Press Release: Discovery Park of America kicks off 10th birthday and presents awards at the 2023 Robert. E and Jenny D. Kirkland Discovery Awards Gala and Fundraiser

March 6, 2023

Union City, Tenn. — On Saturday evening, March 4,  Discovery Park of America kicked off its 10th birthday year celebration by honoring four individuals who, like the museum and heritage park, inspire those whose lives they’ve touched.

The Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Discovery Awards were attended by a sold-out crowd from around the region who joined Discovery Park in celebrating the honorees, all of whom have deep roots in the region. The 2023 Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Discovery Award honorees are:

  • Amy L. Bondurant, former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development
  • Keith Carver, Ph.D., senior vice chancellor and senior vice president of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture
  • James Ross, president & CEO of West Tennessee Healthcare
  • The Honorable John S. Tanner, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives

The honorees’ names, photos and bios have been added to a kiosk alongside those of the 10 previous honorees.

Keli McAlister was event host and master of ceremonies. Now the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s public information officer, she previously spent two decades as a television news journalist working in Jackson, Tennessee; Oklahoma City; and Seattle.

Musicians from the “Symphony on the Move” program of the Jackson Symphony performed individually throughout the entry level of the museum during the cocktail hour and then provided dinner entertainment as a group. A served dinner, prepared by award-winning chefs David Jones and Karla Lawrence of Artisan Kitchen of Paducah, included a 10th birthday gourmet cupcake.

Discovery Park CEO Scott Williams welcomed the audience and noted the spirit of volunteerism that defined the museum since the beginning. Williams read a statement from Discovery Park founder Robert Kirkland that the philanthropist made on opening day, Nov. 1, 2013. Kirkland said: “We are so pleased with what the committees did through the years. We can’t thank the people here enough who have helped us out. What you see here would be millions of dollars’ worth of creative time that was provided free by local citizens.” Williams pointed out that Robert Kirkland was always proud of the contributions from his friends and neighbors.

Later in the evening, Lionel Crews, Ph.D., associate professor with the department of chemistry and physics at UTM shared his thoughts about the impact of Discovery Park on the region and introduced a video featuring some of the museum’s earliest volunteers. The video can be viewed online at

In his acceptance speech, honoree Keith Carver noted the celebration of Discovery Park’s 10th birthday coincides with growth throughout the region. He said, “As I think about Discovery Park bringing so many people to the region, it reminds me of everything happening here right now. From Blue Oval City and the expansion of I-69 to the growth of the manufacturing and automotive industries here, it’s safe to say there are some great days ahead for West Tennessee.”

Photos from the evening are on Discovery Park’s Flickr page.

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