Recently Spotlighted Donors
Tech's stewardship program recognizes donors through giving societies and individualized communications with the hope that showing donors genuine appreciation for their contributions to Tennessee Tech will continue to foster their love of the university community and ensure they realize the value of their gifts.
Scroll down for recent donor spotlight stories.
- Michael and Marilyn Rockovich Garnto
- Randall Warden
- Elizabeth Hendrix and Sybil Hendrix Fagan
- Ingra Conley
- Dr. George M. Swisher
- Dr. Michael M Gunter
- Fred Lowery
- Marc Burnett
- Lori and J.W. Bruce
- Randy Wilmore
- Ron and Marietta Tiller
- Norm and Carol Adams
- Mike Winchester
- Ann Hellman and Lisa Russell
- M. Dianne Murphy
- Robert Jager
- Shawn Ratner
Michael (’83 industrial technology) and Marilyn Rockovich Garnto (’82 psychology) have supported Tennessee Tech for more than 30 years, and their most recent gift to establish a scholarship for Tech students was actually inspired by Michael’s position as the Chief Operating Officer of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) and Marilyn’s 30-plus-year career in education.
The Garntos designated a portion of their estate to establish the Marilyn Rockovich Garnto and Michael Garnto Scholarship and, in addition to their estate gift commitment, have also made a generous current gift to allow the scholarship to be awarded early. The scholarship will be awarded to legally blind or visually impaired students pursuing an engineering degree.
“It is our way of continuing to show our thanks and appreciation to the University that was instrumental in us developing tools for our future endeavors as well as a place where we forged lifelong friendships,” said Michael. “Tech challenged us both to become better students and provided the environment for us to be successful, from the size of the classrooms to the dedication of the faculty. It provided us the opportunity to participate in activities that were instrumental to our growth including fraternity and sorority functions, intramural sports, band, and community activities. We have always cherished the time we spent at Tech as well as Cookeville.”
BISM creates jobs for legally blind adults through the manufacturing and distribution of products for the State of Maryland, Federal Government, and commercial marketplace. In addition, BISM provides independence training to the blind community through youth, adult, and senior programs. The mission of the organization is to provide blind people with the tools to meet any challenge they choose to pursue and live their lives without impediment. The Garntos hope to create a partnership between Tech and BISM.
“With this scholarship and relationships between these two organizations, we are hopeful that not only will a deserving student be provided a valuable education, but we also hope to open the door for potential career opportunities within BISM as well,” Michael explained.
The Scholarship Office, College of Engineering, and Accessible Education Center (formerly known as Disability Services) will select the scholarship recipient each year, and Chester Goad, director of Tech’s Accessible Education Center, is especially grateful for the opportunities the scholarship and partnership will afford visually impaired students.
“Individuals with disabilities bring diversity and unique perspective to the Tennessee Tech community,” said Goad. “Because the Garntos have chosen to invest in the education of students with disabilities, the workforce will someday benefit from that richer diversity and those unique perspectives as well.”
The Accessible Education Center will be one of five areas of focus for Tech’s 2nd Annual “I Heart Tech Students” faculty and staff campaign, which will run from February 14 through March 27, and for Tech’s Day of Giving on March 27. The Center is committed to providing equal access to Tech’s academic and physical environments.
“Due to our experience with Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, we understand the challenges of the legally blind or visually impaired and wanted a vehicle of assistance for this specific group,” said Michael. “As COO of this organization, my most rewarding experience comes from creating an environment that fosters growth and excellence from our associates. As the President of our organization often says, ‘Do the right thing for the right reasons and you will get the right results.'"
Randall Warden, ’76 agricultural science, is a 17-year True To Tech member, and while his gifts support a number of areas on campus, the majority of his support has been designated to the Larry S. Click Agriculture Scholarship. So just what is it about Professor Larry S. Click that inspired Warden to give so generously to a scholarship in the professor’s name?
Warden entered Tech unsure of what he wanted to major in but knew he had an interest in agriculture. His freshman year he took courses in agricultural economics, plant science, soils, and agricultural electricity, which was taught by Click.
“His teaching style and personality ‘clicked’ with me,” said Warden. “He presented the course material in a very direct and understandable way, required attention and work, and occasionally interjected his dry humor.”
Warden declared agricultural science as his major during his sophomore year, and Click was his advisor.
“As an advisor, Mr. Click encouraged, listened, advocated, challenged, and occasionally gave me a well-deserved ‘kick in the butt,’” said Warden. “Beyond his sometimes-gruff exterior is a person who deeply cares about students, both on a personal and professional level. His advisees and others who came to know Mr. Click beyond the classroom understand this. This was evident at his retirement celebration when many former students came from around the country and roasted Mr. Click with heartfelt and amusing stories.”
Since graduating from Tech more than 40 years ago, Warden has stayed in touch with Click—primarily by phone, but he also occasionally stops by Cookeville when he visits his parents in DeKalb County. Warden describes Click as a lifelong mentor and friend.
When Click retired from Tennessee Tech in 2004, many of his former students, colleagues, and friends came together to establish the Larry Click Scholarship which is awarded to juniors and seniors majoring in agricultural engineering technology. Warden continues to support the scholarship each year.
“The financial challenges of an education can be overwhelming,” explained Warden. “I hope my donations can be used to support and encourage deserving students.”
Warden says having an agriculture degree provides the core knowledge that agriculture industry employers really desire.
“Any success in my career has been greatly influenced by the knowledge gained and friendships made at Tennessee Tech,” said Warden. “The School of Agriculture was a welcoming and encouraging environment for me and opened many opportunities. Earning a degree is just the beginning of your education. Throughout your life and career, you will need to expand on the basic knowledge your degree provided, learning new information and technologies that may not have even existed when you were in school (e.g. the Internet). Use the principles you learned at Tech to evaluate new information and understand whether it is valid and applies to your situation.”
