Monday, January 30, 2017

2017 Christian Church chili cook-off draws a big crowd

Cynthia Campbell collects first prize;
second place winner Will Schein is
seated in the background.
By Austyn Gaffney
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

“It’s out of this world.” This was the first impression Midway Christian Church’s Community Chili Cook-off inspired from Pat Connors, a resident of Lexington. Connors said she enjoys coming to the church’s free, monthly, community dinners. She’s attended the dinners a handful of times, and said Monday night’s Chili Cook-off crowd was the biggest she’s ever seen.

She’s not alone. DeLise Graham-Hill, a 10-year resident of Midway, has been to these monthly dinners for at least the last seven years. “My favorite is the sweet potato” chili, she said. “It’s a bit spicy, and you can add chives on top.” Although the recipe was popular among many foodies at the dinner, it didn’t take the top spot in a tight race between 19 crock-pot chilis.

Three Midway residents shouldered the task of trying all 19 concoctions. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, City Council Member Bruce Southworth, and Midway University Athletic Director Rusty Kennedy, judged the cook-off through a blind taste test. They tried each recipe in a small Dixie cup with a number, instead of a name, attached to the chili.

Chris Michel refills one of the pots.
Loud applause erupted when Cynthia Campbell won first place, and college student Will Schein received second. But it was Chris Michel’s third place that caused the biggest uproar. Wife Ouita Michel, a nationally known chef who manages the dinners, came out of the kitchen to tell the crowd, “Chris has spent years making gourmet chili recipes and never wins this thing. He went online and got the recipe for Hormel chili and made a Hormel chili recipe for tonight!”

Chef Ouita Michel explains how husband
Chris Michel won third place as her dad,
Ray Papka, watches Jim Nance clean up.
Ouita Michel also had a rabbit chili for the cook-off. Dinner guest Jim Nance of Midway affectionately called her recipe “bunny soup.” Michel described her stew of rabbit, beans and poblano peppers as having almost no fat. Her daughter, Willa Michel, followed in her parents’ footsteps with a chili of ground beef. Nance gave it the seal of approval, finishing his bowl and describing the chili as “a little bit sweeter than most.”

Midway Christian Church has offered free community dinners the last Monday of every month since August 2011. The next will be Monday, Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m.

Renaissance seeks artists, volunteers and sponsors for Francisco's Farm festival, members for board

Midway Renaissance is still seeking artists for its annual Francisco's Farm Arts Festival, to be held at Midway University May 20 and 21.

Tuesday is the deadline for artists to apply, but it may have to be extended because not enough have applied, Treasurer Leslie Penn said after the group's annual membership meeting.

The chili cook-off preceded the Midway Renaissance meeting.
The festival is also looking for volunteers and sponsors, Midway University Vice President Ellen Gregory told the crowd at the meeting, bolstered by the annual chili cook-off at Midway Christian Church.

"If you can make it here tonight at eat chili, you can be a volunteer for the Francisco's Farm Arts Festival," Gregory said. "You really get to know your neighbors and become lifelong friends."

Also, "We are always looking for sponsors," she said. "Any way you wish to serve, we appreciate it."

Midway Renaissance is also looking for board members to serve three-year terms; it has 10 and can have up to 18, Board Member Debra Shockley told the crowd.

The board meets once a month. Its next meeting will be Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Midway branch library. Officers for the year will be elected.

Shockley said Renaissance will keep City Hall and its restrooms open Saturday, Feb. 11, for the merchants' annual Chocolate Stroll, and will again sponsor Midsummer Nights in Midway in June, July and August.

Shockley began the meeting by recounting the history of Renaissance, which formed to seek grants from the state's Renaissance Kentucky Program in 2001. The largest grant reworked Main Street and financed the purchase of the Rau Building for City Hall.

Funding decreased under Gov. Ernie Fletcher in 2003-07, and Renaissance left the program in 2011 because it no longer had funds to employ a Main Street manager as required by the state. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in March 2016 that there was potential to re-create the position in the next three years, perhaps in the capacity of a tourism and economic development director for the city.

The Living History Committee of Renaissance got the street markets for the Midway Historic District last year, and other Renaissance committees have evolved into the group that supports Walter Bradley Park, and the Nursing Home Task Force that led to building of The Homeplace at Midway, Shockley said.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Council sets special meeting Thursday to discuss goals; Cemetery and City Property Committee to meet Monday

The Midway City Council will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2 at City Hall to discuss goals members would like to see accomplished during the next six months, the next two years and the next five years.

