In 1998, The Center for Rural Development launched the Rogers Scholars program to provide leadership and scholarship opportunities for the region’s rising high school juniors and encourage graduates to build their careers in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.
Robert M. “Mike” Duncan of Inez, Ky., a political strategist and veteran of Republican politics, served on The Center’s Executive Committee at that time. He and several others—including U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05)—were instrumental in helping develop the one-week summer youth leadership program that has become one of The Center’s most recognizable programs across the region and state.
In recognition of his 12-year tenure as a member of the Executive Committee of The Center’s Board of Directors, Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center, presented Duncan with a service appreciation award, honoring him for work with the non-profit organization from September of 1995 through June 2007.
The presentation was made shortly before the start of the graduation ceremony for the second 2011 class of Rogers Scholars on July 15 at The Center. Duncan delivered the keynote address at the event.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to Mike and others who helped create youth leadership programs, like Rogers Scholars, for our region’s young people,” Lawson said. “Through The Center’s Leadership Focus Area, we are giving middle and high school students in rural communities all across Southern and Eastern an opportunity to grow their skills as the region’s next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.”
Rogers Scholars—The Center’s flagship youth program—was developed and initiated by The Center to help the region’s youth seize their full potential and return to the region to build their careers. The program, named after Congressman Rogers, is based on his commitment to the youth of Southern and Eastern Kentucky that “no young person will have to leave home to find his or her future.”
“We would not have had this program without the vision of Congressman Rogers,” Duncan said of the Rogers Scholars program, now in its 14th year.
Since 1998, approximately 804 high school students have graduated from Rogers Scholars, and potential scholarships valued at more than $7.2 million have been offered to graduates from 15 participating partner colleges and universities.
During his 30-year career in politics, Duncan has worked for and advised Republican candidates and parties at the local, state, and national levels.
In 2007, he was elected the 60th chairman of the Republican National Committee. Duncan served a two-year term on that committee and was later elected chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board. A member since his Senate confirmation in 2006, Duncan stepped down as TVA chairman in 2010 to become the founding chairman of the political organization, American Crossroads.
Over the years, Duncan has served on the campaigns of five presidents, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. He also has served as a delegate to seven Republican National Conventions.
In 1989-90, he worked in the George W. Bush White House as assistant director of public liaison. President George W. Bush appointed him to the President’s Commission on White House Fellows in 2001 and nominated him to the TVA Board.
Back home in Kentucky, Duncan chaired Jim Bunning’s successful U.S. Senate race in 1998. He was active in the successful campaign to win back Kentucky’s statehouse for the first time in 36 years. In addition, Duncan is a long-time supporter and fundraiser for U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell.
Duncan and his wife, Joanne, make their home in Inez. They have one son, Rob, who is married to Valerie Ridder of Springfield, Mo., and a grandchild, Taylor Ann.