-Elizabeth Hendrix and Sybil Hendrix Fagan
Sisters establish endowment to honor parents’ memory and support Eagle Assistance Grant
Elizabeth Hendrix, ’64 administration and supervision, and Sybil Hendrix Fagan, ’65 elementary education, established the John and Anne Hendrix Tennessee Tech Assistance Endowment in memory of their parents—two people whose opportunity to pursue higher education after high school was limited, yet they valued education and made sure their daughters could attend Tennessee Tech.
John and Anne Hendrix supported Tech for many years and gave to a number of areas on campus but specifically focused their generosity on Athletics and the School of Agriculture. When John passed away, Anne, Elizabeth, and Sybil established the John P. Hendrix Agriculture Scholarship in his memory, and because of John and Anne’s generous support of Tech’s basketball program, friends of the Hendrix family established the John P. Hendrix Basketball Leadership Award in his memory as well. When Anne passed away, Elizabeth and Sybil renamed the scholarships to include both of their parents’ names. Now, the sisters have gone one step further in preserving their parents’ legacy and carrying forward their belief in helping others.
“We’ve always had a special fondness for Tennessee Tech,” said Elizabeth and Sybil. “In many ways, it was a part of our lives from the time we moved to Cookeville in 1952, because we lived on Dixie Avenue just north of the campus. We drove through and/or by the university on a daily basis. In addition, many faculty members were friends/neighbors/acquaintances of our family through organizations, church, and the Farm Bureau Insurance Company where our father worked.”
The sisters also say their Tech education and education degrees served them well. Elizabeth taught math for 30 years in Maryland, Colorado, and Tennessee, and Sybil taught elementary education for 27 years in Kentucky and Tennessee.
“Our time at Tech, the people we met, and the professors we had in class all helped prepare us for life and for our careers,” they said. “We have been blessed in many ways.”
Elizabeth and Sybil had been wanting to make a gift to an area in need for some time to honor their parents. After receiving a letter from President Phil Oldham in Spring 2019 concerning students facing financial hardships that could jeopardize the completion of a degree, they recognized this was the right fit.
“We knew our parents would think this a worthy investment,” they explained. “They didn’t have the resources to continue their education beyond high school. We agree with President Oldham that no student should have to leave Tech because of financial concerns. This endowment will benefit the very students that our parents would want to help and also reflect some of their values: hardworking, industrious, and an ongoing desire for learning.”
The John and Anne Hendrix Assistance Endowment is modeled after and inspired by the Eagle Assistance Grant (EAG), a safety net for students in emergency situations. The EAG was established in the spring of 2019 through the “I Heart Tech Students” faculty and staff giving campaign and Tech’s first-ever digital Day of Giving. The EAG is a hardship grant that provides emergency need-based funds that can be applied towards any financial hardship jeopardizing a student’s degree.
On December 3, Tech will participate in Giving Tuesday, a global movement powered by social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving each year, Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-the year giving. Tech’s 2019 Giving Tuesday will focus on the EAG, and Tech alumni and friends will have the opportunity to support students in need, just like Elizabeth and Sybil chose to do. The sisters hope their gift will inspire others.
“Financial constraints kept our parents from completing the next level of education,” they said. “Hopefully, the Eagle Assistance Grant will provide aid for students who face unexpected hardships and expenses and help them realize their goal of a college education.”
Leona Lusk Officer Black Cultural Center receives first estate gift and largest single gift ever from Tech alumna
Ingra Conley, ’91 marketing, often said that the Leona Lusk Officer Black Cultural Center (BCC) at Tennessee Tech made an impact on her education. Now, Conley will make an even bigger impact on future generations of Tech students.
For 20 years, Ingra loyally and consistently supported the BCC with an annual gift. When she passed away in October of 2018 at the age of 49, she went one step further by including the BCC in her estate plans. It is the first estate gift and the largest single gift the BCC has received to date.
“Ingra had a very generous spirit and valued education, specifically the importance of higher education,” said Flora Ector, Ingra’s mother. “She chose to give back in an effort to acknowledge the gift she received as a scholarship recipient. She wanted to pay it forward.”
Ingra enrolled at Tech in 1987 as an engineering major, but she quickly learned that she was not suited for the technical world of engineering. She changed her major to marketing, and her love of entrepreneurship grew. Ingra started several businesses while she was a student including a button-making business. She also collaborated on a clothing line called Black Wear.
Ingra went on to earn a Master of Business Administration-Marketing Degree from Clark Atlanta University and started two small businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area: C&C Vending and Sweet Scripts, LLC. Ingra had a successful career in the corporate sector in executive positions with Sabre International, Texas Instruments, Microsoft Corporation, and AmerisourceBergen.
Ector recalls that Ingra joined a number of academic and student organizations while enrolled at Tech which allowed her to sharpen her skills in public speaking, managing people, and executing plans for a common good. She also took advantage of the numerous opportunities offered by the BCC. It provided her not only the opportunity to collaborate with other African American students, but it also gave her the chance to join cultural student groups as well.
The BCC was established in 1989 as a place where African American students find support among their peers. It is named in honor of Leona Lusk Officer, the first African American student to be admitted to Tech after schools were integrated. She became Tech’s first African American graduate, earning a degree in education in 1965.
“Ingra often spoke of the approachable faculty and staff members at the University,” recalls Ector. “To her, that was one of the advantages of attending Tennessee Tech. Marc Burnett was one of those people for Ingra. He served as an unofficial mentor, helping with course selections, providing advice, and assisting with the retention of her academic scholarship.”
Burnett, Vice President of Student Affairs, remembers Ingra as a kind, inquisitive, and determined young lady who was destined to be successful.
“Being associated with students like her is what has made this job so rewarding over the years,” said Burnett. “And while we certainly were not expecting it, I’m not completely surprised by her generous gift to the BCC. On behalf of the entire Tennessee Tech family, I thank Ingra’s family for the contribution she made.”
-Dr. George M. Swisher
“We knew each other since junior high, so we go way back.”
When Dr. George M. Swisher lost his life companion of 54 years, he knew he wanted to do something to honor her memory. George recently established the Linda S. Swisher Scholarship Endowment at Tech in honor of his wife’s unselfish dedication to her students, her commitment to advancing education, and her relentless encouragement to share cultures. The scholarship will assist sophomore, junior, and senior students majoring in secondary education English or history.
