Here at Locust Grove, we focus a lot on the past, and the people who lived and worked here before Blankenbaker Lane even had a name. In the present, wonderful people help preserve the stories of the past and keep them alive for current and future generations. Recently, we lost one of these wonderful people–an historian, storyteller, docent, and volunteer known for her distinctive way of telling people about the past she loved. Lynn Renau passed away in late December, and our hearts are heavy with the loss of such a lively presence from Locust Grove. Lynn cared fiercely about history and firmly believed that learning about the past was crucial to living well in the present. Now, in order to live out her legacy, we’d like to share some memories of her, so we can always remember how important she was to our story.
“She first volunteered at Locust Grove in 1964, which made her one of our first. She volunteered from 1964-1968, then again in 1978-1979. She returned and started back on a regular basis in 2008.
“She drove me crazy, but we got along very well. She had a wicked sense of humor. She also was very generous to Locust Grove […] When my Newfoundland dog died, she sent a very sweet condolences card from [her dog] Lord Barkley. It actually meant a lot to me. I still have it. We talked about our dogs a lot. He was so precious to her […] She was just a very unusual but fascinatingly interesting person. Her knowledge of early American, and especially Jefferson County, history was massive, but I remember recently a discussion of outhouses. She knew almost nothing about outhouses. A revelation.”
“The most time I had ever spent with her was the last Book Sale when she and I worked as cashiers at the table by the door. We worked out a deal […] that she would count the books into hard bound, paper backs, etc. She would give me a total and I would get the money and give the change […] It worked really well except when somebody didn’t buy enough books to suit her, and then she would tell them ‘Look, you need to go get two or three more books’ and she would tell them, ‘The rule around here is that these are such good prices that any books we don’t sell we have to take out back and burn, and if you buy just a couple more we can meet our quota. You don’t want to be a book burner do you?’ I wondered what the heck was she talking about, but 90% of them would go back out and get a couple more books. I liked that a lot.”
Frances Lussky, Tsh-Tae-Wahjun and Goh-Deeyee-Dohleth:
“I loved bringing my children to her Death at Locust Grove presentation around Halloween. She made it so fun and interesting. I also brought my friend to it. I also enjoyed knowing that I could see her at each event I attended at Locust Grove, say hello and talk a bit about what might be going on. I will miss visiting with her.”
“Not only did I teach Lynn’s daughter, [I] have run into her numerous times because of our involvement with local history writing and causes and recently moved down the street from her, I have in the past year seen her numerous times walking her dog in the neighborhood as I have walked mine. I often misspoke her dog’s name as my dog, Chile, wanted to play with him. But as I greeted her dog, Lord Barkley, he would have none of it. Or, was is it …Sir Barkley? Lynn always corrected me in a most debonair manner on her dog’s ‘proper’ title. Obviously I still have problems remembering correct titles of dog nobility.”
“[…] Lynn was one of the most active, passionate, and sometimes even combative tour guides at Locust Grove. I’ve never known anyone who felt as strongly about history as Lynn — and she loved to figure out what part of history you were most interested in and then engage you in a repartee about it.
“If you were lucky enough to get Lynn as your docent on a Locust Grove tour — and many were because she tirelessly volunteered so many hours every week — then you got a customized stroll through the past because she always started her tours by asking why you came and what you wanted to learn[…]”
(A longer memorial by Jason can be found here.)
“A few years ago, I was talking to her during the week leading up to the Jane Austen festival. We were having a conversation about ways docents can make history more relatable to guests and I shared that I love to tell the story of Mary Schenley during Jane Austen Festival because it’s straight out of the pages of an Austen novel.
Lynn confided in me that she had recently realized she had never read any of Austen’s books and that she came to the conclusion that it was important for her to be more versed in them so she could better interact with festival attendees. So she had sat down the previous weekend to read Jane Austen. I asked her which book she had read and she replied, ‘All of them.’ Startled, I asked, ‘All of them in one weekend?!’ Her reply was something along the lines of, ‘I don’t know which ones they’ll want to talk about so I had to read all of them.’ Lynn never did anything halfway.”
“[Lynn] told me a few years ago she didn’t think she liked Jane Austen… I said, that’s okay, not everyone does. And we left it at that. A few weeks later she approached me and said, ‘Bonny! I love Jane Austen!’ She became a lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America!”
Sharron Hilbrecht :
“I can’t imagine LG without her. I will always remember whenever she’d engage me in a conversation about something I knew she thought I was well-versed in. She’d give me that knowing glance, like she was letting me in on something, just the two of us, and then she’d proceed to tell whatever it was, saying something like, ‘Well you know…’ as if I truly did know. I never, ever wanted to act like I didn’t! […] She was truly one of the most amazing people I ever met.
