Veteran Dan Cherry: Preserving History and Improving Bowling Green

by | Oct 2023

IF YOU’VE been to the Kentucky Transpark, the Aviation Heritage Park, or the Railpark and Train Museum, you’ve seen the work of Dan Cherry. With his time as a veteran, his work with Operation PRIDE, and his drive to improve Bowling Green, Cherry can undoubtedly be labeled a hero of the community.

While he has an incredible family history, his grandfather being Henry Hardin Cherry and the founder of Western Kentucky University, Cherry’s own history is impressive in its own right. Since he grew up with an aerospace engineer as a father, Cherry spent his childhood around military aircraft and airports.

“I just remember all of these really cool airplanes flying over our house all the time, and also all of the great airplanes that my dad worked on,” Cherry said. “I knew which models of airplanes that he was concentrating on at the time, and it was all just fascinating to me.”

His love of planes prompted Cherry to join the Air Force while in college, where he qualified as an aviation cadet and received his commission and wings a year later. He spent 29 years in the service, ending his time as a fighter pilot with the rank of brigadier general. After he retired and moved to Bowling Green, Cherry worked as an asset manager for Med Center, the Secretary of Justice under Governor Patton, and as one of the founders of the Kentucky Transpark, which has grown continually over the past several years.

Photographed by Amanda Guy.

“That makes me proud right now to look out there and see what all has happened at the Kentucky Transpark,” Cherry said. “I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to be on the ground floor of that.” 

Cherry was an integral part of several programs and initiatives in Bowling Green, including the Aviation Heritage Park. As an Air Force veteran himself, it makes sense that he would be closely involved in the park’s construction, but the ties go deeper than that. One of the planes at the park happens to be Cherry’s own F-4D Phantom II, which he flew in Vietnam. After a trip to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, Cherry and his friends found the plane by happenstance. The plane was sitting neglected outside a VFW club, and they were determined to find it a new home. Cherry said creating a home in Bowling Green was the last thing on their minds, but as they researched what they could do, they realized there was an excellent opportunity to share the city’s history. 

“We discovered that our little town of Bowling Green, Kentucky has an amazing aviation heritage, and most of those wonderful stories of those amazing people had been lost in history,” Cherry said. “If we could get this plane, restore it, and put it on display somewhere, then it could kind of be the cornerstone of the educational facility to keep these stories alive and also to inspire the younger generation — and that’s exactly what we’ve been able to do.”

The park tells the stories of 10 pilots who went to Western Kentucky University, grew up in Bowling Green or the surrounding area, and displays several historical aircraft. With the opening of the museum, the space will become even more available for community use and enjoyment. Cherry said the hope is that the younger generation will learn that great things are possible for them.

Photographed by Amanda Guy.

“All these wonderful things weren’t accomplished by somebody from the other side of the world — they lived right here,” Cherry said. “Hopefully, learning more about them will be an inspiration to young people, realizing that yes, they need to shoot for their dreams too, just like these older folks.”

The park will continue to be an important asset for Bowling Green, and Cherry said he sees even greater things in its future.

“I think everybody will be proud of what they see, and I think all the citizens of Bowling Green who have supported Aviation Heritage Park over the years, everybody who’s attended our hanger parties annually… when they look at that building both inside and out they’re going to be proud of it, too.”

While those are large and impressive projects, Cherry was involved in many others under the banner of Operation PRIDE. Since its establishment in 1993, the organization has renovated the historic train depot, planted hundreds of trees, and established several programs and initiatives that continually improve the appearance of Bowling Green and Warren County. Cherry was an integral part of that initiative at the very beginning, as his experience in a similar role on an Air Force base allowed him to take on the role of executive director and run the day-to-day work. The depot, especially, has become a true community asset, and Cherry said he is thrilled at how much it has grown and how much it has become part of the community.

Cherry said he is proud of his service and accomplishments in Bowling Green.

“The thing I’m most positive about is being able to live in this great town and enjoy it and hopefully make a meaningful contribution to it and its future.” GN

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