South Central Kentuckians
Previous Recipients

The South Central Kentuckian of the Year Award annually honors an individual or organization for excellence in leadership as demonstrated by outstanding initiative, impact of work and inspiration of others. The purpose of this award is to honor people in the community who are making significant contributions through their life’s work. Every day people in our community make a difference. We want to celebrate these people who make giving back a priority for themselves, their family or their business.



South Central Kentuckians of the Year 2021

Jim & Rita Scott

James D. (Scotty) Scott was born and raised on a farm in Logan County, Kentucky. He was the youngest of three children. At an early age, he decided that the life of a farmer was not for him. In 1957, he enrolled in an Engineering Technology program with the University of Kentucky.

Scotty began his career with the KY Department of Transportation in Russellville, KY. In 1972, he started his own business, Scotty’s Paving. This business saw rapid growth, expanding into concrete, utility and building divisions.  With the purchase of stone quarries, Scotty’s Contracting & Stone began. One major project included the widening of 92 miles of Interstate I-65 from the Tennessee state line to Elizabethtown, KY. Scotty expanded his various businesses to include the conception and completion of The Club at Olde Stone which is considered a world class facility.

Scotty and Rita were married in February 1995.  Rita, a mother of two lived and worked in Louisville from 1970-1995. She spent twenty-seven years in the travel industry, ten years as the owner of her own agency, Airlanse Travel. She credits the success of her business to her ability to manage and execute large group travel itineraries, such as State convention trips, University of Louisville basketball and football team travel.

Scotty believes in the adage of not just helping organizations in the community with money but in giving his time, energy and ideas towards furthering various philanthropic causes like hosting the Mason Cup tournament for the last 4 years at Olde Stone, mentoring athletes in the WKU’s sports programs etc. He has also been instrumental in creating and supporting young entrepreneurs in Warren County.

Scotty has been honored with many awards through the years. In 2001, Scotty founded the Scott Center for Construction and Engineering including the James D. Scott Professorship which was the first fully endowed chair at Western Kentucky University providing students valuable opportunities for engineering degrees.

Rita has enthusiastically supported the Senior Medication Program at the Commonwealth Health Free Clinic - a program that provides free prescription meds to Seniors in need, with her time, talent, and financial resources. She spearheaded fund raisers for the Commonwealth Health Foundation as a board member to help set them on course to achieve phenomenal results.

The Scotts most recently gave a million-dollar donation to Arts of Southern Kentucky. The Jim & Rita Scott Concert Hall will help ensure the music of Orchestra Kentucky will live on.  Numerous non-profit organizations benefit from their patronage, Bowling Green Housing Authority, Boys & Girls Club, Hospice, Kids on the Block, Operation Pride & WKU to name a few.

The Scotts always find time to enjoy their wonderful family; celebrate family birthdays, graduations, weddings, and Olde Stone golf outings.  They have 4 children, Sharon (David) Sears, Tony (Sheila) Scott, Angie (Erik) Furlan, Brock (Alissa) Bodart, 8 grandchildren, 5 step-grandchildren, a great- grandson, and 4 step-great grandchildren.

Jim & Rita Scott South Central Kentuckians 2021


South Central Kentuckian of the Year 2020


Frederick Marshall Higgins also known as Fred was an Industry Icon who used innovative ideas to bring retailing to the fore front of convenience store industry. He was an entrepreneur, a mentor and was at the helm of many philanthropic endeavors.

Higgins was born in 1943 in Athens, TN. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Centre College in Danville, KY in 1965. Higgins joined his father, Ralph Higgins, to create a new c-store chain, Minit Mart Foods Inc. while attending the University of Kentucky’s college of Law. After serving in the military intelligence branch of the US Army during the Vietnam war in 1972, Higgins settled in Bowling Green, KY.

He incorporated Minit Mart, which had grown to 16 locations. At its peak, Minit Mart was a multistate operator with more than 200 locations, became one of the first chains to add gasoline pumps in the 1970s and was a pioneer in creating new marketing conveniences by adding delis, gaming machines, video and DVD rentals.