George taught mechanical and electrical engineering courses at Tech for many years and eventually retired as Dean of the College of Engineering. Linda graduated from Tech in 1978 with a degree in secondary education and taught English as a second language at Tech for 15 years. George and Linda’s daughter, Stacey Swisher Harnetty, also graduated from Tech with a mechanical engineering degree.
While George received a scholarship to attend college after high school, Linda did not have the opportunity to attend college right away. George explains that Linda did well in high school, but there were no loan programs available at that time and her family couldn’t afford to send her to college. So while George enrolled in college after high school, Linda began working at a local bank.
Years later, when George accepted the faculty position at Tech, Linda decided to take advantage of the benefits she received as the spouse of a Tech employee, and she enrolled in college courses.
“She made all A’s except for a one credit hour PE class, where she made a B,” said George. “She was a star in English and history. Her senior year, she won the outstanding senior award for grades. At that time, no education major had ever won the award.”
In addition to her teaching career, Linda served as president of the Tech Women’s Club and president of the Cookeville Tree Board. She enjoyed taking care of her family and working in her flower gardens.
Linda passed away in December 2018.
“When she died, we decided we’d do something special,” said George. “We thought it would be something good to do.”
The Linda S. Swisher Scholarship will be awarded for the first time for the 2019-2020 academic school year. George and Linda also previously established the Swisher Family Scholarship for engineering majors. Future generations of engineers and educators will be able to pursue a degree at Tech, thanks to the generosity of the Swisher Family.
-Dr. Michael M. Gunter
Dr. Michael M. Gunter, professor of political science at Tennessee Tech, recently established the Judy and Michael Gunter Initiative in lasting memory of his beloved wife, Judy, who passed away on May 26, 2019.
“I’m interested in leaving a positive legacy,” said Michael. “It’s an initiative to look for positive things that will help people and the world around us by sponsoring worthy people in the years to come in my wife’s memory. I like that idea. That’s been my whole career so I like to promote it.”
Judy Kepley Gunter graduated from Wayne State University in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in elementary education and taught first grade for two years before marrying Michael in 1966. They had two children, Michael Jr. and Heidi. Michael, Jr. is chair of the Department of Political Science at Rollins College in Florida, and Heidi graduated from Columbia University, her father’s and grandfather’s alma mater. Michael Jr. and his wife Linda have three children, Ansleigh, Malachi, and Emerson.
Michael started teaching political science at Tech in September 1972. Judy’s love and support as a homemaker enabled her husband to pursue his successful career of teaching, publishing, and public speaking. The Gunter family says that Lord Byron’s poem “She Walks in Beauty” describes Judy:
“She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.”
Judy often accompanied her husband on trips to Paris, London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Istanbul as well as many cities in the United States and Canada including New York, Washington, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami, and Montreal, among others. For the 1978-1979 academic year, Judy and the children accompanied Michael to Ankara, Turkey, where he was a Senior Fulbright Lecturer in International Politics at the Middle East Technical University. From 2002 to 2010, Judy joined her husband in Vienna, Austria, where he taught at the International University during the summers.
The Judy and Michael Gunter Initiative will be awarded to students who major in political science, maintain a 3.0 GPA, and exhibit financial need. Michael believes strongly in the “initiative” part of this endowment and wants the individuals who receive the award to show true initiative toward their pursuit of a political science degree at Tech.
“Dr. Michael Gunter is not only one of the most prolific publishers at the University, but he is also equally dedicated to teaching his students,” said Lori Maxwell, chair of the Department of Sociology and Political Science. “Globally recognized as one of the leading authorities on the Kurds, Dr. Gunter never fails to mention Tennessee Tech in his numerous international interviews. But it was not his own legacy he sought to preserve in creating the Judy and Michael Gunter Initiative. They decided, together, to financially help students explore political science, one of the loves of Michael's life. His greatest love, however, will always be Judy.”
The Gunter family chose to establish this endowment in lieu of official services to create a lasting initiative and so that Judy could continue to give. They hope that Judy’s friends will consider paying forward an act of kindness now or in the future to someone they know who needs assistance.
B.S. '94 Mechanical Engineering
Extending a Tennessee Tech education to a diverse student population, especially those facing financial barriers, is critical. In 1964, six black students, including four athletes, enrolled at Tech. Today, more than 400 Tech students identify as black, another 250 as Hispanic, and about 150 as Asian. While Tech’s student body has become more diverse throughout the years, Fred Lowery has made it his mission to ensure this continues to grow. Through the Ethnic Diversity Scholarship Initiative, Tech intends to raise at least $2 million for scholarships and programs for underrepresented racial or ethnic minority students and Lowery, a 1994 mechanical engineering graduate, is leading the effort.
“For Tennessee Tech to thrive, the student population must reflect the current and future workforce demographics and the demographics of the country,” he said. “Those demographics are becoming much more diverse, and Tennessee Tech cannot afford to fall behind. Students who attend a more diverse university will be more prepared to compete in today’s workforce."
After graduating from Austin-East High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1988, Lowery attended Tech on a football scholarship. He graduated from Tech in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in mechanical engineering.
Today, Lowery is a senior executive at Thermo Fisher Scientific, a U.S. $25 billion company focused on its mission to enable their customers to make the world healthier, cleaner, and safer.
“At Tech, I learned how to frame and solve problems from my experience in engineering,” he said. “But I also learned how to interact with people in a way to bring out the best in every situation. Being able to frame a problem and come up with the right answer is important, but inspiring people to embrace a solution, or better yet empowering them to improve it, is a much higher calling.”
Lowery says he is eternally grateful for Wali Kharif, Marc Burnett, Leo McGee, and Angelo Volpe who served as mentors for him during his time at Tech. “Wali Kharif was a great inspiration to me,” he said. “He was a relatively new history professor at the time and the advisor for my fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. He always took time to listen to our experiences, and even if he didn’t agree with our approach, he always supported our intentions. Marc Burnett was also a great director and protector of me throughout my time at Tech. He was behind the scenes making sure that we didn’t do anything that was going to derail us. Leo McGee was the head of Academic Affairs and a role model to many African American students. President Angelo Volpe was also a great support to me. While we didn’t know each other well, he always had a kind word for me and was visibly supportive of the African American students on campus.”
