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, Douglas,Sue Ellen and L.S. jr. In Horse Cave, he attended Caverna High School before moving to Lexington at the University of Kentucky. He was a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, 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, and expanded to other areas, and began also operating hospitals. Cherry was first president of the company, then deputy chairman of the board. At the initial public launch of the company in January 1968, the issue price per share was eight dollars and rose within ten months to 50 dollars.

In 1972, they separated the hospital part of the company from their now 41 nursing homes, and renamed the hospital part "Humana" in 1974. The company grew to become the largest hospital operator in the US, with more than 90 hospitals and an annual turnover of more than 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 postmodernism style, 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 $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 his collection were 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 and wife Dorothy also collected furniture of the 18th century and other works of arts and crafts,

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.


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 establishing in 1983 The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. From 1980 to 1987, he led this institution as CEO (board chairman).

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 School of Medicine, yjr 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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