Oldham County Day

Businessman Hannah
chosen as grand marshal

He has left his mark
on Oldham business community

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (July 2004) – In his own quiet, soft-spoken manner, James L. Hannah has been a driving force behind the economic growth of Oldham County for decades. Because of his accomplishments and community involvement, Hannah has been chosen as Grand Marshal of this year’s Oldham County Day Parade.

Kentucky Edition July 04 cover

Kentucky edition
July 2004 front cover

Born in Decatur, Ill., Hannah’s family moved to Louisville when he was still a child. He remained there until he discovered the tiny hamlet of Westport in 1976. Working at the time for Louisville Gas & Electric Company, Hannah had been called there one night at 3 a.m. by a resident who needed his power restored. This same resident encouraged him to move to Westport and he eventually did because, “I fell in love with it.”
Hannah, now 83, remained with LG&E for 46 years, beginning at the bottom rung of the ladder. His first assignment was in a summer program selling light bulbs door-to-door for a national Lamp Campaign. For the 16-week period this contest was sponsored by a major electric company, Hannah was the winner for every week but one. The top two sellers won the coveted position of office boys for LG&E, and Hannah went to work in the accounting department.
He left this job in 1942 upon being drafted into the military during World War II as a private and was an instructor in the U.S. Air Force Officers’ School. Discharged from military service in 1946 as a 1st lieutenant, Hannah said, “I knew I wanted to do something.”
Feeling a loyalty to his pre-war job, he returned to work for the utility company. LG&E executives decided a first lieutenant needed a more prestigious position, so they appointed him an accounting department apprentice. He was later appointed manager of data processing.
From his first experience of selling light bulbs, Hannah developed a state of mind that he could accomplish any goal he set and eventually worked his way up to vice president and executive assistant to the company president. He retired from LG&E in 1986 and said his time there “led to a variety of other things.”
Hannah, a graduate of Male High School, did not neglect his education during this time. With degrees in accounting, psychology and an MBA from the University of Louisville, Hannah said, “I have a variety of disciplines under my belt.”

Jim Hannah

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

Retired businessman Jim Hannah
will be honored in July at
Oldham County Day.

Around this same time, Hannah had convinced his wife, Elizabeth (Bette), to move to the 18 Mile Creek area of Westport. After telling his wife he had purchased a farm there, she repled, “What did you do that for?” Hannah told her that he had “fallen in love with the farm idea.” This stemmed from summers spent on an uncle’s farm in Indiana.
What began as a weekend home only, soon turned into a permanent home for the Hannah’s. Bette quickly learned to love the farm as much as he, and Hannah still owns 100 acres in Westport.
While taking care of their farm and holding a full time job with LG&E, Hannah began teaching at U of L. His tenure there included teaching computer science with the rank of adjunct professor. In 2003, he received a Distinguished Alumnus designation from U of L. He received an honorary doctorate from Cumberland College in 2002.
A former Oldham Countian of the Year (1988), “Man of the Year” (selected by the Louisville Kiwanis Club), and Oldham County Chamber of Commerce President (1986-1997), Hannah has been recognized as the person responsible for guiding the Oldham County Chamber through its growth years, expanding membership, assisting existing businesses, attracting new businesses, instituting a business fair, and many other numerous achievements.
Joe Schoenbaechler, current chamber president, credits Hannah with establishing the Oldham County Educational Foundation, a fund raising program for the counties’ schools, and the Oldham County Arts Association. Hannah is still active in community projects, especially in the economic development of Oldham and surrounding counties.
When Hannah became the chamber’s executive director, he assumed leadership of a coalition of 67 businesses in a county that, at the time, had no clear focus on how to develop new businesses. “He had the difficult task of growing an organization in a residential community, and he helped create an atmosphere that we can now take advantage of,” said Schoenbaechler.
The key to Hannah’s success with the chamber was his personable character, said Schoenbaechler. “It made him really approachable.” This quality aided Hannah in raising $10,000 in 30 days from pledges and Oldham County Fiscal Court for the chamber’s Economic Development Program during the time he ran the chamber. He raised an additional $10,000 from 20 Oldham County companies.
Hannah seemed to have the Midas touch when it came to enticing companies to locate in Oldham County. He is credited with bringing in businesses such as Cracker Barrel, Hettinger & Shuck Heating and Air Conditioning and Oldham 8 Theatres.
Always a forward thinker, he assisted in instituting an LG&E database project to number houses for implementation of a 911 system. Wendell Moore, the county’s Judge-Executive at the time, asked Hannah to work on this countywide dispatch system because he knew Hannah worked for LG&E. “He’s a creative person, and very energetic,” said Moore. “He always had a vision for the future, especially for a growing county like Oldham County.”
In addition to his work for the chamber and LG&E, Hannah began consulting work with several Louisville firms, which he said he “still enjoys doing.” One local company, Presentations Solutions, Inc., benefitted greatly from his expertise.
“He started off as our consultant, then became our new general manager,” said CEO Joe Powell. Powell and his mother, Carol, run the company, and it was Carol who became acquainted with Hannah through her involvement with the chamber and the Leadership Oldham County program.
“He left a major mark on our company,” said Powell. “It was the fastest growing time in our company’s history.”
Powell credits Hannah with giving him the mind-set necessary to accomplish his goal of creating his own successful business. Hannah did not just institute a business plan but followed through to make sure Powell would be successful. He was a sort of “proud papa,” said Powell, “checking back on the people he had grown. He’s the greatest business mentor I’ve ever had.”
Hannah has certainly given back to the community twofold by serving on the boards of many civic organizations, hospitals, churches and colleges. He is currently a partner with his son-in-law, Jon Westbrook, in W&H Properties. His vision for the county has enabled it to grow from a primarily residential one into a viable economic center.

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