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West Point holds a special place in the heart of 34-year-old Chris Lueken, president and curator of The West Point Kentucky History Museum.
“My grandfather was born there in 1924,” Lueken said.
Though he had moved away from the river town by 1936, Lueken’s grandfather later would return once a week, taking along his granddaughter, who lived in Shively at the time.
“I was between 6 years old and 9 years old when he started taking me to West Point to fill up his gas tank, then slowly drive around town to tell me about my family, where they lived and the ghost stories that surrounded them,” she said.
Those weekly drives had an impact on Lueken.
“The trips meant a lot to me,” she said. “I always loved hearing his stories and West Point became almost a sacred place in my mind. I cherish these memories now.”
Lueken, who now lives in Louisville, forged a special bond with West Point. Her grandfather died in 2002.
About five years ago she took her daughter to West Point River Days, where she strolled her child around town and talked with residents.
“And I got hooked all over again,” she said.
Her interest in history and researching her own genealogy also led her to West Point resources. She came to know West Point historian and Ancestral Tails Historical Society charter member Richard Briggs and ATHS newsletter editor Gary Kempf.
Lueken is now on the ATHS board of directors as county liaison.
Around September 2009, she began meeting with some of the residents during a weekly impromptu breakfast club at Rhonda’s Country Kitchen Restaurant, where discussions span all manner of topics and lasted until lunchtime.
“I’m always late,” she said.
Eventually, about January 2011, she was asked if she would chair West Point River Days for 2011. She agreed.
“I had until July to have this thing done,” Lueken said.
It was also during one of the breakfast club meetings she suggested using a vacant city building for a museum. Lueken was told she should approach the city council.
At the time the city had planned to lease the space, but because a water pipe burst and caused some damage, requiring repair and making the space unavailable for leasing, Lueken’s idea found traction. The space was permitted for a museum on a temporary basis.
The museum started out with a display of arrowheads, a room dedicated to Fort Knox and exhibits related to local history.
The West Point Kentucky History Museum was in operation for the River Days festival in 2011 and had more than 200 visitors during the three-day event.
“It was such a huge success that the next Monday I went back to the city council and asked, ‘Can I stay?’” Lueken said.
The city agreed to allow the museum to extend its stay. More items were added to the collection, including photographs and artifacts.
One special acquisition was a bell used at Pitts Point Academy, a school that opened in 1860 in the Bullitt County community that later became part of Fort Knox.
“It’s the first official gift to the museum,” Lueken said, noting all other items are on loan.
During this year’s West Point River Days, the museum saw more than 200 visitors in one day.
Though the allotted time has run out for the museum to occupy that space, Lueken plans to approach city council requesting a one-year extension. Eventually, she said, when the city property becomes unavailable she hopes to find a permanent home for the museum.
“I would definitely like to see it stand on its own, though I really adore the city for supporting us,” she said.
Lueken also hopes the museum will become a well-known presence in the community, eventually hosting events and activities.
Her involvement in the community is tangible. Her commutes to West Point are so frequent she logged more than 4,000 miles one year, she said.
But she’s happy to make the trips to the town she said is “almost like the peninsula of Hardin County” in that it seems to be its “own world.” On the other hand, town residents makes no bones about where they live, despite proximity to neighboring counties.
“They are proud to be part of Hardin County,” she said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FACTS ABOUT CHRIS LUEKEN:
n Family: Husband, Brian; daughter, Ellie, 6.
n Favorite music: Ever-changing; Amy Winehouse; underground.
n Favorite movies: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Virgin Suicides” and “Inglourious Basterds.”
n Favorite TV shows: “Arrested Development,” “Seinfeld” and “Modern Family.”
n Favorite authors/books: Richard Brautigan; “Arabian Nights” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
n Hobbies: Photography, hunting for old bottles and spending time with her daughter.
n Pets: An Australian cattle dog named Chickory.
n Other activities: Having lost her first child, Grace, in 2005, she is active with Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group including an annual walk in St. Louis.