New distinguished Alumni ‘come from very different walks of life’

Jackson French

On Friday, a former Air Force commander, the chief justice of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and a former NBA player will take their places in WKU’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni.

Tracy Morrison, director of Alumni Programming, said new members are inducted into the Hall of Distinguished Alumni on the Friday before the Homecoming game every year.

This year’s inductees are Dan Cherry, John D. Minton Jr. and Greg Smith. The event will be held in the Sloan Convention Center.

“It’s one of the largest events that the university does,” Morrison said. “We’ll have between 450 and 500 people there, and each inductee will be presented with an award, and they’ll also have time to speak, and there will be a video of each inductee. Sort of like the ‘This is your life’ type of video.”

She said this year’s inductees will be the 22nd class to join the Hall of Distinguished Alumni.

Rick Dubose, executive director of the WKU Alumni Association, said the Hall of Distinguished Alumni inducts three new members every year.

Dan Cherry, grandson of Henry Hardin Cherry, is the former commander of the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force’s demonstration air team.

Cherry is also the author of “My Enemy, My Friend: A Story of Reconciliation from the Vietnam War,” a book about reuniting with a North Vietnamese pilot he shot down during the Vietnam War. He also served as commander of Moody Air Force Base and was inducted into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame in 2000.

Minton has served on the Kentucky Supreme Court since 2006 and has acted as the Commonwealth’s fifth chief justice since 2008.

Greg Smith was one of the first minority athletes in Topper basketball when he enrolled in 1963, according to WKU News. In a subsequent career in the NBA, he played on the Milwaukee Bucks team that won the NBA championship in 1971.

After retiring from professional basketball in 1975, Smith embarked on a career in media sales and has been a member of the Blazer Alumni Team, a group of retired Portland Trail Blazers that played basketball games to raise money for a variety of organizations.

“They all come from very different walks of life,” Dubose said. “One distinguished military career, Judge Minton obviously a distinguished legal career, and then Greg Smith has a great story. He’s our only basketball player to ever win an NBA championship ring.”

He said all three of the inductees are scheduled to attend the event, adding that attendance is required for induction except in the case of deceased honorees.