Christy Brown signals old money crowd to get behind Bendapudi

Christy Brown is the reigning matriarch of the Brown dynasty in Louisville.

Old Louisville money spoke loudly about Neeli Bendapudi’s future as the new President when local philanthropist and socialite Christy Brown announced this week she was giving $5 million to the University of Louisville.

“Our university has today turned a glorious page, and it’s begun a new chapter with the arrival of our fabulous new president,” said Brown as she made a pledge to a new UofL Envirome Institute to study the effects of the environment on individual health.

The matriarch. The grande dame. Christy Brown had spoken. 

Brown was, in effect, announcing her blessing for Bendapudi just five weeks after she assumed the office at the UofL on May 15th. The importance of her actions can’t be overstated. The widow of the late Owsley Brown II is the matriarch of the powerful Brown family dynasty that derived its fortune from Brown-Forman Distillers.

The influence of the Browns and others in the extended family is pervasive. It was Christy Brown, remember, who hosted Prince Charles in Louisville during his four-day visit to the U.S. in 2015. The family also hosted Queen Elizabeth at the Kentucky Derby in 2007.

Christy Brown says Neeli Bendapudi’s presence turns a glorious new page for the University of Louisville.

Making the guest list for Brown’s  parties or events she attends is a must for the socially ambitious. She’s always the center of attention in any activity in which she participates, with ambitious admirers eager to greet and be seen with her.

Standing behind Brown at the UofL announcement were daughter Brook Brown and her husband Matthew Barzun, who was U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain under Obama. Barzun was once mentioned as a possible candidate for the UofL presidency. Also there was Augusta Brown, married to Gill Holland, a prominent Louisville developer credited with developing the NuLu area.

Close family connections with the Browns include the Fraziers, descendants of Garvin Brown, who founded Brown-Forman.  The late Owsley Brown Frazier, another BF executive, gave UofL a gift of $25 million in 2011. It remains the largest contribution in the school’s history.

Another generous contributor was Steve Wilson, married to Laura Lee Brown, cousin to late Owsley Brown II. The founder of 21C Hotels, Wilson was the UofL Trustee who started the revolt against former President Jim Ramsey in 2015. An open records request to UofL indicated that Wilson and his wife had contributed more than $1.3 million before Wilson resigned in 2015.

Sandra Frazier, the daughter of Amelia Brown Frazier and the niece of Owsley B. Frazier,  is a member of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. She’s also the owner of Tandem Public Relations and, more importantly, a member of the Board of Directors of the Glenview Trust Fund.

The person who runs Glenview Trust just happens to be J. David Grissom, the Chairman of the UofL Board of Trustees. Brown family members and their foundations are known to use Glenview Trust Co., currently managing an estimated $6.5 billion in assets. Clientele reportedly include 500 of the area’s wealthiest families.

Bendapudi has been non-stop coming aboard in mid-May, meeting with one decision maker after another.  Recent tweets included photos of her with power hitters David Jones and David Jones, Jr., of the C.E. & S. Foundation, and John Schnatter, of Papa John’s.

She has also met with leaders of the J. Graham Brown Foundation, the Humana Foundation, the David Novak (Yum!) family, and Kosair Charities, as well as the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Louisville  delegation to the General Assembly, the Kentucky Council on Post Secondary Education, the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate and the Student Government Association.

Bendapudi has been constantly on the go, touching all the bases with all the decision makers, the people who will make UofL whole again. Having the blessing of Christy Brown is a significant milestone, opening many more doors for the new administration.  A new chapter, indeed, for the University of Louisville.

UofL’s Sam Bordner will make a comeback, but at the next level

The sight of Sam Bordner confined to the bench, unable to help his University of Louisville teammates, was one of the most disappointing aspects of the 2016 college baseball season. UofL could have gone a long way with him at full strength. 

An arm injury brought Sam Bordner’s college career to a premature end (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Bordner was not available at the end, suffering from an inflamed elbow on his throwing arm. He would miss the last month and a half of the season, and would undergo Tommy John surgery on his right arm. 

On Thursday came the final lines to his UofL story, Bordner confirming what many UofL fans suspected he would do, he signed a professional contract with the Miami Marlins. He had been picked by Marlins in the 16th round of the draft, lower than this observer expected.

At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Bordner was an imposing image. Add to that those shoulder-length strands of blond hair falling out of his hat and a scorching fast ball, he was downright intimidating to some batters.

Bordner was named an All American following the 2017 season, compiling an amazing 0.41 earned run average in 43.2 inning and 23 games. Didn’t allow a run in 22 or 23 innings. He was on the mound when UofL eliminated Kentucky to earn its fourth trip to the College World Series. He seemed ready for a dominant season in 2017, picking up eight saves in his first 11 appearances.

The first signs of problems came in successive games against Florida State and North Carolina State. He would be the loser in both games, giving three runs to the Seminoles and four runs the Wolfpack, in the bottom half of the ninth inning in both games. He wound up with 10 saves for the season.

UofL’s Al Benninger among D-Day troops on Bluegrass Honor Flight

Al Benninger, a veteran of World War II and an honorary member of the University of Louisville stats team, returns to Louisville after a special D-Day Bluegrass Honor Flight to Washington, DC. (Charlie Springer photos).

