Colonel’s Right Hand
In a unique story that helped forge the Bourbon industry that we know today it was Orville Schupp told Elmer T. Lee on his way out of the plant, to “show up next Monday morning and we’ll find something for you,” after Colonel Albert Blanton told him “Son, we’re not hiring any hands today.” It was also Schupp that led the Buffalo Trace Distillery for fourteen years after Blanton retired but he also ran the plant with precision and kept all its employees motivated for nearly two decades as the Colonel’s right hand man.
In the military, every Brigade has a commanding officer that’s a Colonel, an executive officer that is a Major and a Sergeant Major that makes things run smoothly and is in touch with all the rest of the Brigade. Orville Schupp served as both the Major and the Sergeant Major during his time at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in a period that took production up over 500% in his tenure.
Orville Schupp was born in Northern Kentucky just across the Ohio River from Indiana in 1909. He attended and graduated at Purdue University in Indiana with his Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in May of 1931. Initially Schupp worked in construction and as an electrical inspector. Two years later he married Margaret in Frankfort, Kentucky and they had two daughters, Patsy Schupp in 1935 and Jinny Schupp in 1937. Now that he had a family Orville was looking for a career and took a position at the George T. Stagg Distillery in 1939 as a maintenance engineer.
Orville’s talent and drive were evident at the plant and he took a liking to the distillery business. Within a few years he had received several promotion and was promoted to the supervising engineer. Colonel Blanton saw promise in young Schupp and named him plant superintendent in 1942. While Orville was running the plant, the number of employees that were needed to match demand for their bourbons, blossomed to over 400, making the distillery the second largest employer in Central Kentucky behind only the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Blanton himself wanted to travel to open up international markets and spread the word about the distillery’s quality and products. But the Colonel wasn’t up the rigor of both running the plant and serving as an ambassador, so in late 1943 he retired from the day to day operations of the distillery. Colonel Blanton hand picked Orville Schupp as his successor and named Schupp Plant Manager and Master Distiller.
In 1957 the largest spirit distributor in the world, Schenley Distillers, Inc. lured Schupp away from Stagg. Schupp’s protege Elmer T. Lee was chosen to run Buffalo Trace upon his departure. Orville moved to Lawrenceburg, Indiana and ran the Schenley plant just across the Falls of the Ohio from Louisville. There he helped develope the Bourbon brands of Ancient Age, I. W. Harper, J. W. Dant and Old Stagg. Today that plant is known as M. G. P. and supplies white label sourced Rye, Bourbon and Whiskey to hundreds of companies around the world under hundreds of brand names.
In 1967 just nine years after joining the company he was elected president at Schenley Distillers. At that time he oversaw all domestic and international operations and was responsible for his four Bourbon brands as well as such other brands as Dewar’s White Label Scotch, Segram’s 7, Seagram’s V. O., Roma and Cresta Blanc wines.
After retiring from Schenley in 1970, Schupp moved back to Frankfort. In his retirement he secured the land and arranging the financing for what became Frankfort’s largest recreational complex, the “Juniper Hill City Park” which housed an 18-hole municipal golf course, two Olympic-sized swimming pools, a Community Center, tennis courts, a Meeting center for business retreats, a large picnic area and playing fields for sports.
Schupp died of a heart attach in Lexington, Kentucky in January 2003 at the age of 93. Orville Schupp was inducted posthumously into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in the same year that he passed away just eight months later in September 2013. Schupp became only the 3rd of 9 Buffalo Trace Distillery members to be inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame behind only Elmer T. Lee and George T. Stagg himself. He was so highly regarded that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in only its third class of inductees.