TBR honors Richard B. Ray, Blount Memorial Hospital for support of higher education 

Richard Ray at lectern, accepting Regents' Award on Aug. 17, 2021
Richard B. Ray of Knoxville, a co-founder of tnAchieves, accepts the Regents’ Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at Pellissippi State on Aug. 17.

Richard B. Ray of Knoxville, a co-founder of tnAchieves, and Blount Memorial Hospital were honored this month by the Tennessee Board of Regents for their longstanding support of education. Both were nominated by Pellissippi State Community College President L. Anthony Wise Jr. 

Ray received the 2021 Regents’ Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at a Ribbon Cutting Celebration for Pellissippi State’s Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on Aug. 17, while Blount Memorial’s chief executive officer Don Heinemann and board vice chair David Pesterfield accepted the 2021 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at a Blount Partnership event Aug. 25. 

Established in 2001, these awards honor individuals, companies and organizations who go “above and beyond” to donate their resources, finances, and personal time to TBR’s 40 community and technical colleges. 

Wise nominated Ray, co-founder and chief financial officer of 21st Mortgage Corporation, for his commitment to tnAchieves, the college scholarship and mentorship program that pairs volunteer mentors with incoming college students who receive the Tennessee Promise scholarship.  

Not only did Ray found KnoxAchieves, the precursor to tnAchieves, with fellow Knoxville businessmen Randy Boyd, Bill Haslam, Mike Ragsdale and Tim Williams in 2009, but Ray is one of only four tnAchieves volunteers across the state who has served as a mentor every single year. Over the past 12 years, Ray has mentored over 60 students. He drives from his home in west Knoxville to the Carter community in east Knox County to meet with his mentees, and he volunteers every year to teach budgeting at tnAchieves’ Summer Bridge Program at Pellissippi State, which helps incoming students start on a more college-ready level, both academically and socially. 

“Rich Ray was the first in his family to graduate from college,” Wise writes in nominating Ray for the award. “Growing up in east Knoxville, Rich worked his way through the University of Tennessee. He remembers the challenges of working to pay tuition and navigating higher education without a mentor to guide him. Rich says, ‘If you are the first in family to ever go beyond high school, you need someone to tell you it is possible, that you can do it.’” 

Ray and his wife, Jane, also have supported Pellissippi State since 2017, with gifts to the Student Opportunity Fund, which helps the Pellissippi State Foundation assist students in crisis, and to support the expansion of the Strawberry Plains Campus library. The couple also has committed a planned gift to Pellissippi State to continue their support of community college students into the future. 

“Jane and I have been fortunate to contribute to wonderful organizations, but we do focus on education,” Ray said when accepting the award from Regent Danni B. Varlan on Aug. 17. “We firmly believe that to have a better quality of life for our kids in Tennessee, they must be better educated. That begins with K-3 and continues all the way through getting their degrees either at a university or a community college or developing a trade at TCAT, so thank you for this recognition. I appreciate it.” 

Blount Memorial Hospital chief executive officer Don Heinemann, second from left, and hospital board vice chair David Pesterfield, third from left, accept the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Philanthropy on Aug. 25, 2021
Blount Memorial Hospital chief executive officer Don Heinemann, second from left, and hospital board vice chair David Pesterfield, third from left, accept the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy on Aug. 25, from Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., left, and Regent Danni B. Varlan.

Wise nominated Blount Memorial Hospital for the Chancellor’s Award for its longstanding support of Pellissippi State students. In 2001 the hospital established the Blount Memorial Nursing Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a Nursing student from Blount County. The hospital later funded the Nursing simulation lab at the college’s Blount County Campus, helping establish the college’s Nursing program in 2010. More recently Blount Memorial pledged $100,000 to help build the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center on the Blount County Campus, which is now underway and is scheduled for completion in 2022. 

While Blount Memorial sponsors clinical rotations for Pellissippi State’s Nursing students, last year Pellissippi State helped the hospital train 61 of its medical-surgical nurses in COVID-19 patient care, allowing the hospital to use the Nursing simulation lab on the Blount County Campus to practice scenarios based on actual COVID-19 cases. These COVID-19 trainings were just the beginning of what Pellissippi State and Blount Memorial envision being a year-round partnership, including the possibility of launching a nurse residency program. 

Blount Memorial’s support of Blount County and its people, however, dates to its founding in 1947, when local physicians and philanthropists partnered with ALCOA Inc. to realize the dream of a community hospital. 

“Blount Memorial Hospital is committed to care for the health and well-being of any individual who needs assistance, regardless of their ability to pay,” Wise writes in nominating Blount Memorial for the award. “This ethos permeates the organizational culture, from the greeter at the welcome desk to the most skilled surgeon. As healthcare challenges increase, so does Blount Memorial’s commitment to care for all who need assistance: every child, every senior, every hurting or sick individual, regardless of circumstance.” 

 “It’s truly an honor for Blount Memorial to receive the Chancellor’s Award,” said Heinemann, the hospital’s CEO. “Our work with Pellissippi State is something we’ve cherished over the years, and we’re committed to continuing our efforts to support Pellissippi State students who are planning careers in health care. As we saw just in the last year, our collaboration with Pellissippi State helped us ensure our team was prepared to handle the influx of COVID-19 cases in our community. In a pandemic – or any other time – that’s a win-win for us.” 

Fall classes are now underway at Pellissippi State. For more information about the college or the Foundation, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865-694-6400. 

To apply to be a tnAchieves mentor for the Class of 2022, a commitment of about one hour per month, visit www.tnachieves.org/mentors 

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