A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Daughter’s gift to University of Kentucky Libraries continues legacy of Earle C. Clements

By Whitney Hale
Special to KyForward

When the National Archives and the University of Kentucky Libraries Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center present this year’s Earle C. Clements Innovation in Education Awards to three Central Kentucky history/civics educators Wednesday at the Special Collections Research Center Great Hall, in the Margaret I. King Library Building, it will be just one more display of a legacy of giving back started by Clements and continued today by his daughter, Bess Clements Abell, and her family.

The Clements Award honors the life and career of Earle C. Clements and his lifelong commitment to education and public service. Clements’ political career included service as a county sheriff, clerk and judge; terms in the state senate and as governor; and terms in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, where he was a close colleague to future President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Made possible by a gift from Bess Clements Abell, Earle Clements’ daughter and a member of the UK Libraries National Advisory Board, and her husband, Tyler, the Clements Award has been presented to the best Kentucky history/social studies/civics teachers annually since 2015.

The Clements Awards presentation is just one display of a legacy of giving back started by Earle C. Clements and continued today by his daughter, Bess Clements Abell, and her family. (Photo from UK Now)

But, the Clements Award is just one way the Abells are giving back. In 2007, the Abell family established the Earle C. Clements Graduate Research Fellowship at UK Libraries. And most recently, they made a $500,000 gift last year to establish the Earle C. Clements Memorial Endowment Fund to support UK Libraries’ programs in the areas of public policy, government and archival research that preserve and promote the legacy of Earle C. Clements.

The Clements Memorial Endowment will be used to organize an Earle C. Clements lecture/symposium that will feature renowned speakers or scholars in the areas of public policy, government and archives and provide opportunities for Earle C. Clements graduate fellows or interns to present their research, while honoring Clements’ impact on 20th century public policy and government.

The endowment will not only fund the lecture series, but it will also tie together the other Clements projects.

Bess Clements Abell is a native of Morganfield, Kentucky. She attended public schools in Kentucky and Washington, D.C., when her father served in Congress. Bess graduated from Ward-Belmont High School in Nashville, Tennessee. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from UK.

In 1960, Bess served on the Presidential Inaugural Committee. She became secretary to Lady Bird Johnson in 1960 and held that position until 1963 when she became White House social secretary. Between 1969 and 1976, Bess planned special events and served as executive director of the Democratic Governors’ Conference. In 1977, she became executive assistant to Joan Mondale in the Office of the Vice President.

After several years of public service, Bess established Bess Abell Enterprises, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. Since 1990, she and her husband, Tyler, have developed Merry-Go-Round Farm, a residential community near Washington, D.C. Bess and Tyler have two sons and four grandchildren.

Chosen by an independent review panel, Clements Award applicants are judged on the following criteria: ability to demonstrate knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the subject and commitment to increasing student awareness of the importance of public service; expertise in civics and history content and the ability to share it with students; impact on student success; and evidence of creativity and innovation.

“We had an extremely strong candidate pool this year,” said Clements Award jury member Ben Chandler, former U.S. congressman for Kentucky’s Sixth District. “I was impressed with the dedication and creativity Kentucky educators bring to their classrooms, and I am proud to be part of a program that recognizes and rewards their efforts and talent.”

Clements Award recipients are selected from elementary, middle and high school history and/or civics (social studies) teachers throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Amy Michele Madsen has taught social studies in Kentucky for 26 years. Currently, she teaches U.S. history and African American history at George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester, where she serves as chair of the Social Studies Department. Madsen is a member of the HEART cadre, the only active grant for teaching history in the U.S. and was a 2016-17 PBS Digital Innovator. In March, she studied the history of space flight at NASA in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This September, Madsen will present at the Ohio Council for the Social Studies annual conference “Diversity in Democracy.” Outside of her work in the field of history, she sponsors her school’s National Honor Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Off campus, Madsen is a member of Winchester’s Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Committee, which sponsors the annual MLK Jr. Unity Day celebration. Madsen earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from UK, as well as a master’s degree in history.

Since 2007, Steven K. Riley has taught social studies at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, where he currently serves as chair of the department. Riley’s courses include AP (Advanced Placement) U.S. government, citizenship and criminal justice. Outside of the classroom, he has served as Henry Clay’s head cross country coach, treasurer of the Fayette County Education Association and as a member of Fayette County’s redistricting committee. Born and raised in Lexington, Riley holds a bachelor’s degree in history education from Eastern Kentucky University and a master’s degree in history education from the University of the Cumberlands.

Whitney Walker has spent her entire 12-year teaching career at Lafayette High School in Lexington, where she teaches courses in government and geography. She is a sponsor of the Lafayette Geographical Society and Young Democrats, which are platforms created to promote civic engagement and community service. During the summers, Walker serves as adjunct faculty in UK’s Department of Geography, where she leads a course for graduate students who will soon be high school social studies teachers. A native of Carrollton, Kentucky, she holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in secondary social studies from UK and is currently a doctoral student in the College of Education.

Whitney Hale writes for UK Now

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