Meanwhile, the council's Cemetery and City Property Committee will meet at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, at City Hall to discuss cemetery rules and regulations, maintenance and improvement. The notice from the city clerk says no action will be taken.

All council and committee meetings are open to the public.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Mayor touts Jan. 30 chili cook-off, Renaissance meeting and 'Midwayan' over 'Midwegian'

By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

One of my favorite events, the Chili Cook-Off, will be this Monday, Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Midway Christian Church. It’s a great opportunity to break bread with your neighbors and try some secret family recipes, or, to share your own.

I’ve been a judge for some past cook-offs, and it’s really hard to pick a winner, because in addition to there being a lot of great entries, there are also some pretty serious competitors. I’ve had an easier time breaking bad news to an upset constituent than I have telling someone their chili didn’t win!

Immediately after the chili, you can pop an antacid and attend Midway Renaissance’s annual meeting. This is a great organization and a terrific way for you to contribute to our community, or, as is the case with most every Midwayan, contribute a little more.

If you noticed that I just used the term “Midwayan”, I’m busted, I’ve committed a political flip-flop. You see, I used to use the term “Midwegian” in describing one who dwells in our city, but a bit of a controversy arose over the past year or so. It seems that there are many people who not only prefer “Midwayan,” but they downright don’t care for the term “Midwegian.”

My pollsters, also known as Beatrice the hound, Napoleon the mutt, and Facebook, indicate that the majority prefer “Midwayan.” Some other important polling however, also known as my wife, Katie, shows a preference for “Midwegian”, so there may be some more political wishy-washy on my part in the near future. And besides, I’ve heard of polls not being accurate in the past.

Our next city council meeting is Monday, Feb. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. Among the agenda items is first reading of an ordinance annexing and rezoning 31 acres adjacent to Midway Station to allow for expansion related to Lakeshore Learning Materials. As always, all are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Chef Ouita Michel does the dinner for 1,000 at the Kentucky Society of Washington's Bluegrass Ball

Ouita Michel at the Holly Hill Inn (WKYT-TV image)
The town of Midway didn't go for Donald Trump, but it was nicely represented at the presidential inauguration this week. Midway's best-known chef, Ouita Michel, was in charge of the menu for about 1,000 Kentuckians, expatriates and friends who gathered for the quadrennial Bluegrass Ball of the Kentucky Society of Washington.

Michel took cues from Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, making the Wednesday night dinner entree the president's favorite dish, chicken fricassee, and one of the three desserts the first lady's almond white cake. Another dessert was chocolate bourbon pecan squares from her Midway Bakery.

The menu included several other Kentucky ingredients, including her Wallace Station bourbon mustard (for the Kentucky beef hemp dawgs?) and Weisenberger Mill flours. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said in a news release about the menu, “We’re deeply grateful to Ouita Michel, one of Kentucky Proud’s earliest and most dedicated champions, for incorporating so many Kentucky foods into her menu.”

"I want everybody who eats something from me to know that I am a Kentucky chef. And I want to use Kentucky ingredients," Michel told Sam Dick of Lexington's WKYT-TV before the dinner.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Owner of early Derby favorite Classic Empire has home and breeds horses at Fawn Leap Farm in Midway

By Kaitlyn Taylor and Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

John C. Oxley, a leading North American horseman who has a home at his Fawn Leap Farm just south of Midway, owns the early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby, Classic Empire.

Trainer Mark Casse, left, posed with Debby and John Oxley after
winning the 2012 Sovereign Award as top trainer in Canada.
Oxley, a retired geologist who still has an oil and gas company and homes in Palm Beach, Aspen and San Antonio, says he enjoys Midway.

“I like the small town and the love of Thoroughbred race horses,” he said in an interview with the Midway Messenger.

Oxley and his wife Debby breed Thoroughbreds -- 35 last year, he said -- at the 253-acre farm.

He bought Classic Empire at the Keeneland sales for $475,000 after looking at the colt and saying, “That isn’t just an ordinary horse,” Oxley said. “He had the quality look, well balanced blood lines, he had all the credentials.”

The horse is by Pioneer of the Nile (also the sire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah) out of Sambuca Classica, by Cat Thief, and was bred by Steven and Brandi Nicholson at WinStar Farm.

