Will Start Drive
To Build Center
For Science And
Math On Campus
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The loving memories of a Kingsport woman for her late husband have prompted a $3.875 million gift to help build a new science and math center on the main campus of Tusculum College.
The college announced the donation by Verna June Meen, a retired accountant, in memory of her late husband, Dr. Ronald H. Meen, an organic chemist, at a late-afternoon news conference Thursday on the campus.
Neither the late Dr. Meen nor his wife, the donor, attended Tusculum or has any prior relationship with the college.
The donation announced Thursday will jump-start a fund drive to raise the remainder of the $15.5 million total cost to complete the Ronald H. and Verna June Meen Center for Science and Math.
Current proposals call for a three-story, 50,000-square-foot center to be built behind the Annie Hogan Byrd Auditorium.
According to Heather Patchett, vice president of Institutional Advancement, the building will resemble the other buildings on the campus.
"There is nothing that we can do without the help of the community and our friends and family," Patchett added concerning the launch of the fundraising efforts.
Architect John Fisher, of John Fisher + Associates, indicated that the design would include modern brick, Roman columns and colonnades.
Meen, along with Tusculum College President Dr. Nancy B. Moody and Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Kenneth Bowman, unveiled a rendering of the building.
Seeming to gasp as she leaned close to study the rendering of the planned building, Meen softly said, "It overwhelms me," Dr. Moody reported to the crowd attending the news conference.
'A WONDERFUL DAY'
Bowman greeted an audience of college trustees, faculty, staff, public officials and news media with the promise of a "phenomenal" announcement.
This "very dramatic" step forward will follow the college's ongoing effort to remain "steadfastly allegiant" with its mission to prepare students, the trustees chairman said.
Moody welcomed and recognized the many officials present, calling it a "wonderful day for each of these communities."
Indeed, many of the officials expressed their excitement for the project, often recalling their own close ties with the college.
Tusculum Mayor John Foster recalled his childhood days when the college was his playground.
NO PERSONAL CONNECTION
Mayor Foster also noted with some amazement that Meen had no personal connection to the college to motivate her generous donation.
Meen herself later confirmed that she had no real prior knowledge or connection to the college. She said that she only sought to find an institution that had a need and would be grateful for her donation.
After her attorney provided her a list of colleges that could benefit from the donation, Meen said the timing and situation made Tusculum her final choice.
Saying that she was "honored and humbled to contribute to Tusculum College," Meen quietly closed with her own words of appreciation.
She said in an interview following the announcement that she believes her husband's response would have been much the same, a simple, quiet "thank you."
"He was very appreciative, but he was very shy," she said.
After getting to know him, however, she insisted that people could easily grow to love him.
To her, he was "the perfect man," she added.
"He was very generous," Meen said. "He spoiled me."
Ronald Meen had a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Toronto and was an organic chemist for Eastman Chemical in Kingsport. He died in 2008.
COMMENTS BY PRESIDENT
"Words can't express the deep appreciation that members of the Tusculum College community have and will continue to have for the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Meen," Moody said.
"We are honored that Verna June has chosen to leave a living memorial to her husband at Tusculum College. She is an amazing person in her own right, and the gift she has given will impact the lives of thousands of students for many, many years to come."
Moody shared the story of Meen, that of a young woman funding her own way through college and obtaining an accounting degree in less than three years at Indiana University.
Moving across country, Meen settled as the only female accountant at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, where she met her future husband.
Moody also extended appreciation to Linda Kirkland and Terri McGuire of First Tennessee Trust Services at First Tennessee Bank, and Joel Conkin of Wilson Worley law firm in Kingsport.
Tusculum College faculty were also recognized at the event and will be consulted as further plans for the new facility develop, Patchett noted.
"I think the faculty have really grand expectations," she said with a laugh.
Patchett said the college will balance those expectations with their budget to bring the most state-of-the-art facility they can afford to the campus.
While plans are still in early development, she said the facility will include small laboratories connected to faculty offices to promote independent research projects.
"We are so grateful for the gift and look forward to raising the funds for the start of the construction," she said. "It's an exciting time."
She anticipated that construction could begin as early as the spring or summer of 2013.