An Iowa Stater in Kentucky’s bluegrass region

29 May

We picked the best week of the year to be in Kentucky: Derby Week.

If a little kid’s year revolves around Christmas or summer vacation, a Kentuckian’s year revolves around Derby.

Like: You can’t wear white until after Derby. Or: You can plant tomatoes after Derby.

Julie Hunsinger Mink (’82 psychology, ’88 statistics) rarely goes to horseracing’s most famous event, the Kentucky Derby, held annually the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville. (“I don’t like big crowds,” she says.) But she thoroughly embraces the weeks-long festivities filled with parties, fireworks, and fancy hats.

As for horse racing, Julie much prefers Keeneland, an older, more genteel racetrack in Lexington. Races are held at Keeneland for three weeks each spring and three weeks each fall. And, like Churchill Downs, spectators get dressed up and wear big hats.

“Getting dressed up is part of the fun,” Julie says. “You can’t wear the same hat twice.”

Julie was born in Lexington, but her family moved frequently for her father’s mining career. She lived in Iowa from 1977 to 1988, 10 years of which were spent in Ames. Twenty years ago she moved back to Kentucky to work at Investors Heritage Life Insurance Company in Frankfort, where she is currently the vice president and chief actuary.

Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky and home to two capitol buildings – an old one built in 1830 and a “new” capitol built in 1910. (Julie explained that there was a dispute between Louisville and Lexington over which city should be Kentucky’s capital – and somehow Frankfort was chosen.) Frankfort’s other claim to fame is a scenic cemetery built on a bluff overlooking the town and containing the grave of Daniel Boone.

During our visit to central Kentucky with Julie as our tour guide, we learned that bourbon can only be called bourbon if it’s produced in Kentucky. To illustrate, she took us to the Four Roses bourbon distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky., where we tasted three different bourbon “recipes” (for research purposes only, of course.)

Although Julie calls Kentucky home – she lives in Lawrenceburg with her husband, Dick, and son, Shane — she still keeps in touch with her friends from Iowa State, reuniting with a large group every couple of years in different parts of the country.

“My Iowa State friends are the best friends ever,” she says. “They’re the people I have known the longest. They’ve known me at my best and at my worst.” This summer, they’re all headed for Ames.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the fact that I’m an Iowa State graduate,” she says. “We’re few and far between in Kentucky.”

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