Sixty-one World War II veterans were welcomed home by hundreds following a special Bluegrass Honor Flight that coincided with the 74th anniversary of D-Day. A special night in Louisville, a rare opportunity to thank troops who helped to preserve a way of life a long time ago.

Among the participants was Al Benninger, who was a member of the University of Louisville stats crew for 35 years. He was doing stats when UofL crew was selected to do the NCAA Tournament in 1969. He has been a honorary member of the stats crew, still sitting on press row since retiring in 2006.

Benninger, who served in the Navy, and his fellow veterans were flown to Washington for an overnight trip to see all of the war memorials, including the World War II memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. They were warmly greeted, receiving heroes’ welcomes at every stop along the way.

“It was incredible trip, nothing like I have ever seen,” said Benninger, who recently celebrated his 92nd birthday. “We really appreciate everything everyone did to honor us. It was great, too, meeting so many veterans and hearing their stories.”

The veterans returned to Louisville at approximately 7:30 p.m. on June 9th. But because there were so many veterans in wheelchairs (over 45 of them), the flight crew needed about an hour to get all of them off the airplane.

A huge roar went up as the veterans and their escorts came into view in the terminal. They were greeted by representatives of every segments of the military service, as well as groups from the American Legion and Disabled Veterans. The Thoroughbred Chorus was on hand, as was a special bagpipe band.

A celebration evoking joy, tears and memories of more innocent times. A chance for Louisvillians to say thanks for individuals who put it all on the line for their fellow Americans.

McDonnell, Tyra share high expectations for Louisville baseball

No last minute pitches unnecessary when one of the game’s traditional powers came calling. Dan McDonnell and Vince Tyra have been discussing the future of University of Louisville baseball for quite a while now. 

“I’ve enjoyed our conversations about the program and a relationship we’ve developed going back to when Dan first arrived in Louisville, and certainly over the last eight months,” said Tyra at a joint press conference Thursday.

Dan McDonnell reflects on past season, looks to future with Louisville baseball (Charlie Springer photos).

“That relationship has made the last few days it very comfortable for us to talk openly about what we would like to see for the Louisville program.”

McDonnell told fans Wednesday that he had talked with John Cohen at Mississippi State about the job but he wanted to remain at Louisville. 

A grateful Tyra said UofL wants to provide a great atmosphere for players, as much as facilities and more seats. “We’re exactly on the same page … We want to make sure we’re together with Dan for a long time, and that this is where he is going to stay. I’m going to do every thing in my power to keep him here and keep producing the kind of kids and winning teams we’ve had.”

He added that he has kept new UofL President Neeli Bendapudi informed about discussions. “She has been terrific,” he said. “Neeli has been hand in hand with both of us, and she has been supportive of someone who represents what we want this program and this university to be.”

When we get to Omaha, I want them to say, 'There's Louisville again.'  There's the bird with teeth, and there's their fans ...

McDonnell has received Tyra’s support for a new pro locker room addition to Jim Patterson Stadium to accommodate former UofL players now in professional baseball. There are approximately 30 of them now, many returning during the off season to study and to hone their athletic skills.

“Louisville is like a second home to them,” said McDonnell. “We want to provide a comfortable environment for them. We enjoy having them around in the locker room but it’s getting a little crowded with so many professional players now. They need to have their own facility.”

Tyra said he hoped a Request for Proposals could be submitted within the next 60 days, and indicated that the project could funded by a combination of private donations, athletic funds and the Dugout Club, a fan support group.

McDonnell said expectations for UofL baseball are at an all-time high. “The fans expect it, the media expects it, and I want college baseball to expect it. I want them to expect Louisville to be in a regional, hosting a regional, in a super regional. When we get to Omaha, I want them to say, ‘There’s Louisville again.’  There’s the bird with teeth, and there’s their fans and they’re a regular. We want to be knocking on the door to Omaha every year.”

Pretty obvious that Tyra and McDonnell have much in common with their aspirations for the program. 

Louisville softball fell short for Pearsall in NCAA competition

Sandy Pearsall resigns 19 years after launching UofL softball program (Charlie Springer photo).

Sandy Pearsall is out, submitting her resignation Tuesday as head coach of the University of Louisville softball team. Her decision to retire followed a second consecutive season in which UofL softball failed to make the NCAA tournament.

Coincidentally, Pearsall’s departure fell on the same day that Florida State was winning its first national championship with a win over Washington. FSU is the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to win a national title in a sport traditionally dominated by the Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference.

Pearsall’s teams were never much of a factor NCAA competition, winning only three of eight games in their last five appearances. They were 13-22 in 13 appearances in the tournament. Their failure to make the NCAA the past two years was disappointing.

Fans had high hopes for the program following the 2012 season when UofL won its first 28 games and the Big East conference and tournament titles. Great start, finishing 55-5 overall, but bowing out early again at NCAA tournament time.

Pearsall deserves credit for starting the program 19 years ago. Over that span she won 65% of her games, compiling  718-371 won-lost record, with at least 40 victories in eight seasons.

Wishing her well in retirement.