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Breeding receives Springfield's first Hometown Hero Award

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By John Overby

 

 

Michael Breeding has worn many hats.
From singer to musician to producer, Breeding’s previous work experiences have continually fed into the next phase.
And each new stage of his career can all be traced back to his roots in Washington County.
Breeding was born in Shelbyville, but his parents — Elizabeth and Elwood Breeding— moved his family (Breeding has two brothers, Jackie and Elvin, and a sister, Pam) to the Maud community of Washington County in the fourth grade, where his father worked as a farm manager for a local landowner.
After staying there a year, his family then moved to Valley Hill to work on the Grundy farm.
It was here that Breeding learned the virtues of hard work, especially by watching his brothers.
“We milked 150 cows a day and raised eight acres of tobacco,” Breeding said. “We worked hard, but really it was my brothers Jackie and Elvin that worked the hardest of us kids.”
During his sophomore year of high school, Breeding’s family would move to 323 West Main Street in Springfield. He went from riding the school bus an hour and a half to get to school to being able to walk there.
For a teenager that wanted to do the things that his friends who lived in town were doing, the move was almost a dream come true.
“It was so nice to move to town and be sort of a city kid,” Breeding said. “I thought that was just the coolest thing.”
Breeding truly took advantage of this opportunity.
In addition to mowing lawns in the summer and working at Ben Simms Haydon’s antique store, Breeding also joined every extracurricular activity that he could.
“I kept Mom and Dad busy, you see, because I was in all of these clubs and Little League,” Breeding said. “They were tireless supporters of everything I did, even when I was a kid. Both of them would stop whatever they were doing, whether it was working in the field or whatever, to see that I was where I needed to be. My parents were devoted to us kids and to what we needed. I remember that I wanted to do some crazy things, and they always supported me.”
Band was one of the activities that Breeding was most involved in growing up.
Breeding even recalls his parents buying an expensive trumpet for him in the eighth grade.
“I was the lead trumpet player in high school,” Breeding said.
Breeding graduated from Washington County High School when he was 17 years old. He went on to the University of Kentucky to study voice before transferring to Asbury University.
It was there he first switched his concentration to the theater, as he wasn’t entirely happy with their music program.
But it wasn’t until he decided to transfer to Eastern Kentucky University and study film (in the communications department) that his future started to take shape.
While some may view Breeding’s movements as indecisive, Breeding knows differently.
“I’m good about making tough decisions, changing on a dime and moving forward,” Breeding said. “I never looked back.”
After graduating from EKU with a bachelor of arts in Film, Radio & TV, he would later go back to the University of Kentucky to do post-graduate work in voice and conducting.
His professors were intrigued by Breeding’s background and what he was pursuing. Sarah Holroyd, one of his vocal professors, eventually encouraged him to reach out to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, which she had heard was looking for someone with his type of previous experiences.
“She told me, ‘It sounds like with your background, you could do what they’re looking for,’” Breeding said.
Breeding took Holroyd’s advice and met with the president, vice president, curator and public relations director of Shaker Village.
They explained that they were looking for someone to study and interpret Shaker music and to put together an ensemble to sing it.
Once Breeding sang for them, he was hired on the spot.
Soon after this, Breeding met Earl D. Wallace, the Shaker Village chairman.
Breeding made sure that Wallace knew that he had a communications degree.
Breeding began nurturing a working relationship with Wallace and eventually made his boss a proposal.
“I tried to convince him we should start producing our own commercials and own documentaries and educational films,” Breeding said. “I wanted to create an in-house production department, you see.”
It worked.
“I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there, and lo and behold, he got behind the idea,” Breeding said. “He was fascinated with it. He went out and bought $45,000 worth of equipment, pretty much on the spot.”
Breeding, then just 22 years old, had become somewhat of a “projects man” for the Shaker’s chairman during the week and was still singing on the weekends.
Eventually, the strain of a non-stop working schedule got to Breeding. He set up a meeting with Wallace and explained his situation. Breeding told him that he could still supervise the singers, hire other singers to take his spot.
Wallace gave an answer that Breeding said he’ll “never forget.”
“He told me, “It sounds like you want to be a chief and not an Indian,’” Breeding said. “He said he’d never given a raise like that before ($10,000),  even when he was an executive at Standard Oil of Ohio. But he gave it some thought and told me I could. It was the beginning of something new for me.”
Wallace was 87 years old when he hired Breeding, and a few years after he had promoted Breeding to this new position, Wallace passed away.
“Mr. Wallace accepted me as an equal,” Breeding said. “He helped me understand how CEOs thought. Through him, I learned that I could reach out to anyone with an idea or dream. He mentored me in so many ways. He was a great man.”
Wallace’s death also meant a changing of the tide for Breeding, as the film and video department that had been Wallace’s pet project was phased out.
Breeding was asked to stay on in a position as developmental officer where he would be writing grants and raising funds for the Village, which he did for a couple of years after that before resigning in 1995.
In all, he was at Shaker Village for 14 years.
“I learned a lot from my time at Shaker Village,” Breeding said. “They’re sticklers for style, and that’s still worthy in our modern world of emails … Earl Wallace was my mentor, but I also learned a lot from Jim Thomas, the Shaker Village president. The art of letter writing, I learned that from him. In the office in those days, he would write lots of letters, beautiful letters. That’s something I put into practice based on what I saw Jim do. Being there taught me a lot about being the CEO of my own company.”
After deciding to leave Shaker Village, he used the concepts he learned there and started producing films his own company called Michael Breeding Media.
One of his first projects was going to Vietnam for three weeks to film 23 students from Centre College, a show that he ended up producing as a Kentucky Educational Television special.
It was on this trip that he would meet Jeanette Davis, of Danville. The two would become close friends, and she gave him what he would go on to call “the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten.”
“She told to me to use the rifle approach and not the shotgun approach,” Breeding said. “Not everybody’s going to be your customer. You have to get in front of and identify who your customers are going to be.”
It was after hearing this that Breeding began his “letter-writing campaign,” where he began writing somewhere between 10 and 20 letters a day to different CEOs.
This would become the backbone of his business.