Lowery established the Fred M. Lowery Award Scholarship to encourage students from Austin-East High School to attend Tech and the Chi Lambda Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Scholarship to support the cardinal principle of the fraternity Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance, and Uplift.
Robert Owens, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, says he is grateful to Lowery for his efforts to promote the Ethnic Diversity Scholarship Initiative. “Students from Fred’s high school alma mater now have an even more tangible incentive to choose Tech as their college destination due to his efforts to establish a scholarship that has helped build a pipeline from Austin-East to Tech,” said Owens. “His establishment of another scholarship in the name of his fraternity also speaks to his strong connection to the university and his dedication to see it continue to positively grow and evolve. Fred is making a genuine impact, not only on Tennessee Tech University, but also on the state of Tennessee because of his passion to see young people attend a fantastic institution of higher education such as this.”
“My philanthropic efforts are centered on helping people reach their potential and supporting the institutions that have been the most influential in my life,” said Lowery. “In this case, that includes Austin-East High School, Tennessee Tech University, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and the East Knoxville community. I hope that students receiving these scholarships will discover their purpose and reach their full potential and give back to their communities to help someone else. My message to these students is to work hard, never ever give up, and help as many people as you can.”
B.S. '82, M.A. '86, Ed.S. '93
Marc Burnett, Tennessee Tech’s Vice President for Student Affairs, describes giving back to the University as both an honor and an obligation.
“Tennessee Tech has given me far more than I’ll ever give back,” he said.
Burnett received three degrees from the University and is 30 years True To Tech, meaning he has given to Tech, without fail, for 30 years consecutively.
Most recently, he has been a tremendous proponent of the Ethnic Diversity Scholarship Initiative which seeks to extend a Tennessee Tech education to a diverse student population, especially those facing financial barriers. The impact of a fully-funded initiative will help prepare all Tennessee Tech students for successful careers and culturally-enriched lives. Through the Ethnic Diversity Scholarship Initiative, Tennessee Tech intends to raise at least $2 million for scholarships and programs for underrepresented students.
“As an African American alumnus, I feel it’s imperative that this institution be as inclusive and diverse as possible for the student body we serve,” said Burnett. “Dr. Robert Owens [Assistant Vice President of Multicultural Affairs] and I were discussing ways to get our African American alumni more engaged while also discussing ways to enhance the recruitment of African Americans to Tennessee Tech and voila! The initial thought was to ask our African American alumni to give to a scholarship that would provide funding for African American freshmen here at Tennessee Tech. Therefore, our alumni become engaged, and high school students benefit from their generosity.”
The Office of Multicultural Affairs will host a Legacy Gala during Wings Up Weekend to raise funds for the Diversity Scholarship. The Gala is scheduled for April 13 and will include dinner and a silent action.
Burnett added, “I really just hope to give another student an opportunity to experience everything Tennessee Tech has to offer.”
-Lori and J.W. Bruce
Provost Lori Bruce and Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering J.W. Bruce made their first gift to Tennessee Tech not long after joining the President’s Cabinet and College of Engineering faculty, respectively. In addition to making their first gift to Tech, the Bruces also joined the President’s Club, a giving society created nearly 40 years ago to recognize the many friends who loyally support the University. Now, they hope to inspire others to give back through the “I Heart Tech Students” faculty and staff giving campaign.
“We wish every Tennessee Tech employee would give through our faculty and staff giving campaign,” they said. “The amount of the gift is not nearly as important as the act of giving. There is a saying, ‘It isn’t the size of the gift that matters, but the size of the heart that gives it.’ When we give to Tennessee Tech, especially when we support student activities on campus, we are communicating to the students that what they are doing is important to us.”
The Bruces say they enjoy working at Tennessee Tech because of the great team atmosphere and because of the students who keep them energized, push them to have fresh perspectives on all aspects of life, and inspire them to make the University the very best.
“Neither of my parents had the opportunity to go to college when they graduated high school,” said Dr. Lori Bruce. “So when I was young, they stressed the importance of education and the belief that a university education could help you become whatever you wanted to be in life. When I was a teenager, my mother earned her bachelor’s degree, and I saw firsthand how her education broadened her perspectives of the world and allowed her to have a much more personally-fulfilling and higher-paying job. Education just opens so many doors of opportunity.”
Dr. J.W. Bruce added, “Our undergraduate and graduate educations have enabled us to have careers that we love—careers that have provided us with life experiences that we could never have imagined possible. We want everyone, especially Tennessee Tech students, to have those same kinds of opportunities and experiences.”
The Bruces designated their first gift to support the Tennessee Tech Baja team. Dr. J.W. Bruce has been the faculty advisor to several student projects and similar competition teams throughout the years and has witnessed firsthand that no matter how well you plan, there are always issues (and the associated expenses) that crop up unexpectedly.
“I vividly remember the times when my teams struggled with where to find the resources to address the unexpected,” said Dr. J. W. Bruce. “It seems that every time, someone stepped up and helped us out, and everything worked out in the end. We felt this was our opportunity to be that someone to step up and help Tennessee Tech students.”
The Tennessee Tech Baja team has a special sentiment for the Bruces. They met as undergraduates when they were both studying engineering, and they worked on a student design team while dating. The two spent many hours working side by side designing and building small autonomous vehicles and taking them to competitions.
Dr. Lori Bruce finds it remarkable that Tech’s Baja team started in 1977 in the basement of Brown Hall. In the 40 years since, Tech’s student team has finished in the top ten in more than 80% of the competitions they have entered and have placed 1st 12 times, making them the leading National Champion overall.
Dr. Lori Bruce added, “I have personally visited with the Baja student team and their faculty advisor, and they greatly impressed me with their technical skills, teamwork, tenacity, and competitiveness. It is no surprise that they build high quality vehicles that win races and bring national prestige to Tennessee Tech.”
