she lived two blocks away and didn’t want the company’s trucks and trailers parked in the shopping center lot. “Like I see those two little things you have out there right now – I don’t like it,” Walsh said. A company official said the rental vehicles would be lined up neatly in the parking lot and well-maintained. On July 9, the company’s request to the Board of Adjustments to open an indoor self-storage facility in the old Kroger building was unanimously denied. Board member Frank Stark said the proposed use was not “of the same general character as the permitted principal uses” in the highway business (B-4) district.

On May 22, several incumbent office-holders were defeated in primary battles. Woodford County Magistrates Ken Reed (Dist. 4) and Linda Popp (Dist. 1) lost to Democratic challengers Kelly Carl and Liles Taylor, while incumbent Democrats Sheriff Johnny Wilhoit and County Clerk Sandy Jones scored big wins. Meanwhile, Democrat Amy McGrath upset Lexington Mayor Jim Gray in the Democratic primary for the 6th District Congressional District, setting the stage for what turned out to be a nationally-watched contest between McGrath and Barr in the fall election. The closest local race of the evening may have been in the 2nd Magisterial District, where incumbent Democrat C.L. Watts beat Gina Scott by five votes, thus leading some friends to tease him the that “L” stood for “landslide.” According to the state Board of Elections, turnout was 32.37 percent percent in Woodford County. The annual Relay For Life May 27 at the county park brought hundreds of cancer survivors and those who’ve lost loved ones to the disease to the Woodford County Park. After Ronnie Durbin helped carry the banner in the survivor’s lap, he spoke about surviving three bouts with melanoma. “It’s scary – when they call you and tell you you’ve got a cancer … and you’ve got to be in surgery within an hour after they call you, it scares you to death,” Durbin said. May 27 was also Durbin’s last day on the job after 38 years as a county police officer, deputy sheriff, and administrative assistant to Judge-Executive John Coyle.


On June 26, the proposal by the Woodford County Board of Education to raise property taxes by 5.5 cents in order to build a new high school and “meet other facility needs” was defeated by 316 votes. Totals were 3,758 “Against” (52.19 percent) and 3,442 “For” (47.81 percent). In April, the Sun had published the signatures of 1,454 people seeking the special election on our website, noting that the petition was subject to state Open Records Law. We wrote, “Any member of the public can submit an open records request with the county clerk, as we did, and receive the 255-page document. However, we believe it is our duty, as well as a service to Sun readers and the community, to make this information more readily accessible.” The special election was preceded by months of campaigning and increasing vitriol by both sides, some of which played out in dozens of letters to the editor in the Sun.


This young boy wasn’t being trailed by a small UFO on North Main Street July 11, but rather, a drone with a camera operated by a Lexington production company shooting a video promoting local tourism. The $7,800 cost of the video was paid by the City of Versailles and Woodford Tourist Commission, with the city picking up most of the bill. A historic storm roared through Woodford County July 20, toppling hundreds of trees and causing the most power outages here since the ice storm of 2003. Thousands were without power for days, but somehow, no one was seriously injured. City and county workers, as well as private citizens, spent weeks picking up and disposing of the debris left by the storm. Woodford Emergency Management Director Drew Chandler said, “The thing that sticks out in my mind was to hear my staff and some of the other public safety personnel talk about how our community came together, and the neighbors with chainsaws and farmers getting roads open for ambulances and the fire department.” High winds pushed trees, like this one on South Main Street, onto power lines throughout the county on Friday, July 20. Five days later, some Kentucky Utility customers were still without electricity.

August A big burn of debris from the July 20 storm was held at the Woodford County Park throughout much of August. For weeks after the storm, the County Recycling Center allowed people to drop off tree trunks, branches and limbs for free, reducing the workload for government employees. Heavy flooding in the Millville area Aug. 11 uprooted this tree, which fell across a car driven by a woman who’d pulled into the Millville Baptist Church parking lot to wait out the storm. Woodford County firefighters were already on the way to assist with a downed power line and got her out of the vehicle safely, according to Chief John Smith. No one was injured by the storm, but the flooding damaged roads, fences and some private homes and businesses, such as Castle & Key Distillery.

On Aug. 24, Woodford County High School choir teacher Cooper Schrimsher resigned after being accused of having inappropriate communications with a student. Schrimsher, who was in his third year at WCHS, had been placed on paid administrative leave eight days before.


