Christy Brown signals old money crowd to get behind Bendapudi at UofL

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 Benedapudi just five weeks after she assumed the office at the UofL on May 15th. The importance of her actions can’t be understated. 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.

Brown is a leading socialite, and very active in philanthropic activities. Making the guest list for her event is a must for the socially conscious. She’s always the center of attention in any activity in which she participates, with ambitious admirers eager to 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 executive at Brown-Forman, 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, Christy Brown’s son-in-law, married to Laura Lee Brown.  Wilson, founder of 21C Hotels, was the former 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 non-stop 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 Human 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 her.  A new chapter, indeed, for the University of Louisville.

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.

Neeli Bendapudi big hit in first game at Jim Patterson Stadium

Baseball Coach Dan McDonnell and President Neeli Bendapudi at her first University of Louisville baseball game (Charlie Springer photos).

Neeli Bendapudi was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the University of Louisville – Indiana University baseball game on Tuesday.  A few days earlier, however, she had suffered a torn rotator cuff while unpacking at her new UofL home.

UofL softball pitcher Meagan Hensley threw out the first pitch for UofL President Neeli Bendapudi.

Meagan Hensley, a UofL softball pitcher, would happily throw the ball for Bendapudi at her first athletic event as the new University of Louisville President.  She was accompanied by her husband Venkat, a senior lecturer in the School of Business at Kansas University.

Bendapudi departed Jim Patterson Stadium shortly after the game started, presumably for other UofL business, only to return during the seventh inning. She was seen walking the steps in different areas of stadium, introducing herself to many of the 2,257 fans in attendance.

Venkat Bendapudi is a senior lecturer in the Business School at Kansas U.

People were eager to get to know her, letting her know how excited they were to have her in Louisville. Many of them wanting to have their pictures taken with her. Neeli, in return, happily posing with them, frequently throwing up the L sign, laughing, smiling, loving every minute of the interaction with the fans.

This observer actually had a couple of minutes before the game to chat with her, finding her to be engaging, warm and enthusiastic.  She makes a great first impression with everyone she meets, exuding a sincere and determined desire to do great things at UofL.

She’s clearly excited to be in Louisville and was busy cementing friendships for the University at her first UofL baseball game. Watch for her soon at a Louisville sporting event near you.

Neeli Bendapudi was everywhere in Jim Patterson stadium it seemed, engaging and getting to know UofL fans on her first day on the job.

Bendapudi ushers in a new era at the University of Louisville

A new person in the President’s Office at the University of Louisville today, ushering in a new era.  Surely an end to the divisiveness that has plagued the campus for the past three years.

Time to move on.

Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, the 18th President at UofL, was welcomed by approximately 200 students, staff and faculty members to her first day on the job on the steps of Grawemeyer Hall early Tuesday morning. And with that milestone, one transformation is complete, and the vacuum has been filled.

A new day in more ways than one for the school that was founded 220 years ago in 1798. Over the past several months, the University has also selected a new Chief Operating Officer, a new Dean of the Brandeis School of Law, a new Dean of the J.B. Speed Engineering School, in addition to a new Athletic Director and a new Basketball Coach. One of the few key administrative jobs remaining open is that of Provost, who will work side-by-side with Bendapudi on raising the school’s academic profile.

Bendapudi seems to be exactly what the University needs right now, with an impressive background in marketing and fundraising at Kansas University. She obviously appeals to many UofL support groups, with her status as a female, as a person of color,  and with her foreign birth. She has stressed her emphasis on diversity and inclusion at every appearance thus far. 

Especially refreshing is that she embraces a wider definition of diversity than the tired racial themes, including diversity of thoughts and beliefs. That would be a positive direction, considering the negative fallout from liberal mandates at many U.S. universities.

The University had made great strides over the past two decades before getting embroiled in a series of controversies. Some of them the result  of the previous administration’s actions, others stemming from political agendas, others from liberal and conservative differences, and still others from state rivalries. UofL has survived, however, largely because the school means so much to so many people throughout the community and state, and is ready to start moving forward again.

We wish Neeli Bendapudi well, looking forward to some fresh new approaches, using creative and innovative ideas to help the University of Louisville not only survive but become an even more positive influence in our lives.

UofL academic building more spectacular than artist renderings

A view of the new academic classroom facility from the lobby of the adjacent Geoscience Building.

One of the things that had to greatly impress Neeli Bendapudi when she was being considered for the job of President of the University of Louisville was the construction of a new $83 million academic classroom building in the heart of the campus.

Lots of windows and curves, setting the structure apart from all others, enabling spectacular views inside and outside. It’s going to be a magnet for UofL students and faculty all days long and into the evenings.

The south end of the new classroom building.

The architectural renderings were impressive when they were unveiled three years ago but the actual structure will be even more breathtaking. The finishing touches are currently being placed on the four-story, 161,000-square-foot building with a scheduled opening for the 2018 fall semester. 

Lots of fine architecture, including many historic buildings, already on Belknap Campus but this newest one will be the most grandiose of all, reflecting a stunning commitment from past and current leaders at UofL to academic excellence. Features include:

  • 20 state-of-the-art active learning classrooms
  • Student Success Center, which includes Resources for Academic Achievement (REACH), Exploratory Advising, First Year Initiatives and student success coordinators
  • 11 group study rooms
  • Seven seminar rooms
  • A multipurpose teacher space
  • Six chemistry labs
  • Four biology labs
  • Three physics labs and one anthropology-physics lab

Those rooms not only include the state-of-the-art classrooms, but also large public spaces that are purposefully designed to encourage students to stick around between their classes. John Stratton, Senior UofL Architect, describes them as “quasi library spaces.”

There are no TVs, but the lounge areas are furnished with upholstered, comfortable chairs and coffee tables. There are power outlets and connectivity options for phones and laptops.

“The focus is on students learning in groups, working together, sharing information and working with the latest technologies,” said Stratton. “To support that, there are interactive computer systems within the classrooms. It is different from a traditional lecture-style space. It’s more about the interaction between the instructors and students and learning together.”

Stratton likes the wide open space in front of the building, describing it as a sort of metaphor for reaching out to new students.

“There is a great deal of glass and vision in and out of the building. That is to encourage transparency in a number of ways. We wanted a building where you can see the activity happening in the building and, from the inside, you can see what’s happening outside. This is good not only for security reasons, but to show students that we’re transparent and that we care about them,” Stratton said.