Buck Wheat: Churchill’s MVP

Julian Logan "Buck" Wheat and John Asher.

Julian Logan "Buck" Wheat and John Asher.

Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby have impacted the lives of countless people in varied ways through their nearly 138 years of existence.

Conversely, many individuals have left their fingerprints on the historic home of America’s greatest race.  Some of those prints are indelible.

That latter thought brings us to Julian Logan “Buck” Wheat, whose death a few days before Christmas at the age of 78 physically ended an association with Churchill Downs and the Derby that had officially spanned more than six decades.

Son of Trainer

He was the son of trainer Logan Wheat, so it’s pretty safe to describe Buck’s connection to Churchill Downs as a lifetime affair that began well before he took his first job at the track as a fresh-faced usher at the age of 16.

Although there was a stretch of his life when Wheat worked for the L & N Railroad, he was always linked to Churchill Downs and Thoroughbred racing.

After his passing, Buck’s three children – daughter Denise Sohm and sons Dennis and Kevin – found a Courier-Journal clipping from his L & N years that included a photo of their father, dressed in suit and tie, grazing a horse on the Churchill Downs backside before heading off to his day in the railroad office.

Racing got him!

When racing grabbed Buck Wheat, it never loosened its embrace. He was a lucky guy, as were those who knew him over the years.

Although virtually every day of his life was connected in some way to Churchill Downs, Wheat’s career blossomed in 1989 when he accepted the post of director of Horsemen’s Relations.

In that role, he was the initial point of contact for owners and trainers who wished to bring their horses to compete in the track’s growing racing and stakes program.

The quality and volume of those horses improved rapidly as the track’s purses surged with wagering at the dawn of the track’s simulcast era.

Churchill Downs, primarily notable for being the home of the Kentucky Derby for many years, rose quickly to become one of racing’s top national players.

He made Friends

Buck Wheat came into contact with a lot of important racing people during those years and many – including Derby-winning trainers Nick Zito, Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas and Carl Nafzger and Derby-winning owners like Mike Pegram – became good friends, as well as business contacts.

But, as anyone who met Buck through the years knows, the endless roster of Buck’s friends was not limited to high-powered racing heroes.

If your path ever crossed his in any fashion, you were added to the endless list of Buck’s friends.

Buck plied his talents in many roles during his 78 years, including a stretch where he tried his hand at training horses.

But chief among Buck’s strengths was an innate ability to make people feel special and to be a friend.  That marvelous ability, along with his love of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs and the horse industry and knowledge gained over his decades in the business, helped Wheat grow into a role that was not formally listed on his job description, but became a central part of his life.

He became a true community and industry ambassador for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby and, by extension, became an unofficial ambassador for all of Kentucky’s horse industry.

He was unofficially dubbed “The Mayor of the Backside,” and no title could have suited him better.

His backside constituents included not only those who worked in the little city that is located in the stable area during the nine months the track’s barns are open each year.

Buck charmed countless visitors to the track, from VIP’s to one-time visitors, during their visits to the historic grounds.

His work for charities and special events is as important to his legacy as any of the official duties he performed at the track.

His post as director of Horsemen’s Relation had a formal description, but Buck was one of those rare human beings fortunate enough to have a job and a career that morphed to fit him.

The line on his business card that listed his title could have easily read: “He’s Buck!”

During his long life, he achieved single-name recognition. The world knows Michael, Pele, Tiger, Marilyn and Madonna.

But in our region and industry, if someone mentioned either “Buck” or “Buckwheat,” elaboration was rarely necessary.

His contributions to the business he loved were recognized by several awards.

Awards? Yes, sir!

He earned a Dogwood Dominion Award, an award from Dogwood Stable that recognized racing’s “unsung heroes.”

Last spring he was honored at the annual Derby Week charity dinner of Knights of Columbus Bishop Spalding Council No. 2761 with the Dean Eagle Award, which recognized his lifetime achievements in racing.

As you read this, it is approximately 120 days from the 138th Kentucky Derby, which is set for Saturday, May 5.

At this point, it is difficult to imagine a spring in Kentucky without Buck’s smile, gentle manner and his annual struggle to pick a Kentucky Derby winner.

Undoubtedly there will be tears, but Derby 2012 will also offer opportunities to celebrate the life of Buck Wheat and his impact on the people and things he loved most.

A lot to love

He loved his family and friends; he revered the Derby, horse racing and Churchill Downs; and held what had been the signature job in his life until the day of his passing.

During his 60 years at Churchill Downs, Buck Wheat became a true part of the fabric of the track and its signature event, and was able to share his joy with the people who mattered most.

The lives of those who knew and loved Buck were better because they knew him.

