2017 South Central Kentuckian of the Year

Christal McKinney of Hancock Bank and Trust laughs as she talks to Cora Jane Spiller during the Community Foundation’s 2017 South Central Kentuckian of the Year event on Thursday, May 25, 2017, at the Knicely Conference Center. (Austin Anthony / photo@bgdailynews.com)

For a few years, Cindy Hines had tangible evidence of how generous Cora Jane Spiller could be.

“She came to visit, and I commented that I liked her coat,” recalled Hines, a cousin by marriage to Spiller. “She took it off and left it there for me. I wore it for years. She would literally give you the clothes off her back.”

Spiller, who died Friday one day shy of her 92nd birthday, is being remembered today by family and friends who have similar stories of the generosity that made her and her late husband Col. Robert Spiller benefactors to countless organizations and individuals in Bowling Green and the surrounding region.

“If you had a cause and they were behind it, they would make sure it was successful,” said Bowling Green City Commissioner Sue Parrigin. “If Cora Jane was passionate about something, she wouldn’t let it go.”

Cora Jane Spiller was passionate about a lot, particularly if it had to do with the betterment of Bowling Green, the city where she grew up. She and Col. Spiller worked to benefit such disparate groups as the Salvation Army, the Boys and Girls Club, Orchestra Kentucky and South Union Shaker Village.

Their work earned the Spillers the 2017 South Central Kentuckians of the Year Award from the Community Foundation and 2009 Jefferson Awards for public service, among other accolades.

But the honors for supporting high-profile charitable organizations was only part of the story, says Bowling Green attorney Steve Thornton.

“A lot of people know about the many kind things the Spillers did, but they did a lot more anonymously,” Thornton said. “They weren’t seeking any recognition. Cora Jane will be sorely missed.”

The daughter of Roy and Jane Morningstar (a former Daily News reporter), Cora Jane Spiller left Bowling Green to accompany her husband during his 30-year U.S. Army career but returned in 1980 to start a 40-year legacy of community service.

That community service was an inspiration to those who knew her, particularly her four children.

“She had such an incredible impact on the lives of my siblings and me until the day she passed,” said Helen Spiller Petersen, now a teacher in South Africa. “When we went out into the world, they expected us to get involved, make a positive difference and be passionate about our interests. They provided the perfect role models for this.”

Liz Bernard, the current executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Bowling Green, said Cora Jane Spiller was still energetic and enthusiastic about her interests until the end.

“After the Colonel passed away (in 2018), we would call to check on Cora Jane, and she was nearly impossible to catch because she never stopped going,” Bernard said. “The times we did catch her, she would always change the conversation to ask how we were and what we needed. That is truly who they were as a couple – servant-leaders in every sense.”

Cora Jane Spiller also had a great interest in the history of Bowling Green and was a resource for local historian Ray Buckberry.

“She had an encyclopedic knowledge of Warren County and Bowling Green,” Buckberry said. “She was a valuable resource for everyone interested in those subjects.”

And she wasn’t shy about sharing the stories and information she had gathered.

Dr. Steven Pankey, rector of the Christ Episcopal Church that Spiller attended, learned that soon after moving to Bowling Green nearly four years ago.

“Cora Jane was a delightful storyteller,” Pankey said. “When I made a visit to her, I planned it for the end of the day and planned to spend at least two hours there.”

Pankey also learned to appreciate Spiller’s penchant for philanthropy.

“Her generosity knew no bounds,” he said. “She gave of her time, talent and treasure to many different places.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

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