The success and rapid growth of his business venture earned Higgins many honors, including induction into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame, the 1995 Retail Entrepreneur of the Year, 1996 Chairman of National Association of Convenient Stores and the 1996 Man of the Year for the Kentucky Grocers Association. He was also awarded the City of Bowling Green’s Spirit of America Award in 1989, Citizen of the Year in 1990 and Outstanding Business Person of the Year in 1991.

Higgins was very involved in philanthropic ventures as well. He was instrumental in starting a Non-Profit foundation dedicated to building houses for Disabled Veterans. He served as the first President of the Board of Directors for Kids on the Block, the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Health Foundation, the Board of Directors at Buckhorn Children’s Home and the Board of Directors at SKYPAC to name just a few. He was an Elder at The Presbyterian Church and through the church participated in mission trips to Central and South America as part of Living Waters for the World, helping install water purification systems to areas without clean water access.

Fred & Kathy also choose to leave a legacy to our community by creating a Donor Advised Fund within the Community Foundation. The Higgins Family Fund will forever give back to our community.

Jim Dickens, Vice President of Marketing for Minit Mart from 1992 to 1997, had this
to say about him, "Fred was an extraordinary individual. He was a true southern gentleman, an amazing father, a mentor to many including me, and someone looked up to by his industry peers, his community and his philanthropic organizations."

Warren County Judge-Executive, Mike Buchanon spoke highly of the retired businessman as well. “Fred Higgins was a leader and innovator in his industry. He was not only successful in business, but in life in general.”

Mr. Fred Higgins is survived by his wife, Kathy Booth Higgins, three daughters,
a stepdaughter, a stepson, a sister, twelve grandchildren and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Jamie G Higgins.



South Central Kentuckians of the Year 2019

John & Linda Kelly Named 2019 South Central Kentuckians of the Year

John and Linda Kelly represent over a 30 year legacy of connection and engagement in our Bowling Green community. The couple has dedicated themselves to providing meaningful support to many local organizations and are the primary advocates to their namesake, The Kelly Autism Program at WKU. Through the Kellys sacrificial giving of their time and money, they are what we would call the ‘fabric of Bowling Green, KY’.

Meeting through business, they married 38 years ago, and moved to the Bowling Green community in late 1983. The Kellys have two children, Victoria and Michael.

Victoria was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old, at a time few of us had even heard the word. She was the inspiration for their family in 2002 to start the Kelly Autism Program at WKU, supporting children and young adults on the autism spectrum.

In 2010, and again in 2012, the Kellys created Donor Advised Funds [DAF] at the Community Foundation of South Central Kentucky to continue their support for important local non-profit projects.

The Kellys are difference makers. They have repeatedly taken opportunities to support our community through their generous gifts and unwavering vision to help others.  


AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS From Western Kentucky University
  • Honorary Doctor of Public Service 2016 (John)
  • Distinguished Service medal (John and Linda)
  • Summit Awards (John and Linda)
  • Philanthropist of the Year 2015 (John and Linda)
  • Advisory Board Member – College of Education and Behavioral Science and College of Health and Human Services  (John)
  • Foundation Board (Linda)
  • WKU/Kelly Autism Program/Clinical Education Complex/LifeWorks at WKU
  • Center for Courageous Kids
  • St. Joseph School – past board member
  • Holy Spirit Catholic Church
  • St. Vincent de Paul
  • Smoky Mountain Service Dogs
  • New Beginnings Therapeutic Riding – past board member
  • Kids on the Block – past board member
  • Humane Society
  • BG Parks and Recreation – Camp Happy Days (over 21 years group)
  • The HIVE
  • Med Center Health Community Clinic
  • Victoria Kelly Neurosurgery Education Fund
  • USA Cares
  • Sunrise Children’s Services
  • Public Theatre of Kentucky

John, Linda, Michael, Victoria, Buster and Cain Kelly


South Central Kentuckian of the Year 2018


Jerry Baker never sought recognition for charitable works during his lifetime—sometimes they just came.

Western Kentucky University made a big splash when Baker decided to donate his property off Morgantown Road to the school. The 115-acre arboretum is a living laboratory for WKU students. It and the Downing Museum are open to the public and for special events. The museum features one of the largest collections of Downings art.

