Karen Eugenia Mitchell, Kappa Delta of the 1970s, who delayed her graduation until 1988 because of a “love for horses,” has lived anything but a dull life! It’s an understatement to say that she has gotten everything out of a lifetime and all it has to offer. Interviewing her under the Mississippi Champion Tree on campus (Osage Orange Maclura Pomifera) might have been accidental, but very apropos.
HottyToddy.com: Karen, where do we start?
Karen Mitchell: Having grown up in Lexington, Kentucky, my dad, Sidney Eugene Mitchell, was an Ole Miss alum, dating back to 1941. In 1947, the US Army had requested that he pursue Civil Engineering, which brought our family to Kentucky.
HottyToddy.com: Life was grand in the early 1970s, and you found yourself involved in your sorority here in Oxford, so what lured you away?
Karen Mitchell: “The Blood-Horse Magazine” in Lexington offered me a job in art and advertising. Being close to graduating (May 1973), I knew I could always return despite my parents’ objections.
HottyToddy.com: What an independent spirit! Why did the magazine seek you?
Karen Mitchell: I had previously worked for their competition…. “The Thoroughbred Record” also in art and advertising.
HottyToddy.com: Where were you led next?
Karen Mitchell: I caught the attention of Spendthrift Farms, one of the great stables in America. They wanted me to produce their ads exclusively. Spendthrift was famous for horses like Majestic Prince and Proud Clarion. Brownell Combs, who was the new CEO of SF, wanted Triple Crown winners at the time of my arrival in 1975.
HottyToddy.com: Even a track novice like me has heard of Spendthrift.
Karen Mitchell: Landaluce, a filly offspring of Secretariat; Seattle Slew and Affirmed (both Triple Crown Winners) were all stabled there.
HottyToddy.com: Talking about being at the right place at the right time!
Karen Mitchell: In 1981, my life was a “train wreck” as I found myself as their new Marketing Director. We had just gone from 28 to 44 horses, and I now had a staff of eight and a $2 million-dollar budget to promote the farms. We had racehorses winning coast to coast.
HottyToddy.com: Do all good things actually come to an end?
Karen Mitchell: I stayed there until 1987 when I realized it was my time to go. This is when I decided to return to Oxford and complete my degree.
HottyToddy.com: I believe you received a degree (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in 1988. What happened after?
Karen Mitchell: Life then directed me to Charlottesville, Virginia, where I accepted the position of Art Director for “Arabian Racehorse” magazine. I remained there only one year before leaving for Charleston, West Virginia, where I became part of a limited partnership for race horses.
HottyToddy.com: Your love for horses just kept serving as a magnet. What can you tell us about Keeneland?
Karen Mitchell: Keeneland is as magical as Ole Miss. The Lexington track began in 1937 as a most risky venture. It is Lexington’s Country Club! Keeneland hosts the Bluegrass Toyota Stakes, which is a prep race for the Derby. It’s a very special place. I have shepherded two famous individuals at Keeneland…..Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, who both have raced their horses there.
HottyToddy.com: Talking about rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, what haven’t you done? What else is there about Keeneland worthy of sharing?
Karen Mitchell: The landscaping is the most fabulous of any track in America. The Dogwoods and Magnolias canvassing the 200 acres are breathtaking. There are two racing seasons at Keeneland….April and October.
HottyToddy.com: Before we get too distracted with the thoroughbreds here, only weeks before the “Run for the Roses”….tell us what you are currently up to?
Karen Mitchell: I returned to Oxford (for the third time) in 2015. I am doing freelance work and tutoring students (English Composition and Art), which I presently have a group of 13. I am a member of the Oxford Church of Christ.
HottyToddy.com: Are the students easy to motivate?
Karen Mitchell: Let me put it this way: The way to make a horse drink is not to take him to the pond, but to sit near the pond so he will want to find out what you’re doing there.
HottyToddy.com: While I’m still trying to get my hoofs around this, what does your immediate future hold, say the next three years?
Karen Mitchell: I want to pay Ole Miss back for being so good to me, and I feel fundraising for the arts is one way. The Ole Miss Equestrian team is only two years old. There are about 20 students participating, and I believe that I can be a valuable resource to them.
HottyToddy.com: Where do they train?
Karen Mitchell: In Memphis. They are looking for a stable here.
HottyToddy.com: I must ask you specifically about Seattle Slew, one of my favorite horses of all time.
Karen Mitchell: In 1977, everyone in the world was attempting to get him for syndication. He had been initially acquired for just $17,500. Spendthrift Farms was able to purchase half the horse for $12 million in cash. This is how my path crossed with his, when he was brought to Spendthrift. He truly became a “person” as boxes of apples poured in from Washington state (I ate a few) as he became the Judy Garland of our barn. I answered many letters written to him, sometimes up to 50-60 weekly. Seattle Slew was bred around 40 times a year at about $50,000 per each event. This continued for three decades or so. And in 1978, we acquired another great horse and Triple Crown winner, Affirmed.
HottyToddy.com: We must end this conversation although it’s far too interesting to do so. However, please close on your Ole Miss pedigree.
Karen Mitchell: I’m blessed to be here as my ancestors are all here. My great grandfather was born in 1838 in Aberdeen. I had three relatives who fought with the Mississippi 11th Infantry in the Civil War. My grandmother, Zilda Eugenia Gladney, of Houston, Mississippi taught Latin at Ole Miss in 1937. In 1941, my mother was a student and a Delta Gamma here. Her brother, David Henry Stewart of Louisville, Mississippi, was also at Ole Miss at that time. This is my happy place!
Karen can be reached at 662-715-1216 or via email at Kareneugeniamitchell98@gmail.com.
Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at email@example.com or call him at 985-852-7745.