Former governor, WWII veteran receive Spirit of Kentucky award Daughters of the American Revolution State Regent Leslie Miller presents the Spirit of Kentucky Award to former Gov. Martha Layne Collins and World War II Veteran Helen Evans. (KT)
By JUDY OWENS, for Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) - Former Gov. Martha Layne Collins and Capt. Helen Evans are the recipients of the Spirit of Kentucky Award for Patriotism from the Kentucky Daughters of the American Revolution. Collins was the first and only female governor of Kentucky and is known for landing the Toyota Assembly Plant in Georgetown.
Evans was an early volunteer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, or WACS, and served in France and Germany during World War II.
The awards were conferred by State Regent Leslie Miller at the DAR State conference held in Lexington on March 31.
Born in Bagdad, Ky., Collins was an excellent student, with a strong interest in extracurricular activities. Her parents were active in local politics and she stuffed envelopes and accompanied her parents canvassing in local elections. After earning a degree in home economics at the University of Kentucky, she married Billy Collins and taught high school at Seneca and Fairdale.
Collins eventually became a candidate herself, first winning a race for clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, then defeating Republican Hal Rogers for lieutenant governor in 1979. In 1983, Collins was elected the first woman governor of the commonwealth. Her best-known achievement was landing the Toyota Assembly Plant. What is lesser known is her comprehensive education plan in 1985, which included a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, a reduction in class sizes in public schools and a plan to provide more equal funding for poorer school districts.
After leaving the Governor’s Office, Collins served as president of Saint Catherine College, directed the International Business and Management Center at UK, and served as chairman of the Kentucky World Trade Center.
In 2011, Collins became a member of the Isaac Shelby Chapter of the DAR.
The Bluegrass Parkway was renamed for her in 2003 and the Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award was created to be given annually by Women Leading Kentucky.
Like Collins, Evans started her professional life as a University of Kentucky graduate and high school home economics teacher. Born on June 11, 1920 in Fortville, Indiana, she was one of a group of young women who dared each other to apply for the newly created Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942.
Although she was only 21, Evans was accepted for Officer Candidate School at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She trained in army food service and served as the Office of the Quartermaster General inspector for state side WAC mess halls. By early 1945 she was assigned to the European Theatre of Operations with the Office of the Quartermaster General outside Paris, France. At the war’s end, she was working along the banks of the Rhine where she was feeding German prisoners of war.
After the war, Evans was a senior training officer for the Veteran’s Administration in Louisville until 1951. She held a number of posts in Frankfort, including director of the Lieutenant Governor’s Mansion and director of the state meeting house. She has served as an executive officer of the Kentucky Mansions Preservation and Mary Todd Lincoln house since 1985.
A past regent of the Captain John Waller Chapter, Evans joined the DAR in 1948 and on April 17 she will be a 70-year member of the society. Her experience as a WAC is archived as part of the Veterans History Project in the Library of Congress and at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries.
In honoring these women, Miller, the state regent, said: “Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend George Wythe in 1786 that public education was the key to maintaining our democracy, saying that ‘no other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.’ Perhaps no Kentucky citizen has better embodied the Jeffersonian combination of commitment to education and civic engagement than these honorees."
Last year’s Spirit of Kentucky award recipient was Kentucky author and environmentalist Silas House.