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Ohio County Working to Build Bill Monroe Bluegrass Museum

Ohio County is home to Bill Monroe, the man known as Father of Bluegrass music. 

His hometown is preparing to kick off a campaign to raise a half-million dollars to build a museum in his honor.  That’s despite the fact that a much larger International Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro is only 40 miles away.

For more than a decade, a collection of Bill Monroe’s personal items has been sitting in a dusty storage facility.  The location is secret for security reasons.  Locked away are his old gray Cadillac, a plow, furniture, suits, and awards.  Monroe’s last mandolin is stored in a separate, climate-controlled facility. 

Sixteen years ago, Ohio County bought the collection from Monroe’s family.  Jody Flener heads the county’s Tourism Commission and says part of the deal was that the items had to stay in Ohio County.

”The connection is to Ohio County for Bill Monroe," Flener told WKU Public Radio.  "What’s exciting about living in Ohio County is that you still have people who grew up with Bill Monroe and we even have relatives still here."

In December, the county hopes to start fundraising for a 15,000-square-foot museum to house the memorabilia.  It’s planed for the tiny town of Rosine, just a few miles from where the Bluegrass icon was born and buried.  That’s only a half-hour drive from the International Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro – but Flener says it wouldn’t be redundant.

She says the local attraction would be solely dedicated to Ohio County’s native son, and she doesn’t feel threatened by the much larger museum.

”That’s the beauty of being this close to each other.  I think we feed off one another," added Flener.  "Everyone who comes to see the international bluegrass museum, I know they refer here to have them come back to the home place, and we do the same."

Merlene Austin was married to Monroe’s nephew.  She’s now a tour guide at the Monroe home place.

The home is decked out with some of the original furniture and other cherished family belongings.  Merlene Austin says visitors often ask why there isn’t already a museum or some type of memorial dedicated to the musician inducted into the rock ‘n roll, country, and bluegrass Halls of Fame. 

Homeplace caretaker Tom Ewing is also excited about the prospect of a Bill Monroe Museum.  He sang and played the guitar in Monroe’s last band.   He hopes a museum will give fans a better understanding of who Bill Monroe was as a person.

”He’s been characterized as a woman chaser by a person who wrote a biography of him.  Bill was so much more than that," commented Ewing.  "Yes, he loved women and had a lot of affairs in his life, but there were so many more important dimensions to his personality than that.”

If fundraising efforts are successful, Ohio County hopes to start construction in the spring.  The county hopes the museum will be a fitting tribute to a boy who grew up on a farm in rural Kentucky and went on to, in the words of a song he recorded, have a Beautiful Life.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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