In 1963, Bellarmine’s founding president, Msgr. Alfred Horrigan, decided that the college needed to forge a closer connection with the community in order to grow – and that the best way for the all-men’s school to do that would be through a group of women with ties to the educational and cultural doings in Louisville.
He approached Emilita “Bunny” Barker, whose husband, Ken Barker, was on the Board of Overseers, and asked her to lead the group. At the time, Mrs. Barker (who died in December 2011) had three young children, coached the eighth-grade tennis team at Sacred Heart Model School and was involved in several charitable organizations. “Although it was an honor to be asked, I explained to Father that I was really over-committed and couldn’t possibly add another obligation to my schedule,” she recalled several years ago.
But true to his nature, Msgr. Horrigan would not take no for an answer. And that is how she became the first president of the Bellarmine Women’s Council, which had its first formal meeting on Oct. 8, 1963. Now called the Bellarmine University Women’s Council and claiming 312 members, it will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a luncheon on campus on Oct. 25.
In the beginning, the Council held receptions and helped with college events. Then fundraising was added to its responsibilities. In 1969, the Council developed Louisville’s first community Haunted House in an old barn on an estate opposite the Louisville Zoo.
Margie Murphy, who joined the Women’s Council in 1965 and was president from 1971-73, said staffing the Haunted House was the hardest thing she had to do. “None of the ladies wanted to be Dracula or whatever.” But with the help of husbands and members of the community, the Haunted House raised nearly $82,000 for student financial aid over the next five years, until the barn burned down in 1973.
The ladies were more willing to staff the Council’s next major fundraising project – the Decorators’ Show House. Now known as the Designers’ Show House, it marked its 40th anniversary last month and has contributed a total of more than $1.6 million to Bellarmine’s scholarship aid fund.
“It’s phenomenal what the Women’s Council has done. Think of all the young people they’ve helped,” said Mrs. Murphy, whose son and daughter-in-law both graduated from Bellarmine and who is still active with the Council at age 92. “It’s wonderful to do something you enjoy so much and that allows you to do so much good. I’ve never had a sad moment at Bellarmine. I think that says a lot.”