The History of the World Chicken Festival

In 1989 a vision from several individuals who loved their community of London Kentucky, started to discuss how to combine the county’s history, family entertainment, and nonprofit organizations into a new tourism event. Little did they know, that it would develop into one of Kentucky’s Largest Festivals. Famous chicken cookin’ entrepreneurs Colonel Harland Sanders of Sanders Café and Museum  Kentucky Fried Chicken and Lee Cummings, of Lees Famous Recipe Chicken, worked side be side developing and mastering delicious fried chicken recipes. A fun fact most people do not know is these two chicken business men are family members. Col. Harland Sanders is Uncle to nephew Lee Cummings. These two men were the inspiration for developing the World Chicken Festival. It was important to start the festival in 1990 commemorating Harland Sanders 100th birthday. 

On September 10, 1990 the festival filed to became an official nonprofit under the name World Chicken Festival Association, Inc. The objective of the festival shall be that of providing and holding annual festival on the streets of London, KY and to promote and encourage fellowship among patrons, visitors and citizens of the community and to promote the general welfare of tourism, manufacturing and retail of the city, county and surrounding territory. Also to demonstrate the resources of Laurel County and to do all things necessary to promote the same.

Colonel Harland David Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken  (September 9, 1890 – December 16, 1980) was an American businessman, best known for founding fast food chicken restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken® (also known as KFC®) and later acting as the company’s brand ambassador and symbol. His name and image are still symbols of the company. The title ‘Colonel’ was honorary – a Kentucky Colonel – not the military rank. Colonel Sanders’ first and original restaurant in southern Laurel County, Corbin, Kentucky, is the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken®. Carefully restored and placed on the National Register of Historical Places. You can visit Sanders Cafe and Musuem  as it was remodeled and restored, you will see it as it appeared in the 1940’s. Experience eating delicious Kentucky Fried Chicken® in the Colonel’s dining room and take in his innovative open-kitchen and model motel room an exhibits featuring the Colonel’s artifacts and memorabilia from the early days of KFC®.

Lee Cummings, of Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken (August 19, 1922 – September 13, 2022) is a casual dining franchise founded in 1966 specializing in chicken, homestyle sides, and biscuits. Lee Cummings, the nephew of Colonel Harland Sanders, spent his childhood in the kitchen of his Henryville, Indiana home. Lee hit the road with his Uncle Harland in 1952, selling their own special blend of spices along with their famous pressure cookers, which later became part of KFC’s “secret Recipe”. In three years, Lee and the Colonel opened over 800 KFC stores. In 1962, the Colonel sold KFC to John Y. Brown. After the sale of KFC, Lee Cummings started developing his recipe later to be known as “Famous Recipe.” In 1966, Lee along with Harold Omer started “Harold’s Take-Home” in Lima, Ohio where Lee first introduced Famous Recipe Chicken.

Our Founders

We are thankful for the founders of the World Chicken Festival for creating a vision for the festival which has lasted for decades!

Ken Harvey

Ken Harvey was the London Laurel County Tourism Commission Executive Director from 1986-2012 and the original World Chicken Festival Coordinator for over 20 years. Ken was a key figure in researching for a year and a half of how other festivals throughout the country became successful. He motivated and guided 12 committees, working together to use their creative ideas to generate the manpower to go forward and create their own festival. Using Laurel County’s historical ties to Colonel Sanders, family friendly themes, and collaborating nonprofit organizations, the World Chicken Festival was born. “I love working with people and seeing our community create a festival that has lasted for decades it’s something to say about all of the volunteers and community partners. During the festival my favorite times were to see the kids enjoy the carnival rides and senior citizens enjoying the parades and music entertainment. One special feature the Festival offers is only nonprofit organizations can be food vendors, giving them an opportunity to significant raise money for their organization.

Delford McKnight

Delford McKnight resurrected the idea of the festival after speaking to Dr. Allen Worms, a recreation and tourism specialist from University of Kentucky. Worms became very interested Laurel County after discovering it was home to Colonel Harland Sander’s original restaurant. McKnight said, “Our role was to try to guide the direction and build the base for future festivals.” McKnight head of the steering committee encouraged to travel to  the Pumpkin Festival in Ohio to brainstorm with organizers about thier successful development steps. “During our visit we learned we have to have a large enough group that is involved so they can go and absorb enough information to steer the festival.” McKnight’s vision was to have the World Chicken Festival ready to hatch by 1990 because it would have been the year of Col. Sander’s 100th birthday, the opening of the restored original restaurant and grand opening of the KFC Museum in Laurel County.

