Every December, Ace profiles “This Year’s Models,” Model Citizens making a difference in Lexington. This year’s class includes UK Coach Matthew Mitchell, retiring Lexington Legends prez Alan Stein, UK neurologist Dr. Kevin Nelson, the Kentucky Theatre’s Fred Mills, Keeneland on the occasion of their 75th anniversary, Brave Tart Stella Parks, and National Book Award winning poet Nikky Finney.
This article begins on page 5 in the December 15 print edition of Ace.
MODEL SPORTSMAN: Alan Stein
by Brian Gardner
“I’m 36 years old. I love my family. I love baseball and I’m about to become a farmer. But until I heard the voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.”
Thus begins the story of Ray Kinsella and the construction of his baseball shrine in an Iowa corn field as detailed in the movie Field of Dreams. ‘The voice’ tells him, “if you build it, He will come.” Kinsella’s story is one of hope, love, obsession and baseball.
Alan Stein, who retired earlier this year, might have channeled Ray Kinsella as he endeavored to bring professional baseball to Lexington. Though his odyssey did not involve plowing up a corn field or talking to ghosts, it did involve some big dreams and long odds. To appreciate the audacity of the undertaking we have to look back at the 1990s. At the time, Lexington, for whatever reason, was the largest city in America without professional baseball of any level. Many efforts had been made by loyal Lexingtonions to lure the national pastime to the Bluegrass. But these efforts and their backers were continually shut out…
Model Researcher: UK’s Dr. Kevin Nelson
By Kakie Urch
University of Kentucky neurologist Dr. Kevin Nelson sought to provide answers to these questions in his book The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist’s Search for The God Experience. It bridges science, faith, human experience, and medical research.
Nelson, who is a professor of neurology at the UK College of Medicine and director of medical affairs for UK Healthcare, relied on 30 years of experience with patients’ spiritual experiences and near-death encounters in preparing the book.
He was first drawn to the topic through the experiences of a patient named Joe Hernandez, who emerged from a near-death experience to draw a picture of what he saw: the devil and Jesus fighting at the foot of his bed for his soul.
Using case studies and the advanced tools of neurological science, Nelson followed the topic through the biology of what happens physically in a near-death experience.
Some argue with the Devil. Some see the universe as a pinball machine. But all the while, the mechanics of blood-flow, fight-or-flight reactions and REM consciousness are at work.
Nelson said earlier this year, “This book for the first time inextricably binds spiritual experience to our primal brain. Yet, even if we knew what each brain molecule does during these experiences, the mystery of spirituality will always live on.”
For taking on one of the biggest questions humans have with scientific research, Dr. Kevin Nelson is This Year’s Model researcher.
Model People’s Poet: Nikky Finney
by Bianca Spriggs
Bianca Spriggs wrote in her March 2011 Ace coverstory and interview with the poet, “I remember my first time seeing Nikky Finney read her poems. I was nineteen years old and had just started to put together pieces of poems and little did I know that the Affrilachian Poets were about to change the course of my writing forever. I was standing in the back of a packed house in the Carnegie Center and watching these writers take the house by storm like rock stars. And then. A tall, latte-skinned woman with olivine eyes and waist-length brown dreadlocks stepped up to the lectern and it seemed as though the entire audience inhaled together. None of us let that breath go until her last word…. University of Kentucky Professor of Creative Writing, Nikky Finney, finds herself taken with the no holds barred launch of her latest collection, ‘Anything that has happened for me and a book was because I put the book on my back. I put it in my trunk. I got in a car or walked or got on a plane and took it wherever I was going…I just never had this kind of beginning. You do the work with the book. You work for five or six years and then it comes back and you say okay now what do you do, which direction do you go? That’s totally different with this book.’ Many elements have changed since Nikky’s first collection. Social media and web forums have made it easier to connect faces and events and politics and literature, ‘It’s not social media anymore. It’s political media. It’s progressive media…so this book thing is happening in the atmosphere of that.'”
And on the heels of her striking, heady new collection, Head Off & Split, that is already enjoying much success, there is a Facebook campaign to nominate her for the 49th U.S. Poet Laureate, ‘I don’t know who’s behind this—I kind of don’t want to know—I don’t know what to say. I’m really kind of speechless about it. It matters to me. It matters to me in a very deep way because all of I’ve ever wanted to be is a poet. The other stuff that I do is important and feeds into it, but all I’ve ever wanted to do is be a poet.'”
