Blankenships support UT Martin with gifts
Posted: Friday, April 24, 2009 9:36 am
The Messenger 04.24.09
The University of Tennessee at Martin’s role in the economic development of the region and a passion to see the university thrive led Bill and Roberta Blankenship to make a series of gifts in support of the institution and its mission.
The Blankenships attended the former University of Tennessee Martin Branch, where they met. Bill earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture in 1956 and Roberta graduated with a home economics degree in 1955.
They returned to UT Martin for the first time in 50 years to attend their Golden Grad Reunion in August 2005.
Shortly afterward, Bill became a member of the UT Martin Development Committee and now serves on the Campaign for Tennessee Steering Committee and the UT Development Coun-cil, which met in Martin April 17-18. Their great-nephew, Joel Howard, graduated from UT Martin in December 2005 and, at that time, they made the first of several unrestricted six-figure gifts to UT Martin.
“Chancellor (Tom) Rakes has stated that private support is necessary to attract and retain top students and faculty at UT Martin, and Roberta and I want to give back to help meet this objective — giving back so future students will have the opportunity to be the best they can be,” Bill said. “Our gifts have been unrestricted because we have confidence in the leadership at UT Martin and believe they can best determine the needs and priorities for the use of private gifts.”
As a result of those annual gifts, the Blankenship Undergraduate Research Endowment in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences was established. Matched by support from the university, collaborative faculty/student research activities are nurtured and encouraged. Income from the endowment provides faculty incentives and student stipends for “real-world” learning opportunities in a close mentoring environment.
Other private gifts from the Blankenships have purchased much-needed equipment in the chemistry department, specifically a nuclear magnetic resonance machine that enables students in pre-health sciences to conduct experiments with state-of-the-art instrumentation, equipping them for graduate and professional school.
“One of UT Martin’s goals is to ‘provide a learning environment that facilitates the total collegiate experience for all students.’ Today’s goal may not have been written 50 years ago, but certainly the caring and mentoring of students was there when we were students, and it still exists today, and that provides for a great environment for learning,” Bill added. “As Roberta and I look back on the educational experience that UT Martin provided us, we realize it was a learning environment that aided in our business careers and in our lives.”
Bill was born and reared in Covington and was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. After obtaining his UT Martin degree, he was accepted in the Navy Officer Candidate School and, on receiving his commission, was assigned to the Commander In Chief Pacific Fleet Staff. He started his business career with Buckeye, a division of Procter & Gamble. P&G sold the cellulose business in the early 1990s to an investment group that formed Buckeye Technologies and Bill was vice president of cotton manufacturing.
Roberta, originally from Memphis, was editor of the yearbook and a campus beauty at UT Martin. Both played tennis as students and were coached by former UT Martin women’s athletic director Bettye Giles.
Ms. Giles; Rakes and his wife, Dr. Glenda Rakes; Len Solomons, UT Martin vice chancellor for university advancement; and Charley Deal, UT Martin assistant vice chancellor for alumni relations, attended an alumni reception hosted by the couple in their Sandestin, Fla., home. Following the event, the Blankenships presented the university with a $2 million bequest for the Campaign for Tennessee.
“Bill and Roberta have demonstrated a true philanthropic spirit with their generous support for UT Martin,” Rakes said. “They are exemplary alumni who have stepped up and provided an unusual level of trust in what our faculty and staff do to better serve our stakeholders.”
“We have been asked in the past why we make contributions to UT,” Bill added. “It’s just the right thing to do. It took us a while to get involved again with our alma mater, but we are passionate about UT Martin and what it means to the economic growth and development of the region. UT Martin is truly preparing the next generation of leadership.”
Bill and Roberta Blankenship, University of Tennessee at Martin