Kentucky Colonels: Advocates of Fair-Play and Honor

Becoming a Kentucky Colonel

A Great Honor to Serve as a Goodwill Ambassador for Kentucky

Editorial by Ambassador Col. David J. Wright

In 1996 I received the honorable title of Kentucky Colonel, at the time it was a recognition that was awarded based on being noted for an accomplishment or great deed that brings attention, prosperity and prominence to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Governor Paul Patton awarded me the commission at the recommendation of Judge Ray Corns after the Lexington Herald Leader did a an article about me focused on a tree distribution program I organized in North Carolina that distributed trees to hurricane victims from Berea, Kentucky.

I received the award with great honor and subsequently was named locally in newspaper articles in Kentucky and other parts of the United States as "Col. David Wright" instead of David Wright. It is also a title that helped me in my career and worked as a 'door opener' for continuing the tree program I had started for several years thereafter as the title condones authority when making initial contacts with corporations and the news media. It worked better for me than my university degree, also how I got the title is also a lead-in for a good backstory.

In the subsequent years like many Kentucky colonels I took the special title I was given for my deed, used it and told others about how I received Kentucky Colonel as a title and why it was important to me. I also unequivocally supported the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels which at the time sent membership cards and a product catalog of memorabilia which they sell for Kentucky colonels.

Starting a New Order for Kentucky Colonels

In 1998 I decided I wanted to give back to the Kentucky colonels and the Commonwealth by using the abilities I had learned to become successful on the Internet with the tree program as a webmaster to help promote the image and traditional ideals of Kentucky colonels around the world using the Internet, so I contacted the HOKC, but I was snubbed. They told me that their organization had no roles for its members, that members had no voting privileges and further that they were not interested in being online. They offered no privileges other than the annual membership card, unless I could donate more then I could be recognized with a medal. This encouraged me to establish a website for Kentucky colonels which could be found at [] from 1998 until 2002. When the HOKC discovered the website they had an attorney contact me at my home in Kentucky in 2001, threatening to take legal action against me and to remove the website.

The purpose of our website at the time was to offer exclusive Internet services to those who had been recognized with the Kentucky colonel commission, promote their ideas, foster good works and establish an online registry for Kentucky colonels to verify their status as colonels, something I discovered that neither the state or the HOKC organization were willing to do for Kentucky colonels.

If I had not been engaged as an international goodwill ambassador as a result of my becoming a colonel in the first place I may have engaged in the struggle to develop the project resulting in an independent organization, but based on some phone calls I received and contacts that were made by politicians to me it is nothing that would have turned out favorably for my startup website initiative. So in 2001 I continued in my life to go to work internationally as an ambassador establishing a new international organization in Kentucky and moving to Venezuela where I reside now protecting the Amazon from deforestation and working to empower the indigenous people to protect their lands that live in the forests here.

The HOKC is and always has been a powerful well-respected charitable institution with millions each year in funding, they were not about to allow another organization with our inspiration to take root in their territory, not for anyone's benefit. Either way I investigated the organization in depth to learn as much as I could, I read their Articles of Incorporation, though I learned quite a bit it at that time, it was many years ago. I came away from the experience with the understanding that they are not a true membership organization at all, they do not allow members to participate or have any input on the decision making process of the organization, nor did they hold any regular meetings. Most of their activities were dedicated to fundraising and processing mail.

I clearly understood that at very best they are legally stated as a non-membership 501(c)(3) organization that provides an honorary membership to their donors, which was fine; however it was not providing the type of fraternal or an active type of membership like the program or organization that I wanted to start, they had no basis for bullying and snuffing out the inspirations that I and other Kentucky colonels had or have today for themselves, somehow I knew that I would revisit this again someday.

Enter the Facebook Era

Years later, I came to revisit the ideal of establishing a membership group for Kentucky colonels that promotes colonels based on their desire to continue to be recognized as goodwill ambassadors for the Commonwealth and to continue doing good deeds for others through programs and projects involving Kentucky colonels. Then in 2008 I saw a group on Facebook that was founded by other Kentucky Colonels in the social media which were not affiliated or under the administration of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.

After being a member there for a short-time I applied to become an administrator of the Facebook group and started the first Facebook Page dedicated to Kentucky Colonels in 2009 which remains today as part of the Facebook group. Now today the page and organization is administered by eight very distinguished ladies and gentlemen who have been made Kentucky colonels since the late 1990s.

