Oldham Countian of the Year

History Center’s Theiss receives prestigious award from chamber

Her career brought her back to her native La Grange

(January 2016) – In many ways, Nancy Stearns Theiss’ life has mirrored that of Aldo Leopold, who is considered by many to be the father of wildlife management. Her entire life has been intertwined with the conservation of the environment and her works have recently earned her the Oldham Countian of the Year Award.
Theiss wrote her dissertation thesis, “Life as a Sober Citizen: Aldo Leopold’s Wildlife Ecology 118,” on Leopold when earning her Ph.D. from the University of Louisville in 2009. She has devoted her life to teaching, writing and the environment.

Photo by Helen McKinney

Nancy Stearns Theiss accepts her award during the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce luncheon Dec. 2 at 314 Exchange in Pewee Valley, Ky.

Theiss is a native of Oldham County, the daughter of the late “Doc” Stearns, a well-known veterinarian in the county for many years. From an early age, Theiss had a special love for the natural world around her, having grown up on a farm.
In 1954, the family moved to a farm on Hwy. 53, right outside of La Grange. It backs up to the Kentucky State Penitentiary, where her father put in many hours of veterinary service.
It was here at The Pond (the farm had many springs and nice ponds, one in particular) that family and friends would gather for celebrations such as the Fourth of July. There were pig roasts and fireworks, lots of people and always a loving family close by.
With such an upbringing, it is only natural that Theiss would make a career in the field of natural sciences. She has used this experience in various ways over the last decade since assuming the role of executive director of the Oldham County History Center.
“Nancy gives history a voice,” said Ellie Troutman, Oldham County History Center board member and business owner in La Grange. “She’s a strong leader, with excellent people skills.”
This is just one reason Theiss received the Oldham Countian of the Year Award on Wednesday, Dec. 2. The award was given to her during a ceremony hosted by the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce and held at 314 Exchange in Pewee Valley.
The award has been given out since 1964, said Kevin Eldridge, who introduced Theiss as the 2015 recipient. “The first to receive it was Milton Carl Stoess.” Other recipients have included people such as Dr. Walsh, Dr. Houchin, Duane and Anne Murner, and the first woman to receive the award, Vivien Reinhardt. 
Theiss believed she had been asked to the event to present an award to Ellie Troutman. It was not until about 30 minutes into the program did she realize Troutman was not receiving the award – that she was. Theiss had even prepared a speech to introduce her friend.
“She’s got a real grasp of history,” said Jim Zimmerman, Oldham County History Center board member. “She’s very focused and committed to Oldham County.”
After graduating from high school, like many young adults, Theiss thought that Oldham County “was the last place I wanted to settle,” she said. But over the years, she has come to “applaud the fact that so many people support and make it a better place to live.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville in 1974 and her master’s degree from Murray State University in 1978. After graduating from Murray, she held a position as a State Consultant in Environmental Education until 1982 with the Kentucky Department of Education. 
From 1989 to 1993 she worked as Director of the Louisville Nature Center. After leaving that position, she worked until 1998 as Director of Information & Education for the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources. She credits her family with choosing Tim Farmer as host of “Kentucky Afield” while working there, as they sifted through a mound of video tapes along with her to choose the perfect host.
Theiss worked as Associate Professor for the University of Louisville from 2002 to 2003. She then took her current job with the Oldham County History Center.
“She brings a lot to the table,” said her husband Jim Theiss, a local attorney. “She’s an educator, historian and writer.”
Like Leopold, who was a prolific writer, Theiss has spent many hours putting pen to paper. Since 2007, she has interviewed and transcribed oral histories for the Living Treasures program. She produces a written form of these oral histories once a month for the Oldham Era.
Theiss also writes a weekly column for the Neighborhood section of the Louisville Courier Journal, known as “World Beneath Your Feet.” Many times, she has written about local veterans, recording their stories for future generations. She has written several books: “Oldham County: Life at the River’s Edge,” and her latest release, “A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star.”
She’s very community  oriented and has been a member of the Conservation Board, involved with the Rotary Club and a board member for the Limestone Land Trust.
One of her largest projects to date is overseeing the current $2 million renovation of the Oldham County History Center campus, located next to the Oldham County Courthouse in La Grange. Begun in August 2014, the project has raised more than half of the needed funding, and exterior work has begun on the Peyton Samuel Head Family Museum.

Theiss still lives in the same old farmhouse she grew up in on Hwy. 53. She and her husband have two children, J.D. Theiss and Jessie Gray, and two grandchildren, Milo and Lida.

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