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U.S. Congressman Harold "Hal" Rogers (KY-05) addresses the crowd at The Center's 15th annivesary celebration.

Fifteen years after The Center for Rural Development opened its doors in 1996, the nonprofit organization has changed people’s lives in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, the state, and nation.

On Sept. 30, The Center shared some of those success stories and recognized six individuals and one Kentucky university whose work exemplifies the organization’s mission at a special 15th anniversary celebration and luncheon program.

Approximately 300 special guests joined U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), Center President and CEO Lonnie Lawson, Center staff, and other dignitaries at The Center in Somerset to celebrate the accomplishments garnered during the last decade and a half.

“The vision for The Center for Rural Development 15 years ago was to transform the region. Today, it is a thriving regional hub for economic development, business leadership and training, education, the arts and cutting-edge technology,” said Congressman Rogers. “With all the great things that have culminated at the Center, we’ve only just begun.”

During the awards program, held in The Center’s theatre and filmed for a statewide broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television (KET), six regional leadership awards were presented to individuals whose work mirrors that of The Center in changing people’s lives.

Rogers, who with other leaders envisioned The Center in the mid-1980s, was also presented The Center’s “Visionary Award” for having had the foresight to create The Center and all of its affiliate organizations.

Other award recipients recognized at The Center’s 15th anniversary celebration included:

Public Safety award recipient Don Alwes

Public Safety Award—Don Alwes of Wilmore, lead instructor for the National Tactical Officers Association in school and workplace violence and active shooter response and a part-time police officer for Wilmore Police Department in Jessamine County.  A 30-year law-enforcement veteran, he has trained law enforcement, military, and security personnel around the United States by teaching for numerous non-profit organizations, including the National Tactical Officers Association and the Law Enforcement Division of the National Rifle Association. Additionally, he has educated countless business leaders and government officials as well as school staff at various levels about preparing and responding to workplace and school



Arts & Culture award recipient Peggy Sherry

Arts & Culture AwardPeggy Sherry of Somerset, an artist whose work has greatly furthered outreach efforts in arts and culture in Pulaski County and the city of Somerset, her home for 27 years. Serving in various capacities on the Lake Cumberland Performing Arts Board of Directors for many years, she currently chairs grant efforts for the Cornelia Dozier Cooper Endowment Fund, which helps bring arts and culture opportunities and performances to The Center. An artist herself, her exclusive exhibit of 28 original paintings “Aquascapes and More,” is on display in The Center’s lobby. She is a member of Lexington Art League, a signature member of the Kentucky Watercolors Society, and the Sheltowee Artisans, and the Watershed Arts Alliance.


Community Service/Leadership award recipients Blake Adams and Victoria Rose

Community Service/Leadership Award2009 Rogers Scholars graduates Blake Adams and Victoria Rose of Monticello. As part of their Rogers Scholars community service project, they planned, coordinated, and promoted a “Movie Night” fundraising event at the newly renovated Wayne County Theatre. The pair sold tickets for the inspirational movie, “The Blind Side,” through all branch locations of the Monticello Banking Company, and promoted the event with radio interviews.  Through these efforts, they managed a sell-out crowd of 200 people, and raised $1,400 through ticket sales and concessions, splitting the proceeds between Hope Pregnancy Center and the Wayne County Quarterback Club. He is a freshman at Western Kentucky University studying civil engineering, and she is a first-year student at Somerset Community College in the physical therapy assistant program.


Technology award recipient Brent Graden

Technology AwardBrent Graden of Prestonsburg. Through work in his former position as economic director of the City of Prestonsburg, Graden coordinated work in 2008 that brought free wireless internet service to a two-mile corridor running through downtown Prestonsburg, a project that was the first of its kind among Eastern Kentucky cities. According to officials, the project could help them attract new businesses, draw tourists, offer opportunitiesfor telemedicine and distance learning, and keep young people from leaving Prestonsburg, a city of less than 4,000 residents at the rural, eastern edge of the state.


Strategic Partner award recipient Eastern Kentucky University

Strategic Partner Award—Eastern Kentucky University (EKU),a regional comprehensive university based in Richmond.  EKU is one of six academic institutions that develop U.S. Department of Homeland Security/FEMA-certified national training programs for the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium (RDPC), of which The Center is a strategic partner. EKU supports The Center’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (ELI) summer youth leadership program by providing Presidential Scholarship offers to members of the first-place team in the program’s Business Concept Competition. Additionally, EKU is also one of three host sites for The Center’s Rogers Explorers summer youth leadership program. With The Center and Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, EKU is a sponsoring partner in the annual Excellence in Entrepreneurship Awards (EIEA) program, which recognizes the region’s top business leaders and entrepreneurs


Public Service award recipient former University of Kentucky President Dr. Lee Todd Jr.

Public Service Award—Dr. Lee Todd Jr. of Lexington, former president of the University of Kentucky (UK). In his role as UK president, Todd was instrumental in helping strengthen the ongoing partnership between UK and The Center by working to ensure exclusive scholarship opportunities for graduates of The Center’s Rogers Scholars program. He stepped down in June after serving 10 years at the helm of the university.





“All of these award recipients reflect the work we are doing here at The Center for Rural Development to provide a better quality of life for residents in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, our commonwealth, and the nation,” Lawson said. “We are honored to have them be a part of our 15th anniversary celebration and are pleased to help share their successes with the public.”

In addition to the awards presentation, The Center introduced a new promotional video that chronicles The Center’s past, present, and future.

The video, shot on location throughout the region and state and at The Center, provides a comprehensive look at The Center’s beginnings, its four Focus Areas—Leadership, Technology, Public Safety, and Arts & Culture—and what the future might hold for the nonprofit organization. The nearly 400 guests at the anniversary event were each given a digital copy of the video on a Center-branded USB drive.

“We would like each guest to become an ambassador of The Center across our state, and what better way to send them off with that charge than to give them a video that perfectly illustrates what our organization is all about,” Lawson said.

Other highlights of the 15th anniversary celebration included a live broadcast of WKYT 27 NewsFirst’s Noon news program brought to viewers from The Center’s front lobby, and a musical performance by award-winning Kentucky Bluegrass artist Dale Ann Bradley, who entertained guests during the luncheon.