The former Commander of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the Chief Justice of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and a former NBA championship team member will join WKU’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni this fall.
Dan Cherry, John D. Minton Jr. and Greg Smith will be inducted during WKU’s 2013 Homecoming celebration. The 22nd class of noted alumni will be inducted during a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 25 at the Sloan Convention Center. For more information, contact the WKU Alumni Association at (270) 745-4395 or visit alumni.wku.edu.
Retired Brig. Gen. Dan Cherry’s distinguished aviation career culminated in his service as leader and Commander of the United States Air Force demonstration air team, The Thunderbirds. He also authored My Enemy, My Friend – a Story of Reconciliation from the Vietnam War about reuniting with a Vietnamese pilot he shot down during the Vietnam War.
Cherry entered the Air Force in 1959 as an aviation cadet and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1960. His military credentials include flying 295 combat missions during the Vietnam War. During his Air Force career, he also held the positions of Commander of Moody Air Force Base, Inspector General of the Pacific Air Forces, Commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing flying the F-16, and Commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service. After he attended WKU, Cherry received an undergraduate degree from Florida Southern College and his master’s degree from the University of Southern California.
Cherry is a command pilot with more than 4,000 flying hours. He earned multiple military awards and decorations including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster, the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross with nine oak leaf clusters, and the Air Medal with 34 oak leaf clusters. Cherry was inducted into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame in October 2000.
Cherry’s book My Enemy, My Friend chronicles an intense 1972 dogfight between Cherry’s F-4 Phantom and a North Vietnamese MiG-21, as well as the aviator’s subsequent meeting and friendship with the MiG pilot, Nguyen Hong My. Cherry travels extensively, giving speeches and promoting his book in an effort to help Vietnam War veterans bring closure to their war experiences.
He also serves as Executive Vice President of Aviation Heritage Park, an educational facility in Bowling Green, Ky., which exhibits aviation artifacts that represent the careers of distinguished aviators from south central Kentucky. He has also served in state government as Secretary of the Kentucky Justice Cabinet and as President of the Warren County Intermodal Transportation Authority.
Cherry, who is the grandson of WKU founder Dr. Henry Hardin Cherry, has also served on the WKU Board of Advisors, as well as the Boards of the College Heights Foundation, the WKU Research Foundation, and the Center for Information Technology Enterprises (CITE).
He and his wife, the former Sylvia Cooper, live in Bowling Green, Ky., and have two daughters, Jill Tweed and Kim McGowan, and four granddaughters.
John D. Minton Jr.
John D. Minton Jr. of Bowling Green was elected to the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2006 and was sworn in as Kentucky’s fifth chief justice in 2008. His fellow justices elected him as chief justice for a second term that began in June 2012.
Under his administration, the Supreme Court adopted the state’s first uniform family law rules and formed the Kentucky Access to Justice Commission to improve access to civil legal aid for the poor. As a member of the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act, Minton joined forces with the Executive and Legislative branches to curb prison costs and improve public safety. He supports transparent government and in 2009 led the Judicial Branch in posting its financial information on a public website shared with the Executive Branch.
Minton is steering the Judicial Branch through Kentucky’s worst economic downturn in decades by creating efficiencies at all four levels of the court system.
As head of the Judicial Branch, he is committed to investing in the people who operate the court system and in the technology that can help Kentucky courts reduce costs and deliver better service. He formed the Technology Governance Committee to guide efforts to replace the outdated court case management system with one that will allow e-filing and innovative electronic services. He also created a Compensation Commission to determine how to make the Judicial Branch’s salary structure more fair and competitive with the other branches of state government.
Minton was in private practice for 15 years before serving as a circuit judge from 1992 to 2003 and a Kentucky Court of Appeals judge from 2003 to 2006. He holds degrees from Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky College of Law.
He serves on the boards of the Conference of Chief Justices and the Council of State Governments. In 2003, the Kentucky Bar Association honored him with its Outstanding Judge Award. He was named Distinguished Jurist in 2012 by the UK College of Law Alumni Association.
He is married to Susan Page Minton, a Bowling Green native, and they have two children, Page and John.
Chief Justice Minton is the son of Betty Redick Minton and the late Dr. John D. Minton, who retired from Western Kentucky University after serving for many years as a history professor, administrator and its fifth president.
Greg Smith spent his collegiate career at WKU breaking down racial barriers as one of the early pioneers among black athletes on the WKU campus and as one of the first African-American members to integrate the Ohio Valley Conference.
His brother, Dwight (one year older), and Clem Haskins were the first minority athletes in basketball on the Hill when they enrolled in 1963, and Smith, a graduate of Caldwell County High School in Princeton, Ky., followed the next season. At that time, freshmen were not eligible for varsity play, so the three played two seasons together (1965-1966 and 1966-1967) on two of the greatest teams in WKU history. Those WKU teams also made two trips to the NCAA Tournament, and they finished the season ranked among the Top 10 teams in the nation.
An overachiever on the basketball court, Smith was drafted in the fourth round by the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks in 1968 and worked his way into a starting position before the conclusion of his rookie season. Though many other former Hilltoppers have played professional basketball in the NBA, Smith, a starter on the Bucks’ 1971 team, is the only WKU alumnus to have won an NBA championship ring.
After seven years of professional basketball with the Bucks, the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers, Smith retired from professional sports and remained in the Pacific Northwest where he began a successful career in media sales that continues today. He is currently a National Sales Representative for Salem Communications Inc., America’s leading media corporation specializing in Christian and conservative content.
Smith served as an active member of the Blazer Alumni Team, a group of retired members of the Portland Trail Blazers that traveled throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington for many years, playing basketball games as fundraisers for a wide variety of organizations. That project earned more than $2 million for regional charities. He was a member of the WKU Centennial Basketball Team, a 15-man team selected by popular vote of Hilltopper fans in celebration of the University’s Centennial in 2006. He was inducted into WKU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006, and he was named to Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1996.
Smith and his wife, Linda S. Smith, reside in Portland, Ore. They have five children — Keith, Damien, Sara Kay Smith, Kristin Hayden and Lacey Pruitt — and eight grandchildren.
Contact: Tracy Morrison, (270) 745-4395.