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Senior Stars and Centenarian Selected

Media Contact: Mary Margaret Colliver, 859-361-1887 

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 22, 2008) Jessica G. Bell, 86, Dennis C. Cravens, 90, of Lexington, and Joseph C. McMurtry, 86, of Nicholasville, have been selected by the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Foundation Board of Directors as 2008 William R. Markesbery Senior Stars. They will be honored at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Foundation's 22nd annual dinner Oct. 16, 2008 at the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort in Lexington.

In 2002, the Center on Aging Foundation Board of Directors voted to establish a Senior Star award to be presented at the annual fundraising dinner event. The purpose of the award is to recognize Kentuckians who are making lasting contributions in professional and/or community life and who set high standards to inspire others. Candidates are nominated by individuals, organizations and other groups. The selection committee is comprised of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Foundation board members.

The Senior Star Award has been an excellent opportunity for the foundation to recognize and honor those who exemplify graceful aging by remaining engaged in an active lifestyle. This year, the foundation board members voted unanimously to rename the award in honor of UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Director Dr. William R. Markesbery.

In addition to all his scientific accomplishments, Markesbery is best known as a caring, compassionate clinician, a brilliant researcher and a tremendous leader. Carrying forward his name with this award is one small way to recognize Markesbery and his many contributions to the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and, more importantly, his contributions to uncovering the secrets of devastating diseases.

"The UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Foundation is fortunate to have a number of very deserving seniors nominated each year for the Senior Star Award," said Cheryl Feigel, Sanders-Brown Foundation board member and chair of the outreach committee. "Each of the nominees is a model for remaining active and involved during retirement years. Our award recipients this year epitomize the word 'involved' and we are so very proud to recognize Jessica Bell, Dennis Cravens and Joseph McMurtry for all the many contributions they continue to make to our Commonwealth and its people."


Bell was born in Lexington. She is the widow of John Bell III, one of the most respected authorities in thoroughbred bloodstock. Bell also is the great granddaughter of former Kentucky Gov. James B. McCreary. She is a graduate of Stuart Hall in Staunton, Va., and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism at the University of Kentucky.

She started her career after college working at WHAS radio in Louisville where she wrote copy for the newscaster and said she made $25 a week. Bell said she had an opportunity to be a news anchor at WHAS-TV when television was just developing. But she said she froze and couldn't even speak. It was then that she went to New York City and became a model for a while.

Bell and her husband established Jonabell Farm which has since been sold. She has served on the Lexington Urban County Government's Airport Board and is co-founder of the Lexington Ball. Bell has two daughters and two sons, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren. All but one in her family live in Lexington.

Bell established an endowment of The Bell Addictive Diseases Chair at UK in honor of her husband in 2006. At the time, she said doctors are notoriously ill-informed about alcoholism and so many think it's a moral issue. She stated that people either decide to drink or not. But it is a disease and the best way to attack the problem is to educate doctors. Physicians, she said, must learn to recognize the symptoms of alcoholism and addiction and not rely solely on the patient to be forthcoming or completely honest about their problems. The chair is charged with developing a research and education program aimed at medical students, residents and community physicians. It is a collaborative venture between the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Department of Family and Community Medicine and the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research.

Bell is still very active. She plays golf and frequently eats out. She loves to cook and still has a garden at her home. She also works in the garden at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate.


Cravens was born in Lexington. He is a graduate of Henry Clay High School and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in structural engineering through correspondence school. He passed his state boards on the first try. Cravens is a World War II veteran where he served as a cadet in the Army Air Corps.

Cravens has two sons and one daughter who is deceased. He also has six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

He still has an active structural engineering business and works full time. He is past president of Professional Engineers in Construction. Cravens exercises daily by bicycling, walking and doing sit-ups. He has been a 10K runner and placed many times in first and second place for his age group. Now he walks at events. Cravens is a member of Centenary United Methodist Church and regularly donates blood platelets at Central Kentucky Blood Center. Cravens believes that eating right, exercising the body and mind daily and faith in God will take him well over the 100 year mark.