That’s a pretty good definition of a life well-lived and, in a results-driven business, a finish that is difficult, if not impossible, to beat.

The Quest for Perfection

All That Is Bitter & Sweet

All That Is Bitter & Sweet

Ashley Judd appears to have a perfect life. She is a rich and famous actress who supports a number of good causes.

Ashley is always poised and together and seems to do the right thing. You can find copies of her half-sister Wynonna’s mug shot. You won’t find Ashley’s.

In her book, All That is Bitter and Sweet, Ashley tells us that her childhood was not a bed of roses. It fact, it really sucked.

I almost wanted to called it “Naomi Dearest.” The first section was not a good one for Naomi, including the revelation that Wynonna and Ashley have different fathers. A large part of the book is about the various causes and ideals that Ashley has championed.

Ashley revealed that the emotional distance between the two sisters is not far apart. What differed was how they presented themselves.

Wynonna’s problems are public. She has battled addictions and her weight. She’s been honest about her fight. Ashley seems perfect. No one would dream that she had her own demons.

Both sisters were cut from the same cloth. They had a rough childhood and grew up in the same household. Both sisters dealt with their unhappiness differently.

Almost everything about Wynonna cries out for help whereas nothing about Ashley does.

Many families have a perfect child and a difficult one. It is hard to realize that both children have their own unique set of issues.

Being the sibling of a perfect child can be tough.

There is a scene in Saturday Night Fever where the parents of Tony Manero (John Travolta’s character) are ashamed when his older brother left the priesthood.

Manero tells his brother, “if you’re not so good, then I’m not so bad.”

The road to perfection has victims and collateral damage.

I have always connected to screwed-up people.

Just like Wynonna, I have a problem with food. I understand people who have problems. I couldn’t always relate to someone like Ashley. I can now.
She has problems. I have problems. Her sister has problems. We are all trying to solve them.

A couple of years ago, the New York Times had a great article about the search for an anti-addiction pill.
There is a debate as to whether addiction is a biological or a psychological problem.

If the problem is biological, pharmaceutical drugs might cure it. If the problem is psychological, counseling and support would be the best treatment.
After 100 years of effort, no miracle drug has come along.

Addictions are a tough bridge to cross. Someone who gave up smoking 15 years ago told me she is fighting an urge to start again.
I don’t smoke, so I don’t understand. She doesn’t understand why I can’t quit going to McDonald’s. I don’t understand drinking to excess, and I don’t understand a quest to be perfect.

Actually, I can understand the perfection thing. I am a situational perfectionist, as anyone who works with me can attest.
Even though it puts tremendous stress on people, I’ve considered my perfection to be a positive trait. I’m sure Ashley felt the same way. Unlike with booze or drugs, there are societal rewards for remaining perfect. Even if there are severe costs.
I admire Ashley for telling the world about her struggles. For someone who has always striven to appear perfect, going public had to be difficult.
It will inspire others to look at their own problems.

Thus, it was the perfect thing to do.

Don McCay, who lives in Richmond, Ky., is an award-winning financial columnist for Huffington Post Contributor. You can learn more about him at www.donmcnay.com.

Shaking, Not Stirring, Lands Local Mixologist In The Limelight

After a decade behind the bar of Martini Italian Bistro, mixologist Gary Gruver has hit the big time.

This year, Gruver won the chance to compete in a nationwide bartending contest sponsored by GQ Magazine and Bombay Sapphire Gin in Las Vegas, where his Sapphire Fleur de Lis earned him an 11th place finish out of 46 finalists.

Consequently, Gruver walked away with a handful of goodies, a photo shoot featured in the December 2011 issue of GQ, and another that will appear inside the February 2012 issue.

I recently caught up with Gruver to learn about his success as a bartender and the unexpected benefits that come with the job.

Ashley Anderson

How did you get entered into the bartending contest?

Representatives will come and ask if you want to be in the contest. This year (the preliminaries were) at the PNC Suites at Papa John’s. I won that portion of the contest to go to Vegas.

How is the winner chosen?

Eighteen hundred bartenders compete nationwide and whoever gets the most votes wins.

How did you come up with the ingredients for the Bombay Sapphire Fleur de Lis?

I played around with it and I probably had about 40 different variations. I had a panel of my friends one night just sit at the bar and I made them drinks, and they all voted on it.

You already appeared in the December  issue of GQ and will appear again in the February issue. What was the photo shoot like?

I haven’t done the February shoot yet. For (the December) issue I did a photo shoot at the Wynn Club. It was a two-hour photo shoot in the lobby and they shot me and three other guys.

Did you win anything else besides the GQ photo shoot?

