The jackets are reserved for members of the Kentucky Derby Festival board of directors — the people who are responsible for putting on the festival.
This year, two University of Louisville employees are part of that group — Gerome Stephens, Office of Civic Engagement, Leadership and Service, and Trisha Smith, Office of the President.
Stephens, who is in his first year on the board, spoke to UofL Today about what the experience has been like.
When were you selected as a board member for the Kentucky Derby Festival?
I was nominated to be on the Derby Festival Board last spring. This is my first year on the board, but my journey to be on the board started when I first saw the very recognizable Pegasus Jacket after first moving to the city. As I learned about the festival and its commitment to helping everyone have their own unique and engaged Kentucky Derby experience, I knew I wanted to be involved in this community organization. I did my research and volunteered for the festival before being invited to join the board last year. I feel really honored to be a part of making Derby a fantastic three-week (and even more like a yearlong) event for our city.
What does that mean?
It means that I am very busy this time of year. The festival takes a lot of man hours and thousands of volunteers to make happen. The festival helps our community have the experiences that make the stories that they will tell for years to come. I have many great memories from my time in Louisville but some of the most special are from the Derby Festival. I love getting my (Pegasus) pin each spring and making trips to the Chow Wagon and making plans to go to as many festival events as possible. Being a member of the board is a true honor that comes with a lot of volunteer hours. We do not get free tickets to events — and no, I cannot get you tickets for the Derby. By the time the Derby Festival concludes I will be tired enough to enjoy the actual Kentucky Derby race from my couch with a few friends and a pizza. I’ll head to the track opening week and a week after the big day.
What has the buildup to the Derby been like?
I love it! There is no better time to be in Louisville, and the first time I was able to put on my festival director jacket I had a smile a mile wide. I loved being at the festival poster premier in January and from then on I have been busy with committee meetings and planning. We had the Derby Festival Fashion Show a few weeks ago. A few friends traveled in from around the state to go and obviously some local friends attended, as well. It was a blast. I really love celebrating and anticipating what the festival is all about, celebrating the Derby as a community.
What’s been your favorite event so far? Why?
I love all of the Derby Festival events, but to this point I have enjoyed most two of my experiences. First, I love getting to celebrate with friends at the Derby Festival Fashion Show. The event gave us a reason to come together and make memories before April had even come around. We took some time there to plot out some other festival events we could attend. Second, I was able to attend a breakfast at the Kentucky governor’s mansion. This was for the festival board, but made me recognize how important the Kentucky Derby Festival is to the commonwealth. It is our time to celebrate a piece of Kentucky that is uniquely ours.
I could also add that Thunder Over Louisville was amazing. I was able to share it with a great friend and we watched the fireworks show with Ali, the Bachelorette. Never a dull moment this time of year. Gosh — I also love the Great Balloon Race.
What other events are you looking forward to?
Things are getting very busy now. There are over 80 events that create the Kentucky Derby Festival. I may be most excited about the Great Boat Race and the Pegasus Parade. This year I am going to be on the Belle of Louisville with some great friends and the best bird in the state, the Louisville Cardinal. I have never been on one of the boats during the race, but can’t wait to experience this tradition that began in 1963. I am also excited to be at the Pegasus Parade with the UofL men’s and women’s basketball teams as grand marshal. If I am honest, I am just looking forward to wearing my festival jacket as much as possible and enjoying every minute with great friends.