As The Fillies celebrate their sixtieth anniversary, it’s time to take a closer look at this formidable group of women and how they’ve helped make the Derby Festival such an important part of our city’s rich history.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Fillies. In 1959, under the guidance of Francis Askew Davis (Mrs. Golden Davis), 17 women formed “The Fillies Club” to support the Kentucky Derby Festival Committee. Those charter members chose a gold horseshoe pin as their symbol along with making Regret, the first Filly to win a Kentucky Derby, their mascot. There were three stipulations for membership: They would work on the club’s signature event, the Fillies Derby Ball; their efforts should further the Commonwealth of Kentucky; and of course, they must place a $2 bet on any filly that is entered to run in the Kentucky Derby.
Through the years, there has been tremendous growth in membership. By 1970, there were 150 members of The Fillies and in 1971, the group incorporated as a nonprofit 501C4 organization. Today, their membership, which is limited to 250 women, continues to be comprised of the same kind of civically-minded women who were the foundation of the organization so many decades ago. Their charitable and social footprints expand as they support the following beloved activities during the two weeks of Derby festival:
The Derby Princesses Program
This program provides an excellent way for talented young women to earn scholarship monies, while serving as official ambassadors of the city as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival, in the spring. Those selected receive two $1,000 scholarships— one from The Fillies, Inc. and the other from the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation. Also, included is a complimentary wardrobe along with other sponsor gifts. During their tenure, they volunteer in the community by spending time with nursing home residents, reading to children as they visit local schools, assisting with feeding the homeless along with all Derby related activities. Past Derby Queens and Princess ambassadors include many civic leaders including Martha Layne Collins, the first woman Governor of Kentucky.
The Children’s Tea
An annual event invites young girls and boys to engage in a whimsical afternoon of fun. Encouraged to dress in their finest attire, these young children interact with the current and former Derby Queens and Princesses while doing arts and crafts and enjoying “royal” treats at the tea party. To commemorate the occasion, they take home a keepsake photo.
The Fillies Derby Ball
One of the most anticipated events of the Derby season is The Fillies Derby Ball. It is the prelude to two weeks of festivities leading up to The Kentucky Derby and is the event that benefits the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation. This is Louisville’s only Coronation Ball. The evening is capped off with the coronation of the Derby Queen, who is selected by the traditional spin-of-the-wheel. The Queen’s first Royal act is to “dame” and “knight” individuals to the court for their contributions to the community.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Fillies includes a diverse group of women including business owners, physicians, homemakers, judges, educators, nurses, politicians and business executives. Some are still in the workforce while others are retired.
The Fillies membership works jointly with KDF as a non-profit organization in producing the:
» The Fillies, Inc. Official Kentucky Derby Festival Program
» Derby Queen and Derby Princess Program
» Fillies Derby Ball (benefiting KDFF)
» The Children’s Tea
» Royal Court Float in the Pegasus Parade
All money raised at The Fillies Derby Ball supports the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation providing educational scholarships to the youth of our Commonwealth who participate in KDF events such as the Academic Challenge, Spelling Bee, RoboRumble, and the Student Art Contest.
All the hard work and long hours invested in such events as The Fillies Derby Ball and many other KDF activities, is done solely by Filly members on a VOLUNTEER basis.
Meet The Fillies
While this group of women supports some of the most beloved events in our community, there remains mystery around the membership in this by-invitation-only organization. That’s why we gathered a few in our offices for a photo shoot including (left to right) 6-year member Tawana Bain, co-owner of AFM Threads and founder of Derby Diversity Business Summit; 15-year member Shannon Adkins, Philanthropy Officer at Kentucky Circuit Court Clerks Trust For Life and Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates; 14-year member, Fillies President Debra Rayman; 2-year member Judge Jessica Moore; and 5-year member, former state senator and former councilwoman Julie Denton.
Several of them shared the stories of how they became involved.
President Deb Rayman:
While Deb Rayman is currently serving as The Fillies President, her journey to this position is layered with fond memories of many different types of involvement. “Having grown up in Louisville, I have always loved all things surrounding the Derby Festival,” she says. “Even though I knew of the Fillies, I didn't know how to become a member. In 2004, my daughter, Rebecca, was selected as a Derby Princess. She came home from her first meeting with the Fillies and said, ‘Mom, you’re not going to believe how many of the ladies you know.’ During that year, I attended many events and saw the Fillies at work firsthand. It was natural that the following year I became a Provisional Member. Over the years as a member it has been an honor to serve in a number of positions. One memory that still stands out was meeting Chubby Checker on The Belle of Louisville. I will admit that meeting Monte Durham from “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” was also a favorite. He is so much fun and returning this year to serve as co-emcee for our Derby Ball!”
Fillies Derby Ball Chair: Shannon Adkins
“When I moved to Louisville from West Virginia 19 years ago, I was anxious to find worthy causes and charities in which to get involved,” Shannon says. “I was told that getting involved with the Kentucky Derby Festival would help me meet many people, from all walks of life, who have a dedication to serving their community. I did that and that set in motion the meeting of so many Fillies at every juncture. After my provisional Fillies year, I immediately became involved in several committees, such as The Fillies Derby Ball and the Fillies Parade Float. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to Chair several Standing Committees such as: Parade Float, Ways & Means, Apparel, Fillies Fashion Show, and this year, The Fillies Derby Ball. I’ve also had the honor of being elected to positions such as Vice President and Nominations & Elections Chair. The women who make up The Fillies organization are outstanding members of their community. I look forward to each spring when I get to be at the center of the magic of what our organizations make happen for Louisville.”