Bartender’s tools – real pricey stuff – and a big sapphire jewel.

What is your ultimate goal as a bartender? Would you like to venture out to the New York or LA market?

I love Louisville and I have a good niche here. I’d like to see myself grow here and maybe, who knows, have my own lounge.

What would you say is the biggest benefit you get from bartending?

Definitely networking and just meeting new people from all different walks of life. I travel a lot with bartending too and have been down to bar tend the Super Bowl and the Black Eyed Peas concert. You wouldn’t think it, but a whole lot of different avenues open up to you with bartending.

New technologies are heating things up at Weber Heating & Air Conditioning

Joe Weber has been in the indoor climate control industry for 35 years.

Joe Weber has been in the indoor climate control industry for 35 years.

Although it doesn’t have a speaking role, the smoke-belching furnace at Ralphie Parker’s house is a scene-stealer in the 1983 comedy “A Christmas Story.”

But after 35 years in the indoor climate-control industry, Joe Weber, owner and president of Weber Heating & Air Conditioning, knows all too well that a furnace on the fritz is no laughing matter.
“Furnaces can be dangerous as well as inefficient if they aren’t installed and maintained properly,” he said.

“I like the challenge of figuring out problems and making people comfortable. Around here, everybody has allergies, so we sell and service a lot of air cleaners and humidifiers. This time of year, of course, we focus on heating.”

In “A Christmas Story,” Ralphie’s father would have swooned over the dual-fuel system that Joe and his crew install.

An electric heat pump keeps the house cool in summer and warm during cool months, until the temperature drops below a selected degree, at which time the gas furnace takes over.

“It’s more economical than a straight gas furnace,” Joe said. “People usually set them to switch at around 30 to 35 degrees. I don’t recommend them for older people, who tend to like their homes warmer.”

Geothermal technology, which essentially uses the ground to control indoor temperature, is newer in Kentuckiana but growing in popularity.

“Geological maps show what’s down there — you want dirt, not caves and things like that, so it isn’t suitable everywhere,” Joe said. “The problem used to be that the machines digging the wells, which go down about 100 feet, were too big for some subdivisions, but I’ve got a company whose machines are only about five feet wide. Geothermal is pretty pricey, but there’s a 30 percent tax credit on everything involved.”

Joe Weber, right, and some of the experienced staff at Weber Heating & Air Conditioning.

Joe Weber, right, and some of the experienced staff at Weber Heating & Air Conditioning.

Joe and his wife, Peggy, now have “comfort zoning” in their house for temperature control.

Previously, the second floor was always warmer in summer and colder in winter. Dampers and a wireless thermostat now control settings for individual rooms or entire floors.

“Last summer was the first since we installed it,” he said. “We’ve been there 15 years, but have never been so comfortable.”

Another impressive innovation is a thermostat that can be reset from other locations.

“It’s adjusted remotely by computer, smart phone or tablet, using wireless Internet. I’m putting one in our house,” he said. “Suppose you set it for 65 degrees, but while you’re out of town, the furnace acts up. The thermostat notifies you that the temperature is going down; it can notify your contractor, too.”

One of Joe’s employees has a lakeside house, and he signals its thermostat to turn up the air conditioning or heat on the day before he arrives. The device also can be programmed for alerts such as “It’s time for regular maintenance” or even “Happy birthday.”

Until you’re ready, or need, to replace your furnace, Joe recommends having it serviced and cleaned.

When thinking of a new HVAC system, one thing to consider is how long you intend on owning the house.

“If you won’t be there a long time, you probably don’t need to invest in a top-of-the-line furnace,” he said. “We give free estimates and focus on quality, not quantity. Most of our business comes from word-of-mouth, and we want people to be satisfied when we’re done. One fun thing about my work is that I’ve been at it so long, the kids of my customers are buying from me now.”

For information about Weber Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., visit www.weberheatingac.com or phone 502.896.1617; phones are answered around the clock for emergencies.

Drive to Make a Difference

With each New Year brings the desire – and pressure – to resolve to become a better version of you. But oftentimes, those New Year’s resolutions quickly fall by the wayside.

This year, however, that could change for those who seek out the help of Charla Young.

Young, a former WAVE 3 reporter, will host “Power to Change,” a new talk show debuting at 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 7, on Fox 41. The empowerment show is designed to help you, your family, the community and the world.

“This is not just a talk show, it’s a change movement,” said Young, who is president and CEO of Power to Change Communications, a for-profit business offering communication, customer-service training, leadership development and marketing services.

The idea to take on the endeavor of the company and talk show was inspired by a struggle Young experienced first-hand in early adulthood.