Im not sure Jerry Baker ever really wanted to highlight that gift, but it was something Western wanted to do,longtime friend Harvey Johnston said. At the time it was one of the largest gifts ever to a public university.Western placed the value at $17 million for the 2006 donation.

Now the Community Foundation of South Central Kentucky is naming Baker, who died in 2017, its South Central Kentuckian of the Year.

Any honors or accolades that Jerry Baker receives are well deserved,Johnston said. I think he would enjoy it more now than when he was alive because he wouldnt have to be embarrassed.

Johnston said many people know about Baker because of his gift to Western and arts-related organizations in the community.

But he was a giver to a lot of different things that no one would ever really know about it. It might have been to just an individual,Johnston said.

Johnston said Baker thought nothing of providing a scholarship for WKU Lady Toppers basketball, a program he followed religiously, or of establishing a horticulture scholarship in the name of his late friend and noted nurseryman Mitchell Leitchhardt.

Baker also gave of his time and talent to serve on various boards in the community that became his home. He was one of the founding members of the Community Foundation in 1995.

He was a successful businessman at the helm of a company that later became known as Airgas, a large distributor of commercial gases.

The Community Foundation also has been a beneficiary of Baker’s generosity. His estate created a $1 million endowment in the Community Foundation. The endowment will be invested, with the interest generated each year being made as grants to organizations that Baker set out, according to Jennifer Wethington, executive director of the Community Foundation.

Those organizations include Med Center Health Foundation Community Clinic and Dental Clinic, Orchestra Kentucky, Phoenix Theatre, Symphony at WKU and The Boys & Girls Club of Bowling Green.

“Jerry was an extremely generous person and wanted to establish this permanent fund to continue his support of the community, in perpetuity,” Wethington said at the time the endowment was announced. “The Community Foundation is honored to be the steward of his gift, which will provide thousands of dollars to bolster nonprofits in our community.”

The foundation bestows the South Central Kentuckian of the Year honor to highlight the importance of charitable giving in the community.

“Anyone can make a gift to the Community Foundation. Donors to the foundation come from a variety of backgrounds with a common commitment to the community’s well being,” Wethington said.

By helping establish the Community Foundation, Baker had the forethought that “… every person in the community can make a difference.”



South Central Kentuckians of the Year 2017


In 2017, Col. Robert and Cora Jane Spiller were honored as the South Central Kentuckian of the Year. Col. Spiller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cora Jane was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1928. Cora Jane grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky where she went to school from first grade through college graduation at Western Kentucky University where she met Bob in 1950. They were married in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1951. For the next 30 years they moved around the world due to Col. Spiller’s position in the service and ended up back in Warren County where they call home. Their dedication and service to this community has been shown through their involvement with the Salvation Army, The Boys & Girls Club of Bowling Green, The Houchens Center and the American Red Cross.


South Central Kentuckian of the Year 2016


Bob Kirby is the fifth honoree selected for the South Central Kentuckian award given by The Community Foundation of South Central Kentucky. Several community members, friends and family gave him a standing ovation during the luncheon honoring him for his individual contributions to the community and philanthropic causes. .

The South Central Kentuckian of the Year Award annually honors an individual or organization for excellence in leadership as demonstrated by outstanding initiative, impact of work and inspiration of others. The purpose of this award is to honor people in the community who are making significant contributions through their life’s work.

Bob was born in Murray, Kentucky, but has been a resident of Warren County for most of his life. After graduating from Bowling Green High School in 1951, he served as a Sergeant in the 25th Infantry Division in Korea. After military service, he graduated from Western Kentucky University in 1960 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce and from the National Graduate Trust School at Northwestern University in 1978. He and his wife, Norma Jean, have four children; Kent Kirby, Kim Kirby, Kay Roberts and Gena Gooding. They also have six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Bob and Norma Jean have been married for 64 years.


