Jim Cherry, Superintendent of Schools for DeKalb County from 1947 to 1972, dreamed of establishing within DeKalb County an education system encompassing kindergarten through the first two years of college. Following passage of the 1958 Junior College Act by the Georgia General Assembly, Mr. Cherry supported the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce when it approached the DeKalb Board of Education about the need for a college. He worked closely with the Georgia Legislature and campaigned successfully for a DeKalb County bond referendum to provide funding to finance construction. Mr. Cherry directed the purchase of a one hundred acre campus on North Indian Creek Drive as a building site, employed a faculty, and oversaw the construction of the college's initial four buildings on what is now the Clarkston Campus. When the college opened in 1964 with an enrollment of 763 students, it brought fruition to Mr. Cherry's goal of bringing public higher education to DeKalb County.
Under Mr. Cherry's leadership, the Fernbank Science Center and DeKalb Technical Institute were also established. His leadership led to the acquisition and preservation of Panola Mountain by the Georgia Conservancy. He was active in the American Cancer Society, the DeKalb Historical Society, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Heart Association, the DeKalb Planning Commission, and Visiting Committee Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. He served as chair of the DeKalb Bicentennial Committee.
Mr. Cherry received a B.S. degree in education from Georgia Teacher's College, now Georgia Southern University, and a Master's degree in History from the University of North Carolina. He was an air and navigation officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1943-1946, and a State School Supervisor for the Georgia Department of Education prior to becoming Superintendent of Schools for DeKalb County. Mr. Cherry died June 5, 1980.