Nearly 400 leaders of the Owensboro business community paid tribute Thursday to three entrepreneurs who have left their marks on the community during Junior Achievement of West Kentucky’s annual Owensboro Business Hall of Fame induction luncheon at the Owensboro Convention Center.

“We’re celebrating excellence,” Kirk Kirkpatrick, the master of ceremonies, told the crowd in the German American Ballroom.

The bank sponsored the luncheon.

The latest inductees into the Hall of Fame are Wayne Foster, the late Jack Wells and the late Bill Kuegel.

Foster, the only living inductee this year, choked up as he accepted the honor.

He said it was an honor to be inducted with Kuegel and Wells.

Foster said his wife, Cathy, is “my hall of fame.”

“We’ve come a long way from our dream of a double-wide trailer,” he said. “But it all belongs to God. Our job is to manage it.”

Foster told JA members in the audience that being an entrepreneur isn’t easy.

“I can’t tell you how many times we refinanced our house to make payroll,” he said.

Foster is president of American Patriot Getaways, a Daviess County-based company that manages more than 500 rental cabins in the Smoky Mountains and is the largest cabin rental company in that region.

He previously owned a computer company, The Systems Specialist, which partnered with IBM.

And Foster helped develop Stonegate Estates on Kentucky 54.

Marcia Carpenter, Kuegel’s daughter, said, “He loved people. He was the real thing.”

She talked about his father’s strong work ethic, his love for people and his ability to influence young people to become successful.

She said, “Daddy would be tickled to death” with the honor.

Kuegel, 1924-2018, was an agribusiness leader in the community.

A World War II veteran, he owned farms and tobacco warehouses and served on the boards of many local and state organizations.

Kuegel served as an agriculture adviser to several governors and met with four American presidents to promote agriculture policies.

The Rev. Jim Wells told the crowd that his brother, Jack, who died on Aug. 2 at 65, would have made a short acceptance speech and sat down.

He said he would have called his brother to congratulate him and Jack Wells would have said, “I’m just doing my part.”

Jim Wells said, “He loved people. He loved Owensboro and he would walk off this platform ready to serve.”

Wells, 1955-2020, was a major player in Owensboro’s economy for decades.

He built a chain of health care facilities that were at one time the largest long-term health care company in Kentucky with more than 3,500 employees.

And in the past decade, Wells and Matt Hayden built the new Boardwalk Pipeline Partners Building, the Holiday Inn Riverfront, Alorica Building and Enclave at Riverfront Living downtown, bought Towne Square Mall and the old Texas Gas property at 3800 Frederica St. and began redeveloping them.

Criteria for induction include “outstanding civic and business contributions to the Owensboro area, business excellence, entrepreneurial spirit, courageous thinking and action, inspiring leadership, community impact and service as a role model.”

Dan Douglas, JA president, told the crowd that despite the coronavirus pandemic, JA was able to serve more than 20,000 students in western Kentucky during the last school year.

He said former inductees into the Hall of Fame donated $3,500 this year for scholarships for JA members.

Previous inductees include John G. “Pete” Barnard (2020), Malcolm Bryant (2019), Roy Burlew (1997), L. Berkley Davis Sr. (2000), William M. Elmer (1997), Charles E. Field (1997), Carol Martin “Bill” Gatton (2000), Lawrence W. Hager Sr. (1998), Michael E. Horn (2020), Morton J. Holbrook Jr. (1998), Chris C. Reid (2020), W. T. Stevenson (2000), William H. Thompson (1998) and Terry Woodward (2019).

Kieth Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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