Keeping it going

Oldham County native
pens memoirs to encourage youths

Heilman has been president of two universities

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. – (February 2009) – E. Bruce Heilman has learned a lot in 82 years. Many times his associates have suggested he write the unusual story of his life, the result being a 641-page biography.

Bruce Heilman

Bruce Heilman

Bruce Heilman will speak and sign copies of his book for the Oldham County Historical Society Dinner Meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24, at Arbor Ridge Vine & Grill, 6402 Westwind Way, Crestwood, Ky. Cost is $15 for members, $18 non-members. Reservations only. For information call (502) 222-0826. 

“An Interruption That Lasted A Lifetime, My First Eighty Years,” is a culmination of five years of hard work to assemble the material in book form. It took Heilman some time to put his life into a formal concept because, he says, “I had to live it first.”
Heilman is scheduled to speak about his life and sign his new book Feb. 24 in Crestwood, Ky., as the keynote speaker for the Oldham County Historical Society Dinner Meeting.
Heilman was reared in Oldham County. He was born in 1926 to a tenant farmer and mother, Earl Bernard Heilman and Nellie Mildred Sanders.
The family lived on Old Moody Lane until his father lost the farm during the Great Depression. Times were tough as they moved to nearby Smithfield, Ky., where Heilman was born, then back to New Moody Lane. When this farm was foreclosed, the family of seven moved to Ballardsville, in Oldham County, where his father tenant farmed for Fleet Davis.

Bruce Heilman

Photo provided

At age 82, Bruce
Heilman rode his
motorcycle from
Virginia to California.

Wanting to escape dairy farming, Heilman in 1943 enlisted in the military where there would be “no milking, no feeding, and no hot summer days in the corn, tobacco, and hay fields,” he writes in his book. Not even sure if he would receive his diploma, Heilman was not expected to accomplish much in life.
“I was a poor student in my early years,” he said. “Four years in the Marine Corps changed that.”
At age 17 “We were just boys,” said Heilman. In the military, “we grew into men rather rapidly.” Heilman made a great transformation with his life due to the aid of the GI Bill.
Not fond of the thought of more schooling, “I went to college just to try it out,” he said. Since then, he has spent 55 years engaged in higher education, having been president of two colleges. He is currently the chancellor of one of them, the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va.
Heilman has lived in Richmond for the past 38 years. His numerous accolades fill many pages of his autobiography. He hopes the contrast he presents of himself, the impression of the world versus his dramatic transformation, will encourage young people.
The book was also written to appeal to military veterans, especially the remainder of the 16 million veterans who participated in World War II with Heilman. “Somebody needs to tell their story,” he said.
A Marine for 66 years, Heilman still maintains the spirit of the Marine Corps in his daily life. He recently undertook an adventure that only young people would attempt, but age didn’t stop Heilman.
Perched on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, he left Richmond on Oct. 1 and arrived in San Diego on Oct. 15. The ride was in honor of his military comrades and University of Richmond alumni. “Lots of people my age are in nursing homes,” Heilman said. He wants to send the message that life doesn’t have to be that way.
While on this ride, he stopped in New Mexico to rest and sold a hotel proprietor a copy of his book. The proprietor emailed Heilman to say that he couldn’t wait to finish the book in order to start reading it all over again. Many readers are amazed at the transforming effect detailed within its pages.
Heilman said he has led a full, productive life and plans to live long enough to write about the next 25 years of his life. He has included many personal photographs in “An Interruption That Lasted A Lifetime” as well as information on his numerous travels and poems and verses sprinkled throughout the chapters that “say things better than I can say them.”
This book of contrasts is a book about survival. “I lived through history,” said Heilman.
His upbringing during the Great Depression by a father who only had $30 a month to feed seven people caused Heilman and his siblings to appreciate what they had. There may have been no indoor plumbing or electricity at times, but he survived it and took advantage of every open door before him.

• “An Interruption That Lasted A Lifetime” can be purchased at the Oldham County History Center. For more information, call the center at (502) 222-0826.

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