Louisville native Marita Willis grew up a big fan of the Kentucky Derby Festival, and in 2010, she decided to do something about it. She threw her name into the pot and applied to be on the board, and that year, she was elected. Two years later, she became a member of the KDF Executive Board, and this year, she’s serving as chair of the whole shebang.
Willis works full time as executive director and chief empowerment officer of Hope Collaborative, a nonprofit that helps empower local churches to meet the needs of their communities.
She tells Insider she initially wanted to join KDF because of her love of the city and her desire to help make a difference. Once a member, she made it her goal to one day chair the event, and now that dream has become a reality.
One of her biggest thrills in joining KDF was getting to wear the staff’s signature jacket for the very first time.
“The jackets are such a tradition for KDF,” says Willis. “As a young girl, when I would see people in the Derby Festival jackets, I knew this city was getting ready for all the Kentucky Derby Festival events.”
And now that the jackets have been updated to a fierce hot pink, Willis rocks it out like a superstar as she attends nearly all of KDF’s numerous events, which have already begun.
She won’t tell us which event is her favorite because she genuinely loves them all.
“I am looking forward to great weather at all the KDF events,” she adds, almost as if she’s bargaining with Mother Nature. Because if anyone can strike a deal with the weather gods, it is Willis.
Before she starts preparing for next weekend’s Thunder Over Louisville, we asked Willis some very important questions …
What was your first concert?
Wow — you want me to remember? LOL. I think the Jackson Five was the first concert I attend — it was amazing.
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
Today I feel real confident that I can speak for 40 minutes on the following two topics. The first would be survival/not giving up. It would include my faith walk. The other would be relationship building — being a connector.
What job would you be terrible at?
I have so much admiration for the medical field, but I have so much fear of being in a hospital, a nursing home and even at doctor appointments that I would not be good in this field. A job that required me to sit behind a desk all day would also be tough. I love being in one of the greatest communities — making connections, making it happen!
What is your favorite restaurant or bar?
We are so blessed to have so many great restaurant/bars to choose from, and I love visiting and showing them all off.
What is something you think everyone should do at least once?
Ride in a hot air balloon.
Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city?
We have such a great city! We have great parks, the Bardstown/Highlands area provides good walking to see, hear, smell and feel the wonder of our community. And if you are moving here, I highly suggest getting involved in one of the Leadership Louisville programs and to check out all of the 70-something events the Kentucky Derby Festival makes happen.
What keeps you here?
I love our community — the people and possibilities! My family is here. I belong in this space!