“Giving is contagious,” said the Bruces. “When we give to Tennessee Tech, it can have a ripple effect of generosity through our community. We hope that our gift inspires others to give back to our students! Together, we can help Tennessee Tech move to even greater successes and heights.”
Business Management '82
Tennessee Tech alumnus Randy Wilmore has given loyally and consistently to Tech for 36 years, and it all started with a $10 gift.
Not long after he graduated from Tech with a degree in business management, Wilmore was asked to help with a phone-a-thon to call alumni in the Nashville area.
"I have always believed if you are asking someone to do something, you should be willing to do it yourself, so I made my first contribution to Tech," he explained. "It may not sound like much, but for a new graduate with a new job and student loans, $10 felt like a commitment. I wanted to show my appreciation and support to Tech and 36 years later, I still feel the commitment to my alma mater."
Wilmore gives to Tennessee Tech Athletics because he understands the demands of the student-athlete and believes athletics to be the front door of the University.
"While I want Tech to succeed on the field of competition, I know the biggest impact occurs when these students leave Tech and make a difference in their communities and beyond," he said. "While my college athletic career was very short and I was not a very good athlete, I was determined to be a great teammate. You do not have to be the best player to be an important part of the team. We all have a skill set we bring to every situation, and learning how to work together as a team and respect different abilities and talents only makes the group stronger and better."
Wilmore's career began in banking, but he eventually transitioned into medical practice management where he worked primarily with medical groups, hospitals, and HCA executives. His healthcare career spanned more than 20 years and ultimately brought him to Columbia as the Chief Executive Officer of Mid-Tennessee Bone and Joint Clinic and later at Family Health Group. Columbia introduced him to Farm Bureau, and he made his latest career move to Farm Bureau Health Plans as Chief Marketing Officer.
"I feel very fortunate to be at the Farm Bureau and part of an organization dedicated to the family and the unique culture that comes with working for a company whose board of directors is comprised of full time farmers. I only wish it had not taken me 30 years to get here."
In reflecting on how Tech helped him in his career, Wilmore explained, " Tech allowed me to grow and do things I would never have dreamed possible as a student. Those experiences, whether they were successes or failures, made me a better person and prepared me for life in the real world."
Wilmore gives back, not only to his alma mater through financial support, but through his time to civic organizations as well.
"When I was chairing the Clinic Bowl in 1992, I remember my grandfather asking me, 'How much are you getting paid to do that?' It made me stop and think about why I spent so much time volunteering, and the answer was simple: It brings me much joy. Community service has always been something I've done. It was true in high school, it was true at Tech, and it has continued to be a big part of my life today. I really feel we all have a responsibility to give back and try to leave things better than we found them."
Wilmore said he tries to get back to campus as often as he can, whether it be for a football game, basketball game, alumni board meeting, or fraternity graduate dinner.
He added, "It is impressive to see the great changes taking place on campus and inspiring to see the next generation attending Tech. Wings Up!"
World's Second Largest Mobility Supplier
As the world's second largest mobility supplier and a leading supplier of advanced automotive technology, systems, and components for the world's major automakers, DENSO believes they have a responsibility and distinct honor to advance skills and education in engineering and technology in the automotive industry.
DENSO has given to Tennessee Tech for more than 15 years and has supported many Capstone Design projects during that time. DENSO feels passionate about supporting student groups such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), as well as the Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and Formula teams. Students involved in these groups gain valuable real-world experiences and learn tangible skills to enhance their careers.
"We share the same goals and mission as Tennessee Tech," said Chuntao Ye, DENSO Senior Vice President and Tennessee Tech graduate. "We have hired many talented individuals from Tennessee Tech who came to us with a skill set and passion for the automotive manufacturing environment."
A large number of Tennessee Tech alumni work for DENSO, both at the Athens, Tennessee, and Maryville, Tennessee, locations, as well as in DENSO offices across the globe.
"Tennessee Tech students receive a diverse education taught in a hands-on environment," Ye added. "Their well-rounded education, proven ability to succeed, and passion for the industry enable Tennessee Tech graduates to fit well within DENSO's culture and working environment. Our relationship with Tennessee Tech has been instrumental in providing quality associates in diverse areas across the workforce."
-Marietta and Ron Tiller
Ron Tiller, Interdisciplinary Studies '10
On May 8, 2010, Ron Tiller walked across the Hooper Eblen stage to accept his bachelor's degree. But there was something different about the presentation of this degree. Tiller was 76 years old.
"I waited 50 years to do this," he said.
The road to obtaining a college degree isn't always easy, and Tiller sympathizes with the challenges many first generation college students face.
"At one time in my life, education was not a priority within my household because I had uneducated parents," said Tiller. "I truly believe that my father's outlook in life for his five sons was none other than blue collar, assembly line, clock punching, or farmhand type of livelihood. Having the opportunity to attend college was, in and of itself, an exciting experience."
Tiller arrived on Tech's campus in 1957, 10 days after his honorable discharge from the Army's 11th Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Tiller attended Tech for more than four years, majoring in agriculture, and was just 16 hours shy of graduation when he was recruited to work for John Deere. At John Deere, his teams helped launch the marketing activities for the Memphis and Kansas City operations and grew the Memphis division to $40 million in sales and the Kansas City division to $66 million in sales. While on an assignment in Farmington, Missouri, Tiller met and married his wife, Marietta McCarty, and the couple had three children. But Tiller's children were unaware that their father had never finished his degree.
"I was carrying this burden for 50 years," he said. "I always, always wanted to go finish my degree. I saw an article in the Visions alumni magazine about the finish-your-degree program, and I knew this was the way."
Tiller added, "The absence of a college degree was always a burden for me, and for many reasons. In the employment arena, a degree will usually prevail in the area of promotion. The term 'graduate' is insurmountable and should be. Although I departed college with 16 hours left to graduate, I was fortunate to still rise through the ranks. But it is very difficult to get on a fast track without a degree."
Tiller credits Tammy Boles, then coordinator of programs for the College of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Steve Frye, Director of Interdisciplinary Studies, with helping him finish his degree.
