Drive anywhere in city of Louisville and you’re sure to notice one of the 30 photographic murals honoring our “Hometown Heroes” – those who helped put the Derby City on the map, from fried chicken icon Colonel Harland Sanders to Oscar Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence.
The program started in 2002 by the nonprofit Greater Louisville Pride Foundation with the original intent of honoring Louisville native Muhammad Ali.
According to the Louisville Heroes website, the program has since grown to honor “a diverse group of famous Louisvillians from a variety of professions – all of whom have inspired others and represented our community to the rest of the world.”
The University of Louisville is well represented in this program, having a direct or peripheral connection to more than half of the 30 existing banners, underscoring the institution’s influence on its city.
The UofL ‘heroes’
The most recent banner was unveiled in October, honoring Alberta Jones, who graduated third in her business class from UofL in 1953. Jones went on to become the first African-American woman to pass the Kentucky Bar exam, as well as the first female prosecutor in the state (she was also Muhammad Ali’s first attorney). Jones’ life ended tragically in 1965 when she was abducted and murdered at age 34. The case remains unsolved.
Jones’ banner hangs on the River City Bank building at Sixth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
Her client, Muhammad Ali – the impetus behind the Hometown Heroes program – is honored with a banner on the LG&E building downtown. Though the boxing and civil rights icon is not a UofL alum, his ties to the institution run deep. Prior to his death in 2016, Ali received the inaugural Grawemeyer Spirit Award, which was established to recognize an individual whose beliefs, actions and impact are in accord with Charles Grawemeyer’s reason for founding UofL’s awards program that bears his name. UofL also boasts the Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice, and the Ali Scholars is a part of this institute.
Other UofL-related “Hometown Heroes” include:
American sculptor Ed Hamilton is honored with a banner on the Glassworks Building downtown. Among his many famous work, his public work, “The Spirit of Freedom” is a national memorial in Washington, DC. He received a Doctor of Arts Honorary Degree from UofL in 2004, when he was also the commencement speaker. Hamilton was honored as a 2005 Alumni Fellow and his work has been commissioned by the UofL Athletics Department.
Bob Edwards, the longtime NPR host, attended night school at UofL in the 1960s in order to graduate in four years to avoid being drafted without a degree. During his senior year, he started his radio career at WHEL in New Albany, Indiana, and went on to produce and anchor TV and radio news programs while in the Army. After completing his service, Edwards moved to Washington, DC, and eventually helped launch NPR’s “Morning Edition,” where he spent 25 years as the host. He has won numerous journalism awards and was inducted to the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2004.
Speaking of well-known journalists, Diane Sawyer did not graduate from UofL, but she did attend one semester of law school on campus. Her Hometown Heroes banner hangs on the Starks building on Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
Drs. Harold Kleinert and Joseph Kutz appear on the Jewish Hospital Heart and Lung Building, visible from I-65. The two helped make Louisville an internationally known destination for hand and upper extremity surgery and the center that bears their names produced the nation’s first five hand transplants. The hand transplant program, under the Louisville VCA Program, is a partnership of physicians and researchers at Jewish Hospital, the Christine M. Kleinert Institute, Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center and the University of Louisville. Kleinert was a clinical professor of surgery emeritus at UofL. Kutz, who received his postgraduate training at UofL, also worked as a clinical professor of surgery at the UofL School of Medicine.
The Bulleit Distilling Company was created in 1987 so Tom Bulleit could revive his great-great grandfather’s (Augustus Bulleit) bourbon legacy. Prior to that first batch, Bulleit Bourbon had not been in production since 1860. Tom Bulleit is a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Law and his banner is located on South Third Street, between West Market and West Main streets.
Another UofL law graduate, Tori Murden McClure, appears on a banner on the Kentucky Exposition Center. In 1999, McClure became the first woman and American to row solo across the Atlanta Ocean. She also holds the distinction of being the first woman and American to travel over land to the geographic South Pole, skiing 750 miles from the ice shelf to the Pole. McClure has served as the president of Spalding University since 2010.
Though not a UofL graduate, Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis has a strong connection to the institution nonetheless, having donated his entire personal library and correspondence to the law school, which was named after him in 1997. After his death in 1941, his last remains, and later the remains of his wife Alice Goldmark Brandeis, were buried beneath the law school’s classical portico. Brandeis’ banner hangs on the Chase Bank building downtown.
In 2016, New York Times bestselling author Sue Grafton, who received a BA in English from UofL in 1961, was honored with a banner on the Springhill Suites/Fairfield Inn hotels on East Jefferson Street. Grafton received the Distinguished Alumni Award from UofL in 1993 and the Alumna of the Year Award in 1997. Grafton’s work is published in 28 countries and 26 languages and all of the books in her Alphabet Series are international bestsellers. Grafton passed away in December 2017.
The banner honoring Patrick Hughes is draped on the side of the OK Storage Building on East Broadway at Barrett Avenue. Hughes was born without eyes and with arms and legs that can never fully extend, but that didn’t stop him from studying piano and trumpet as a child. In 2006, at the suggestion of marching band director Dr. Greg Byrne, Hughes joined the UofL marching band and played trumpet while his father pushed him in his wheelchair. Hughes graduated from UofL magna cum laude with a Spanish major, and later wrote the book “I Am Potential,” which was turned into a movie in 2015.
Actress Jennifer Lawrence has been snapped by the paparazzi on a few occasions wearing her UofL gear. Though she didn’t attend the school, she is an ardent supporter, lending her voice to UofL’s ACC entrance video in 2014, donating money toward arts grants that benefit UofL programs and more.
Lisa Harrison’s banner hangs on her alma mater – Southern High School. The basketball star, who played for the University of Tennessee from 1989 to 1993 and later in the WNBA until 2005, joined UofL’s athletic department after her playing career to serve as an outreach coordinator.
Speaking of putting Louisville on the basketball map, Darrell Griffith, UofL’s all-time leading scorer, is honored on the Watterson City Building along 1-264 East. The player, known as “Dr. Dunkenstein,” helped deliver UofL’s first NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1980. He went on to play for the Utah Jazz, was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1981, and was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.
Griffith’s UofL coach, Denny Crum, is also honored with a Hometown Heroes banner, located on the Marriott Courtyard building across from the KFC Yum! Center. Crum led the Cardinals to 23 NCAA tournament appearances during his 30-year career, including the 1980 championship. Crum was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994.
The Hometown Heroes program is slated to end, but at least three more murals are in the works before that happens. These tentative banners include the late Enid Yandell, a sculptress whose work has appeared on the Belknap campus, and the late artist Julius Friedman, who received a graphic design degree from UofL. The remaining banners are expected to be put into place by the end of the year. More information on the program, including how the banners are made, is available online.