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Friends of Covington Organization Announces Dissolution

The Friends of Covington organization announced Tuesday that it has dissolved after 34 years.

The group was formed in 1987 and is known for its annual Covington Beautification Awards, which presents a coveted banner to property owners who have improved their buildings or grounds.

Friends of Covington also honors prominent citizens with its Covington Award and more recently launched a Holiday Decorations Awards program.

It cited years of declining membership blamed in part on the COVID-19 pandemic which reduced its ability to meet in person or hold its annual Covington Award dinner and fundraiser, or stage its Covington Beautification Awards at the Behringer-Crawford Museum.

The Beautification Awards and the Holiday Decoration Awards programs will continue under the leadership of the Old Seminary Square Neighborhood Association, an announcement said.

That will begin next year.

“We thought that it was probably time to pass the baton on programs that have proven to be popular throughout the city for decades. Our membership has declined in recent years for a variety of reasons, including the fact that newer organizations which have similar objectives have been created,” said John Niland, president of the Friends of Covington. “Keep Covington Beautiful, Renaissance Covington, and the Center for Great Neighborhoods all have played vitally important roles in turning things around in a city that may have been at low ebb when the Friends of Covington was created.”

“A lot of good things are happening in Covington right now and maybe there isn’t the same sort of need for an organization like ours today,” Niland said.

“I believe the Old Seminary Square Neighborhood Association will be able to devote the time and energy that’s necessary to do a great job with the beautification and holiday decoration events. The only thing we want people to remember is that the Friends of Covington created the awards programs that encouraged people to take care of their property and show some pride in a city whose history goes back more than 200 years,” Niland said.

In the last year or so, membership on the board has been dominated by people who live in Old Seminary Square, a neighborhood that radiates out from the intersection of Robbins and Russell streets, the announcement said.

Don Mays, who chairs the neighborhood group, is on the Friends of Covington board along with his wife, Tahli. Connie Carr, Maureen Thelen, and Greg Paeth are board members as well as Linda Carter, who had been a longtime resident of the neighborhood until she and her husband Dan moved to another Covington neighborhood several years ago.

“We really thought that the awards programs should be preserved for the future,” said Don Mays. “Although it might seem like a simple thing to do, it really takes a lot of time to solicit nominations for the awards, tour neighborhoods to get a first-hand look at properties that were nominated, take photographs, gather information, interview property owners and then compile that information into a “script” for the presentation ceremony.”

“And once all of that is done, you have to plan and stage an event that would accommodate all of the winners, their family members, friends and public officials who attend,” Mays said.

The mayor of Covington usually presents the awards certificates to the winners.

Mays said Old Seminary Square will seek help from other neighborhoods in an effort to get more people involved in a process that was designed to recognize at least one homeowner in each of the city’s 18 neighborhoods.

“We want this to be a city-wide project. We want people involved from all over Covington. It’s not just an Old Seminary Square event. We inherited this from Friends of Covington, which always tried to attract members from all over the city and recognize people who had gone above and beyond in all of the neighborhoods,” Mays said.

The Friends of Covington held its first organizational meeting at a luncheon aboard the Mike Fink riverboat restaurant on Dec. 2, 1987. Some 35 people attended that first meeting and one of the objectives of the organization was to shake off that “hillbilly image” that seemed to exist at the time for Covington and some other cities on the south side of the Ohio River, the announcement said.

Over the years, the Friends presented an annual Covington Award at a fund-raising dinner that was held each May. Some of the most prominent people in the city and in the region received the award. 

Recipients included Covington banker and business leader Ralph V. Haile Jr.; Corporex developer William P. Butler; newspaper editor Judith G. Clabes; banker Merwin Grayson Jr.; Bishop William A. Hughes; city and county commissioner Mike Mangeot; Covington mayor, city commissioner and county commissioner Bernard Moorman; philanthropists Eva and Oakley Farris; builder Ralph Drees; downtown business leaders Jim and Donna Salyers; city commissioner Charles B. Eilerman; Center for Great Neighborhoods executive director Tom DiBello, and Jeanne Schroer, president and CEO of the Catalytic Development Fund Corporation of Northern Kentucky.

The Covington Award was last presented in 2019 to Lisa and Normand Desmarais for their business investments in the city, Lisa’s work in government, and their leadership roles in planning and implementing the Covington bicentennial celebration in 2015.

-Staff report
Photo: Holiday decorations in Old Seminary Square in 2020 (Brian Frey/RCN file)