The Paducah community recently lost two iconic leaders whose vision and dedication were instrumental in the continued progress of Paducah/ McCracken County. Both of these devoted citizens were witness to monumental changes in their work and in their lives as their careers and personal passions were carried out with grand ambition. Here we honor these two proud Paducahans and the MANY contributions they left to each of us.
Herman Eugene Katterjohn Jr. was born in Paducah in 1921. He attended Paducah schools, graduated from Columbia Military Academy in Columbia, TN, and from Purdue University in 1943 with a degree in pharmacy and with an ROTC commission. He later served as an Army aviator in the Korean War.
Mr. Katterjohn owned and operated Owen Cleaners for 40 years, 20 of those years with his father-in-law Horace Owen. He served as director of the American Division of The Johnson Group Cleaners, Liverpool, England for 12 years. He was invited 13 consecutive years to the Varsity International Dry Cleaners and was chairman in 1976. He was a former member of the Paducah Tourist Commission, the Paducah Convention Center Board, Paducah Water Works, and Greater Paducah Industrial Foundation. He was a lifetime member of the United Church of Paducah where he served as an elder. He was the longest-serving member of the Rotary Club of Paducah.
“Mr. Katterjohn was a part of Paducah’s greatest generation,” said City Commissioner Allan Rhodes. “He was a fabric of the community,” added County Commissioner Bill Bartleman. Longtime friend Basil Drossos said he was a part of the “bedrock that modern Paducah was founded and created on.” “One of his favorite pastimes was just driving around Paducah,” said his son-in-law, David Perry. “The riverfront, parks, different buildings and monuments were continually fascinating to him. He loved taking rides like that.”
“Almost everyone will tell you that he always knew their name. He knew about their family. He was very much a people person. He was really interested, not just in your name, but he wanted to know how you were doing, how things were going. And it was a truly genuine interest,” added his daughter, Carolyn Perry.
One of Mr. Katterjohn’s most noted civic projects was the University of Kentucky College of Engineering Paducah campus. In 2003, he established the first endowed professorship and was also a key leader in getting the college established. “He had a vision for how having engineering education in this area would significantly contribute to the economic development of the region,” said David Silverstein, director of the Paducah campus.
Mr. Katterjohn had been a member of the Paducah Bank Board of Directors since 1957 and a past chairman. “Mr. Gene Katterjohn was instrumental in the leadership and growth of the bank and took great pride in it,” said Joe Framptom. “He was committed to the belief that the bank should serve and give back to the community. Those were tenets of his beliefs, not just in his personal business, but in his life. Our bank will reap the many benefits of having Mr. Katterjohn at the helm of our board of directors well into the future.”
Frank R. Paxton was the son of Edwin J. and Florence Paxton. He was a 1948 cum laude graduate of the University of Notre Dame. From then until 1961 he served as business manager and general manager of The Paducah Sun (then the Paducah Sun-Democrat). He became publisher of the newspaper in 1961, succeeding his father who had held the position since 1900.
In 1968, Paxton moved to Chicago to assume the role of president of Burkeand James, Inc., a photographic supply and manufacturing company owned by Paducah Newspapers, Inc. He returned to Paducah in 1972 to become president of The Paducah Bank and Trust Company, a position held until his retirement in 1984. Mr. Paxton led numerous civic organizations and charitable efforts during his life in Paducah.
Mr. Paxton served two terms as president of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce. He was president of the Rotary Club of Paducah and chairman of Riverside Hospital, which later became Lourdes. In the 1950s, he chaired a fundraising effort that netted a then-record $87,000 for participating agencies. Following that campaign, he was presented with the Junior Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Service Award. He was active in Democratic politics, including a role as state campaign chairman for President Lyndon Johnson. He served on numerous state boards and agencies and in 1974 was appointed by Governor Wendell Ford to the Murray State University Board of Regents. Mr. Paxton was a guest at the White House on several occasions during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He told friends and family that one of his fondest memories was an occasion in 1961 when he and other newspaper publishers were invited to a private luncheon with President Kennedy to discuss the economy.
“Although Frank did not have a banking background, he certainly had a business background and an understanding of the community,” said Joe Framptom, CEO of Paducah Bank. “His good common business sense served him well and it served our bank and the community very well. He was an ethical, honorable individual. And he was a very good friend and mentor to me. He will be greatly missed.”