A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Lucille Caudill Little: Her philanthropy leaves
a lasting, impactful, meaningful legacy

By Barbara A. Fischer
Special to KyForward


It would be almost impossible to over-estimate the impact Lucille Caudill Little has had on the arts in Kentucky. It would be even harder to find an arts organization in our region that has not been touched by her generosity.  


During her lifetime, Mrs. Little personally contributed over $30 million to education, the arts, and human services. After her death in 2002, the foundation she established to carry out her vision awarded another $20 million to further the causes she cared so deeply about.  


“I wish people could feel the power of the arts,” Mrs. Little told Ed Lane of Lane Consultants during an interview in 2001 when she was 92. “The arts have led me into such beautiful pathways. I would like everybody to have that experience.” 


Lucille Caudill was born in 1909 in Morehead, Kentucky, the daughter of Rosetta Proctor and Daniel Boone Caudill, a well-known, well-respected judge. Today, thanks to a $1 million matching grant from the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation in 2004, the Old Rowan County Courthouse where her father once presided has now been renovated and transformed to become home to the Rowan County Arts Center. This state-of-the-art facility houses the Morehead Art Guild, the Cave Run Arts Association, the Morehead Theatre Guild, the Rowan County Historical Society, and museum and artists’ spaces. Additional Little Foundation grants totaling over $200,000 have since been awarded for the Fuse the Muse Project, which encourages Rowan County artists of all disciplines to come together to combine their talents in surprising, innovative ways. 


Lucille’s parents inspired her life-long love for the arts and education. Lucille’s father told his five children that he would pay for their college educations for as long as they wanted to attend. Lucille, the eldest, took his offer to heart. She attended eleven colleges including Morehead State University, Transylvania University, the University of Kentucky, Stetson College in Florida, the Julliard School of Music, Columbia University, and Ohio State University. At Ohio State, Lucille auditioned for and was awarded the university’s first-ever scholarship for voice.  She received her bachelor’s degree from Ohio State in the late twenties. During their interview in 2001, Ed Lane asked Lucille if she found it a burden to be so well-educated during a time when women were not expected to excel and succeed. Her reply: “Never thought about it. Never worried about it.” 


Lucille Caudill met her husband, Paul Little, at a “hop club,” as she described it, in Mt. Sterling. She was back home in Morehead from Ohio State during Christmas break when her friends invited her to go to the dance club. Paul was there with his friends. It was love at first sight.


And it just so happened that Paul had a race horse that he often brought to Beulah Park, a small race track not far from Ohio State University—and Lucille. They dated for six years—a rather long courtship for the time. But Lucille wanted to pursue her career. When she received a scholarship from Julliard, she moved to New York to study there. She appeared in plays and operas on many New York City stages. But eventually she realized that the rigors of performing were taking their toll. She decided that the life of a performer was not for her. After much soul-searching, she decided to give up her career in drama and agreed to marry Paul Little in 1937 when she was 27. 


“You often wonder what you might have done,” she said. “But I never grieved over that. No. Not at all.” 


After her marriage, Lucille continued to be involved with the arts and education. She served on the faculty of Morehead State University where she established departments of speech and drama. She was a volunteer teacher at Sayre School and a soprano soloist at Central Christian Church.    


Paul Little died in 1990. They’d been happily married for 53 years. During his final illness, Paul encouraged Lucille to pursue her interest in supporting the arts. Lucille was aware that her husband, a successful horse breeder and businessman, was a wealthy man. As she often said, she knew they had money, but she neither knew nor cared how much. Still, when Paul’s will was read, she was amazed to discover what an enormous fortune he’d left her, his sole heir. Lucille made provisions for family members. Then she devoted herself to her first love: the arts.  


During the next ten years, Lucille made many generous contributions to the arts and education. She supported other types of organizations as well, including The Salvation Army, Hospice of the Bluegrass, United Campus Ministries, and St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead—close to $30 million in all. She became a celebrated philanthropist and patron of the arts—and received an overwhelming number of requests for funding on a daily basis. Lucille decided that she needed a way to evaluate requests more efficiently. She also made the decision to become more strategic in her philanthropy.  


In 1999, she established the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation. Its mission statement: Generally to promote education and, specifically, to develop creativity mainly through the fine arts. Board members were selected for their expertise in the arts and education — and in investment management. Lucille chose to focus her giving on Fayette, Rowan, and Elliott Counties because, as she said, that’s where Paul Little made his money. She saw it as was a way of giving back to the communities that had been so good to them.  


