Former Vine Grove mayor remembered

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Thomas Wayne Vowels, 72, died Wednesday

By Amber Coulter

Twrena Vowels remembers the way her husband of 27 years always supported whatever she, their children and grandchildren wanted to do.

She and her husband, Thomas Wayne Vowels, loved to travel and collect antiques. The former Vine Grove mayor never tried to stop his wife when she wanted to do something in which he had no interest.

“He said, ‘You know you don’t have to ask me,’” she said. “I can hear him now.”

Vowels, 72, of Vine Grove died Wednesday at Hardin Memorial Hospital.

His death followed a steady decline of his health that included a type of pneumonia that sometimes affects transplant patients, a bad heart valve and possible complications from various medical procedures. He also was put back on dialysis after receiving a successful kidney transplant from his son about 15 years earlier, she said.

“His body was just giving out,” she said.

Twrena said her husband couldn’t communicate during the last few days of his life. Visitors would grieve, but inevitably bonded over stories about him.

“Although he couldn’t respond, I know he could hear us laughing, and he would just love that,” she said.

He served as mayor from 1982 to 1985. He took over the position after the previous mayor, Mark Bertram, stepped down. Bertram died not long after.

Twrena said her husband was “an all-around good guy” who went to church when he was healthy and believed he’d go to a better place when he died.

The U.S. Air Force veteran and Kentucky Colonel loved watching his grandchildren play sports, cared about his community and formed close, long-lasting relationships, she said.

“Once you were his friend, you were always his friend,” she said.

Former Vine Grove Mayor Donovan Smith, a close friend since high school about 55 years ago, said Vowels had three great loves. The greatest was his family, which he talked about a lot. He especially was proud of his grandchildren, Smith said.

The second was his love for the city of Vine Grove, he said.

Smith said one of his friend’s greatest acts as mayor was to motivate officials in Frankfort to upgrade Vine Grove’s sewer system.

The system was so antiquated when Vowels was mayor waste discharged into a creek. State officials declared no more homes could be built there with the system as it stood.

Vine Grove wasn’t a priority to get a new sewer system, but Wayne used his contacts in Frankfort to smooth the way to get it. That achievement made the city’s current expansion possible, Smith said.

“We wouldn’t have this if it weren’t for Wayne Vowels,” he said.

Vowels served 16 months as an administrative assistant for the city while Smith was mayor, but had to step down because of his health.

He never complained about the suffering he experienced during the last several years of his life, Smith said.

Wayne’s third great passion was his love of University of Kentucky basketball, though he also enjoyed following the University of Louisville’s team, Smith said.

City events coordinator Donna Broadway said Wayne always was concerned about the city.

Broadway said she and her husband, Gary, befriended the Vowelses through political debates and discussions about the community’s well-being, she said.

“Wayne will definitely be missed in this community,” she said.

Visitation continues after 9 a.m. today at Coffey & Chism Funeral Home in Vine Grove. A Mass of Christian burial is at 11 a.m. today at St. Brigid Catholic Church in Vine Grove, where Vowels was a member. Burial follows in St. Brigid Cemetery.

Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or acoulter@thenewsenterprise.com.