Classic Empire won the 1-and-1/16-mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by a neck over favorite Not This Time on Nov. 5, after winning the Breeders’ Cup Futurity Stakes, another Grade I race, at Keeneland on Oct. 8. In July, he won the Grade III Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Classic Empire wore blinkers for the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Wikipedia)
He threw his jockey and didn't finish in the Sept. 5 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, but returned to form after being equipped with blinkers, Oxley said. Classic Empire and Not This Time were co-favorites for the Derby after their close race, but when that horse was retired due to injury, Classic Empire became the favorite.

Oxley said of his horse's career, “It’s obviously going in a very favorable direction.” Its next race could be the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida on Feb. 4.

Classic Empire is trained by Mark Casse, who has won eight Sovereign Awards as the outstanding trainer in Canada and has been recognized as the leading trainer at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack 11 times.

“He is an honest, genuine guy, and he is in his prime,” Oxley said. “He devotes his entire life to horses.”

After the Holy Bull, Casse and Oxley plan to run Classic Empire in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in late February. They had been shooting for the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in April, but that race and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct were recently downgraded to Grade II, and Oxley wants as many Grade I wins as possible.

"We like the Blue Grass; we like Keeneland," Oxley told Tim Sullivan of The Courier-Journal for a column published Jan. 2. "But ultimately, if your horse goes to stud, everyone wants to stand a Grade I winner." The alternative could be the Florida Derby, Casse told The Paulick Report.

Also, Oxley said Dec. 8 -- six days after the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association downgraded the Blue Grass -- that he would donate 1 percent of all Classic Empire's Grade I winnings through the Derby to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, where he is a board member.

Debby and John Oxley with Classic Empire after his Juvenile win
Oxley, whose 80th birthday will be Jan, 24, grew up in Tulsa, Okla., where he took care of his father’s Thoroughbred polo ponies and grew to love the breed. He said he was captivated listening to Assault’s victory in the 1946 Derby.

He founded Oxley Petroleum in 1962, the same year he bought his first horse. He sold the firm in 2003 and started Oxley Resources, a smaller-scale of oil and gas exploration and production venture.

Oxley is a polo champion. He won the U.S. Open Championships in 1983, The Rolex Gold Cup, the Cowdray Park Gold Cup, the Monty Waterbury Cup, the Pacific Coast Open and more as a five-goal player. He received the 1985 Hugo Dalmar Award for sportsmanship and longtime contributions to polo. He has been president of the U.S. Polo Association and was its chairman from 1988 to 1991. In 2005, he was inducted into the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame.

In Thoroughbred racing, Oxley's first Breeder’s Cup victory came in 1999 with Beautiful Pleasure's victory in the Distaff. A six-time winner of Grade I races, she retired as a broodmare to Fawn Leap Farm.

In 2012 and 2013, respectively, Oxley's Uncaptured was Canadian Horse of the Year and his Spring in the Air was the champion 2-year old filly.

Through the Mary K. Oxley Foundation, Oxley has donated approximately $1 million to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. The Oxley foundation made a $300,000 challenge grant toward construction of the Homeplace at Midway, an assisted-living and nursing facility that opened in 2015.
Fawn Leap Farm is at 5539 Midway Road, US 62, just south of Midway. The city's water towers are on the horizon at right.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Council OKs revised deal with EDA Chair Soper, backed by mayor, who calls city 'very strong' in annual report

State Rep. James Kay swore in Council Members, from left, Steve Simoff, Libby Warfield, Kaye Nita Gallagher, John McDaniel, Bruce Southworth and Sara Hicks.

By Al Cross and Dan Roller
Midway Messenger

The new Midway City Council approved an agreement Tuesday night that will make Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chairman John Soper an independent contractor paid by the city, the county and the City of Versailles.

The contract will cost Midway $858 per month, slightly more than double the $417 a month it had been paying, but much less than the $2,240 a month that Soper and Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott proposed in November that each of the three governments pay.

That proposal prompted an open clash Nov. 21 between Soper and Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, who asked for "some kind of open hiring process" and said he wouldn't consider the proposal without additional representation for Midway on the EDA and the county planning commission, agencies with one board member each from Midway.

The next day, Soper withdrew his proposal, and the following day, Traugott offered another one, to give Midway one more member on each board and have it pay $1,008 a month to fund EDA and 24 percent of planning and zoning expenses instead of the current 11 percent, an increase of about $14,000 a year over the current $10,000.

The agreement now being adopted says nothing about extra board members or funding of planning and zoning. Vandegrift said in an interview that he didn't think another board member "would be worth paying $24,000 and still be outvoted," and the agreement with Soper addresses issues the city had with EDA, which owns the Midway Station development, for which the city and county are still in debt.