As a result of my discovery in 2008 I searched Facebook for other groups and found several, I also discovered that at that same time that the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels (HOKC) was not online yet, so I pleasantly contacted them offering them services online free for their members, my offer was flatly rejected again, that was in 2009. By 2013 I was contacted by them once again requesting that we change the name of our Facebook Group and Page so that it does not use the term "Kentucky Colonels" in our name, because they were claiming these words as their own trademark. This is something I did not agree to fully comply with.

They felt that we were confusing members to believe that we were connected in some way to them because we were using 'KentuckyColonels' as our Facebook user name and group name. I agreed to publish a disclaimer that clearly stated to members of our social media circles that we are not affiliated with their charity or organization and added the word "international" to our Facebook group as well. Our Facebook page has always carried the name "Kentucky Colonels International" and has never inferred or insinuated that we are part of the HOKC, which all of us implicitly are a part of through their organizational design.

There is another large group of several thousand called the "Kentucky Colonels on Facebook" which started in 2009 by Col. Jon Meier, they claim the be the largest (unofficial) Facebook group which also states that is not associated or affiliated with the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.

All of us as colonels are individually associated with HOKC based on the terms of their free non-obligatory membership and initial voluntary offer to recognize us as a part of their charity (when I became a colonel), but moreover we are all Kentucky colonels that were independently of the HOKC commissioned and awarded an honor from the governor prior to becoming recognized by their private non-profit charity organization. No one is selected to become a Kentucky colonel based on how much support they can potentially provide to the independent charitable organization, at least they are not supposed to be, it is a strictly honorable commission that is given without condition, and is not about money or charity, but the deed by which a person becomes a colonel in the first place and supporting the tradition of looking for others that truly deserve the title given they can get the governor's personal attention.

Governor Matthew Bevin presenting a Kentucky Colonel Commission to Honorable Yuan Zhang of the China Daily now member of Kentucky Colonels International and the Honorable Order (Photo Credit China Daily and Facebook)

It is fine when the governor recognizes someone directly as Governor Bevin has above with Col. Yuan Zhang, as well it would also be alright if he reads a letter from another colonel somewhere in the world asking him to review their nomination; there is no substitute for this actual presentation and recognition, however there is not so much honor in a program where hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Kentucky colonels are automatically being recognized which have never actually become known to the Governor or the Secretary of State for their deeds. For the title of Kentucky Colonel to remain the special distinctive and great honor that it is, it needs to be a title that is distributed more sparingly, all those who are Kentucky colonels mostly agree with this.

It is actually important to Kentucky colonels who other Kentucky colonels actually are and what they do. Kentucky Colonels International members naturally want to know how their peers have come to be colonels, it is something that exists naturally among members of "fraternal orders" which in reality represents traditional ideals resulting in common fraternity and mutual cooperation potential.

We welcomed Col. Zhang just a day or two after he was given the Kentucky Colonel title, so you know it is a great honor to be recognized by taking a photograph presenting your commission with either the Governor of Kentucky, another Kentucky colonel that may present it to you or even by yourself after you receive it, as they say a picture is worth a thousand words. Thanks to his presentation in Kentucky Colonels International he received a better average welcome than anyone else has for a very long time.

Kentucky Colonel postcard.

Honor of the Kentucky Colonel Title may be Endangered

In 2016 the development of our independence in the social media became more important because under Governor Matthew Bevin the governor's office suspended issuing commissions and revamped the nomination process that broke with an 80+ year tradition of the nomination policy, now allowing only "active" supporters (donors) of the private 501(c)(3) HOKC to make nominations using an online form.

Apparently the HOKC convinced the governor's office under Former Governor Steve Beshear to permit an online registration form which they hosted which significantly increased the number of colonelships being awarded during his administration (thousands), but it also made the award of a commission less meaningful and easier to obtain. By the time Governor Bevin took over he was overwhelmed with nominations and halted the program to find a better solution.

The old system which was honored by Former Governor Steve Beshear along with the online version was removed as a result of Governor Bevin's change to the system. The classic "old system" had involved a "paper nomination card in cover with a letter" to the governor from Kentucky colonels who wished to nominate someone for the title and commission in recognition of a good deed or accomplishment that warranted the making of a new Kentucky colonel.

Personally I liked the older system because it allows commissioned colonels to include photographs, newspaper articles and make a detailed account that honorably presents the nominee better than an electronic form can and it is one which most colonels agreed with it lasted over 80 years. It should not be an easy or simple process to nominate someone as a Kentucky colonel!

It was an unlawful and unethical act for the governor to revoke or limit the privileges of Kentucky colonels granted by previous governors based on them making an annual contribution to a private charity without taking over the organization completely and remaking it an official or quasi state agency or office, otherwise it is diminished in its status. Legally speaking the award does not belong to the HOKC, but to the office of the governor which precedes them. However for the time being the HOKC is vetting each Kentucky colonel nomination under the current requirements and policy implemented by Governor Bevin. Business has never been so good either for the HOKC.

