In Conversation

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The official start of the Kentucky Derby Festival is around the corner, and organizers say this one is expected to attract some 1.5 million people to its various venues.

Since its start in 1956, the Kentucky Derby Festival has grown to include more than 70 events.  Much of that growth has occurred under the leadership of Mike Berry. Berry has been with the festival for 33 years, with more than two decades as president and CEO.  But after this year’s festival, he will retire.

On WFPL’s In Conversation, host Rick Howlett talked with Berry about his tenure and asked him and other organizers about what’s in the works for this year’s festival.

Our guests were:

  • Kentucky Derby Festival President and CEO Michael Berry
  • Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff Stacey Robinson
  • Vice President of Communications Aimee Boyd

Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff Stacey Robinson said local groups suggest events for the Kentucky Derby Festival every year, but organizers are selective about which ones are approved. Aimee Boyd, the festival’s Vice President of Communications, said it is important to maintain variety among the events and to add new ones in response to trends.

“We want it to be a representation of events for the entire community. That’s why the festival was started back in 1956 was, by the community and for the community,” Boyd said. “We look at our events and try to make sure we’re having something that everybody can enjoy.”

Those events include the Pegasus Parade, the Great Balloon Race, and the Great Steamboat Race — an event that motivated Berry to to work for the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Berry says he is retiring to spend more time traveling and be with family.  He says over the years the festival has have tripled its economic impact, generating $127.9 million for the local economy.  Berry also recalled experiences with celebrities such as Gladys Knight and William Shatner. Though he’s retiring, Berry still plans to take part in local events.

“I just wanted to take the opportunity to say, thank you to everybody for the support you give to the festival,” Berry said. “I’m excited about staying a member of this community and celebrating Derby every year by going to Derby Festival events.”

Join us next week for In Conversation as we talk with Jefferson County Public Schools’ Superintendent Marty Pollio.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.