Movies Model: Fred Mills
By Kakie Urch
In the cartoon, the character sells you the movie house ticket, changes up,
takes your moviehouse ticket, changes up, jumps behind the concession stand to dish up your popcorn and fizzy drink to a rollicking musical number, changes up, ushers you down in the darkness to your seats to oboe and slidewhistle accompaniment and then one more change, runs up to the projection room to hit a big button that says START.
At the Kentucky Theater, Lexington’s historic movie theater on Main Street in Lexington, Fred Mills is that character – and so much more. The Theater will turn 90 in 2012, and Mills himself will celebrate a milestone birthday on New Year’s Day.
Mills, who was first hired as a movie usher 48 years ago in 1963, is the face, the backbone, and persona of The Kentucky Theater.
He’s This Year’s Model because of every year that led up to this year and the consistency of the Kentucky as a great downtown destination – from the opening of a new George Clooney to movie, to the live recording of Woodsongs, to the opening notes and steps of the “Thriller” Halloween parade.
The Kentucky has been the site of the Disney Secretariat premiere, has hosted TEDX Lexington, too many concerts to count, a Summer Classics Series, and is a locale for film festivals (like the One World Film Festival). It welcomed the national premiere of Bloodworth, written and produced by two Kentucky natives, and hosted a concert by the red-hot Real Estate band.
For decades, The Kentucky has been the local heart of Lexington’s downtown revitalization. For some of those years, the Kentucky, famed for its “refrigerator ready” art house was one of the few places to go downtown. That’s because of Fred Mills and the group including Raymond Mitchell, Analy Scorsone and Howard Stovall that made it their business to see that we didn’t lose our downtown heart. Its calendar graced all of our fridges throughout the 80s.
We saw the Seventh Seal, Double Indemnity and The Gods Must Be Crazy. We showed up at midnight to see the more adventurous offerings.
After an Oct. 3, 1987 fire nearly destroyed the Kentucky, Mills and Mitchell salvaged what they could physically, and worked incessantly to salvage the idea of the 1920s showplace. The Kentucky figured prominently in a book on historic theaters by then UK Professor Gregory A. Waller, published on the Smithsonian imprint.
In 1989, the theater was purchased by the city and a $1.2 million remodel was approved, “saving” the theater. (In today’s dollars, that is about 2.1 stoplights). Fred Mills kept on selling tickets, taking tickets, selling popcorn, showing you to your seat, and planning entertainment.
The April 1992 re-opening saw even more improvements and in 1999, the Kentucky changed format from a repertory art house cinema to its current status as a movie theater that focused on first-run movies not often seen at other theaters in the city. Again, Fred Mills led the team effort to the transition and is in charge of daily operations.
And if you’ve missed him at the theater, you can also check him out every Election Day at the his local polling station on West Maxwell — he is an election volunteer every year.
Every step of the way from taking your tickets to taking a cause to council to being taken to court, Fred Mills has been at the Kentucky Theater, a model institution running a model institution.
Model Coach. No, not that one: UK Coach Matthew Mitchell
by Larry Treadway
Starting off your season as an SEC coach with high-water pants and glitter socks
would mean for many the only direction for things to go is down. Not to mention, before the first organized practice ball is bounced, your team rests comfortably in the nation’s top 20. That’s how UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell ended his October. Stealing the show mimicking Michael Jackson in front of a sellout crowd there for Big Blue Madness while he pondered where to go next with a talented group of young players whom folks were expecting big things from. So it’s easy to see why come winter a young coach could be smothering a bit from the blanket of hyperbole and possibility. But that has not been the case for this fourth year coach.
It’s been more than a few minutes since the University of Kentucky has had two teams basking in such national prominence, but it no doubt comes as little surprise to Coach Mitchell. Under his guidance the Wildcats have advanced to four consecutive postseason tournaments, including back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in 28 years. When you add in this month’s thrashing of both U of L and Duke (more on this in a moment) in the past couple seasons his teams have defeated a dozen nationally-ranked opponents, garnered top 25 rankings in average attendance, and recorded a remarkable two losses on their home floor, yes, only two.