Twelve years ago, while working in Columbus, Miss., at the CBS affiliate news station, Young decided to take the leap to the ABC news affiliate in Lexington, Ky.

“It turned out (to be) the worst move I ever made,” Young said. “I was literally sitting in the dark because I could not pay the light bill and I was eight months pregnant. I was $3,200 in the hole.”

Charla Young.

Charla Young.

For about five months, Young avoided her landlord as she continued to collect debt and eventually packed her belongings to head home to Mississippi.

“I said, ‘I am so sorry, I will find a way to pay you, but we packed up our car and we’re headed back to Mississippi,’ ” Young said of the message she left her landlord upon departure.

It was then during Young’s attempt to flee, that everything suddenly changed for her. Young’s landlord called after receiving her message and gave Young the gift of a second chance.

“She said, ‘Your future is so bright it burns my eyes,’” Young recited her landlord’s words. “‘One day you’re going to be destined to help thousands of people, but today, I’m going to help you.’”

Young’s landlord wrote a check out to Young for $28,000 to help pay off her debt and get back on her feet. “On that day, she gave me the power to change, and now I have the opportunity to help others do the same.” Young said.

With her show “Power to Change,” Young will feature segments on such topics as childhood obesity, following your passion, living above your financial means and weight loss.

“All of our shows come from one question: If you had the power to change, what would you change?” Young said. “This show is a breath of hope. We not only give (viewers) the issue and talk about the issue, but after the show they can be a part of an online forum and discussion.”

“Power to Change” is taped before a live studio audience inside the Muhammad Ali Center, though on occasion, the show will be filmed on location at various sites around town.

Guests of the show will mainly include people from Kentucky but also feature individuals from outside the state, including Mozziz “Coach Mo” DeWalt, a contestant from the hit NBC show “The Biggest Loser.”

“Power to Change” will also appear on the Internet at yourpowertv.com, where visitors can access live chats and forums in addition to the show. Young and Coach Mo will also host a family-friendly “change event” from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7, at Louisville Slugger Field that will include Zumba classes, circuit training courses and a variety of free fruits and vegetables.

Eventually, Young also hopes to one day syndicate “Power to Change” and isn’t intimidated by the competition her half-hour program faces from other morning shows airing in the same time slot.

“I realize this show is going up against (“The Today Show”) and CBS, but we believe this is a nice alternative and it’s something different,” Young said. “I’m competitive. I don’t want to just do this show, I want to be number one. My goal is to start weekly, then daily and grow into syndication.”

Having grown up in Mississippi, Young has no doubt that she can fulfill her dream. After all, someone else from her home state achieved the exact same feat – a lady by the name of Oprah Winfrey.

“I’m not trying to be Oprah, though,” Young said. “I just want to be Charla making change happen. And, I believe if I’m true to that goal and true to what it is I’m supposed to be doing, then the success will come. It’s not about me, it’s about something much bigger. I’m just trying to drive it.”

courtesy photos

Hall of Famers and UK QB!

Paul Hornung, Patrick Towles and Jim Bunning posed with the Paul Hornung Award.

Paul Hornung, Patrick Towles and Jim Bunning posed with the Paul Hornung Award.

Confession: I belong to the dumbest club in Kentucky, the Louisville Quarterback Club.

How dumb are the members?

Well, the Quarterbackers could have sold out just about any banquet room in Louisville but the audience was limited to club members and their friends.

What was the big draw? Two of the absolute greatest Kentucky athletes in history:

Paul Hornung, the only Kentuckian to win a Heisman Trophy, plus he was an All-American at Notre Dame and All-NFL with Vince Lombardi’s Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. He was the NFL’s leading scorer in history when  he retired and is in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Jim Bunning is the other Kentucky headliner. He is a member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame after a glittering career in both the American League and the National Leagues. He led AL in strikeouts twice with the Detroit Tigers and twice in the NL with the Philadelphia Phillies.

And they weren’t the main attraction!

Towles is UK bound

One of former U.S. Senator Bunning’s talented grandsons, quarterback Patrick Towles of state champion Fort Thomas Highlands, was the big attraction. Even before the 2011 season started, Towles was favored to win top individual honors—and he did. He committed to UK before the season and he can’t wait to get to the Lexington campus for summer school. And passing to some of his Wildcat teammates.

Patrick says he is “just a bit between  6-foot-5 and 6-6.” He is a magnificent specimen for a football player with about 240 pounds in all the right places. He said, “I am very excited about Kentucky.”

Best since Couch?

A lot of football observers say that he is the best quarterback our state has produced since Tim Couch.

