Campus News

Kroger Co.’s Erin Rolfes delivers 2023 James C. Bowling Executive-in-Residence Lecture

Erin Rolfes, right, delivered the 2023 James C. Bowling Executive-in-Residence Lecture, moderated by scholarship winner Patti Doud, left.
2023 Excellence in Public Relations Award recipient Lisa Deffendall.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 15, 2023) — Erin Rolfes, director of corporate communications and media relations for The Kroger Co., delivered the 2023 James C. Bowling Executive-in-Residence Lecture. the event marked the Bowling Lecture Series’ 24th anniversary.

The lecture was sponsored by the University of Kentucky Department of Integrated Strategic Communication and the College of Communication and Information, with support from Jack Guthrie, founder of Guthrie/Mayes Public Relations, one of the largest independently owned public relations firms in Kentucky.

As The Kroger Co.’s spokesperson, Rolfes is responsible for enhancing and protecting Kroger’s corporate reputation and shaping the brand narrative alongside the company’s many lines of business. Rolfes was chosen as the lecturer to share her niche expertise and diverse career background.

Rolfes joined The Kroger Co. in 2018 as the corporate affairs manager for the Cincinnati-Dayton division, where she led media, strategic communications, government relations, community engagement and philanthropy. In 2021, she began overseeing Kroger technology and digital communications. Prior to Kroger, Rolfes held several key roles in professional communications, including television production, agencies and as manager of public relations and communications for REDI Cincinnati.

In addition to honoring the Bowling Executive-in-Residence, the series recognized an outstanding public relations practicioner through the Excellence in Public Relations award. The 2023 recipient was Lisa Deffendall, executive communications officer for Fayette County Public Schools.

Deffendall is a Northwestern University journalism alumnus and held an extensive career as an education reporter for The Courier, The Tuscaloosa News and Lexington Herald-Leader. She has worked as the chief district spokeswoman for Fayette County Public Schools for 19 years.

The Bowling Executive-in-Residence Series began in 2000. It brings nationally known public relations professionals to UK to deliver an address and meet with students interested in public relations careers. The daylong activities include the Executive-in-Residence visit; the Excellence in PR Award; and a scholarship for a senior integrated strategic communication major with an emphasis in public relations. The 2023 scholarship recipients were Patti Doud and Caleb Harris.

“Both Erin and Lisa had the opportunity to engage with some of our top students” said ISC Assistant Professor Sarah Geegan, one of the organizers of the lecture. “I would say that was my favorite part — getting to see the students’ excitement and interest in the PR topics”.

The series honors James C. Bowling, the late retired assistant chairman of Philip Morris Companies Inc. Bowling attended UK and later served the university as a member of the UK Development Council. In addition to serving on several national boards, Bowling also worked with the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, UK Gatton College of Business and Economics and the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. The Bowling family attended the lecture this year.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.