"I had no idea what a nontraditional student meant at the time," said Tiller. "The term 'interdisciplinary studies' was very foreign to me. As the process of graduating from the College of Interdisciplinary Studies became a reality, I was in awe. Graduating at 76 years old really did not bother me, because I had decided that there was no stopping once I reentered college."
Ron and Marietta Tiller have chosen to give back to Tennessee Tech through a planned gift to support the area that made it possible for Ron to finally obtain his college degree: the College of Interdisciplinary Studies.
"Marietta and I enjoy the thought of giving back to Tennessee Tech because of what Tennessee Tech did for me," Tiller explained. " We specifically give to the College of Interdisciplinary Studies because of its outstanding cast of people who express the gratitude and fortitude to promote and excel in what they do to succeed. My degree is symbolic of that special group and Tennessee Tech proper."
Tiller added, "My advice to today's students is to prepare for the future with a degree of your choice and do the best to make it work. To the students who dropped out of school for whatever reason and wish to return, please do so for your own sake and pride of accomplishment. Graduating at 76 was not a difficult thing to do. The real challenge was just to do it. Time and age should not be a deterrent. It was a priority for me to graduate from college, and I did! I was determined to not go to my grave without a college degree. My epitaph will not have the words 'studied' or 'attended,' but instead 'TTU graduate'."
-Norm and Carol Adams
Norm and Carol Adams did not graduate from Tennessee Tech. They do not have family members who graduated from Tech. They are not even originally from Tennessee! But they chose to establish the Norman and Carol Adams Engineering Scholarship Endowment because they believe in Tech, believe in the College of Engineering, and want to help students from Cumberland County.
The scholarship endowment will be primarily funded through an estate gift; however, Norm and Carol opted to also make a gift now so that they may have the opportunity to meet the scholarship recipients each year and see the impact their generosity has on the University.
"We are grateful for the investment Mr. and Mrs. Adams have made to support our engineering program at Tech," said Darrell Hoy, interim dean of the College of Engineering. " In addition to a quality education, we want to provide ample opportunities for scholarships so students can focus their time and energy on their studies, lab work, and developing the skills they will need to join the workforce. Assistance from our alumni and friends, like the Adams, is why almost 50 percent of our students are able to graduate debt-free."
Norm grew up on a farm in southwestern Ohio. Although his family was not in a position financially to provide beyond very basic necessities, Norm worked very hard to earn his associates degree at Ohio Mechanics Institute. He then worked and co-oped full time for five years, taking between 21 and 23 credit hours and working at Sears 16 to 20 hours each week during two of those years, to receive his Mechanical Engineering Degree from the University of Cincinnati. Norm recalls coming home at 10:00 pm some evenings, exhausted after being in the classroom for several hours, followed by his job at Sears. But he couldn't go to sleep; he had to stay awake to study.
"That's why he wants to help these students--so they don't have to go through what he did," said Carol. " I don't know if I could have kept going, based on some of the stories he's told me."
Norm then enlisted in the United States Air Force, where he met Carol. Carol is originally from St. Louis, Missouri, and studied education and taught middle school English. The couple retired to the Fairfield Glade community in Crossville, Tennessee, 24 years ago.
"We've been here for 24 years and consider ourselves Tennesseeans," said Norm. "We've heard really good things about Tennessee Tech, and we want to help the people living in Cumberland County."
When asked what advice they would give the students of today, Norm and Carol said, "Pick something that really, really interests you. You'll be happy if you love what you do."
Carol added, "I'm going to tell you something Pat Summitt said: Sit in the front of the class." The legendary University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach was famous for requiring her players to sit in the front three rows of lectures. "Class," said Summitt, "is more important than a game."
Carol said she had mentors every step of her teaching career, and she became confident because they guided her way.
Norm, on the other hand, said his mother had only an 8th grade education and his father only made it through his freshman year of high school.
"I decided my freshman year of high school that I wanted to go to college because no one in my family had," he said. "So I really had no mentor, but I had the determination on my own."
The Norman and Carol Adams Engineering Scholarship will be awarded to engineering majors who graduate from Cumberland County High School and Stone Memorial High School.
"The Adams are thoughtfully and selflessly supporting Tennessee Tech students through this scholarship," said Amanda Fabrizio-Grzesik, Director of Development. "Thanks to them, engineering students will be able to focus on their classes, labs, and projects without worrying, 'How am I going to pay for this semester?' We are so lucky and excited to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Adams to the Tech family."
Executive Director of Planned Giving Tiff Rector added, "Tennessee Tech is extremely fortunate to have friends like Mr. and Mrs. Adams. Although they didn't attend college here, they understand the important role that the University plays in their community. The generosity they have shown by combining an estate gift with an outright gift will ensure generations of our students achieve their educational dreams."
Mike Winchester gives to Tennessee Tech's Department of History and Baseball Program because, simply, Tech gave so much to him. He credits the athletic scholarship he received with allowing him to attend college in the first place and with being able to concentrate on success on the athletic field as well as in the classroom. Winchester also says he received constant encouragement and support from Tech coaches, faculty, and staff to achieve his goals and obtain the education required to pursue a career path that has turned out to be very successful.
"Quite frankly, I support and remember these programs and departments because they supported and remembered me at critical times in my career and life, in both my college education and beyond," he said.
Winchester attended Tech on an Ohio Valley Conference baseball scholarship from 1971 to 1975, graduating first in his class with a degree in history from the College of Arts and Sciences. Winchester also received the Derryberry Award, Tech's most prestigious honor presented annually to a graduating senior.
After graduating from Tech, Winchester attended the University of Tennessee College of Law and received a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree in 1978. He is the founding member and President of Winchester, Sellers, Foster & Steele, P.C. a law firm concentrating on creditor's rights, banking, commercial, and business litigation in Knoxville and the surrounding areas.
"I believe I received an outstanding education at Tennessee Tech that would have prepared me for a career in many different professions or career paths," said Winchester. "One of my faculty advisors convinced me that a law career would likely prove successful for me since I enjoyed reading and could both speak and write reasonably well. I believe the recommendations and encouragement I received from both the staff of the History Department as well as the Tennessee Tech administration was instrumental in helping me gain acceptance at the UT College of Law and in preparing for a legal career."
