Oldham County Historical Society Gala

Society members will honor
the late
Carl Klingenfus

Benefit dinner, auction serve as annual fund raiser

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

BALLARDSVILLE, Ky. (October 2004) – Carl R. Klingenfus was tied indelibly to the land and people of Oldham County. First and foremost as a farmer, he knew what fruits that preservation, good stewardship and hard work ethics could produce.

Carl Klingenfus

Cover of
October 2004 Issue

Klingenfus is to be honored posthumously on Friday, Oct. 15, at the third annual Oldham County Historical Society Gala. This fund raiser dinner and auction will be held at The Olmsted, the refectory of the former Masonic Home for widows and orphans located at 3701 Frankfort Ave., Louisville. A reception begins at 7 p.m., with the Masterson’s-catered dinner to follow at 8 p.m.
Even though he is to be honored, Klingenfus would never have donned a tuxedo for such an event, laughed his daughter, Sarah Roberts. She said her father was a hardworking farm-oriented man who loved his family and the land. He also participated “very much in county-wide issues,” said Roberts.
Klingenfus was born on Sept. 16, 1915 on a farm near Crestwood. His paternal grandparents, Jacob and Elise StollKlingenfus, had purchased this farm several years after migrating from Shauffhousen, Switzerland, via Ellis Island in 1888-90. Jacob had been a butcher and the town winemaker. Once in America, Elise refused to learn to speak English and retained her German dialect.
Their son, Emil, in 1914 married Nettie Hampton Klingenfus. One-year later, Carl was born. Four more children were to follow: Al, Morgan, Flossie and Martha. Emil in 1930 turned his Crestwood, Ky., farm into a dairy. Roberts remembers visiting their home every Sunday when she was a small child. It was where her great-grandmother Elise was living at the time.
In July 1952, Carl Klingenfus went into the dairy business on his own, milking cows. Roberts and her sister, Shirley Orr, received their deep sense of heritage from their father. “When you grow up on the farm, you learn to love the land,” said Orr.

Carl Klingenfus

Photos provided by the Klingenfus family

Carl Klingenfus before his death in 1999.

Both Roberts and Orr and their brothers, Bobby and Eddie, carried on in their father’s footsteps. Orr and her husband raise beef cattle, while her siblings continued the tradition of dairy farming. While growing up on the Crestwood farm, everyone pitched in; there was no hired help. Once the children “got big enough to work the clutch on the tractor, that was your job until you moved on to the next job,” said Roberts.
Many have labeled Klingenfus a workaholic, but the work ethic he instilled in his own children shows up today in his nine grandchildren. “All are go-getters,” said Roberts.
Klingenfus even built the Ballardsville house where the family lived, with the exception of bricking it. “He liked to build,” said Orr. He wanted to see a project finished for others to appreciate it, she said.
This quality he inherited from his mother’s family, who had been homebuilders. His maternal grandparents, Ora and William Hampton, were native Oldham Countians. William was the Crestwood postmaster during the 1920s and owned the first radio in the area because he built it. Ora’s parents migrated from Ireland after the potato famine in the mid-1800s.
Although there was no time for a vacation while dairy farming, the Klingenfus family didn’t need to travel to have a good time. “We all farmed together,” said Klingenfus’ widow, Ruth. If Klingenfus was out in the fields “fixing fence,” Ruth and the kids would pack a picnic lunch and join him at lunch time. And more than often, one of the kids would stay behind and help their father with his fencing chores.
Ruth said that life on the farm impressed upon the kids an appreciation of values and respect for others. As a mother, this made her feel successful. And she more than did her part of the farm work.

Klingenfus Family

Photos provided by the Klingenfus family

The Klingenfusthe family pictured about 20 years ago includes (from left) his wife, Ruth, 82, and children: Sara, 50, Eddie, 52, Robert, 54, and Shirley, 52.

