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Tom Block: There’s no secret to the fact that Kentucky, Germany share wonderful link

Columnist Tom Block's great-great grandfather was Isaac Bernheim, after whom Kentucky's Bernheim Forest is named. (Photo provided)

Memo to Gov. Steve Beshear:

I heard the news recently about of your “secret” trip to Germany with the state’s head of economic development to get German companies to locate their U.S. facilities in the Commonwealth. As part of the Kentucky sales pitch, I wanted to point out a great example of a link between Germany and Kentucky.

My great-grandfather, Isaac W. Bernheim, immigrated to the United States after the American Civil War, in 1868, and ended up in Kentucky. While he grew to love his adopted home in Kentucky, he never forgot his German roots. In fact, after he had achieved success in Kentucky as the distiller of IW Harper bourbon, he went back to the small Bavarian village where he was born in, Schmieheim, and discovered that in 1929 they still didn’t have running water.

A fountain in the Bavarian village of Schmieheim commemorates Issac Bernheim's contributions to development there. (Photo provided)

My great grandfather used his Kentucky-made money to donate a water system to the village so that pipes were run to each home. Today, in the village, there is a fountain thanking him for his contribution to German development. His father and grandparents are buried in the Jewish cemetery outside of the village, and the German villagers have not only restored the cemetery but have restored the memorial to my great-grandfather.

If a German delegation comes to visit you in your Capitol office, you can walk them to the rotunda where the models for the U.S. Capitol statues of Henry Clay and Dr. Ephraim McDowell stand. As part of the centennial celebration of the Kentucky Capitol, and thanks to your help, we were able to get a plaque commemorating German immigrant Isaac Bernheim placed on the two statues. The original two statues stand in the U.S. Capitol and were given on behalf of Kentucky by this German immigrant.

An Isaac Bernheim plaque was placed in the Kentucky Capitol. (Photo provided)

Of course his greatest gift to Kentucky was the 14,000-acre arboretum and forest outside of Louisville, Bernheim Forest, and I am proud to serve on the board of Bernheim. When my great-grandfather decided to buy the land and create the forest he said that it reminded him of the fondness he had for the Black Forest in Germany that surrounded the small village where he was born.

From the Black Forest to the Knobs of Kentucky, from a water system in a small Bavarian town, to the statues in the U.S. and Kentucky capitols; there is a wonderful link between Germany and Kentucky.

Tom Block is a public policy consultant who had a 21-year career with JP Morgan Chase where he served as head of government relations in New York City and created a Washington research product. He also created the bank’s EU Government Relations program and developed a new position as U.S. Government Policy Strategist focusing on how U.S. government policy impacts capital markets. He has an extensive government and banking background, has worked on political campaigns and as a speech writer. He is a family trustee of Bernheim Aboretum in Louisville and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from American University. He and his wife make their home in Kentucky. He is a regular contributor to KyForward. Contact him at tomblockct@aol.com.

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