CALLOWAY COUNTY, Ky. — Robert Cherry Jr. of Paducah made a donation of $500,000 to Murray State University’s Hancock Biological Station, which marked its own 50th anniversary along with the university’s centennial.
The donation was made Saturday, Oct. 29 at the station and was accepted by Hancock Biological Station Director Michael Flinn.
“This donation from Capt. Bob Cherry is tremendous. It’s going to be a serious shot in the arm for lots of things that we do out here,” he said. “We get grants to fund research, to fund programming — even scholarships and things like that. But, it’s hard without generating our own money out here — which we do by services, processing samples and things like that. It generates some money, enough to keep the lights on and things like that.
“Hancock has been around since 1972, so some things have aged and needs a little love. A donation like this is a game-changer for us.”
Flinn said some of the daily-used things that would get immediate attention through the donation included equipment used for water quality samples, boat engines, boats, student cabins and laboratories.
Hancock Biological Station is used for outreach, education and research.
As part of its outreach programs, it works closely with the Four Rivers Watershed Watch, the Riverlands Alliance and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as well as area schools.
Its educational emphasis includes Murray State courses in biology, chemistry and environmental sciences. Some astronomy classes have come out to the station because of its lessened light pollution.
Lessons include those about ecology, wildlife techniques and limnology.
“Instead of showing a video or drawing a diagram on a whiteboard, we’ll say ‘Meet at the dock at 2:00,’ and we’ll go out and do the actual analyses of the sampling or whatever it is,” Flinn said. “It’s a great experience because the students get to experience exactly what they’re doing.
“It’s part of our mission to arm them with the knowledge of the things that they’re going to use when they get a job.”
The research aspect of the station involves faculty and staff using the facilities for research on local wildlife on the macroscopic and microscopic level.
“(Researchers) can launch (boats) from here and go out and do their research,” Flinn said. “Lots of them do mussel research, black vulture research, box turtle research and more.”
Cherry is a retired Merchant Marine captain and the son of former Paducah Mayor Robert Cherry Sr., for whom the civic center is named. The former mayor was an investor in Computer Services Inc., better known as CSI, which was bought out last August for $1.6 billion.
“(My father) told me, ‘Don’t ever sell this (CSI stock),’ and I said, ‘OK, I won’t,’ ” the younger Cherry said. “Well, it was bought out unexpectedly, which left me with a tax liability, so I needed to do something with my (accountant), and I was going to donate money to Hancock Biological when I died out of my estate.
“Since there was a chunk of change that I needed to do something with then, I thought the best thing I could do was donate it to the Hancock Biological Station.”
Cherry said he was able to earn a bachelor of independent studies degree at Murray State University by combining the college work that he had done over the years, adding his real estate degree and military service, earning college credits from that experience.
“That’s the reason I was here,” he said. “Talking with (former HBS director) Dr. (David) White, and he allowed me to park my boat here — I couldn’t park it on campus. I was able to pitch a tent here; I was able to take a shower here.”
Cherry said the Hancock Biological Station had special meaning to him.
“I’ve always thought that this was a worthy cause, and I’m glad to donate that money to them,” he said. “I know that after I’m gone, there will be a lot of people that will be able to sleep on the mattresses that I’m donating. There will be a lot of people to be in the buildings and be in the boats.”
Cherry said he has an interest in Clarks River and its ecological development.
“I talked with Fish & Wildlife down there, and what we’re trying to do is make it a migratory bird section — songbirds and whatnot,” he said. “Where you can float down that river and listen to them.”
Cherry said he had a couple of strings attached to the donation. He wanted to have an air boat and he wanted the station to have a Gator utility vehicle.
Hancock Biological Station is at 561 Emma Drive in eastern Calloway County along Kentucky Lake.