After Mrs. Little’s death in 2002, the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation turned to Blue Grass Community Foundation to help administer its grantmaking. Grants were awarded through a competitive application process. During the next decade, Little Foundation board members reviewed close to 500 requests for support. They carefully considered each organization’s mission, evaluated its sustainability, reviewed its financial statements, and debated the merits and impact of the proposed project. They also asked themselves, and each other, “What would Lucille think of this proposal?” 


“When Mrs. Little set up the Foundation, she charged us with making our own best decisions,” said Foundation board member, Dolores Roberson.  She wanted us to decide what we thought best. So that’s what we tried to do.  When a particularly worthy grant request did not exactly fit the mission statement, we considered what Mrs. Little would have done and then used our best judgment. Mrs. Little was always open to change, and she trusted us to do the same.”    


During her lifetime, Mrs. Little established a number of endowments to provide a steady stream of income to help further an organization’s mission in perpetuity. The Little Foundation Board followed her example and made many awards to ensure an organization’s sustainability.  


As the Little Foundation approached the end of its grantmaking funds in 2010, the board discussed ways to ensure that Mrs. Little’s legacy would continue long after all grant money was awarded. In May 2011, the Little Foundation announced awards totaling $5 million to fund endowments of $2.5 million each for the benefit of Morehead State University and Lexington Children’s Theatre as a way to honor Mrs. Little’s life-long commitment to young people and the arts.  


It would be hard to imagine our art communities today without Lucille’s vision and generous support. She was instrumental in establishing the Lexington Children’s Theatre, Studio Players, the Lexington Symphony, the Lexington Philharmonic, ArtsPlace, the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra, the Living Arts & Science Center, the Lexington Council on Social Planning, and the Bluegrass Girl Scout Council. Her support was crucial to other organizations as well. She established a permanent source of funding through an endowment to KET for arts education in elementary schools. She also personally supported, among others, the Lexington Ballet, the Opera Guild of Central Kentucky, the Headley-Whitney Museum, Hospice of the Bluegrass, the Salvation Army, the Lexington Theological Seminary, Midway College, First Christian Church, St. Claire Medical Center in Morehead, LexArts, Lexington Musical Theatre, Actors Guild, and the Kentucky Horse Park.  


Recently, the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation announced that it would no longer be making awards.


“It was always Lucille’s intention that the Little Foundation award all grant money within ten to twelve years after her death,” said Proc Caudill, Vice President of the Little Foundation. “In accordance with her wishes, the Little Foundation Board of Directors committed all remaining grant funds at its meeting in July 2011.” 


It was also Lucille’s intention that others in the community step up to fund the arts and other causes that enrich our lives. When she established the Little Foundation, Lucille required dollar-for-dollar matches for grants of $100,000 and over. Communities in Fayette, Rowan, and Elliott Counties responded to the challenge and raised close to $9 million to meet the required matches. 


“The Little Foundation did exactly what Mrs. Little designed it to do – to indelibly and permanently enrich the arts communities in Fayette, Elliott and Rowan Counties,” said Lisa Adkins, President and CEO of Blue Grass Community Foundation. “The awarding of her final charitable dollars doesn’t necessarily leave a void. Rather, it creates incredible opportunity. At Blue Grass Community Foundation, we believe philanthropy creates more philanthropy. Anyone can do what Mrs. Little did, which was to combine his or her passion and creativity with charitable aspiration.”   


Lisa added that the Endow Kentucky Tax Credit now makes it even more attractive for others to establish endowments at community foundations to support causes they are passionate about. For more information about the Endow Kentucky Tax Credit and how to open your own charitable fund at the Community Foundation, contact Lisa Adkins at ladkins@bgcf.org or 859-225-3343. 


The Blue Grass Community Foundation will continue to administer ongoing grants and endowments on behalf of the Little Foundation. “Because the Community Foundation has variance power,” said Allison Lankford, Vice President and General Counsel for the Community Foundation, “these awards will continue to benefit the projects and programs they were meant to fund, forever. If, for some reason, a recipient organization closes its doors, the Community Foundation will find another organization to carry out the programs these grants were intended to support.” 


As everyone who met Lucille knew, she had a presence—one that continues to be felt long after her death. Everything about Lucille—her life, her personality, her convictions, her flair for the dramatic, and, especially, her love of the arts—was larger than life. Thanks to Lucille Caudill Little’s generosity the arts will continue to flourish in Kentucky for generations to come.   


Barbara A. Fischer is director of Nonprofit Services for the Blue Grass Community Foundation. Contact her at bfischer@bgcf.org.


Painting by Adalin Wichman. Photo of painting by Mary Rezny.

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