Grandpa Bunning just wants  everyone  to know that his grandson will lead theWildcats out of the doldrums and to the promise land of football. “And I will be there every game. And we will beat Florida too, every time and at Florida too. I am so proud of what he has accomplished. We will have a winning program every year.”

You may be interested in how the QB Club got started. When Paul “Bear” Bryant became head coach at UK, he asked The Courier-Journal’s Larry Boeck how many quarterback clubs the state of Kentucky had.

Told that there was no such club, Bryant told Boeck, “Well I want you and The Courier-Journal to start one!”

Boeck and C-J sports editor Earl Ruby got busy and we suddenly had one!

Membership is open to anyone. One of my black friends, an attorney,  asked if black members would be welcome and I told him yes.

Crawford main man

The president is Gordon “Crip” Crawford. He does all of the legwork putting together the annual banquet and getting the winner, his coach and his parents and friends to the luncheon.

The Bunnings have nine children, 35 grandchildren and seven  great-grandchildren. One of the Bunning sons, David, is a Federal judge. He presides in Pikeville and Covington.

The Paul Hornung Awards

Click here to purchase photos.

Ardi’s Bear Delivery

Ardi’s Bears, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to collecting and distributing bears to children with chronic or critical illnesses across the world, donated 400 bears to students at Lincoln Elementary on Dec. 16.

Teachers and students at the school celebrated by wearing pajamas, reading books, and drinking hot chocolate.

photos by BILL WINE | contributing photographer

Click here to purchase photos.

Click here to purchase photos.

12 Months to a New You

exerciseIt takes 21 days to create a habit.  When followed you will be a new person by year end.  Your family and friends will be thrilled to meet the new you!  Now forward this and encourage them to join your journey.

Create 12 different goals for yourself each representing one month.  Instead of trying to commit to perfect one thing over the entire year, you will be setting small goals that last 1 month each.  You can use the examples provided or change to your liking.


January:  This is the easiest month because it’s early in the game and everyone is very motivated.  Eliminate one of your horrible health habits such as drinking too much, or smoking.  Everyone will be very different at this one.  Whatever you chose be sure to abide by it the entire month.  Maybe it’s drinking sweet tea for lunch every day.  Or eating your kids leftovers.  Make it challenging and write it below.




February:  Most are still pretty motivated so we are going to up the stakes.  No eating 2.5 hours prior to bedtime.  Only drink water to fulfill your hunger or go to bed.  This is when most people make poor judgments; therefore you need to eliminate the temptation.


March:  Drink 10 oz. of water before every meal or snack or alcoholic drink.  This will not only hydrate you well but it will cause you to make better choices because you won’t feel as hungry.  Also, if water isn’t available then you’re probably not getting ready to eat something healthy.


April:  Time to start getting in shape for summer!  Do 25 pushups and 25 sit ups every night.  This may be difficult for some.  Suck it up and do it.  If it is very easy then add 10 to it.  The goal is not to make it super difficult but just create a habit of doing them every night.


May:  Eat breakfast every morning.  Most people are not hungry in the morning.  This is because they over eat at night and they have a slow metabolism.  Your metabolism won’t speed up overnight but this simple rule of thumb will get it there in time. 


June:  As much as you don’t want to hear it, quit your bad January habit again.  You’re half way to a new you.  The new you will not empower this habit.  No excuses like, school is out, or my kids are home and I’m so busy and stressed.  Think like its New Year’s again!


July:  Get 8 hours of sleep a night.  Sleep and stress are two leading factors to FAT.  You should be feeling much healthier at this point.  A good night’s sleep will help you be much more productive during the day.


August:  You should now feel like a completely new person with gobs of energy.  Add 1 hour of cardio 3 days a week.  Put that energy to good use and start creating a healthier heart.  You can use a bike, treadmill, cross trainer or just go out for an hour walk. 


September:  Never eat past FULL.  This is why America is so fat.  It’s not about the food we eat.  It’s about how much of it we eat.  When you are eating and you feel satisfied, STOP.  Don’t keep going just to finish your plate or because it taste so good.


October:  This is my Birthday month so I’m going with my favorite.  Eat six times a day.  This will also help speed up your metabolism.  Obviously you don’t want huge meals but every few hours you should be eating small portions.


November:  Implement your least 3 favorite monthly Goals from the last 10 months.  It’s almost the holiday season when people struggle the most so you really need to reach out and try hard ahead of time.  Write down what 3 months it’s going to be at the beginning of the year and see if it’s the same when the time comes. 




December:  Implement your three favorite monthly goals.  By this point you should already be doing this with ease, anyways.  Therefore, this is an entire cheat month.  Enjoy your holidays in MODERATION.  Now write down your next 12 months of Goals.