Sports numbers, stats, records, that’s really all this is, the kind of stuff you hear about daily on sports talk radio,–sure, Coach Mitchell is a good coach–we get it. But that’s just part of the story. When taking an informal poll of what UK students, faculty, and fans think of Coach Mitchell you get some variation of the same thought: “He’s awesome.” “I love him.” “A breath of fresh air.” “He gets it.”
In a community that prides itself on the knowledge of basketball and that is fickle to the point of being downright volatile with its power to ignore you if aren’t meeting their needs, Coach Mitchell has managed to be a great Robin to John Calipari’s Batman in the Gotham City of basketball. How? Just like Coach Cal, Matthew Mitchell has delivered on the sales pitch he gave when he landed the job, all fresh-faced and gently plucked from Morehead State University. UK Hoops could be a powerhouse program and one that would also be a family of student players is what he envisioned but even more boldly, one that would make those who love the men’s game pay attention to the women’s. No small feat, but that no longer sounds like a fuzzy prognostication from a excited new coach—he’s now, already, No. 4 in all-time wins at Kentucky and we have noticed.
Wins, yeah, that’s how we gauge success here. No coach ever wants to hear, “yeah, it’s too bad they aren’t any good ‘cuz he’s a nice guy.” So, winning is what Coach Mitchell has this year’s team doing. December 4th brought a 20-point drubbing of in-state rival and then No. 10 ranked Louisville and four days later in front of the largest home crowd for a women’s game in Kentucky history, a true signature win over Duke. Yes, Duke. The Blue Devils are easily the most “hated” team to ever face our beloved University of Kentucky men’s basketball program and having their women roll into Lexington ranked No. 6 in country aligned perfectly for what might be the perfect storm for pulling fans who barely glance at women’s basketball until March into the fray. And Coach Mitchell and his team’s physical play on defense proved to the just the bourbon for the Cat fan’s CokeTM to make for a stiff pre-holiday bracer. That’s right, people were actually having water cooler talk about women’s basketball. That doesn’t happen much, you might argue that it should, but it just doesn’t. And that’s when you realize, Coach Mitchell is indeed, to use a now frequent sport cliché’, “special.”
I realized this a couple years ago when I was parking on Maxwell to go to a men’s game at Rupp. It was cold and a bit rainy and I stepped out of the car and there was Coach Mitchell, walking towards the game, alone, no posse, no entourage. I offered a “hey Coach,” which seemed to startle him and he stopped and threw out his hand and said “hey man, how’s it going?” I mumbled something along the line of “heading to the game” and he said “yep, me, too” and I locked the car door and he continued his journey and me, mine but I remember thinking, “hmmm, Coach Mitchell couldn’t get a ride to Rupp or premiere parking or something?” Then I thought about it while walking, he’s probably just that kind of guy. And in this age of multi-million dollar coaching contracts, one and dones and NCAA investigations and violations, it’s refreshing to see a coach who sounds like me (he’s Southern y’all, he grew up in Mississippi) and also like me, isn’t afraid to laugh at himself or wear glittery socks. Although when someone refers to me as “special” they probably don’t mean it in the same way.
Coach Mitchell and his wife, Jenna have two daughters, Lacy, and the latest addition born in August, Saylor Rose. The Mitchells are extremely active in Lexington as volunteers and Jenna is a board member of the Children’s Advocacy Center. Follow Coach Mitchell on Twitter @ukcoachmitchell and go see his team play, you won’t be disappointed… and best of all, his players stay all four years.
A Model Beauty at 75: Keeneland
By Kakie Urch
When the city concept people come to talk concept, they look around for what you have that might be “world-class.” Some cities can come up with a first-this or a largest-that or a home of whatever. You know, Ball of Twine stuff.
Lexington has Keeneland Racecourse.
And we have had it for 75 years and it is tempting to take the world-class for granted. But in this 75th anniversary year, Keeneland proved once again why it is the pinnacle of racecourses in the U.S. and the world.
“We want them to come out here to enjoy God’s sunshine, the fresh air and to watch the horses,” Hal Price Headley said, as the “model” racetrack was founded in 1936. The 147.5 acres of Bluegrass that hosts locals, horses and visitors from all over the world was purchased for $130,000 from J.O. “Jack” Keene.
Racing started 75 years ago with 8,000 race fans and a handle of $7,380 on the first Totalizer machines ever.
