Fifty years of celebrating Oldham history

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By John Foster

His own life placed him at the fulcrum of history as a fighter pilot in World War II.  But it’s his contributions closer to home that may endear Vince Fanelli to the people of Oldham County for generations to come.

For those contributions to the preservation of Oldham County history, Fanelli will be honored as a Champion of Oldham County History at the Oldham County Historical Society’s annual gala Sept. 25.

In 2006, Fanelli sold his 5,000 square foot home and 28 acres to the City of Crestwood for $2 million. He knows he could have made much more to subdivide the prime piece of real-estate wedged between Ky. 22 and Ky. 146 in the heart of Crestwood. But it’s a piece of personal history. It’s been in his late wife’s family more than 100 years. It’s where they courted, swinging on the front porch. And he’d like to see it preserved.

The land is one of several examples in Fanelli’s life where things might have been cheaper or easier to discard instead of preserve. But in most cases, he chose preservation.

He said he’s not for preserving everything, but “If you throw away everything, you’re not gonna have a tie to the past at all,” he said.

At one time he had a garage full of old carriages that were starting to break down, but instead of scrapping them, he gave them to the Oldham County History Center. Now people can visit the center and see how people traveled around the turn of the 20th century.

The same goes for his wife’s train set. The set, which he gave to the history center, contains dozens of pieces dating back about a century.

Fanelli’s own history includes service to Oldham County from when there were only two paved roads in the whole county. He’s been involved in the South Oldham Lions Club for 60 years and various other civic organizations. With the Lions Club, he helped bring the Orchard Grass Festival to Crestwood — a multiple-day event of hay seed contests, food and fun that even drew Governor Lawrence Wetherby. The festival had another tie to a former governor. Martha Layne Collins won the beauty pageant when she was a teen.

His history includes flying as a pilot over North Africa in World War II contending with the sand and the fog, unable to reach base at times because they didn’t want the enemy to locate base.

“You flew long hours and we had no aids,” he said. “You had to do everything yourself, no computers, no anything. When you were in combat areas you had no lights, you had to get in before dark or you had a problem, you had no protection, you were on your own, so to speak.  You never knew when you might get jumped. But it didn’t bother me too much.”

There’s the time his engines cut out and he just missed crashing into a mountain with a plane full of troops and the time he was almost shot down by the U.S. Navy with Gen. George Patton on board.

His personal history includes the times seminal filmmaker D.W. Griffith used to stop by the lake his family ran.

Then there are the pieces of more personal history, like when he tried to call Mary Louise Ott, who he hadn’t seen in years, from a pay phone. He didn’t reach her. When he got home his uncle told him he’d just missed a call from Mary Louise. After all those years, they were trying to get hold of each other at the same time. They were later married.

Despite all the effort to preserve history, there are some things that can’t be explained, he said, you have to live them.

“I guess to really appreciate some history, you have to live it,” he said.

Join the celebration

The Oldham County Historical Society will host its annual gala and award ceremony Sept. 25 at the Oldham County History Center, 106 N. Second Ave., La Grange. 

The event includes a reception with open bar, presentation of the J. Chilton Barnett Champion of Oldham County History Award to Vincent Fanelli, a catered sit-down dinner, live music for dinner and dancing and a silent/live auction.

The event honors Oldham Countians for contributions to the preservation of the history, artifacts, architecture and quality of life to our county, and to raise funds to continue the work and existence of the Oldham County History Center.

Tickets are $125 per person. 

For information, call 222-0826 or visit OldhamCountyHistoricalSociety.org


E-mail us about this story at: jfoster@oldhamera.com