For more than 30 years, Winchester has supported the baseball program, scholarships for history majors, and professional development opportunities for history faculty and students. In 1999, he established the Winchester Lecture Series and Scholarship Endowment to support outstanding history majors and expand and enhance the educational experience at Tech. For nearly 20 years, the lecture series has brought guest speakers, chosen by the Department of History's faculty, to the University to present ideas, thoughts, and exposure to other disciplines and philosophies that are of interest to students, faculty, staff, and the community. The 2018 Winchester Lecture will be held on Tuesday, March 27, at 6 pm in Derryberry Hall Auditorium. Elizabeth Catte will present "What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia," and the event is free and open to the public.
"Whether you are majoring in pre-law or any other discipline, find something you both enjoy and intend to pursue as a career (not just as a job) if you truly want to be successful in any profession or endeavor," Winchester advised. "If you are not interested in continuing your education in that chosen discipline or profession, or if you do not want to be the best you can be every day in providing services to your clients, then pick something else to do."
Winchester added, "I want the Tennessee Tech campus community to know that Tennessee Tech is a wonderful place to obtain a great education, meet wonderful people, and establish friends and relationships that can last a lifetime."
-Ann Hellman and Lisa Russell
Ann Hellman, Associate Professor, Whitson-Hester School of Nursing; B.S. '93
Lisa Russell, Assistant Director, University Advancement; B.S. '04, M.B.A. '08
A Whitson-Hester School of Nursing graduate helped sisters Ann Hellman and Lisa Russell say goodbye to their father during one of the most difficult moments of their lives. As a thank you to this graduate, and to help future generations of nursing students, Hellman and Russell established the Bethel R. Norrod Memorial Scholarship in memory of their father.
Hellman, an associate professor in the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing, and Russell, assistant director of advancement services in University Advancement, both graduated from Tennessee Tech and say that as Cookeville natives, the University has always been a part of their lives.
"I get my greatest enjoyment from working closely with students," said Hellman. "Encouraging them to see nursing from a holistic viewpoint, seeing them explore patient population groups, and watching them grow in confidence from scared new nursing students to new nursing professionals is greatly rewarding for me."
"My current position in Advancement doesn't allow me the opportunity to deal directly with students," said Russell. "However, I feel my unit is very instrumental in making life better for Tennessee Tech students. We work diligently securing gifts, stewarding our donors, and promoting alumni relations. We see lives changed because of the work we do."
Hellman's and Russell's father, Bethel Norrod, spent the last week and a half of his life at Cookeville Regional Medical Center, and many great nurses cared for him. But one nurse, Tennessee Tech graduate J. C. Palfreyman, stood out above the rest.
"J. C. Palfreyman went beyond the normal assignment of his duties to provide excellent physical and emotional care for my dad," said Russell. "He saw him for the man he was: a husband, father, grandfather, brother, and uncle--not just a dying patient. He treated him with respect."
Hellman and Russell say they established the scholarship to honor their father and his love for learning. They hope to give students a helping hand and allow them to ultimately help others, just as their father did and just as Palfreyman did for him.
"My dad only had an eighth grade education, having to drop out of school to help support his large family," said Russell. "However, he was an avid reader and loved learning. I have so many memories of walking into his house, and he's sitting there with a book in his hand and a dictionary right beside him, in order to look up the words that he didn't know."
Hellman added, "Daddy was a man who believed in hard work. Although he came from a very poor upbringing, he also strongly believed that you always gave to others and helped others as the need presented. I can only imagine, had his circumstances been different and education been more accessible to him, how his life might have been different."
The Bethel R. Norrod Memorial Scholarship is awarded to nontraditional upper division nursing students from Overton County.
"We want all of the recipients of Dad's scholarship to know the work they do makes all the difference in their patients' lives," said Russell. "We want them to realize the importance of paying it forward and to realize that all gifts, regardless of size, make a difference."
-M. Dianne Murphy
B.S. '72, M.A. '73
National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) Athletics Director of the Year in 2001 and 2008, Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Administrator of the Year in 2004, Tennessee Tech Distinguished Alumna Award in 2005, Collegiate Women Leaders Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, and National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Hall of Fame in 2017 are just a few of the accolades Dr. M. Dianne Murphy has received in her distinguished career, and she attributes much of her success to her Tennessee Tech University education.
"The education that I received as an undergraduate and as a graduate student was second to none," said Murphy. "It taught me that if you work really, really, really hard, you can accomplish a lot. It also taught me that you can ask for help. I certainly asked for a lot of help as an undergraduate. The thing that struck me about Tech is that the faculty were willing to help. The faculty really cared."
Murphy received her Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees in health and physical education from Tennessee Tech and played basketball, volleyball, and tennis for the University as well. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in administration, supervision, and curriculum in physical education from The Florida State University.
Murphy served as Athletics Director for both the University of Denver and Columbia University. Under her leadership at Denver, eight sports programs made NCAA tournament appearances and, on four occasions, Denver teams won a national title. Murphy then presided over one of the most successful periods in Columbia University Athletics history. During her 11-year tenure, Columbia won 30 Ivy League titles and a national title in fencing, and in 2013-2014, saw its most successful year with five Ancient Eight titles. In 2016, Murphy joined The PICTOR Group as a senior partner and now assists intercollegiate athletics programs increase their effectiveness.
Murphy hopes to give other students the opportunity to receive a great education at Tennessee Tech through her support. She established the Dr. M. Dianne Murphy Leaders for Life Program to provide mentoring and networking opportunities for female student-athletes and build the skills needed to be successful in sports and leadership positions.
"I care deeply about Tennessee Tech and Tennessee Tech Athletics, and I felt it was important for young women in the athletics program to see women in leadership positions, whether they be in athletics, education, law, medicine, or something else," said Murphy. "As alumni, we have an obligation to give back to the institution that gave to us. I give back so others will have the opportunities that I have had."
