World War II Honor Flight, Bill Marvel’s Life in Racing, and Artist Elmer Lucille Allen

By Leslie Potter | 5/26/19 9:00 AM

World War II veterans board a flight honoring their service to our nation; Liberty may be home, but the Indianapolis Speedway is his heart – Bill Marvel has made a life in racing; and Elmer Lucille Allen is a pioneering scientist with artistic flair.

 

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World War II Honor Flight
Honor Flight is an organization that flies veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to Washington, D.C., where they visit the national memorials and other landmarks. In 2018, on the anniversary of D-Day, the Bluegrass chapter of Honor Flight hosted a special trip just for veterans of WWII.

The flight with a group of 62 veterans from around the region embarked from Louisville’s airport on June 6, 2018. Upon reaching D.C., their first stop was the World War II Memorial.

“You see all kinds of emotions,” says Jeff Thoke, Chairman of the Board of the Bluegrass Chapter of Honor Flight. “This Honor Flight is about them, the WWII veterans who are there, but they think about those that just didn’t come back.”

“It just touches you hard,” says U.S. Army veteran Glenn A. Fisher. “I’ll tell you, it’s a wonderful thing to see but yet it’s really heart-wrenching just to think of the ones that paid the supreme sacrifice.”

The veterans visited many of the traditional tourist sites around the nation’s capital, but they also paid tribute to their fellow veterans, visiting the Korea and Vietnam memorials.

“Even though they’re totally different wars if you talk to them all, the way they’re fought and so forth, there is a bond among all the veterans that you sense when you’re with them at the various memorials,” says Thoke.

Ernest Micka, a World War II Army veteran from Jefferson County, confirms this.

“I knew that they were thinking about somebody of theirs that didn’t come back,” says Micka, referring to the veterans visiting the Korea and Vietnam memorials. “And then I knew how they were feeling at the time. Because I left quite a few buddies there myself, and it gets to you.”

The final D.C. stop for the veterans is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.

“It just touches you, I’ll guarantee you that,” says Fisher. “It certainly touched me, and I’m a soldier from the old school. But you know, we’ve all got feelings and it just takes things like that to just really unnerve you.”

When the group returned to Kentucky, there was a surprise waiting for them at the Louisville Airport. Their family members and others from the community gathered together to greet and thank the veterans.

Kelli Oakley, Secretary of the Board for the Bluegrass Chapter of Honor Flight, explains why it’s so rewarding to be a part of the organization that facilitates these flights.

“It’s an honor to be part of it,” she says. “We feel like we are changing lives. We keep hearing that it’s the best day of the veterans’ lives. It’s a great thing.”

Bill Marvel and the Indy 500
Kentucky transplant Bill Marvel is the former Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Marketing for the United States Auto Club. But his ties to auto racing and its premier American event, the Indianapolis 500, go deeper than his career.

In 2019, Marvel attended his 75th consecutive Indy 500. His enthusiasm for the event dates back to his early childhood.

“I was five when I went to the speedway for the first time,” says Bill. He says he hasn’t missed a race since, and “…I would never miss a race unless they’re putting me in the ground.”

Bill is a Hoosier by birth, but he and his wife, Emily, now call Liberty, Kentucky, home.

“It wasn’t really very easy [to get Bill to Kentucky],” says Emily. “But my mother was living here on the farm and she was elderly, and she needed someone to watch over her. Bill had retired, and we just decided it was time to move down here a little closer to my mom.”

After Emily’s mother passed away, the Marvels moved into the farmhouse where Emily grew up, and they still call it their home today. But being a Kentuckian doesn’t stop Bill from continuing his lifelong enthusiasm for the Indy 500.

“The Indy 500 is the greatest spectacle in sports for me, personally,” says Bill. “I’d rather not be any other place in the month of May.”

Artist Elmer Lucille Allen
“Art is a part of life, and you think about everything that we do, it’s based on art,” says Louisville-based artist Elmer Lucille Allen. “All of the buildings, your roads. What I really like about it is that you’re able to set out and do what you want to do. You can create it and you’re also able to share it.”

Allen started doing art in the 1980s, and after retiring in 1997 from Brown-Forman, where she was the first African American chemist at the company, she found more time to dedicate to her craft. She went back to school in 2000 to earn her Master’s degree, which is where she found her passion for textiles.

“I was introduced to Shibori dyeing,” says Allen. “It was something I just enjoyed doing. We just did simple projects there, so I bought a book and read up on it, and then that’s what I decided that I wanted to do. That’s really what I love because it’s hand stitching. It’s meditative. You can carry it with you, and that’s really the love of my life.”

Allen uses a technique called stitch resist, where she stitches intricate designs into the fabric using cotton crochet thread.

“You do the designing up front, then it might take five or six months to finish a piece,” she explains. “The designs that you see within the pieces are usually geometric. They’re based on my mathematics background. You just take a running stitch, and the rows might be made with just a quarter of an inch between each row, and then after they’re all stitched, I pull them up, what you call gathering. You gather it, and then you secure the knots on the end. After you dye it, let it dry, take a seam ripper and you – very cautiously! – take your stitches out, and then you wash your fabric, and then you iron it, and then it’s ready to be displayed.”

Earlier this year, Allen’s art was featured at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana, alongside artwork from two other locally renowned artists.

“Miss Elmer Lucille Allen is a local icon in the art community, and so I was very interested in having an opportunity to exhibit her work here at the Carnegie Center,” says curator Daniel Pfalzgraf. “She said yes, but I would like to show with my two friends, Sandra Charles, and Barbara Tyson Mosley, and I think that really speaks to the kind of person that she is. True to being part of the community, bringing in others to share the spotlight with her.

“She’s also extremely encouraging of anyone that she comes in contact with,” Pfalzgraf adds. “I can’t even imagine how many hundreds of thousands of people that she is impacted over the years.”

Allen stays involved with many parts of the Louisville arts community not just as a working artist, but as a student with an unending desire to learn more and expand her skills.

“I took my first class at University of Louisville in 1981, and I’m still a student,” she says with a laugh. “I enjoy being around artists. I enjoy being around young artists. And you really don’t realize what you mean to other people. People see me and they say well how did you get to where you are, but you don’t get there overnight.”

At age 87, Allen has been a witness to changes in Louisville and in the arts community.

“I grew up in a totally black segregated Louisville in what you call the West End,” she says. “When I came up, I never heard about an African American artists. You don’t see them in books. You didn’t see about African American history. People haven’t been recognized.”

At an age when most people have long since retired, Allen has no inclination to slow down in her work as an artist.

“You’re always trying to make it better, so you’re never made your best piece,” she says. “You’re always trying to improve. You change. Your favorite piece is coming.”