University of the Cumberlands recently dedicated a collection of historical papers about the late Governor Bert T. Combs. The papers, along with a previously commissioned bronze bust of Governor Combs, are located in the Grover M. Hermann Library on the university’s campus.
Combs was the 50th governor of Kentucky, serving from 1959 – 1963. Spanning the mid-1900s, the Governor Bert T. Combs Papers include political ads, news releases, and clippings, all of an unofficial nature involving his personal and public life. The papers contain significance not only regarding Kentucky’s history but also on a more personal note for Combs’ family.
Dr. Larry Cockrum, Cumberlands’ president, spoke about the impact of Combs’ life, saying, “The legacy of The Honorable Bert Combs can be witnessed throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky. His vision transformed state education while other states followed this reform. Roads developed under his administration that have created jobs and provided access to remote areas. His work of professionalizing the Kentucky State Police has kept us more organized in the training of Troopers and the safety of our citizens. Governor Combs had a tremendous impact on the lives of all Kentuckians, and we are honored to be part of his legacy.”
In attendance for the dedication was The Honorable Sara Walter Combs, judge for the Kentucky Court of Appeals, Bert Combs’ widow; Mrs. Lois Combs Weinberg, Combs’ daughter; Ms. Virginia Combs, his niece; Mrs. Kim Combs Gersony, niece; and Jan Wren, director of the campus library, among other members of the campus and the community.
“Governor Combs was a champion for human rights for all people and an advocate for equal education for all students. It is fitting to have his papers in our library as a legacy to his outstanding work for equal access to education,” said Jan Wren, director of the library, in a speech at the event. “As an alumnus of Cumberland College, Governor Combs’ papers represent and embody the university’s mission and vision to provide a quality, affordable education to students from all backgrounds and to ensure access to underserved student populations. Thank you, Judge Combs, for your generosity.”
This dedication of Combs’ historical papers was a decade in the making. Judge Sara Combs reached out to Cumberlands in December 2012 offering to donate papers gathered by her late husband. The papers were then stored in various locations on campus until the recent renovation of the campus library was completed.
President Cockrum noted at the event, “This special collection dedication would not be possible without the generosity of Judge Sara Combs and her commitment to securing the legacy of her late husband.”
Bertram Thomas Combs was born on August 13th, 1911, in Manchester, Kentucky, located in Clay County. His father was a part-time logger and farmer, and his mother was a teacher. The family had seven children and was quite poor.
Combs enrolled at Cumberland College (now University of the Cumberlands), where he attended from 1928 until 1930, as Cumberlands was a two-year college at the time. He got a job on campus sweeping floors and firing the furnace in one of the men’s dorms in order to pay for his education. Following his time at Cumberlands, Combs earned a law degree from the University of Kentucky and went into private legal practice.
As the Governor of Kentucky, Combs expanded the state’s highway and state park systems, professionalized the Kentucky State Police, and expanded Kentucky’s education system, among other accomplishments. Following his service as Governor, Combs practiced law for many years and represented many of Kentucky’s school boards in a lawsuit that paved the way for the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) in 1990. He passed away in 1991.
In Combs’ honor, years ago University of the Cumberlands established the Bert T. Combs Scholarship to help qualified Kentucky students meet full-tuition costs by making up the financial difference between tuition costs and the students’ federal, state, KEES, and merit scholarships.
The Bert Combs Papers can be accessed during library hours. To access the library’s resources, visit www.ucumberlands.edu/library.