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Discovery Park of America Founder Passes Away

Editor's Note: Union City and all of far western Tennessee and Kentucky have lost a man who gave back in full measure of the blessings he received. Kirkland and his wife contributed over $80 million dollars to start the Park. An endowment of $3 million a year for up to 20 years was part of his contribution. On opening day, everyone we met told us Mr. Kirkland stories. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and their acts come in every form. In our book, Robert Kirkland was a hero. Robert and Jenny Kirkland open The Discovery Park of America November 2013


Robert Kirkland passed away on April 11, 2015 in his home in Union City, Tennessee. Kirkland was 77 years old. Kirkland founded the Discovery Park of America in Union City.

He is a graduate of Union City High School and the University of Tennessee, where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He was a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve for six years.

Kirkland had worked in the family-owned former Ben Franklin Store in Union City while growing up and he formed a partnership with his cousin, the late Ken Kirkland, in a sno-cone machine operation.

He had been the co-owner, with his cousin, Carl Kirkland of Jackson, of several former Shop of John Simmons franchises. Based on that experience, the cousins opened Kirkland's stores throughout the southeast and beyond. He retired as the owner of Kirkland's Consolidated, known as CBK.

He had also owned a Dairy Queen franchise in Lebanon and was the owner of 13 barges, under the company name Kirkland Barge and Towing, on the major rivers of the United States.

He was the owner of farm land in Obion and Dyer counties and had previously owned Kirkland Finance. He owned the majority of Kirkland Investors and was the owner of the former Travel One in Union City. Kirkland was a member of Union City Rotary Club and was the founder and financial supporter of Promethean Foundation and Discovery Park of America. He also envisioned and was the financial supporter of the Rotary Club's free travel abroad program for local high school students and its Distinguished Speakers program.

He was a founder and had been a member of the board of directors of First State Bank.

His interests included travel, writing, painting, people, political discussion, learning and playing practical jokes.

He is survived by his wife, Jenny (Darnall) Kirkland; his daughter, Macy Kirkland of Cincinnati; two sons, Tab Kirkland of Lebanon and Chris Kirkland and his wife, Beth, of Nashville; one brother, Ron Kirkland and his wife, Carol, of Jackson; two grandsons, Wade Kirkland of Lebanon and Hayden Kirkland of Nashville; five granddaughters, Kristin Kirkland of Lebanon, Sara Swensson, Evelyn Swensson and Emma Swensson, all of Cincinnati, and Bonner Kirkland of Nashville; six nieces and nephews; and several cousins.

The family requests that memorials be made to Discovery Park of America scholarship fund to allow underprivileged children to enjoy the facility. Memorials may be sent to DPA, Box 927, Union City, TN 38281. Condolences may be sent to the family at the funeral home website: www.white-ranson.com.

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