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Oldham County Historical Society Gala

History Center to honor Heilman

Fundraising event to feature
‘Boogie Woogie Ball’ theme

LA GRANGE, Ky. (September 2014) – A high school principal suggested to Bruce Heilman that joining the U.S. Marines Corps would do him more good than high school.
Taking his suggestion, this son of a Kentucky tenant farmer enlisted in four years with the Marines but also went on to earn three degrees from Vanderbilt University, proving that principal wrong.

Bruce Betty Heilman

Photo provided

Bruce and Betty Heilman will
be the guests of honor at the
Sept. 26 Oldham County
Historical Society Gala.

In his 88 years, Dr. E. Bruce Heilman has come close to seeing it all. He is especially proud of his combat duty in Okinawa during World War II and what he has accomplished in higher education in his lifetime. He was president of Meredith College for five years, president of the University of Richmond for 16 years and has been Chancellor of the latter college since 1988.
Heilman’s path to leadership positions in higher education did not take the typical route. As a young boy, he was raised near Ballardsville, Ky., in a farmhouse that had no electricity, telephone, indoor plumbing, heating or air conditioning. Not being able to simply drive the family’s Model T up the hill, “you had to back it up the hill,” said Heilman.

Oldham County
Historical Society Gala

• Friday, Sept. 26 with 6:30 p.m. reception; 7:30 p.m. dinner at the Oldham County History Center, 106 N. Second Ave., La Grange, Ky.

• Tickets $125 per person. To reserve, call (502) 222-0826

He arose every day at 4 a.m. to milk cows, and toiled in the hot summer sun working in tobacco and corn fields. As a result, he was considered a high school failure. Ironically, years later he went on to become the recipient of the Future Farmers of America Animal Leadership Award.
Having traveled extensively, he is a renowned and respected educator, administrator and much sought after speaker and consultant in higher education. Heilman has visited more than 145 countries, escorting travel groups in the United States and abroad annually for more than 40 years.
With such accomplishments under his belt, Heilman was a natural choice as recipient of the 2014 J. Chilton Barnett Champion of History Award, given annually by the Oldham County Historical Society. “The recipient must demonstrate or have demonstrated a sincere interest in Oldham County history and a desire and effort to preserve the history for future generations,” said Nancy Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County Historical Society.
The award will be presented during the 13th annual Oldham County Historical Society Gala on Friday, Sept. 26. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. on the grounds of the Oldham County History Center, 106 N. Second Ave., La Grange. This year’s theme, “The Boogie Woogie Ball,” is a salute to Oldham County World War II veterans, such as Heilman.
The Gala includes a reception with open bar, hors d’oeuvres, catered sit-down dinner, live music, and silent and live auctions. This year’s Honorary Gala Co-Chair is Deana Epperly Karem, executive director of the Oldham Chamber & Economic Development.
Heilman said he feels highly honored to receive this award. “It’s an exciting adventure for an 88 year old. I’m pleased and proud to come back to my home county and be honored.”
Theiss says that Heilman “has traveled coast to coast to bring attention to the contributions of World War II veterans and to ensure that each veteran is never forgotten, nor the value of their deeds be allowed to disappear.” She said he was chosen to be honored as this year’s Champion of History because of these “continued efforts to preserve the stories and remember the sacrifices of people during World War II. Those efforts continue to provide the opportunities for the freedoms that we enjoy today.”
Theiss continued, saying, “As a native of Oldham County, we are proud to have Bruce represent our History Center. He has promoted our World War II exhibit and helped raise funds for our veteran’s oral history project.”
She is referring to the History Center’s current exhibit, “I Pledge Allegiance: Honoring Our World War II Veterans.” This exhibit will run through 2015 on the second floor of the Peyton Samuel Head Family Museum, located at the History Center.
Heilman is the national spokesperson for the Greatest Generations Foundation. After speaking to a large group of veterans in Colorado, he was asked to go on a two-week trip back to Okinawa. After returning home, the organization met and unanimously decided he should be their national spokesperson.
He accepted the invitation thinking, “what better to do with my life.” He recently spoke in Times Square, kicking off a year of World War II celebrations.
For Heilman, history “determines, once we’re born, what are options are. We don’t determine our accomplishments. The war decided this for me; the GI Bill gave me the opportunity to take advantage of an education.”
When he was seventeen, Heilman had only been 20 miles from home. The Marine Corp and the war “expanded our lives. It took us all over the world. We risked our lives and were also given the opportunity to do things we couldn’t have done had it not been for the war, such as ride a train, eat at restaurants and stay at hotels.”  
Never one to slow down, he currently serves on the Board of the Robins Foundation, the First Baptist Church Endowment Fund, the President’s Advisory Council and the Children’s Home Society of Virginia. He is a Trustee of the Religious Herald, a Trustee at Campbellsville University and sits on the Advisory Board at William Jewell College. He is a founding member of the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico.
Later in life, Heilman rediscovered his passion for motorcycles. In 2008 he rode his Harley-Davidson cross-country from Richmond, Va., to San Diego and back, retracing Route 66 on which he hitchhiked across country to return home after World War II was over. His latest motorcycle endeavor consisted of traveling 4,000 miles to Alaska.
In 2008, Heilman published his memoir, “An Interruption That Lasted a Lifetime: My First Eighty Years.” He married his college sweetheart, Betty (now deceased), and together they raised five children, all of whom are University of Richmond graduates. Heilman has made his home in Richmond, Va., for 42 years.
His biggest accomplishment in life has been “marrying the right wife,” he said. Since being considered failure in high school, another major accomplishment was in “joining the Marine Corp and spending four years growing up there and then going back and trying to rectify my educational process because I never even thought I’d go to college.”

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