Out of town visitors for this weekend's Breeders' Cup probably know that Lexington and the Central Kentucky region is known for it national championship college basketball teams, smooth bourbon and fast Thoroughbreds. What they probably haven't heard is that Lexington also sets high standards for education.
Just recently, The Lexington School, which has programs designed for kids of pre-school age through the eighth grade, was named No. 2 in a list of the Best 50 Private Elementary Schools in the United States. (The New School in Fayetteville, Ark., was ranked No. 1 on the list compiled by the Chicago-based The Best Schools organization).
The Lexington School was founded 56 years ago by Pin Oak Stud owner Josephine Abercrombie, a soon-to-be nonagenarian who has led a very robust life. She is the daughter of James Smither Abercrombie, a sixth-grade dropout who worked in the oilfields of Texas and struck it rich by inventing the blowout protector, a game-changing device for the oil industry. Known as Mr. Jim, Abercrombie would later become one of Houston's most notable philanthropists, starting the Texas Children's Hospital there and supporting countless charities.
That same sense of philanthropy has carried over to his daughter.
While Josephine Abercrombie has pursued many of life's pleasures – riding Saddlebred horses in world-class shows, managing a stable of professional boxers, breeding, owning and even training Thoroughbreds, and participating in competitive ballroom dancing – her greatest legacy undoubtedly will be The Lexington School.
From those hallways have emerged doctors, lawyers, educators and even a celebrity or two. Broadway star Laura Bell Bundy was a Lexington School graduate, as was actor Josh Hopkins. Andy Barr, who currently represents Fayette County in the U.S. House of Representatives and is co-chairman of the Congressional Horse Caucus, is another.
“My father said to me, 'You've been very fortunate in your life, and you need to give something back,'” said Abercrombie, who resides at Pin Oak Farm just north of Versailles. “I thought education was the most important thing I could give.”
What she gave – an educational institution that now ranks among the best in the country – will pay dividends for years to come.
The school opened on Sept. 14, 1959, to a handful of students. Its first graduating class of 11 in 1963 included several individuals with links to the horse industry and civic leadership positions in Lexington. Among them: businessman and philanthropist Bill Young, son of the late Overbrook Farm owner W.T. Young; Winter Quarter Farm's Don Robinson, well-known horseman Mike Bell, and Dave Fishback, who went on to become a veterinarian at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.
The student body has grown steadily through the years, as has The Lexington School campus. Its current student population numbers nearly 600 children, it has reached its highest diversity level at 19 percent, and it has a strong financial aid program for those young achievers whose families might not be able to afford a private school.
At Keeneland last Saturday, when Pin Oak Stud sponsored the day's races, including the Grade 3 Valley View Stakes, many Lexington School graduates were on hand to celebrate the afternoon with Abercrombie.
One such student was Sarah Fishback, who graduated in 2003, 40 years after her veterinarian father. She went on to Sweet Briar College in Virginia, graduated from the Darley Flying Start program in 2013, and is now a senior assistant managing director of hunter programs for the United States Hunter Jumper Association in Lexington. “The teachers were so hands on,” said Sarah of her years at The Lexington School.
“I'm very proud of what we've done,” said Abercrombie of The Lexington School's national ranking and the graduates who are contributing to society in so many ways.
“She had a dream and that dream came true,” one Lexington School parent said of Abercrombie's creation. “She has certainly touched and bettered countless lives.”
As legacies go, they don't get much better than that.
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