“Mom always raised a garden,” said Roberts. The Klingenfuses raised hogs to kill and sell, corn to fill their silos, a small patch of tobacco, and milked cows twice a day on their 300-acre farm. Although they didn’t always have an easy time of it, “We always used what we had,” said Ruth. She said their best investment was in land, which required a lot of work, but “we made games out of it.”
Klingenfus liked to watch things grow, said his wife of 53 years. He often remarked that “cows have personalities,” and any farmer knows this to be true after spending day after day with them in all kinds of weather.
Klingenfus didn’t let an idle moment slip by. At night, he was “always going to a meeting,” said Roberts. His sense of civic duty led him to be involved in many capacities where he could share his knowledge to make Oldham County a better place. He was one of the founders of the Oldham County Water District, a member of the Oldham County Breeders Association, helped begin Dairyman, Inc. in the Louisville area, chaired the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce’s agriculture committee, served as a board member of the South Oldham Fire Department, was an active leader of 4-H activities and a board member of the Oldham County 4-H Council.
Klingenfus is also credited with establishing the Oldham County History Center. “He was involved in every aspect and in everything we did,” said Oldham County Historical Society president Kim Snell.
When Snell and his wife first moved to Kentucky in 1982, Klingenfus’ daughter, Shirley Orr, was his neighbor. His father-in-law, Bruce Hamilton, was a good friend with Klingenfus. Through these connections, Snell came to look upon Klingenfus as “one of the best men I ever knew.”

Klingenfus Family

Photos provided by the Klingenfus family

The family goes for a ride on the tractor
and wagon back in the 1960s.

Snell said one of the reasons Klingenfus so actively attempted to preserve the history of Oldham County was because his ancestors were so well established in the county in the agricultural business. “He had roots here. This gave him a special perspective. In the course of his lifetime, he probably saw about half of the history of the county himself.”
Klingenfus viewed firsthand a changing world within his lifetime, said Ruth. He went to school in a buggy for his first year. In 1927, he witnessed the old, dirt path known then as the La Grange Road give way to a new one that ran right past his family’s farm. Klingenfus even provided his voice for the Interurban Railroad exhibit at the Oldham County History Center, which relates the story of a mode of travel that is long gone.
Klingenfus’ legacy lives on through his descendants and in the visible stamp he left on his community. He operated a dairy until 1975, and two years later sold 112 acres of his grandfather’s farm on Hwy. 146 to the Oldham County Board of Education for the building of the South Oldham Middle School. Camden Station Elementary and South Oldham High School are also on what used to be part of Klingenfus’ farm.
By this time, Klingenfus “was ready to stop milking. His boys had both started their own dairies,” said Orr. His hope had been that “someone would carry on the tradition of the land.” Klingenfus appreciated seeing the plow in the field and the harvest of the different seasons of the year.

The fund raising Oldham County Historical Society Gala has been successful every year, said Snell. Proceeds are not dedicated to any certain projects but rather help fund the many day-to-day expenses of the History Center. “It is a good time for people from all walks of life who are interested in history,” said Snell.
The J. Chilton Barnett Champion of Oldham County History Award will be presented at 8:45 p.m. The historical society board of directors and gala committee look for someone interested in promoting and preserving Oldham County’s rich history, said Snell. “Between Carl and J. Chilton Barnett, we had a walking history of the county,” he said.
A silent auction will begin at 7 p.m. and conclude after the program. It will include such items as breakfast with Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Byron Crawford at Cracker Barrel for a party of six; spa certificates for Spa Quena Day Spa in Prospect; trail rides for a party of six at Little Big Horse Trails in La Grange; “Discover La Grange” gift basket; and a Victorian tea party for eight children at the History Center.
A live auction will begin at 9:15 p.m. with auctioneer Kenneth S. Hays of Pewee Valley-based Hays & Associates Inc. Items include a 50-year-old American Holly tree, antique quilt (c. 1880-1890), hot air ballon ride for two, and a diamond ring. Buses will ferry people from pickup points in La Grange and Crestwood to and from The Olmsted. Tickets are $100 each.

• For more information, contact History Center executive director Nancy Theiss at (502) 222-0826.


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