“Until you’ve been self-employed, you don’t really know how that feels to say, ‘OK. I’m broke,’” Breeding said. “I found it very rewarding to sit down, write a letter to someone just because of your intuition to write them a letter. To watch that seed you may have planted a year before turn into a project, it’s very rewarding to watch that happen.”
The turning point for Breeding’s business — in terms of high-profile projects —  would come several years later, when he had the chance to produce a film about the history of Keeneland. “I proved to myself that I could produce a project with a hefty budget in 35 millimeters,” Breeding said. “We had a big premiere at the theater. It was very rewarding, and Keeneland was very pleased with the finished product. It really helped to get my name out there.”
One of Breeding’s most recent projects was the documentary Kentucky Governor’s Mansion: A Century of Reflection with Diane Sawyer.
The film allowed Breeding a chance to work once again with Diane Sawyer, a Kentucky native perhaps best known as the anchor on ABC World News, a relationship that goes all the way back to his time at Shaker Village.
“I sang at Shaker Village for a little over 10 years and sang for 80,000 people a year a cappella in The Meeting House,” Breeding said. “Diane walked in one day unannounced to one of my performances. A year after that, she asked that I sing at her honeymoon when they honeymooned at the Village. I sang to just the two of them in The Meeting House at night by candlelight.
“Years later, I faxed ABC to ask Diane if she would read the Sisters of Charity project (another Breeding film). She said yes. Years later, in 2008, I produced a tribute on her for the Chandler Foundation.”
Soon after the mansion project aired for the first time, Breeding was named “Hometown Hero” by the city of Springfield, marking the first time the city has ever given such an award.
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” Breeding said of receiving the honor. “It did surprise me, and I’m so thankful. I can’t help but think of how special, how thoughtful it is that someone noticed.”
Breeding’s current project is a documentary on the great women of Kentucky for the Kentucky Commission on Women that will be finished later this year.
After 19 years in the business, Breeding knows that this assignment will bring challenges that no other one has.
That’s always the case, according to him. “Projects are simply never the same, and I’m grateful for having a really good staff and a brilliant writer,” Breeding said. “That’s kind of cool. You can’t assume anything. You have to come to the table with a clean plate.”
Breeding is also aware that he might not be where he is at without some help from the people of Springfield.
“As we get older, we do start to reflect on our past and how we got to where we are today,” Breeding said. “Lots of folks, including many from Springfield, really believed in me and what I wanted to do. Some just saw this blonde kid full of energy and tried to help or open doors in whatever way they could.
“Springfield is just a great place to call home,” Breeding said.