“[Lynn’s death is] … like a library has burned to the ground. She was one of my favorite people. Knew something about every possible topic. What an incredible loss to us all.
“It took me a while to ‘get’ Lynn. She didn’t suffer fools lightly. But once I understood how genuinely kind she was and how much she loved Locust Grove, I could not have had a better friend.”
“We at Locust Grove will need to work very hard to compensate for all she did for LG. Her tenacious search through incoming books found [that] what looked like trash was actually a valuable, as well as rare, source for genealogical KY research. Her quirky sense of humor took some by surprise as she delivered her statements with ‘deadpan’ sincerity but were really just her way of poking fun. Lynn was truly dedicated to history in all forms–books, reenactments, book sales which benefited the total Locust Grove experience. I will truly miss her and her dedication!!!!”
“I got to know Lynn well during the last five years when I became active as a Locust Grove docent and part of the weekend staff. As a writer and historian, she was always interested in discovering new books on Kentucky & American history of the Locust Grove period. We traded books and provided each other with titles of interesting writers and subjects. We had running discussions of various historical topics – some a little odd and obscure […]
“She was always good for an interesting story or anecdote on anything under the sun. She seemed to know or have known just about everybody in Louisville. She knew all about our local scandals – both past and present.
“She was fascinated about long hidden facts about the area. She was thrilled when an LG volunteer found an on-line obituary for John Collins – William Croghan’s 100 year-old business manager. A few months ago she met a tour guest who was a direct descendant of Henry Hamilton – the infamous British “Hair Buyer” of the Revolutionary period and an adversary of George Rogers Clark. She had planned to correspond with this fellow and glean some information about Hamilton’s American roots.
“Lynn had a dry and unpredictable sense of humor which I am not sure everyone understood – it may have gotten her into trouble some times but I thought she was great fun.
“Seeing her numerous times at Locust Grove interacting with staff and guests, I also saw her do some very kind things for a number of people – this should not be forgotten.
“She was my friend and I will miss her.”
“Lynn made better historians of all of us. It’s good to remember her humor could be just as sharp as her mind […] I never knew anyone who marshaled facts like Lynn. You might disagree with her on a rare occasion, but you’d better be able to quote chapter and verse. She always did so with authority. I worked with Lynn on the old Liberty Bank commercial with the coffin pumper now at the Vintage Fire Museum. It wouldn’t roll back onto the truck – until Lynn casually kicked the chock out from under the wheel.”
“I could always call Lynn to go to an auction or antiquing with me. She was kind, thoughtful, intelligent to the max and I will always miss her. She was one of my best friends. And such a loss to Locust Grove and most of all to her dear family.
“I will miss Lynn so much. She was so special to me. She knitted my first grandchild the most beautiful sweater and about a month ago she came into Locust Grove carrying a brand new bag of cat food she had bought she thought my little cat would like […] Lynn was always so thoughtful. I could tell her anything. Not so many people I can do that with. She always understood and knew where I was coming from.”
Kristie Slack Shockley:
Lynn got excited when my daughter Heather told her that she was doing her National History Day project on Susan Look Avery. She did a little clap. She proceeded to tell Heather a lot of information that helped her with her research […] And when she found out that we owned Air Devil’s Inn Lynn had information that we did not have. The roof of ADI was in a James Bond movie! She also said ‘as you know….’ to us. We didn’t always know. But it was fun to be in on her ‘secret’.”
“I worked with Lynn these last few years at LG during book sales, book sorts and mailings. We usually sat at the same table during LG volunteer events. I always enjoyed her conversations. Lynn attended many lectures and was always reminding me how much she loved lemon bars and, with that smile of hers, hinted that I should make them more often.”
“Lynn was an interesting conversationalist. I enjoyed my times chatting with her in the Locust Grove volunteers’ library and elsewhere. She was an ardent researcher … not just in books and dusty documents. She would take to the field eagerly, like the time I helped her discover the Herr Family Cemetery, tucked back in a half-hidden location in Graymoor-Devondale.
“She possessed a great memory … and her mental library was chock-full of interesting tidbits and long-scoped stories. She could – and did – discuss many topics with enthusiasm, and then just as quickly another subject matter would claim her attention.
“Lynn spiced her conversations with witticisms and irony. Yes, there were straight-forward facts … but weren’t these dealt with so much more enjoyably with a sprinkling of off-beat humor?
“I’ll miss those chats … and the many spinning pinwheels of her stories.”
Lynn’s life will be remembered at Locust Grove on February 5 at 2pm. Please join us to share more stories and celebrate the woman who gave so much to the place we all love so well.