Discovery Park of America Announces Honorees for the 2024 Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Discovery Awards and Gala

(Union City, Tennessee, Dec. 19, 2023) — Discovery Park of America has announced the honorees for the 2024 Discovery Awards and Gala that will be held on Saturday, March 2, 2024 at the museum and heritage park.

The gala and awards ceremony, emceed by author, professional event host and investment advisor, Joey Sulipeck, will bring together thought leaders, policymakers, philanthropists and others to celebrate the honorees, all of whom have deep roots in West Tennessee. The names and bios of the 2024 honorees will be added to a kiosk  located in Discovery Park’s lobby with previous honorees. The recipients of the 2024 Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Discovery Awards are Dr. Nick Dunagan of Martin, Deanie Parker of Memphis, David Ring of Massachusetts and Elizabeth Taylor of Jackson.

Dinner for the gala will be provided by Artisan Kitchen of Paducah, Kentucky, while entertainment will feature live music by Nashville musician Evie Grace Fowler and an ensemble from The Jackson Symphony Orchestra. In addition to cocktails, a dinner and awards ceremony, this year’s gala will also include a “sweet” after-party with live entertainment in the ATA Traveling Exhibits Gallery along with a selection of desserts to sample from Obion County, Tennessee bakeries.

“The recipients of the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Discovery Awards have exemplified, in both their personal journeys and professional endeavors, the very essence of Discovery Park’s mission to inspire children and adults to see beyond,” said Discovery Park’s CEO Scott Williams. “These remarkable individuals have not only expanded their own horizons but have also dedicated themselves to guiding others toward uncharted territories of experiencing the world around them just like we do here at Discovery Park.”

Dr. Nick Dunagan was named Chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin in April of 2001 and served in that role until his retirement in July 2007.  He began his work at UT Martin in 1973 as director of development. Through the years his many roles have included executive vice chancellor, vice chancellor for development and administration and vice chancellor for student affairs. Before being named UT Martin’s eighth chancellor in April 2001, he served as interim chancellor three times (1985-86, 1997-98, 2000-01) and as executive director of WestStar, the university’s regional leadership program.

In the 1960s, Deanie Parker was a key administrative executive for Stax Recordsworking with performers including Isaac Hayes, Booker T & the MGs, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Richard Pryor, The Dramatics, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King and others. Later, as the first president and CEO of Soulsville, Parker led the nonprofit organization established to build and manage the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School located in an area of Memphis, Tennessee dubbed Soulsville USA.  Parker then established the Soulsville Foundation and served as its President to fund program operations for the three entities. Today she’s active in numerous arts organizations including the Tennessee Arts Commission.

A family history in Union City has inspired David Ring, who calls Massachusetts home, to implement a unique vision for restoring much of Union City’s downtown area including the Nailing Building. His passion for historic preservation and strategic improvements has led to expansion, beautification and development of the entire Union City Mainstreet area. Ring, executive chairman of Applied Plastics, is a renowned international medical device and contract manufacturing expert.

Elizabeth Taylor is a Dyersburg native and philanthropist who contributed resources to improving the lives of many West Tennesseans. She and her late husband, Ab Taylor III, have been actively involved in The Care Center of Jackson, a shelter for women struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and homelessness. She was a leader with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and served on the board of the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation. Today, she is involved with several organizations where she enjoys sharing her faith and love for her West Tennessee community.

The Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Discovery Awards Gala will be held at Discovery Park of America, 830 Everett Blvd., Union City, Tenn., on Saturday, March 2, 2024, with cocktails at 5:30 p.m., dinner and recognition of honorees at 7:00 p.m. and dessert and live music beginning at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets and tables can be purchased at Sponsorship packages can be found on that page of by contacting Mary Nita Bondurant at or calling 731-676-3556.

Photo Caption: The 2023 Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Discovery Award winners (l to r): Dr. Nick Dunagan, Deanie Parker, David Ring and Elizabeth Taylor.

Click here to download the high resolution photo. 

Photo Caption: The gala and awards ceremony, emceed by author, professional event host and investment advisor, Joey Sulipeck.

Click here to download the high resolution photo. 

About Discovery Park of America

 The mission of Discovery Park of America, a premier world-class museum and 50-acre heritage park located in Union City, Tennessee, is to inspire children and adults to see beyond. Included is a 100,000-square-foot museum featuring 9 interactive exhibit galleries with additional space for temporary exhibits from around the world and a 50-acre heritage park. Discovery Park of America is a 501(c)(3) public charity funded by generous individuals, corporations and foundations including its principal funder, the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation. For more information, visit, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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