What Happened to the Original Organization?

Many believe that under the Republican governor that the HOKC has also been somewhat nationalized to assimilate some of the values of the Trump administration with the change of their logo from a traditional Kentucky motif to one representing the American flag shield and updating the HOKC's social media profile which is also known today as "Kentucky Colonels - National Headquarters" instead of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels (HOKC), sort of putting themselves in charge of the commission and other small organizations at least nationally that set up as fraternal groups, there are perhaps 20 independent civil societies in the United States. I don't hold an opinion over their name or the politics that may have been behind the changes I was never dependent on the HOKC for my recognition but on the title itself. Maybe it would have been better for colonels if they had changed their online name to International Headquarters or just Headquarters it would have held more authority.

Changing their name from the "Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels" to "Kentucky Colonels - National Headquarters" was probably not the best of their decisions, I view it as an attempt to come up first in the social media which also changed their distinction to become more aligned with national values and the United States rather than those of the "Commonwealth of Kentucky" which are distinct.

This is important to me because I live outside of Kentucky today, possess individual beliefs that promote the international ideals of the United Nations and I am not aligned with either Republican or Democratic party values, despite being a proud American and a Kentuckian both values that I hold to the highest regard. Either way present day politics are a joke in my opinion and do not fairly represent the people, instead the corporations benefit with a voice, who have no vote but lots of money, such as the HOKC.

The fact of the matter is that the HOKC did not create the commission or the title of Kentucky Colonel, the HOKC does not credit the organizations that existed before they did around the turn of the 20th century and it is unfair to all those who were already commissioned as colonels to have to "activate" their membership to gain a privilege over what they already had and were given for life (based on an organization which provides no voting privileges or genuine member benefits).

The nomination process implemented under Governor Bevin in 2016 undermines and waters down the honor, integrity, privilege and validity from the legal jurisdiction of the letters patent issued by the Governor through the involvement a private charity like the HOKC or National Colonels as they may soon be called? Having an automated system involving the HOKC to produce a document that is valid as a "Letters Patent" is a significant statement on the behalf of the Governor which would clearly not hold any genuine legal authority for the title holder or their jurisdiction over its issuance making it an valid warrant or letters patent.

Formal Fraternal and Membership Organizations

Today like many other Kentucky Colonel organizations and brigades around the world we are an unincorporated loosely organized group of Kentucky colonels, that exist predominantly in the social media with members that truly believe in themselves as Kentucky colonels.

Some of the groups are independently chartered and organized professionally with statutes and bylaws, some of them even support the HOKC by sending a portion of their dues and donations to the National Headquarters for the Good Works Fund or by compelling their members to maintain an annual membership card from the HQ. They are all organizations that support Kentucky colonels (perhaps more so, because they are organized as member organizations) as their own independent fraternal efforts functioning as local organizations in Toronto, Hong Kong, Vienna, New York, Philadelphia, Italy, Florida and the United Kingdom. Many of their members are also our members or were inspired by our efforts online to develop their own civil society organizations.

Some of the better organized independent groups are the Kentucky Colonels Switzerland, the UK Brigade of Kentucky Colonels and the Kentucky Colonels of Central and Southeastern Kentucky. There are perhaps as many as 40 more organizations that have been formed by Kentucky colonels that are or were formed independently supporting the ideals inspired by their commissions as Kentucky colonels in their own communities, which is very honorable, purposeful to our global society and to the goodwill of the Commonwealth.

Reversing the Bevin Policy

The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels has no authority in law or within their charter that gives them the legal right to abuse power (currently), infiltrate online forums or to approach organizations such as ours with scare tactics, legal demands or attempts to dominate who and what "Kentucky colonels" are or are actually capable of doing. To influence the Gov. Bevin to only allow current annual donors of their private charity to make nominations was a big mistake and very unfair to the traditional and customary status of the Kentucky Colonel.

While a well-intentioned Governor Bevin may believe he made the process better by charging the HOKC with the mandate of vetting future colonels and making current Kentucky colonels more responsible by forcing them to donate to an independent private charity each year in order to continue to make nominations, or remain on the HOKC mailing list will not remain be allowed to remain. His maneuver was actually a move that compromised the entire ideal and the degree of honor involved in the receipt of the commission unless instituted by the governor's office independently and unilaterally as it once was without the unethical and unlawful involvement of the private HOKC charity or as they are known today Kentucky Colonels - National Headquarters.

