The highest honor awarded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky is that of Kentucky Colonel.
The tradition began in 1813 during the second term of Governor Isaac Shelby after he returned from leading the Kentucky Militia on a highly successful "War of 1812" campaign.
He named one of his officers, Charles Todd, as an "aid-de-camp" on the Governor's staff with the rank and grade of Colonel. Later governors commissioned Colonels to act as their protective guards; they wore uniforms and were present at most official functions. (Today's Colonels are not required to perform such service.) Other governors continued this practice, and by the 1920s the Colonels' ranks had grown considerable.
Today, commissions for Kentucky Colonels are given by the Governor and the Secretary of State to individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation. Among the ranks of the Kentucky Colonels are distinguished leaders such as Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan and English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, volunteer firemen and teachers - people from all walks of life who have performed in an extraordinary manner.
In 1928, an effort began to organize the Colonels into "a great non-political brotherhood for the advancement of Kentucky and Kentuckians."
In 1932, the Honorable Order of the Kentucky Colonels was formally born. Today, the organization is incorporated as a charitable organization with by-laws directing it to be non-partisan, non-profit and dedicated to good works within the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Over the years, Colonels have contributed millions of dollars to worthy causes. In 2006, with voluntary donations from all 50 states and 35 nations, the Good Works Program Fund made grants totaling $1.5 million to 162 charitable and educational organizations. It marked the 16th consecutive year grants of at least $1 million had been made. In addition to their collective charitable efforts, Colonels are Kentucky's ambassadors of goodwill and fellowship around the world.
The Governor serves as Commander-in-Chief of the Honorable Order. The 12 members of its board of trustees serve on a voluntary basis.
Cited by: https://www.sos.ky.gov/admin/Executive/Pages/Kentucky-Colonels.aspx