Discovery Park of America presents four Discovery Awards at 2024 Gala and Fundraiser

(Union City, Tenn., March 5, 2024) — On Saturday evening, March 2, 2024, Discovery Park of America honored four individuals who, like the museum and heritage park, inspire others to see beyond. Proceeds from the event benefit the Kirkland Scholarship Fund that provides free admission for student groups to Discovery Park.

The event was attended by a sold-out crowd from around the country who joined Discovery Park in celebrating the honorees:

  • Dr. Nick Dunagan, former UT Martin Chancellor
  • Deanie Parker, non-profit executive and champion of the arts
  • David Ring, businessman and developer
  • Elizabeth Taylor, community activist and philanthropist

The honorees’ names, photos and bios have been added to a kiosk in Discovery Park’s lobby alongside those of honorees from previous years.

The gala and awards ceremony was emceed by Joey Sulipeck, an author, professional event host and investment advisor from Memphis. During his remarks, Sulipeck said, “Tonight’s four honorees are making a big impact on the lives of children and adults in this region. That’s so important because their contributions to making the world a better place inspires all of us to do the same.”

Musicians from the Jackson Symphony performed during the cocktail hour while dinner entertainment was provided by Nashville entertainer Evie Grace Fowler and Silas Brown. Dinner was prepared by Artisan Kitchen of Paducah, Kentucky. Dessert was provided by Obion County bakers from Tiny Baker, The Willow Tree and Bizinka Bakery. Entertainment during dessert was provided by Fowler and her band.

During the program, Mary Nita Bondurant, Discovery Park’s director of development and one of the museum’s first employees, spoke about the importance of the event. “Shortly after we opened, we realized some schools simply don’t have the resources to bring their students here,” she said. “When Robert Kirkland passed away, many people wanted to honor him, so they gave money in his memory to the park. Those funds were the seeds of the Kirkland Scholarship Fund. Now, every student can get here, regardless of funding available to them through their school.”

The event also featured a one-night-only exhibit called “Whimsical Relics Revealed: Curators Collection.” Not only were the items on display, but they were also for sale through a silent auction. Included were photographs from the history of Obion County, a framed photograph autographed by American military leader Douglass MacArthur, a Vietnam and Pacific Theater short sword, vintage water buffalo horns and more. The funds generated from the auction will be used to grow and care for the artifacts in Discovery Park’s permanent collection.

Attendee Dawn Bramblett bid on and won a vintage pedal car painted in a Casey Jones theme. “As soon as I saw that item, I knew I had to get it for my friend Brooks Shaw at The Old Country Store and Casey Jones Village in Jackson,” she said. “He’s going to love this, and the fact that it came from Discovery Park’s collection makes it even more special.”

Honoree Deanie Parker was a key member of the management team at Stax Records in the 1960s and a leader of the formation of the Soulsville Foundation in the late 1990s. This is the parent organization for today’s Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the Stax Music Academy and the Soulsville Charter School. In her acceptance speech, Parker said, “I believe this Tennessee destination has the power not only to entice you to ‘see beyond’ and wonder—Discovery Park of America can make your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” In his introduction of Parker, emcee Joey Sulipeck pointed out that Parker just returned from Los Angeles where she accepted two 2024 GRAMMY Awards for “Written in Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos.”

As attendees departed the event, they were presented with a 2023 Impact Report filled with photos of the events, activities, programs and exhibits that took place at Discovery Park last year. A copy of the book can be picked up free at the museum’s ticket counter or downloaded in digital format on their website.

The 2023 Impact Report notes that Discovery Park welcomed more than 265,000 visitors including 48,300 students in 2023. Also in that number were 900 active-duty Blue Star families; 4,000 visitors who received free admission through the SNAP program; 12,000 students whose tickets were provided by the Kirkland Scholarship Fund and 1,150 hours of work contributed by volunteers.

Gold sponsors of the event were Imagine Exhibitions, Memphis Tourism and Westan Insurance Group.

Photos from the evening can be viewed and downloaded on Discovery Park’s Flickr page, and donations to the organization can be made at

Photo Caption: Discovery Award honorees,
from left to right: Dr. Nick Dunagan, Elizabeth
Taylor, Deanie Parker and David Ring.

Click Here to Download High Resolution Photo

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