Dr. Kelly Thompson
(Inducted in 1992)
Kelly Thompson Sr., President Emeritus of Western Kentucky University, was Chairman of the Board of Western's College Heights Foundation, a philanthropic component of Western dedicated to aiding Western students through scholarships. His more than 60 years of service to the school spanned more than two-thirds the life of the University, which was founded in 1906. Western's first president, Dr. H.H. Cherry, employed Thompson as a field representative in 1929 when the latter was an undergraduate. He was elevated to the Western presidency after 26 years as a member of the administrative staff as Field Representative, Director of Public Relations, Assistant to the President, and as Acting President after the death of Dr. Paul L. Garrett, Western's second president.
He served as president of Western from 1955 to 1969. During the 1970's as president of the College Heights Foundation, he reorganized and developed the Foundation with the result that its growth has been extraordinary. During Thompson's tenure as president of Western, enrollment at the University grew from 1,684 in 1955 to 11,069 students enrolled in 1969. During the same period, he steered the school through both its greatest physical expansion and academic development. Working from a comprehensive master plan that was created under his leadership, 43 major construction projects were added to the Western campus. During his tenure, the faculty grew from 98, with 23 percent holding doctoral degrees, to approximately 600, with 43 percent holding earned doctorates. One of the most significant events in Western's history occurred in during Thompson's tenure when in 1966 the Kentucky General Assembly elevated the institution to university status.
In recognition of his work and leadership, Thompson was honored by the Kentucky Press Association as "The Outstanding Kentuckian of 1960;" and Kentucky Gov. Edward T. Breathitt presented Thompson with the first "Kentucky Distinguished Citizen Award" in 1965. Thompson earned the bachelor of arts degree and the master of arts degree from Western. In 1956, he was the recipient of the doctor of laws degree from Eastern Kentucky University. During World War II, Thompson served as an officer in the United States Navy. He was awarded a special commendation by then Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, for outstanding performance of duty. The Western Kentucky University affiliate of the national Public Relations Student Society of America honored Thompson in 1977 by designating its official name to be the Kelly Thompson Chapter of PRSSA. He was one of the three men who brought about the organization of the Ohio Valley conference and was one of the first inductees when the Conference created its Hall Of Fame in 1977. Dr. Thompson died in 1993.