Announced earlier this year, the Charles Hardcastle Kentucky Building was dedicated Thursday (May 13).
The building was renamed in honor of a $1.5 million gift from Charles Hardcastle (’55) and his wife, Carolyn Hardcastle (’73). Charles Hardcastle, a former Mayor of Bowling Green and current President of Consolidated Paper Group, cares deeply about the community of which he has been a prominent member for many years.
The gift from the Hardcastles established the Charles Hardcastle Endowed Fund for Excellence to provide annual support for the Kentucky Building facility and related University programming, including the Kentucky Museum, the Kentucky Library Research Collections, the Department of Library Special Collections and the Kentucky Folklife Program. The fund could also be used to create positions and internships for WKU students or to support student-produced exhibitions.
Friends and family of the Hardcastles gathered for a small luncheon and to see the unveiling of the new name on the building.
“Today, we celebrate the Hardcastles’ latest commitment, a notable and generous gift that permanently memorializes their dedication to WKU and to our region,” said WKU President Timothy C. Caboni at the event. “This gift preserves their legacy and etches their mark on our region for generations to come. Charles and Carolyn continue to transform lives, open doors and provide opportunities to our students that they would otherwise not have.”
Charles Hardcastle shared memories of graduating from Alvaton High School in 1951 and working the summer before he started at WKU.
“I worked that summer pulling cedar posts off a hill with a mule for $3 a day,” said Hardcastle. “One hot, late August day I started hitchhiking to school. I had $35 in my pocket because that was what tuition cost. A lady from Alabama stopped and picked me up. She said she didn’t normally pick up hitchhikers, but she felt sorry for me. I told her I had been working, I had money in my pocket, and I was going to college. Why should she feel sorry for me? She said she felt bad because I had lost a shoe. Lost a shoe? I had found a shoe!”
“I’ve been fortunate in my life,” Hardcastle added. “I want to thank my family and my employees. My philosophy is to associate yourself with the best people you can and then get out of their way. I hope this building will be even more of an asset to this community and to the state of Kentucky.”
Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon also spoke at the event and shared his appreciation for how Charles Hardcastle has made an impact on his life.
“Charles has been a mentor to me and to many people,” said Buchanon. “He would give advice to anyone who asks, and I would always listen closely. His stories were built on common sense and were easy to understand. And undoubtedly what he told you would help you the next day. Those who listened to him prospered. He and Carolyn are making a difference in the lives of so many through this gift to WKU.”
Judge-Executive Buchanon also presented the Hardcastles with a proclamation, signed by himself, Bowling Green Mayor Todd Alcott and President Caboni, declaring May 13, 2021, as Carolyn and Charles Hardcastle Day.
Joe Natcher ('80), who has been a business partner of Charles Hardcastle for more than 30 years and refers to the man as a father-figure, was glad to be in attendance at the event today.
“He is an incredible man who is full of wisdom with an amazing amount of intellect and folksy common sense,” shared Natcher. “Charles teaches by his stories. He lifts people up and gives them opportunities to reach their goals. He sees things in them they might not see in themselves.”
When asked what inspired the gift, Hardcastle said, “History is important, and it has a way of repeating itself. It is essential to remember our history and keep things that tell those stories. The Kentucky Museum is a resource for the city of Bowling Green and the community, and I wanted to make sure it was always accessible.”
This desire to preserve history was the same one that originally inspired the Kentucky Building. Gabrielle Robertson, who began teaching Kentucky History at Western Kentucky State Normal School in 1914, began expanding the School’s library materials when she discovered they only had one book on Kentucky History. She soon needed a space to house the growing collection. WKU’s first president, Dr. Henry Hardin Cherry, began to raise money through the College Heights Foundation in 1928 for a building for the collection and a museum.
Construction of the Kentucky Building began in August 1931, but the Great Depression made raising funds for construction nearly impossible. The building was completed in September 1939 and dedicated on Founder’s Day—Nov. 16—later that year.
“The Kentucky Building embodies everything my grandfather would have hoped it would be,” said Gen. Dan Cherry, grandson of Dr. Henry Hardin Cherry. “The building epitomizes permanency, tradition, history, and the future, too. And to add the Hardcastles to the name, that guarantees the future of the building going forward. I know my grandfather would be proud of all that it has become.”
The naming comes at a momentous time for this building, as many new projects are underway at the Kentucky Museum. Currently, the Felts Log Cabin is being restored by Andy Mills, a nationally recognized expert in historic log cabins.
Museum staff are also preparing a new Teaching Gallery dedicated to exhibitions co-curated by WKU faculty and students. Fall exhibitions include Styles &thegistofit curated by Dr. Carrie Cox (Fashion Merchandising) and her students, Finding Felts in partnership with Folk Studies graduate students, and Remembering Childhood curated by students in Dr. Tim Frandy’s spring 2021 Museum Policies & Procedures course.
Additionally, work has begun to renovate the Museum’s lobby, including a buon fresco mural created by WKU Professor Mike Nichols and local artist and alumna Alice Gatewood Waddell ('74). The mural, which is supported by a grant from the Carpenter Foundation, will be finished in early August.
“The idea of the Kentucky Museum as WKU’s ‘town-to-gown bridge,’ where students as well as Kentuckians from near and far can continue to be inspired by our region’s rich story of history, art and culture and celebrate our place in this diverse world, will be immensely fostered over time by this special endowed gift from our friends Charles and Carolyn Hardcastle,” said Brent Bjorkman, Director of the Kentucky Museum. “Through this endowment we will be able to further elevate and share our ongoing series of applied research initiatives, exhibitions, and public programs, allowing the Kentucky Museum and our building partners to continue to open countless doors as we further our efforts to share ‘Kentucky with the world and bring the world to Kentucky.’”