Vandegrift said he recently reminded Soper that Midway, Versailles and Woodford County have different development goals, and they agreed that a master plan must be developed for Midway Station, including greenspace, attractive landscaping and an appropriate mix of businesses.

The agreement calls for Soper to promote the cities and the county to prospective employers, help retain current employers and work an average of 35 hours a week, performing the functions now handled by part-time EDA Executive Director Craig McAnelly, who works mainly for the Bluegrass Area Development District, is retiring.

Soper will remain chair of the EDA board. He is to be paid $5,720 per month or $68,640 a year, and abide by the Versailles ethics code. Versailles will pay half his fee, $2,860 per month; the county will pay $2,002 a month. Any of the four parties can cancel the agreement with 30 days' notice.

Council Member Sara Hicks asked how Soper would handle a prospective employer who was looking at both cities. Vandegrift said, "We have to assume that he's going to work in good favor for whatever's best. . . . I certainly wouldn't expect him to play favorites."

Vandegrift said about 10 prospective employers have visited Midway Station, and most wanted cheaper land or more land than the development has available. He said that if the city thinks it is "not being properly marketed, he would have to make those changes."

Mayor presents annual report

Vandegrift presented the proposal in conjunction with his required annual report, which said his disagreement with Soper "in a sense" personified "the great debate of the day in Woodford County. The dividing line of the discussion seems to be between those who feel Woodford County had been growing too slowly, with missed opportunities, and those that feel that it might be growing too quickly, and without proper planning."

The mayor's report cited Midway Station as the area of greatest improvement and future potential. The American Howa auto-parts plant is complete and hiring of 88 employees has begun; the Lakeshore Learning Materials distribution facility is well underway, with construction continuing through the holidays. As Midway’s largest employer, with 262 permanent employees plus temporary jobs, its economic impact will be felt for years. The addition of a large gas line to serve Midway Station improves the prospects of future development.

The report said the condition of the city had improved in several areas over last year, including: finances, infrastructure improvements with the paving of Northside Drive, "the worst road in the city," and repair of other deteriorated street areas, and agreements in place for the spring to repair sidewalks the city deemed most in need of repair. "Further cost sharing with homeowners should be explored," Vandegrift said.

He noted the new Parks Board and improvements to Walter Bradley Park, especially the bridge crossing Lee’s Branch, completed with both volunteer labor and donations and city employees’ labor and resources, linking residential neighborhoods, the library, the school and business areas.

"All in all, our city is very strong," Vandegrift concluded. "With the momentum that the four returning council members have helped create – and the energy the two new voices are sure to bring – there is no reason why we can’t make Midway the model for small cities across Kentucky."

New members and committees

State Rep. James Kay swore in council members for the two-year terms they won in the Nov. 8 election. The new members are John W. McDaniel and Steven Simoff. Returning to the council are Kaye Nita Gallagher, Sarah Newell Hicks, Bruce Southworth and Libby Sharon Warfield. The council elected Sara Hicks, top vote getter in the election, as mayor pro tem, to serve in the absence of the mayor. After Hicks' election, she was presented a petite version of the brass-and-walnut gavel used by Vandegrift.

The mayor established and appointed council committees for 2017-18. The Public Works and Services Committee is chaired by Southworth, with Gallagher and McDaniel as other members. The Finance, Ordinance and Policy Committee is chaired by Hicks, with Southworth and Simoff as additional members. A new committee for Events, Outreach and Tourism was formed to recognize the economic importance of these activities to residents and visitors. The members are Gallagher, chair; McDaniel, and Simoff.

A newly combined committee for Cemetery, City Property and Blighted Property is chaired by Warfield, with Hicks and Simoff as other members. Vandegrift said he combined the city-property and blighted-property functions to assure that city properties are maintained as examples to citizens who are being ask to bring their own properties up to the building codes.

Other business

The council approved an amendment to the county zoning ordinance to allow signs and banners for “solely charitable events or activities” to on fences and poles. The council agreed with a comment: “As long as it does not apply to the post-office bulletin board, the source of all information in Midway, we can accept it!”

Vandegrift said the City of Midway will again sponsor a table for eight at the countywide Martin Luther King Day breakfast in Versailles Monday, Jan. 16.

Al Cross is director of the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes the Midway Messenger.  Dan Roller served six years on the city council and is the first participant in a citizen-journalism project that will eventually put the Messenger in the hands of citizens of Midway.