A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Eileen Harper, 88, wife of former Rep. Ken Harper for 67 years, dies of coronavirus complications

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Eileen Harper, 88, of Crestview Hills, passed away on Sunday, March 29, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Ft. Thomas.

She and her husband, Ken Harper, were icons in the Republican Party for many years. Ken served as Kentucky’s Secretary of State and as a state representative for many years, and Eileen was there throughout long years of public service and influence. They married in May, 1953.

Eileen Kathman Harper was past president of the Covington Ro-Anns and the Kenton County Jaycee Wives, and past chairman of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee, past chairman of Republican Women’s Club and past chairman and co-chair of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s Bishop’s Seminary Ball, past chairman of the Kenton County Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s’ Organization and past president of Thomas More College Women’s Guild, and as a board member of Sanitation District No. 1.

“From the first time I met Eileen, she was serving her community and leading the Republican Party,” said Kenton County Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann. “Eileen did this with class and calm and set a standard of service. Her family is in my prayers and our County will be forever grateful to her. May God Bless her and her loved ones.”

She graduated from Notre Dame Academy and was employed by the Adams, Brooking, Stepner, Woltermann and Dusing law firm for many years.

Eileen received the Kentucky Educational Television (KET) Public Service Award in 2016 and the Behringer-Crawford Museum’s Two-Headed Calif Award-Special Recognition Award in 2018. That annual award is now named for Ken and Eileen Harper.

She was a member of Blessed Sacrament Church in Ft. Mitchell.

Survivors in addition to her devoted husband of nearly 67 years include sons, Gregory Harper of Portland, ME, Scott (Kate) Harper of Florence, Glenn (Paula) Harper of Covington, Bryan (Janet) Harper of Burlington; daughter, Lesley (Victor) Hugo of Covington; sisters, Audrey (Donald) Schmidt of Mt. Washington, OH, and Evelyn (Richard) Lohr of Cold Spring; seven grandchildren, Andrew, John, Mitchell, Kole Fienauer, Keirstin Feinauer, Stephanie Zeidler and Nathan Zeidler; and two great-grandchildren, Aaron and Elliot Silber.

To protect the wellness of family and friends, a memorial Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Blessed Sacrament after COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

Ken and Eileen Harper

“I am deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Eileen Harper,” said state Rep. Kim Moser. “Eileen and Ken were such a well-respected couple and the bedrock of our early Northern KY Republican Party. Eileen was a true pillar of our community and just a warm and wonderful woman. Our hearts go out to Ken, their children, family and the multitude of friends. We surround the family with our thoughts and prayers at this especially difficult time.”

“Eileen was a true treasure of Northern Kentucky,” said Greg Shumate, a family friend and lawyer at Frost Brown Todd. “As one-half of one of the “First Couples” of Northern Kentucky, Eileen was the bedrock for her husband Ken, during his years of public service as Kentucky Secretary of State and Kentucky State Representative.

“But you can’t forget Eileen’s tremendous leadership skills in her own right. She served as the Chair of the Kenton County Republican Party during a time when her unifying and steadfast leadership was absolutely necessary and later served her community as a member of the board of directors of Sanitation District No. 1. Most of all, Ken and Eileen’s relationship served as a positive example for all – theirs was how a marriage should be.”

Dr. Floyd Poore, former head of the state Transportation Cabinet, was a long-friend of the Harpers.

“I have known Ken and Eileen Harper for many years and know them to be just good, good people,” he said. “Eileen was one of the classiest and most community-minded people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. Her passing is a tragic loss for our region, and my thoughts and prayers are with Ken and their family.”

Eileen is counted among NKY’s deaths related to coronavirus-19. Though she was in ill health otherwise, she was among those most vulnerable to the virus. Her husband is currently under quarantine.

Her son Scott says — which will surprise no one who knew Eileen — that “In her last few days, she was so concerned that she would give this virus to someone — family, friend, healthcare worker . . . She would want it to be said that she fully supported the message of social distancing and following the recommended guidelines to protect yourself.”

So Eileen Harper gets the last word: Stay safe at home, wash your hands, and keep your social distance.

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Please leave comments and share your stories about Eileen Harper below. We will see that her family receives them.

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  1. John Middleton says:

    What a wonderful tribute to a classy lady. She and Ken are Co-founders of the modern day Kenton County Republican Party. But she was so much more dedicated to serving our community. Prayers to Ken and the entire family.

  2. Mira Ball says:

    My sympathy goes to you Ken and I remember fondly our friendship with you and Eileen
    Through many years. Mira Ball

  3. Joe Conley says:

    I have known the Harper family for more than 50 years — from when I was in high school and first became interested in politics. Eileen and Ken were two of the finest people I met — in that circle or any other. Ken and his friend Clyde Middleton, who passed away last Summer, were two of the finest public servants I met or observed from afar. Their accomplishments and public spirit were exceeded only by their wives, Eileen and Merry.

    I considered both families good friends, of me, my family, and my late parents. God speed Eileen, and Ken, if you see this, please know we will keep Eileen, you, and your family, in our thoughts and prayers.

  4. Jeffrey A. Kuhnhein says:

    She was one of a vanishing breed.

  5. Ann Middleton Schmidt says:

    So very sorry to hear of the loss of Eileen! Ken and Eileen are such pillars of the community! Such a wonderful couple devoted to one another and the community. We’d often run into them at Greyhound, Bob Evans, or Barleycorns supporting local business. My heart goes out to Ken with the loss of his best friend. We know how very hard this is as we watched our dad Clyde Middleton mourn the loss of our mom. You’re in our thoughts and prayers Ken. May God hold you tenderly in His hand!

  6. Marcy Bamberger Franco says:

    Ken, I am Carl Bamberger’s daughter. I am saddened by your wife’s passing, for she certainly lived a full and productive life. I know that my father had the greatest respect for you as a fellow legislator and a friend. I wish you and your family every blessing during this trying time. God bless all of you.

  7. Jack Moreland says:

    I have never known a finer couple than Ken and Eileen. There are just a few real icons in our community. People who day in and day out do great work without fanfare. Both Ken and Eileen fit this description in a major way. My heart goes out to Ken during this very tough time but we are all better off for having know both of you.

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