Now, twice a year at the Fall Meet and the Spring Meet, we still walk in the sunshine and the fresh air while the private jets glint across six lanes of Versailles Road and $7,380 doesn’t pay for a day’s feed on the scratches alone.
After the stock market crash of 2008, Keeneland saw a significant drop off in sales figures. But this year’s September yearling sales, with a $223.48 million gross for 2,921 horses, surpassed the previous year early in the sale.
That is important information for the viability of one of Lexington’s few truly world-class attractions.
But more important, in this 75th anniversary year, is the way that Keeneland has continued to set itself up as a leader and a track that seeks to be a world-class model. Introducing both a mobile Web presence and mobile wagering this year, Keeneland also continues to attract new fans to the game with its Facebook and Twitter presences. It has fused the past with the present with a historic photo collection (keeneland.smugmug.com) available for easy purchase by enthusiasts and sponsors regular events to help people learn how to handicap horses. Of course, there is a fine selection of Keeneland digital wallpaper available at (keeneland.com)
College Scholarship Day packs in thousands of young people each year to enjoy the sport,and the sunshine, and the horses. On Military Appreciation Day. Thousands of soldiers stationed in Kentucky are welcomed to the track as guests. This year, Kentuckian and Medal of Honor winner Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer was a special guest of honor and presented a trophy. Keeneland has a number of charity days, including its popular event with partner University of Kentucky: the Maker’s Mark John Calipari edition bottle signing. This year, proceeds from that event went to the UK symphony orchestra outreach endowment. Keeneland also, with the UK dental school, sponsored a mobile dental clinic for the children of farmworkers. Aa part of the gala portion of the 75th anniversary, Keeneland brought a Boston Pops concert to Rupp Arena.
This is a year to celebrate a truly model racecourse and to never take the sunshine, fresh air, and horses for granted.
Model Pastry Girl: the Brave Tart, Stella Parks
By Kakie Urch
This Year’s Model: Battle Pastry Chef winner is hands down Stella Parks, the
brilliant, CIA-trained woman behind the desserts at Table Three Ten.
But you can call her Bravetart.
With her desserts featured in the November issue of Food and Wine magazine, the “Ace Best of Lexington Best Decadent Desserts” crown on her head, and her food blog “The Bravetart” going strong, Parks has just celebrated her first full year at Lexington’s popular Short Street small plates restaurant.
In the last year, she spent her first six months running a pastry kitchen with one burner and one oven (and for a long time, one pot, which was shared with the savory chef); a freezer-fail that destroyed two weeks of work (including 200 sweet potato ice cream sandwiches); and an oven blowup that meant no oven for three months.
Parks’ desserts have names like Sweet Potato Doughnuts, Blueberry Violette Tarts, Candy Corn Panna Cotta, Fauxreos, Brown Butter Sage Marshmellows, Mint Julep Panna Cotta and Pear Layer Cake. Each is original to the Table Three Ten blackboard and after it makes its appearance there, is also in the Recipe Box at her blog.
She ferried Spalding’s donuts to the Serious Eats HQ in NYC (where she is a frequent contributor), garnering more national reverie for the local donut legend. In a December post for Serious Eats, she deconstructs the McDonald’s Egg Nog shake (13 ingredients in the cherry on top) writing “any dessert that can accommodate a few ounces bourbon seems like the very definition of Happy Holidays to me. Not that McDonald’s Egg Nog shake is alcoholic. Just that, well, it should be. And hey, at least I had the decency to wait until December actually rolled around to get my Christmas Spirit on.”
The woman makes her own sprinkles. She can go Gluten Free (GF) if need be. She tweets @thebravetart.
A recent post to her Bravetart food blog — a FoodBuzz site — “Macarons Are For Eating” provided a fear-reducing approach to the macaron — a food dive with a significant degree of difficulty. Her recipes also appear at GiltTaste.com; check out her historic Red (Wine) Velvet Cake.
She’s so passionate that you bake by weight and not volume that she’s sponsoring a scale giveaway at her blog (deadline to enter December 18).
Parks is the pastry chef’s pastry chef. Her desserts are imbued with creativity, surprises, and an exquisite balance of textures and flavors. She’s Kentucky-raised, CIA-trained, and this year’s culinary model.
Save room for dessert.