Wendell Cherry

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Wendell Cherry (September 25, 1935 – July 16, 1991) was an American lawyer, entrepreneur, art collector and patron. The company he co-founded, Humana, grew under his leadership to become the largest hospital operator in the United States. In addition, he built one of the most important art collections in the country in the 1980s.

Life and career[edit]

Cherry was born in 1935 in Horse Cave, a rural community in Kentucky, to a grocery wholesaler, Layman S. Cherry, and his wife, Geneva (born Spillman). His siblings were Ruth Ann, Layman Jr. and Sue Allen Cherry. In Horse Cave, he attended Caverna High School before moving to Lexington at the University of Kentucky. He studied business administration and graduated in 1957. He graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1959. During this time he worked as chief editor of the trade magazine Kentucky Law Journal.[1] Then he taught business administration at the University of Louisville and worked as an attorney in Louisville. There he met in 1960 his future business partner and longtime friend David A. Jones.


Cherry first married Mary Elizabeth Baird. They had four children: Angela, Alison, Andrew and Hagan. In his second marriage, he married interior designer Dorothy O'Connell, who brought three children into the marriage. The couple lived in Louisville and New York.[2]

Business career[edit]

In 1961, Cherry and Jones founded the company Extendicare Inc. in Louisville. They initially operated a nursing home in Kentucky, the other institutions of its kind followed in many other US states. Cherry acted first as president of the company, then as deputy chairman of the board. The company expanded later in the hospital sector and has grown to become the largest hospital operator in the US. At the initial public launch of the company in January 1968, the issue price per share was eight and dollars and rose within ten months to 50 dollars.

In 1972, they separated the company from their now 41 nursing homes, renamed the Humana in 1974. Under the direction of Cherry, the company increased in the 1980s in the health insurance market. The number of hospitals operated by Humana rose to about 90 and the annual turnover to over 2.5 billion dollars. For the construction of the new company headquarters in Louisville, Humana commissioned the architect Michael Graves, whose Humana Building, a skyscraper was opened, in the style of postmodernism, in 1985.

Sports promoter[edit]

Cherry belonged in the 1960s to a group of citizens from Louisville, who supported Louisville native Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) in his early heavyweight boxing career.[2] He worked as a lawyer for the group, collecting money from the sponsors for Clay.

In 1969 Cherry and Jones, along with Bill DeWitt, Stuart Jay, John Y. Brown Jr. and Mike Storen operated the Kentucky Colonels basketball team. Before Cherry sold his shares in 1973, he held the office of President of the American Basketball Association for some time.

Art collector[edit]

The American art magazine Art & Antiques named Cherry in 1985 among the 100 most important art collectors of the United States. The reputation of this collection was not only because of the quality of the works, but also for the sometimes very high prices that he paid for these pictures and scored from subsequent sales. A record-breaking example of these works was Pablo Picasso's self-portrait Yo, Picasso. Cherry purchased the picture in 1981 at Sotheby's for $5.3 million.[2] At the time the highest amount ever paid for a Picasso painting. The same painting was sold by Cherry in May 1989 again at Sotheby's and received from the highest bidder, the Greek shipowner Stavros Niarchos, $47.9 million—again the highest price for a work of Picasso and also the second highest ever paid for a work of art at that time.

Other major works in Cherry's collection were mostly paintings of French Impressionists, Austrian fin de siecle and works of classical modernism. These included La chanson du chien by Edgar Degas and Les Rose en verre by Édouard Manet as Lady with fan by Gustav Klimt and lovers of Egon Schiele or Portrait de Jeanne Hébuterne by Amedeo Modigliani, Four Girls on a Bridge by Edvard Munch and Le chasseur de chez Maxim's of Chaim Soutine.

Moreover, there were works in Cherry's collection from American artists like Spanish Dancer by John Singer Sargent or individual work of previous European schools as Juive d'Alger by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot or the still life with flowers in a basket with two butterflies, a dragonfly, a fly and a beetle of the Baroque painter Gerard van Spaendonck. Furthermore, Cherry gathered together with his wife Dorothy furniture of the 18th century and other works of arts and crafts, which furnished them their homes.

After Cherry died in 1991, his heirs sold at auction in 1994 large parts of the art collection. In the following years more works from the collection came on the art market.


With wide-ranging interests, Cherry contributed to various institutions. In 1990, for the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, on whose board he was a member, he acquired the painting Funeral of a Mummy by American painter Frederick Arthur Bridgman. He was one of the driving forces in support of establishing in 1983 The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. From 1980 to 1987, he led this institution as CEO (board chairman). Together with his wife Dorothy and another donor, he handed this means the painting Rite of Passage by Malcolm Morley. The same institution received by the spouses Cherry together with the friendly couple Betty and David A. Jones, the resulting 1972 Sculpture Personnage the Spaniard Joan Miró as a gift.

In the field of science, Cherry endowed the University of Kentucky College of Law $100,000, the H. Wendell Cherry Professor of Law. He also endowed two chairs dedicated in medicine at the University of Louisville. At Louisville's School of Medicine are the Wendell Cherry Chair in Clinical Trial Research and The Wendell Cherry Chair in Cancer Translational Research.[1]


  1. ^ a b "UK Alumni Association - Wendell Cherry". www.ukalumni.net. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  2. ^ a b c Fowler, Glenn (1991-07-18). "Wendell Cherry Is Dead at 55; Hospital Leader". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-01.


  • John E. Kleber: The Encyclopedia of Louisville. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington 200, ISBN 0-8131-2100-0.
  • Sotheby's New York (Hrsg.): Property from the Estate of Wendell Cherry. Auctions Catalog Sale 6565, Sotheby's New York, New York 1994.

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