Annual event to celebrate area’s Kentucky heritage

The group was founded in 1955 by the late Stanley Dezarn, a Kentucky-born educator who moved to Hamilton to work in the Fairfield school district.

Dezarn was, as he was fond of letting people know, born in a log cabin in Clay County, Ky., and prior to moving to Hamilton taught eight grades in a one-room school there.

“It didn’t take Stanley long to realize his Kentucky ancestry wasn’t a plus in much of Southwestern Ohio,” wrote local historian Jim Blount, who was also a friend, in a history of the organization. “He recognized a problem that faced most Kentucky natives.”

“They were stereotyped — and the subject of many jokes, some crude and some cruel,” he said.

Dezarn recognized that their cultural differences often limited their opportunities and learned that it was best to just keep quiet about their Kentucky heritage.

“Stanley Dezarn didn’t hide his pride in his humble ancestry,” Blount wrote, “not for a moment. And he didn’t believe others should hide theirs.”

So, being part educator and part missionary, he founded the O’Tucks so that people would “come out of the closet” and boast, not apologize, for their roots.

“He waged a forceful, but civil, campaign to end or at least soften the prejudice and discrimination inflicted on those from the hills and hollows,” Blount said.

During the early years, the O’Tucks organized a day-long music festival at the Butler County Fairgrounds that would draw as many as 10,000 people, according to newspaper reports at the time, and featured animated pep talks from Dezarn

“A lot of times, he would book the musicians before he had the money to pay them,” Blount said, “but he would usually raise the money by the time they got here, and if he didn’t he’d take the money out of his own pocket.”

Later on, when Blount and Dezarn organized an “O’Tucks Night” as part of the Fort Hamilton Days festival, they would pass a hat to pay for the bands.

“It would be packed with 6,000 or 8,000 people,” Blount said. “One night, we came up with $10,000.”

At Friday’s banquet, the O’Tucks will honor former Butler County Sheriff Don Gabbard and the late Vada Shell Stanley, wife of Ted Stanley, founder of the Danbury Mint, for their contributions to the O’Tucks scholarship fund, which Dezarn started in 1997 in partnership with Miami University Hamilton.

Dezarn passed away in January 2004.

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