A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Eva Farris is celebrated for a lifetime of philanthropy on her birthday, as she nears a century of life

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By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Northern Kentucky celebrated on of its most prominent and generous philanthropists on the eve of her 99th birthday Monday afternoon.

Eva Farris celebrated on the eve of her 99th birthday at a luncheon with friends and cake at the Ascent in Covington (photos by Mark Hansel).

Eva G. Farris was born in Havana, Cuba, but she is Covington through and through.

She married prominent Northern Kentucky businessman Oakley Farris in 1950, following a chance meeting during a hurricane in Florida, and a long-distance courtship.

Together, they made a fortune and have shared the wealth with the region they call home, donating more than $10 million to organizations throughout Northern Kentucky.

About 40 of her close friends and associates joined Eva for a birthday luncheon Monday in a meeting room at the Ascent in Covington where the couple now lives.

“It makes me so happy to have real friends,” Farris said. “People say they have friends, but I am so lucky to have so many.”

Longtime friend Elaine Groneck describes Farris as an angel from heaven.

“She was brought down here to do so many things and she has totally succeeded,” Groneck said.

The groups, organizations and institutions of higher learning that have benefited from their generosity is too long to list. Among the more prominent is Northern Kentucky University, which has received more than $3 million from the couple.

Eva Farris greeted her guests as they arrived at her birthday luncheon and had a photo taken with each one. Here she is seen with her husband, Oakley, and former Covington Mayor Sherry Carran.

NKU is home to the Eva G. Farris Reading Room in Steely Library, the Eva G. Farris Special Collections and Eva G. Farris Auditorium in the Math, Education, Psychology Center. They have endowed scholarships throughout the region and the ballroom at the Hotel Covington bears her name, in recognition of her generosity.

“She and her husband grew his business as a team and then turned their sights on Covington and Northern Kentucky to make her adopted home all it can be,” Mike Hammons senior director of advocacy at Children Inc. said  “They spread their resources and their affection over all of us and you see their legacy everywhere you go. It’s been a remarkable journey from Cuba to Covington.”

Fred Hollis said his mother, who is also 99 years old, was one of the first friends Eva Farris made in Covington and their friendship has endured over the years. Hollis, who is African American said Eva never saw color.

“When she came, integration was not really accepted, but their friendship has remained the same from the first time they met,” Hollis said. “They are both as sharp as ever and their friendship has never wavered.”

Fred Hollis still brings Eva Farris communion every Sunday. His mother was one of the first people Eva met when she came to Covington and they are still close friends today.

Steve Oldfield, assistant director, service learning, Children Inc. said he has always been amazed by Eva’s energy and warmth.

“You can just tell she has a big heart and is loved by everybody who knows her,” Oldfield said.

Among the many charitable contributions of the Farris’s are contributions to Thomas More College, two murals for the Roebling Suspension Bridge, a donation to help remodel the Carnegie Center for the Arts, support for Covington Latin School, and contributions to the Diocese of Covington.

A surprise guest at the luncheon was Bishop Roger Foys of the Diocese of Covington. He did not stay for the luncheon, but Farris said his appearance was wonderful surprise.

“He is a wonderful man and so very open,” she said. “Him being here made a great day even a little bit better.”

Oakley Farris has always credited his wife for his success and it is the reason so many of their charitable endeavors bear her name.

Longtime friends celebrate a birthday luncheon with Eva Farris at the Ascent in Covington.

He was a traveling salesman for a Cincinnati firm and bought and refurbished rental homes in Covington. At one point he owned more than 40 rentals.

He said Eva, however, has been the couple’s driving force, literally and figuratively, for much of their marriage.

She studied business at Columbia University and took over the couple’s finances after they married and ws also her husband’s driver for years. The story of Oakley’s three wrecks while in the Army during World War II has been told and retold, and it is one of the main reasons he has never driven.

“It’s wonderful that so many good people can come together to honor one of their own who has been around for 99 years,” Oakley Farris said. “Today all I saw was good vibes coming from everybody. This is a wonderful day for my wife.”

For more information about the life Oakley and Eva Farris have shared, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytib.com

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