In 1981 Dr. William J. Collis and his wife Constance Collis, of Lexington, Kentucky, a respected, now-retired, ophthalmologist) and Connie (an artist and homemaker), both Greek-Americans, began the Hellenic Ideals Program, based on their deep conviction that the ideals of classical Hellenic society are critical foundations of civic life in modern democratic society and that living exemplars of those ideals ought to be publicly honored as inspirations to their fellow citizens. Each fall, an honoree from central Kentucky who best exemplifies ancient Greek ideals is presented to the community at a ceremony that includes an address by a distinguished speaker, who offers some particular insight into the world of classical Greece, and a musical presentation by the best of the Lexington-area musical community. The program takes place at Transylvania University in Lexington, the first university west of the Alleghenies.
Recipients of the award over the years have included authors, philanthropists who support education, two former
mayors of Lexington, the conductor of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, two leaders in local historic
preservation, eminent teachers of medicine and history, prominent public servants in state and local educational
administration, outstanding civic leaders, and the like. The 2002 recipient was Professor Everett McCorvey, who
has brought the University of Kentucky's Opera Theatre program to national prominence.
Among the distinguished speakers are names that will be familiar to CAMS members: Rick Newton of Kent State
University in 1987, Judith Hallett in 1994, Wesley Paine (director of the Nashville Parthenon) in 1995, John
Shumaker in 1996. In 2001John Svarlien of Transylvania spoke, and in 2002 Robert Rabel. Twice and very
successfully the "speakers" were professional impersonators of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison
presenting the political philosophies of those leaders.
Originally the Collises funded the entire ceremony and associated hospitality themselves, but some ten years ago
they established a foundation at Transylvania and invited other interested persons also to contribute to keeping
the Hellenic Ideals Program going. Financially it is now self-supporting. The administration of the Program has
been a democratic procedure from the start: each year's recipient is chosen by a selection committee, and the
program arrangements and speaker selection are handled by an executive committee (on which I have sat for about
ten years). The Collises have been committed to outreach beyond the community ceremony itself (as if that
weren't already outreach!) and have graciously arranged for the Lexington universities to have speakers of
particular interest address classes during their visit to Lexington for the Program. Most recently the Program
is turning its attention to ensuring that secondary and college students are among its audience with their
For more than twenty years the Collises have been living out their commitment to upholding ancient Greek ideals--one of which is the importance of recognizing people who do that very thing. on each year's program they list the ideals they honor: the worth of the individual; freedom; democracy; truth; the pursuit of beauty; ethical standards; and the study of writing, gymnastics, philosophy, music, and painting. Lexington and central Kentucky are the better for it, and that result is exactly what the Collises have wanted to achieve. CAMWS is proud to acknowledge their efforts!
--Michele Valerie Ronnick, Chair, Steering Committee on Awards and Scholarships