Castle & Key Distillery hosted a preview of their renovated Old Taylor Distillery site Sept. 12. The Sun first toured the then-mostly dilapidated site on McCracken Pike near Franklin County in May 2014, not long after Wes Murry and partner Will Arvin purchased the property – and before initial spending and hiring plans multiplied seven-fold. “Real meager aspirations, day one,” Murry said with a laugh. “Maybe treat most of this place as a museum and we’ll find the best building and set up a distillery there. And what happened is we essentially rebuilt the entire facility, and the buildings that we thought we were going to use as a distillery turned into our retail store and our guest center.” Their grand opening, with Gov. Matt Bevin as the guest of honor, was held a week later, on Sept. 19. Woodford Judge-Executive John Coyle also spoke at the event, saying Murry and Arvin “turned an eyesore into a showplace.”


The Nov. 6 election was a good one for incumbents at the top of the ticket. Barr edged McGrath by three percentage points, with 10.8 percent of his 9,738 vote winning margin coming from Woodford County. Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and Midway Mayor Grayson both swamped their opponents by more than 30 points. Democrat Joe Graviss beat Republican Dan Fister, 6,938 to 5,728, in the race for the 56th state representative seat left vacant when James Kay ran for judge-executive. Incumbent Magistrates Gary Finnell (Dist. 3) and Duncan Gardiner (Dist. 6) were defeated by challengers Matt Merrill and Larry Blackford. The new court being sworn into office Jan. 7 will include newcomers Liles Taylor (1st), a Democrat, Republican Merrill (3rd), Democrat Kelly Carl (4th), who was unopposed in the general election; Democrat William Downey (5th), who beat Versailles City Council Member Ann Miller; and Democrat Blackford. The top six finishers in the Versailles City Council race were incumbents Mary Ellen Bradley (who received the most votes), Mike Coleman, Laura Dake and Ken Kerkhoff, while Siegelman and Gary Jones, owner of the Versailles Brewing Company, will join the council next year. The top six finishers in the Midway City Council race were incumbents Bruce Southworth, Kaye Nita Gallagher and Sara Hicks, with first-time candidates Stacy Thurman (who received the most votes), John Holloway and Logan Nance also winning seats. In the two school board races, Allison Richardson beat incumbent Karen Brock in the 2nd District, while Dani Bradley beat two other newcomers in the 5th District. Richardson was a leader in the drive to defeat the proposed 5.5 cent property tax hike to build a new high school, while Bradley was a vocal supporter of the idea, which was defeated in a June 26 special election. Woodford County resident Sarah Hays won the contest to be the new 14th District Judge. A ceremonial groundbreaking for Midway University’s new Hunter Field House was held Nov. 8. The 20,000 square-foot facility will serve the university’s entire student body, according to school President Dr. John Marsden. Construction is expected to be finished by the end of 2019 and a grand opening will be held during the following spring semester.

Judge-Executive John Coyle died of an apparent heart attack at his home Sunday, Nov. 25, at the age of 63 – three days after Thanksgiving and just five weeks before he was set to retire after 33 years as a deputy sheriff, sheriff and judge-executive. At the next fiscal court meeting on Nov. 27, his widow, Mary Don, and four sons, their significant others and his three granddaughters were present. At the end of the meeting, Coyle’s good friend, County Attorney Alan George, said he didn’t know which quote Coyle would have brought to end the proceedings, as he’d done all year, but he’d come up with one he thought his friend would appreciate. All that needed to be done was to remove the “R’s” from the original speech, George said: “Ask not what your county can do for you, but what you can do for your county.” Coyle’s visitation on Nov. 29 brought more than 900 people to Versailles United Methodist Church, and his funeral, on Nov. 30, was attended by most of them. George delivered a touching and humorous eulogy, George saying, “As proud as John was of Woodford County, Woodford County should be equally proud of its native son, perhaps the most beloved local leader this county has ever produced.” He finished with the sort of poem Coyle loved to write: “There once was a man named Bear, rotund and bereft of hair. His cravings were large, he was always in charge, he now smiles upon us from up there,” George said. A few minutes later, a funeral procession including county vehicles headed west on U.S. 60 and turned left on Main Street. The hearse carrying Coyle’s body stopped briefly in front of the county courthouse where Coyle worked for nearly 33 years. After a short graveside service at Versailles Cemetery, Coyle was laid to rest, with police scanners announcing his final call to service at 3:33 p.m.

The funeral procession for Judge-Executive John Coyle featured dozens of first responders.

December Ledvance, formerly known as Osram-Sylvania, announced Dec. 4 that it would close its fluorescent lamp plant by the end of September 2019, leaving 260 workers without a job. A Ledvance spokesman said the company’s Versailles distribution and research and development facilities, which employ a total of 100 people, would remain open.

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