Global Specialty Chemical Company
Eastman’s 25-year partnership with Tennessee Tech continues to fund scholarships, professional development opportunities, career placement programs, equipment, and classroom upgrades. Representatives from the global specialty chemical company say they choose to support Tennessee Tech because of the high quality, industry-ready students that the University is known for.
“Graduates from Tennessee Tech are immediately ready for any challenge thrown their way when they come through the door at Eastman on day one,” said Spencer Tidwell, a 2011 Tennessee Tech chemical engineering graduate and chemical engineer at Eastman. “TTU does a great job training its students to be able to think critically in order to solve complex problems. Their technical background from their coursework provides a solid foundation and gives them the tools necessary to solve complex problems. TTU students are not afraid to go out and get their hands dirty or ask hard questions to solve everyday problems. This is a critical part of success in the real world and at Eastman.”
More than 150 Eastman employees are Tennessee Tech graduates. The majority of them are employed at the Kingsport, Tennessee location, but the company has Tennessee Tech graduates at their other 50 sites across the globe as well.
Recently, the Eastman Foundation provided funds for furniture, equipment, and materials for the Engineering Learning Lab in the newly-renovated Maddux and McCord residence halls. This was a unique opportunity for Eastman to have a direct impact on Tennessee Tech students by providing a collaborative learning environment.
“We know that diversity of thought is critical to solving the world’s most complex problems,” said Tidwell. “Networking with students across disciplines is very beneficial—diversity across functional teams is a critical part to the working industry.”
Tidwell added that Eastman employees are bold, fearless, and confident, thus displaying all three attributes of the Tennessee Tech Tomorrow Campaign.
“The success of Eastman is completely dependent on the different backgrounds and ways of thinking that our employees have,” said Tidwell. “We need bold leaders that set the strategy for the company. We need fearless employees who are not afraid to try new things for risk of failure. We need employees who are confident that the vision set forth by our leaders is achievable.”
Tidwell added, “If you think about the world’s problems as an apple tree, all the low-hanging apples have been picked, and there are no more ‘easy’ problems to solve. The key is figuring out how to climb to the top of the tree and find the apples that are hidden away. We need bold leaders to set forth the vision for how we get to the apples at the top of the tree. We must have confident employees who truly believe that there are apples at the top of the tree that can be acquired. We need employees who are fearless enough to climb the tree and figure out where the apples are. All three of these characteristics are required to find the apples that no one has discovered yet and turn those opportunities into meaningful results.”
Professor Emeritus, School of Music
After a lifetime of devoting herself to art and education, it was only fitting that an art scholarship be established in Sally Crain-Jager's memory at Tennessee Tech.
When Sally passed away in November of 2014, friends, family, and Tennessee Tech colleagues made gifts in her memory to establish the Sally Crain-Jager Memorial Scholarship Endowment. Sally's husband, Robert Jager, said he chose to support painting students with this scholarship because that was Sally's principal talent area and because she worked diligently to establish the Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in painting at Tennessee Tech.
"My hope is that this scholarship will help make it possible for talented painting students, who won't have the opportunity to study with Sally, to benefit from her legacy and dedication," he said.
Nicole Groot, a junior fine arts major from Cumberland County, is the first recipient of the Sally Crain-Jager Memorial Scholarship.
"I feel so honored to receive this gift of financial help," said Groot. "It is truly special to me because it's a part of Sally's legacy. I never met Sally, but she still found a way to inspire me and impact my life goals--not only as an artist, but also as a person. She generously used her talents to help others, and I hope to follow her example."
In reflecting on the three core concepts (bold, fearless, and confident) of the Tennessee Tech Tomorrow Campaign, Jager said, "I think that to be confident means you are also bold and fearless, although I know that Sally wouldn't have thought of herself as either bold or fearless. And no creative person of any worth that I have ever met considered themselves confident. Nevertheless, I would say Sally was confident because her art and her personality came across as someone who knew what she was doing."
"What I believe is most important for everyone to know about Sally is her dedication to her art and, especially, her dedication to her students," Jager said. "To her, it was always more than just a job. It was a calling, and that calling came naturally and unadorned to her. The fact that so many of her family and friends have come together to fund this scholarship attests to the fact of the influence she has had on the University, her students, and this community."
(Photos: Left: Robert Jager presenting an encaustic painting of Sally's to scholarship recipient Nicole Groot. Right: Sally Crain-Jager)
Business Management '00
The strong guidance and support he received from Tennessee Tech faculty and staff inspired Shawn Ratner to give back to the alma mater that paved the way for his success in the business industry. Through his philanthropy, he hopes to provide the tools needed so that other students may achieve their educational endeavors.
"TTU provided a strong foundation in business, as well as tools for real-world scenarios, which have helped in my success at my banking career at JPMorgan Chase," he said. "I owe my success in my career to my Tennessee Tech education."
Ratner is a Supplier Enablement Client Campaign Manager with JP Morgan Chase. He has been with the company since November of 2013.
Ratner gives to the Tennessee Tech Foundation and the College of Business because he believes the College gave him a strong background in business that helps in his career today. Additionally, he is grateful to Tennessee Tech for giving him a well-rounded education. Ratner recently made a gift to each area in memory of his mother and grandparents.
"My grandparents, from the time I was old enough to remember, instilled the importance of education and were instrumental in me receiving my degree, as neither of them had a college education," said Ratner. "My mother was supportive of everything I have done in my life."
The Tennessee Tech Tomorrow Campaign encourages students, faculty, and staff to be bold, fearless, and confident, and Ratner was fortunate to have a professor who encouraged him to adopt these characteristics during his time at Tennessee Tech.
"Dr. Curtis Armstrong was my favorite professor at Tennessee Tech," said Ratner. "He encouraged me to be bold. He always had an open door policy and made everyone feel comfortable asking questions. Dr. Armstrong always shared his vast experience with our class with real-world applications. I had the opportunity to reconnect with Dr. Armstrong at last year's Homecoming, and he remembered me. I would say Dr. Armstrong had the most positive influence on me during my years at Tennessee Tech."
(Photo: Ratner, left, with decision sciences and management professor Curtis Armstrong)