A memorial service for O. Leonard Press was held at the KET studios in Lexington on Friday, September 20, 2019. Watch a video of the full service below. The service program is available here.
He was a visionary and he was an inspiration. He was an outsider who made the Commonwealth his home — and, ultimately, changed it forever.
With a dream of bringing quality learning resources to every community across the state, he created KET, serving as its founding executive director. And since its debut in 1968, KET has touched countless citizens, both young and old, transforming individuals and the state along the way.
O. Leonard Press, KET’s founder and first executive director, died Wednesday, July 31 at the age of 97, leaving behind his wife, Lillian, their son, Lowell, and daughter-in-law, Sasha Stoneman Press, and two grandsons, Logan and Hayden.
“Len Press inspired everyone who knew him, especially those who were fortunate to work with him, including myself,” said Shae Hopkins, who was hired by Press in 1986 and became KET’s fourth executive director in 2010. “Following his retirement in 1991, Len remained KET’s most passionate advocate.” added Hopkins.
Virginia G. Fox succeeded Press as executive director after his 1991 retirement. “Len Press loved Kentucky and its people very deeply,” said Fox. “No matter what KET project was proposed, his first question was invariably, how will it help Kentucky? What will the return on investment be in human capital? He did not just care for Kentucky, he acted upon his love of Kentucky. And we and future generations are all better for his labors.”
“Across Kentucky, I saw the heroic struggle to provide equal education thwarted by the barrier of unequal resources,” Press recalled in 2011. “It was essential that we harness the power of television to assure the education and enrichment of our people so they would have every possible opportunity. We could not afford to accept less.”
The idea for KET was born one winter in the late 1950s when Press, then head of broadcast TV at the University of Kentucky met Alice Slone, the founder and director of the rural Lott’s Creek Community School in Cordia, which received no state funds and lacked accreditation.
The tribute video below was played at the conclusion of the memorial service on Sept. 20.
The slideshow below features photos that were displayed during the reception after the service.
“Of course, I’m thinking, ‘Wow — if we could get television in there, they could have the courses they need for accreditation!’ he recalled.
At that time, all over the nation, people were making the connection between television and education. Here in Kentucky, Press sought not only to improve basic education in the mountains — but throughout the entire Commonwealth.
“The fact of my times, my upbringing — all of that contributed to the drive I felt about this,” Press said. “I really wanted to do this. It was something I couldn’t get out of my mind.”
Once established, KET produced and aired educational programs for schools throughout the state. Press hired a cadre of educators to fan out across the state, teaching the teachers how to effectively use TV in the classroom.
That personal touch that Press deemed so necessary has informed KET’s education offerings ever since.
Press also felt strongly that KET could be used to take aim at Kentucky’s alarming illiteracy rate, as well as its high school dropout rate. Under his leadership, KET launched its GED®-on TV series, the predecessor of today’s KET FastForward service, which led to KET’s national reputation and eventually to it becoming the country’s largest non-profit GED publisher.
Other important programs and services followed: Comment on Kentucky, and live coverage of the Kentucky General Assembly, KET’s own college telecourses, and a bounty of professional development resources for K-12, early childhood and adult-education instructors as well.
“We’ve never deviated from the mission Len established for KET,” said Hopkins. “The legacy of Len Press will live on through the millions of lives that have been improved and enriched because of his vision, brilliance, tenacity and goodwill.”
The family asks that those wishing to honor Len kindly consider a contribution to KET.
In the 1950s and 60s, KET founder O. Leonard Press saw the potential of television to provide equitable access to high-quality instruction in schools throughout the Commonwealth. Learn about KET’s history and its commitment to education and Kentucky programming throughout its 50 years of public service. WATCH: The KET Story
In honor of KET’s 40th anniversary, founder O. Leonard Press discussed its mission, history, and service to the Commonwealth. Press captured the story of the network’s creation in his book The KET Story: A Personal Account. WATCH: Leonard Press on One to One with Bill Goodman