This Kentucky Colonel works at Home Depot, not a fried chicken stand
Jeffrey Raven Leonard, 52, an employee of the Everett Home Depot, holds a charter naming him Colonel of Kentucky, an honor from the Kentucky Governor. He received the award, which is given to 4,000 to 5,000 people annually, for popularizing a veterans hiring program at Home Depot. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
EVERETT – The email that hit the Daily Herald’s newsletter inbox was finger-licking odd.
“I was recently appointed Colonel of Kentucky by the Honorable Andy Beshear, Governor of Kentucky,” it said. “I live in Everett.”
What about it?
Everett is seven states, 2,400 miles and a 36-hour drive from the capital of Kentucky (which, by the way, is Frankfort, not Louisville).
The sender, Jeffrey Raven Leonard, is an employee of the Everett Home Depot who now joins thousands of other honorary colonels, including Kentucky restaurateur Harland Sanders, who used his title to sell fried chicken.
The award, commissioned by the governor, grants use of the “Honourable” before one’s name and bragging rights, at least in Kentucky, where people know that colonel title isn’t about 11 herbs and spices.
“Nobody here knows what that is,” Leonard said. “People are like, ‘Oh, KFC.’ I told my boss and he was like, ‘What?’ My wife urged me to contact the local paper and said there was a Kentucky colonel in the area.”
A Kentucky Colonel, the highest honorary title bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is awarded to civilians for “notable accomplishments, contributions to civil society, notable acts, or outstanding service to the community, state, or nation,” the website states.
Most recipients are ordinary people who make a difference in their world.
Leonard, 52, who served 8 years in the Navy, was nominated by a friend for his initiative to publicize Home Depot programs for veterans. He is the Customer Experience Manager at the Hwy 99 store, making sure shoppers are happy.
“He reached out to military bases to tell them about his work at Home Depot and how he felt it would be a good fit for him after the military,” said Gabe Soltero, military relations program manager at Home Depot in Atlanta. “It makes our work easier. He’s one of our frontrunners in the Pacific Northwest to educate them about opportunities at Home Depot.”
A Kentucky connection is not required to receive the honor. Racers, singers, actors, authors, politicians, chefs, comedians and a few popes are among the more than 400,000 Kentucky colonels commissioned over the past 200+ years. Some famous names include Johnny Depp, Dolly Parton, Tiger Woods, John Lennon, Jennifer Lawrence, the Smothers Brothers and Jeopardy genius Ken Jennings.
“Muhammad Ali is in there,” Leonard said. “I feel humiliated by it.”
It’s easy to nominate someone (like maybe your favorite journalist). Just go online to the kycolonels.org website.
Two Kentucky state employees in the governor’s office review the applications to either approve or deny the nominations. The winners receive official certificates in the format 12 x 16 inches.
A non-profit organization, The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, takes it from there, retrieves the list, and sends out welcome letters inviting the Colonels to join together for philanthropic and community causes.
“The title dates back to 1813, with the first governor of the Commonwealth,” said Director Colonel Sherry Crose.
Most don’t go as far as Harland Sanders.
“He’s a real Kentucky Colonel, so he got Colonel Sanders. I guess he portrayed that honorific pretty well, didn’t he?” said Krosse.
About 4,000 to 5,000 new Kentucky Colonels are commissioned annually.
“We have colonels from 50 states and 59 countries,” Crose said. “People like to meet other colonels. I consider it a college alumni association. Every colonel I’ve met certainly has some kind of giving heart.”
Kentucky has homecoming weekends, bourbon tastings and Kentucky Derby parties. They raise money for charities, as do members of about 20 local groups east of the Mississippi, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Canada. Leonard and Ken Jennings may need to start a PNW chapter.
Crose said there were 468 Kentucky Colonels in Washington state.
“This week I signed letters of welcome to members of the Pearl Jam group,” she said. “Pretty cool.”
Leonard hails from southern Indiana, across the Ohio River from Kentucky. He is a sixth generation Hoosier. So he had heard of Kentucky Colonels and even knew one, his ex-father-in-law.
“Everyone in Indiana knows about it,” he said.
Before moving to Washington, he lived in Texas and worked for Home Depot, where he courted, as he put it, “a handsome woman” named Amy. The couple moved to the Everett store in 2021 and got married.
Leonard received official Kentucky Colonel certification earlier this month.
“It arrived in my mailbox and I was like, ‘Holy cow!'” he said. “My wife started giggling. I go from Raven. She said, ‘Oh look, Kentucky Fried Raven.’”
Is there a person, place, or thing that makes you wonder, “What’s up with that?” Contact a reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; [email protected]; Twitter: @reporterbraun.