  • Sergeant 25th Infantry Division - Korea
  • Salvation Army – lifetime member – currently in his 42nd year
  • Western Kentucky University – Board of Advisors
  • Bowling Green Warren County Chamber of Commerce
  • South Central Kentucky Community and Technical College Foundation – Founding Board MemberCommonwealth Health Foundation – Founding Board Member
  • Historical Rail Park and Train Museum – Founding Board Member
  • Bowling Green Warren County Community Foundation (now called Community Foundation of South Central Kentucky) – Founding Board Member
  • United Way of South Central Kentucky – Board Member (1983-1985)
  • United Way of South Central Kentucky – Campaign Chair (1982 and 1986)
  • Warren County Public Library – Former Board Member (1997-1999)
  • Western Kentucky University National Alumni Association – Former President (1999-2000)
  • Central Kentucky Jefferson Award – 1999
  • Western Kentucky University Summit Award – 2001
  • Bowling Green High School Hall of Honor - 2003
  • Warren County Citizen of the Year, presented by Noon Lions Club – 2003
  • Junior Achievement Business Person of the Year - 2008
  • Naming of Bob Kirby Branch of Warren County Public Library


South Central Kentuckian of the Year 2015


Laura Turner Dugas is the daughter of Laura Goad Turner, and Cal Turner Sr., the founder of Dollar General. A native of Scottsville, Laura has served as the chairman of the Laura Goad Turner Charitable Foundation since its founding in 1989. Established by Cal Turner in honor of his wife, the Foundation is an important source of philanthropy in Allen County and South Central Kentucky.

Under Laura’s leadership, the Laura Goad Turner Charitable Foundation has been a lead funder for services devoted to the citizens of Allen County.  Non-profits and civic institutions with which the Foundation has partnered include: Allen County Public Schools, B.R.A.S.S., Community Action of Southern Kentucky, the Core, Haven4Change, Heart of Scottsville, Kentucky Legal Aid, the Scottsville Medical Center, and the City of Scottville.  Four different scholarships serving graduates of Allen County Scottsville High School have been endowed at the College Heights Foundation, and the Laura Goad Turner Charitable Foundation has made significant investments in both SKyPAC, and the Community Foundation of Southern Kentucky.

In 1998, Laura and her husband Wayne Dugas established the Dugas Family Foundation.  Philanthropy is an authentic family trait, with sons Foster, Steve, and the late Bruce Dugas all having served on the Dugas Family Foundation board. In Northwest Florida the Dugas have provided transformational funding to the Alaqua Animal Refuge, Children’s Volunteer Health Network, Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation, Okaloosa and Walton County Schools, Pace Center for Girls and Sacred Heart Hospital.  n Middle Tennessee, the Dugas Family Foundation has made charitable investments in Abe’s Garden, Nashville Education Community and Arts Television, the Nashville Zoo, Saddle Up!, Second Harvest Food Bank, and Walden’s Puddle.

Laura has always been humbled by the responsibility of serving as chairman of her family foundations, taking the opportunity to serve others in the community very seriously. Honored to be recognized as the “South Central Kentuckian of the Year,” Laura Turner Dugas does on behalf of her family, and the past and present members of the Laura Goad Turner Charitable Foundation board.




Four Irish immigrants, John J., Peter J., Thomas J. & William J. Murphy established a limestone business in Bowling Green, KY, circa 1886. They were stone masons and engineers known as the MURPHY BROTHERS COMPANY. The brothers operated a stone quarry where they removed and cut limestone for many of the initial infrastructure projects in South Central Kentucky and other parts of the Commonwealth.

Many of the buildings, first constructed more than a century ago, remain today as a testament to the foundation upon which they sit. Some of the most notable are State Street Methodist Church and the Burton Memorial Baptist Church. In addition to buildings, the Murphys quarried and cut the stones for the street curbing for many communities including Bowling Green.

When John J. Murphy’s grandson, G. Michael Murphy began his career in construction in 1976, any opportunity to salvage these “stones of the foundation of our community” was preserved as a memory of their family’s business beginnings in South Central Kentucky.

Just as the philanthropic work of the individuals who receive this award are foundational to their community, the base of this award is salvaged limestone and is intended to represent the purpose of The Community Foundation of South Central Kentucky.