Ward Jennings Oates celebrates his 100th birthday today. Two years ago in a State Journal interview recognizing his 98th birthday, the longtime businessman/politician said he hoped to live to be 105. Hes nearly there and still going strong. He considers himself quite lucky to have lived so long.
He started out March 19, 1906 in Mortons Gap, an early railroad stop in the western Kentucky coal country of Hopkins County. By the time he was 29 he was working in politics with A. B. Happy Chandler during his first term as Kentucky governor.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in late 1941, Oates left his Montrose Park home and joined the United States Army. He was sent to Yale University to learn all there was to know about Italy. He had to understand everything from Italian telephones to standard electrical wiring as well as the language and culture.
With a series of hops along North African ports, landing at Casablanca and Algeria, Oates followed Patton and Montgomery and the Allied Invasion as it moved into Sicily July 1943. The famous Patton slapping incidents would occur on Sicily in August of that year.
His primary post was with the office of displaced persons. He dealt with refugees who were coming into Italy from all over Europe. He was placed in charge of taking 800 Jewish refugees to Palestine. His war record lists Naples, Foggia, Rome, Arno, and North Africa with two battle stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the meritorious service unit award.
Major Oates returned stateside in April of 1946.
When Oates got back to Kentucky he became active in politics again. Wartime production had created a shortage of metal and the state was faced with the logistical problem of not having enough steel to make new license plates. So, out of necessity, Ward Oates invented the license plate sticker with the idea rapidly spreading to other states in a likewise situation. He jokingly says he should have gotten a patent for it.
In state government Oates held many high profile posts. He was appointed Commissioner of Finance in 1957 by Governor Chandler later serving as Commissioner of Highways in 1958. Governor Earle C. Clements appointed him to the Capital Planning and Zoning Commission in 1950. In 1954, along with distillery executive C. Orville Schupp, Oates began transforming the Blanton family estate into Blanton Acres.
The project, which included both single family dwellings and apartments, took over a dozen years to complete. In 1959 he started the Juniper Hills Development Corporation. In the mid 1960s his passion for the real estate business brought him into a partnership with Glenn Purdy and Pauline Lewis, initiating the Meadows Subdivision.
He served Kentucky government for more than 35 years culminating his career with the opening of the Thorn Hill Bypass in 1959. His contributions have meant much in the way of a better life for of us here in Frankfort. We thank him for his years of service and dedication and his impact on the face of an ever growing Frankfort. Happy 100th Birthday wishes to Ward Jennings Oates. And good luck on reaching your goal of 105 years!