Jim Handy

Jim Handy was on the London Laurel County Tourism Board during the World Chicken Festival planning days. Tourism played a factor in helping Laurel County increase the need of hotels and restaurants. He introduced a contests and entertainment to the Chicken Festival capturing all demographics ranging from children, teenagers, adults, families, and seniors. Jim was the Contest and Entertainment Chairman of the 1990 festival. “Our committee spend hours brainstorming of ways to create chicken themed contests that would appeal to all ages, Jim stated. Those first contests included a Rooster Crow-Off, Little Hen and Little Rooster Pageant, a Chicken Cooking Contest and the most well known contest the Colonel Sander’s Look-a-Like Contest. When the budget was small, Handy looked at local, regional and entertainment from Renfro Valley to fill the musical talent.

Tom Handy

Tom Handy, London Laurel County Tourism Commission Board Member, has played a role in helping develop ideas and strategies in the tourism industry. After the inaugural World Chicken Festival become an instant tourism hit for London-Laurel County, new ideas had to start immediately to continue the success and growth of the festival. London Bucket had designed the World’s Largest Skillet to be on display at the 1991 festival. “People were so impressed looking at the 10 foot, 700 pound skillet, Tom Handy replied, Why don’t we start frying chicken in the skillet and serve it at the festival?” The committee went back to the drawing board and covered the skillet display into an actual working skillet.  It had the ability to cook about 8,000 quarters of chicken. It has now became a signature attraction for the World Chicken Festival. Tom continues to serve on the Festival Board of Trustees and as President of the London-Laurel County Tourism Commission Board.

Caner Cornett

Caner Cornett is one of the original founders of the World Chicken Festival. He coordinated the arts/craft vendors and food booths since the festival “hatched” in 1990. In addition to his service on the festival board, he also serves on the London-Laurel County Tourism Commission Board. For 41 years he served on the LLTC Board and of those 32 years represented the Commission as President. He has been civically involved in the tourism industry and helped recruit events to the London-Laurel County community. He continues to serve on the World Chicken Festival Board of Trustees and LLTC Board for guidance and leadership.

Important Milestones

The World Chicken Festival has reached important milestones at various times throughout the years. We’ve outlined important milestones that the festival has achieved.

1989-World Chicken Festival Committee Created

1990- Inaugural World Chicken Festival

1991-Claudia Sanders, wife of Col. Harland Sanders, Grand Marshall of Parade

1992-World's Largest Stainless Steel Skillet is Launched

2020 World Chicken Festival Canceled for Pandemic

2021-Town Center Park New Home of Stage of Stars

2021- Rooster Tail Mullet Contest Logo Wins Traverse Award

2022- Re-Grand Opening of Renovated Sanders Cafe and Museum

World Chicken Festival Board Members

Over the past thirty years, the World Chicken Festival has had dedicated volunteers throughout the community who has served thousands of hours to make this one of the largest festivals in the state of Kentucky. Listed below is the current board members as of 2022.

Kim Collier Festival Coordinator
Kelly Burton Festival Coordinator
Tim McFadden President
Bridgett Turner Vice-President
Angelique Hatmaker Secretary/Treasurer
Lawrence Kuhl Voting Member
Tom Handy Voting Member
Delford McKnight Voting Member
Norman Allen Voting Member
Randall Weddle Ex-Officio Non-Voting Member
Chadd Robertson Voting Member
Peggy Scott Voting Member
Berry Cupp Voting Member
Chuck Johnson Voting Member
Donna McClure Voting Member
Jeanine Thurston Voting Member
Judy Nicholson Voting Member
Lonnie Marcum Voting Member
Wayne Riley Voting Member
Jessica Blankenship Voting Member
Gina Wilson Voting Member
Alyssa Emmet Voting Member
Berry Cupp Voting Member
Carl Hacker Voting Member
Chanel Reams Voting Member
Darrell  Barton Voting Member
Jim Handy Voting Member
Joanne Larkey Voting Member
Megan Zawko Voting Member
Parker Ebertshauser Voting Member
Blair Apgar Ex-Officio Non Voting Member
David Westerfield Ex-Officio Non Voting Member
Deanna Herrmann Ex-Officio Non Voting Member
Gene Kennedy Ex-Officio Non Voting Member
Jamie Mills Ex-Officio Non Voting Member
Robert Abner Ex-Officio Non Voting Member