While the state under Governor Bevin currently serves the HOKC organization and engages it as a private contractor, instead of the organization serving the needs of its colonels (as a non-membership prerequisite charity) has become awkward situation for other organizations that wish to serve Kentucky colonels, the meaningfulness of the ideal, to exist or to fully respect the commission as the independent high honor it once was. KCI along with these other organizations and groups will not consider that matter resolved until colonels "active" and "inactive," all of them, have their traditional customary rights restored, Gov. Bevin's policy reverted and the online nomination form removed or improved under the confidential control of the Office of the Governor or Secretary of State.

The fact as to whether we as Kentucky colonels personally support the HOKC which is legally a non-membership organization needs to be the decision of Kentucky colonels and those who choose to support their charity, not a condition of our service as colonels or recent activity with their particular organization. Becoming a Kentucky colonel is a lifetime appointment and proud honor that cannot be subjugated to a conditional status by a third party unless done so voluntarily.

What is next for Kentucky Colonels International?

I reserved myself from making any nominations during the tenancy of Gov. Bevin in the governor's office, first because of the suspension of issuing titles in 2016 and second because of the conditions he imposed on colonels to exclusively support the HOKC, which is an after fact option of the title and the honor. I have not supported the Honorable Order because of all I know about them, philanthropy and nonprofits in general, it promotes only programs for Kentucky in Kentucky. It is not a real membership organization and does not serve its members or their needs, however their charitable programs are very good and do help others, that is what is most important. The Good Works Fund provides much needed support to many charities and programs across Kentucky.

As a professional ambassador working overseas I decided to reserve these opinions during Governor Bevin's administration, one thing that I have learned as an ambassador is that mistakes made by government officials in policy or practice are never corrected until a new government takes its place.

Now perhaps under the new Governor-Elect Andy Beshear who will take office on December 10th we can convince him to revert Governor Bevin's nomination policy to create a more transparent model that better serves the needs of Kentucky colonels, takes into account the deed of the person being nominated, creates more accountability by limiting nominations and replaces the current electronic nomination method which has been taken out of the hands of the governor's office.

Meanwhile Kentucky Colonels International (currently one of our programs) has introduced an international registration program for Kentucky colonels to individually certify and register their titles in an overseas registry operated by our organization that provides registrants a non-state IDaaS (Identity-as-a-Service) credential to access online services through Google and other SSO (Single-Sign-On) providers. The project includes an international registration certificate and a lifetime membership card that is issued within 60-90 days of your registration three times per year, the first registration will take place in March of 2020, the signup form is online now. Most members will receive their IDaaS sooner than to their registration certificates or ID cards.

New Commission of Kentucky Colonels

Also Kentucky Colonels International has decided to form and charter an international commission made up of distinguished Kentucky colonels to protect and defend the great honor of the commission of being nominated confidentiality to the governor by another colonel as a goodwill ambassador to the Commonwealth for a meritorious or noteworthy deed that deserves the attention of the Governor. The new Kentucky Colonels International Commission (KCIC) currently includes members from several different organizations and civil societies that were established for colonels that are not directly affiliated or governed by the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.

Currently serving on Kentucky Colonels International Commission are Col. David Wright of Venezuela, Col. Maria Veneke of Sweden, Col. Luis Cruz Diaz of Puerto Rico, Col. Jon Meier of Utah, Col. Nicholas Wright of Kentucky, others will be added soon. Those interested in serving on the commission can join by registering their title and postulating themselves for consideration by the other members of the commission to participate as a member or on the executive council. Currently the only rule is that each member of the executive council must live in a different state or country. The findings of the commission will be published following debate and full understanding of the history and culture of the use of the term Kentucky colonels, preservation of the title of Kentucky Colonel as part of Kentucky tradition, the role of a Kentucky colonel after being distinguished with the honor and what the title means to each of them.

The special international commission has convened online using the secure IDaaS credential, it is open to all those who can prove they are Kentucky colonels and register their letters patent internationally. For those who do not need their title recognized internationally or the IDaaS credential the commissioners offer free membership to all Kentucky colonels using Facebook and are current voluntary members of Kentucky Colonels International and Kentucky Colonels on Facebook that have been commissioned.

Globcal International as the registration agent assures its colonels can be recognized outside of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and outside of the United States which will potentially bring additional prominence to those who participate with acknowledgement and recognition by other heads of state through our notification system. We also have hopes of establishing a fund for Kentucky colonels that wish to become involved in goodwill missions internationally representing themselves as goodwill ambassadors for the Commonwealth. Membership in KCI is free in the social media on Facebook to colonels who can prove they are colonels, donations are currently being accepted online at our website to improve our program, membership organization and online presence.
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