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Love was driving force in a marriage and legacy of philanthropy for Eva Farris who has died at age 103

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Eva Farris, the Grande Dame of philanthropy in Northern Kentucky, died peacefully at Rosedale Green in Latonia, at age 103, on September 6.

She is survived by her loving husband of 72 years, Oakley Farris, who honored her in her lifetime with many charitable endeavors that bear her name.

Eva’s personal interests were young people and helping them fill their potential.

Oakley and Eva Farris, just before her 100th birthday

Her husband Oakley, who credited his wife with his success, always said Eva was the driving force in their marriage and that from the beginning she inspired him with the confidence that he could do anything he set his mind to.

Eva grew up in Havana, Cuba, and attended Catholic grade school and high school. She went on to the University of Havana and received her Master’s degree in commerce, then enrolled at Columbia University in New York City.

On one of her trips from Columbia to Havana, she stopped in Miami, Florida, during a hurricane and there met a gregarious young man from Eastern Kentucky. After two years of telephone calls and letters, she and Oakley were married in New York City. They moved to Covington to start their new life together.

Eva took over the couple’s finances. She learned to drive and bought a car to surprise Oakley, who swore off driving after failed attempts to drive while he was in the Army. She began driving him around the country on his business sales calls.

Oakley tells the story of being a traveling salesman for a Cincinnati firm, selling notions (thread, he says) for 31 years. He served in the army during WWII and was at the Battle of the Bulge. He, too, has been honored for his generosity to the community, and at one such event, he said:

“It’s because of my wife that I’m here. My best deal was when I convinced that woman to be my wife because she convinced me I could do anything I wanted to do, and believe me she was right. Just look around Northern Kentucky and you can see what my wife is responsible for through me.”

Eva with her 99th birthday cake.

Eva was a savvy businesswoman. She encouraged Oakley to turn a duplex into an apartment building and rent out the attic, living room, and two-car garage as furnished studio apartments. Soon, the two set a goal and typed up a contract that stated by a certain date they would own 20 apartments.

They each carried a contract and posted one on their bathroom mirror. They started with nothing, but before that deadline, had more than 20 apartments. At one point they owned more than 40 buildings with over 102 apartments.

And thus, they acquired their fortune — which they systematically gave away to many local charities.

They worked closely together in business and invested wisely particularly in their Covington community. Their investments grew and paid tremendous dividends over time, allowing them to supplement Eva’s long-standing and remarkable community and charitable work with strategic cash investments.

The Farrises have donated in excess of $10 million to help others. Among the many charitable contributions of the Farrises are contributions to Northern Kentucky University, City of Covington, Holmes High School, Behringer Crawford Museum, St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Thomas More College, The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts, Gateway Community and Technical College, Kentucky Educational Television (KET) Covington Latin School, and Covington Archdiocese. A list, that is just a sampling of their generosity because they have donated to so many others in the Northern Kentucky region.

These many, extraordinary contributions are a powerful testament to a man and a woman who loved each other and whose love produced a generous spirit that has transformed our community.

In 2019, Eva received recognition for her philanthopy as an Outstanding Woman of NKY. She said,
“When you have the ability to do so, doing good just makes sense.”

For the last several years, the community — thanks to Oakley and others — celebrated Eva’s birthday in fine style. On her 90th birthday, it was at the Eva Farris Reading Room in NKU’s Steely Library, and the following list of the couple’s contributions to the community were recognized:

Eva Farris

Northern Kentucky University
Eva G. Farris scholarships allowed 830 students to attend the College of Business
Eva G. Farris scholarships for students attending the College of Informatics
Enhancement of campus funded and named for Eva G. Farris:
Commons in the College of Informatics
Reading room in the Steely Library
Special Collections
Young Lincoln statue in front of the Chase Law School
Amphitheater named also for Oakley Farris
Auditorium in Math, Education and Psychology Center

City of Covington
5 large bronze statues honoring:
General Leonard Covington at Latin School
Frank Duveneck at Duveneck Flats
Young Lincoln at the Covington Branch of the Kenton County Public Library
Andrew Carnegie in front of The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center
Korean War Memorial at Linden Grove Cemetery featuring Clofus Farris, Eva’s brother-in-law who died in the Korean War and received the Silver Star, Bronze Battle Star and two Purple Hearts
Holy Cross High School Sports Complex
Holmes High School

Lincoln statue

Lincoln statue

Two Legacy Floodwall murals
The Pontoon Bridge in the Civil War, gift to the City of Covington
Covington Religious Heritage donated by Oakley Farris in honor of his parents
Covington 200 sponsor and helped finance video
Land for parking garage across from the Covington Branch of the Kenton County Public Library

Behringer Crawford Museum
Perpetual grant which generates $8,500/year
Mary Bruce Sharon Collection of paintings
Eva G. Transportation Gallery

St. Elizabeth Medical Center
Healing Garden in the Heart and Vascular Institute
Same Day Surgi-Center
Charitable Remainder Trust

Thomas More College
Eva G. Farris Library Art Gallery Scholarships
Support for Mary Seat of Wisdom Chapel

Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center
Heritage Gardens
Charitable Remainder Trust

The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts
Eva G. Farris Educational Building
15-year trust to support education outreach
Front pavilion
Statue of Andrew Carnegie

The healing garden at St. Elizabeth

The healing garden at St. Elizabeth

Gateway Community and Technical College
Eva G. Farris Early Learning Center
Covington Latin School
Eva G. Farris Science Building

Kentucky Educational Television (KET)
Major funding for “Where the River Bends,” a video history of Northern Kentucky
Major funding for “Civil War” by Ken Burns

Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky major sponsor

And the list kept growing.

On her 99th birthday, it was a luncheon at the Ascent, where she and Oakley lived, and Eva expressed gratitude for her many friends.

On her 100th birthday, the community celebrated with her at the Eva Farris Ballroom at Hotel Covington, where she asked for donations to the then-Children’s Inc’s Navigo College and Career Prep program. Children’s Inc. is now Learning Grove.

Eva had been in declining health for some time and spent her last days at Rosedale Green in Latonia.

Memorials may be sent to the Cathedral Basilica Building Fund, 1101 Madison Avenue, Covington, Kentucky 41011 or to The Carnegie, Eva G. Farris Education Center, 1028 Scott Street, Covington, Kentucky 41011.

A Memorial Mass will be held at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington on Saturday, September 17, at 10 a.m. and a Celebration of Life will follow at Covington Latin School, 21 E. 11th Street, Covington.

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One Comment

  1. Bill Weathers says:

    Thanks for the fine piece on Miss Eva and Oakley. As you mention, there are so many beneficiaries of this couple’s generosity they are impossible to list. One dear to my heart was Covington Youth Strings, a program that enabled children to learn violin, viola and cello. Oakley and Eva were the first supporters. Several followed, including the Cincinnati Fine Arts Fund. but without the Farrises, the program would not have begun. Miss Eva was, and Oakley is, as gracious as they both have been generous.

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