The women behind the The Fillies Derby Ball are a formidable army of volunteers whose behind-the-scenes efforts support the Kentucky Derby Festival events and transform a single day into a season. Meet the Fillies.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that a group that selects princesses, crowns a queen and names knights, dames, handmaidens and pages would achieve near-mythical status. “The Fillies Club” as it was first called when it was formed in 1959, was founded to help the Kentucky Derby Festival produce the first-ever Derby Ball to celebrate the world-famous Kentucky Derby. (With all proceeds to go to the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation.)
That first gala included the coronation of a Derby queen and her court— a tradition that has evolved over time into a robust Derby Princess program through which five local young women are selected to serve as ambassadors for the Festival throughout Derby season. Through the spin of a wheel and amidst much pomp and circumstance, one princess is crowned Queen during the Derby Ball. This year, which marks the 60th anniversary of the gala, will have the added excitement of historical memorabilia including gowns, crowns and photos of the Fillies organization over the years.
The pageantry that surrounds The Fillies and their traditions are the stuff of local legend and Derby lore; it’s their philanthropy that sometimes goes under the radar. The group of 250 women is a volunteer powerhouse. “We almost serve as a staff for the Kentucky Derby Festival,” says Fillies Publicity Chair Paula Bishop. “We’re at nearly every Festival event in some capacity. (There are seventy-five at last count.) We give countless hours selling tickets, stuffing goodie bags, creating a float for the parade. We’re often there from start to finish—whether it’s Fest-a-ville or the student art contest. And we work cheap!”
The Fillies also raise funds and spirits with their own events which have multiplied over time to include The Children’s Tea and The Fillies Fashion Show. Ticket prices for all of the events are typically reasonable. “We don’t price ourselves out of the market,” says Bishop. “We adhere to our mission to support the Kentucky Derby Festival which enhances the quality of life for the citizens of Louisville and surrounding communities.”
The 60th Fillies Derby Ball will be held at the Galt House East Grand Ballroom on Saturday, April 14 at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, go to discover.kdf.org/fillies-derby-ball.