McMurtry was born in Nicholasville in the house in which he now lives. He served in the U.S. Army as a combat medic in the 96th Infantry Division during World War II. He landed with his unit on the first morning of the invasions of Leyte in the Phillipines and Okinawa and received a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars.

A graduate of the UK College of Pharmacy, McMurtry joined his pharmacy school roommate in purchasing Hemphill Pharmacy in downtown Nicholasville in 1949. In 1971, he sold his interest and opened Drug Mart, a larger pharmacy expanding in the Nicholasville area where he still works part-time and has acquired a business partner.

McMurtry is past president of the Jessamine County Chamber of Commerce, the Lions Club and Rotary Club, and remains active as a Rotarian. For the past few years, he has been involved in exercises at the Central Baptist Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.

McMurtry is founder of the Copia Foundation which has contributed generously to the Providence School. The school provides alternative curriculum to special children. Copia also supports the Nicholasville Police Department's baseball trip for children with limited opportunities, and sponsors programs for youth at the Jessamine Country Library.

McMurtry's philanthropies extend beyond his hometown and he has donated land to the city of Lebanon, Ky. for a park. He also is a UK fellow and has been for many years a season ticket holder for UK football and basketball games. He has been a member of the Kentucky Civil War Roundtable for 48 years.

Previous Senior Stars include Thomas D. Clark of Lexington, Dr. William Becknell of Booneville, Ethel Marie Boulden-Foley of Maysville, Saul Kaplan of Ashland, John Steele Davis of Midway, Virginia and Wayne Bell and Isabelle Yates of Lexington.

Wekstein Centenarian Award

New this year is the Dr. David R. Wekstein Centenarian Award. The foundation board selected Essie Barned, 100, of Louisville. Wekstein is professor emeritus of physiology and biophysics, UK College of Medicine, and former associate director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

For 21 years, Wekstein carried an autopsy pager around the clock. Often he would receive urgent calls at 4 a.m. or in the middle of dinner that would compel him to drop everything and travel to the autopsy room. To help scientists unlock the secrets of normal and abnormal aging, the autopsy had to be performed in a timely manner. But Wekstein never complained. After all, the BRAiNS project, (Biologically Resilient Adults in Neurological Studies) the nation's most extensive research collection of high quality brain tissue,was initiated by Wekstein in 1989. He also started the Centenarian Program while he was at the center.

Barned still lives in her own home, doing household duties daily, and requires very little help except for having a person to come in and clean once a month. She also drives and goes some place each day. Recently, she renewed her driver's license for another four years. She visits a nutrition center frequently and sometimes plays cards with other seniors.

Friends and family say that Barned is a wonderful cook. She likes to can and bake. Barned also walks on her treadmill for half a mile each day.

Barned was invited to attend the Fayette County Republican Woman's Club and was asked to give a talk on why she has lived to be 100 years young and what contributed to her longevity. She told the group she loves God, her church, flowers, gardening, her family, friends, and loves to laugh a lot and change with the times.

Barned has two sons. She eats no fried food, but eats a handful of peanuts each day. She said she doesn't worry, keeps busy and doesn't give up.

The Center on Aging has been conducting research on Alzheimer's disease, stroke and other aging related concerns for almost 30 years. America's population is aging, resulting in significant economic, social, educational and health challenges to the well-being of our nation. The UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is at the forefront of this challenge. Through a gift from the Eleanor and John Y. Brown Jr. Foundation and a matching grant from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging opened in 1979. Today, the center is an internationally prestigious research center.

William Safire

The guest speaker for the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Foundation's 22nd annual dinner is William Safire, renowned columnist, author and speaker, who is now chairman of the Dana Foundation and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives.

Safire, 77, says "retire" is a terrible word. As chairman of the Dana Foundation, Safire says he got into this field as a volunteer, first helping to publicize the foundation's work. "This is the best way for older people to ease into the next job," said Safire. "You have to invest in something, a volunteer or an outside interest, so that you got a running jump on the last quarter of your life," he said.

For more information about the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the foundation and its annual fundraising event, call 859-323-5374.


Page last updated: 11/20/2013 3:50:37 PM