Behind East Tennessee Foundation: An Interview with President & CEO Mike McClamroch

When you hear “East Tennessee Foundation,” you might immediately think of the many charitable resources this foundation has contributed to East Tennessee over the past 30 years.

From scholarships to wildfire relief funds, this organization has its hand in charity work all across our region, with over $250 million in cumulative grants awarded since 1986. Many, however, do not know the story behind EastTennessee Foundation’s President and CEO, Mr. Mike McClamroch.

Mr. McClamroch graduated from Webb School of Knoxville, Furman University and Cumberland School of Law. He was a lawyer with the firm of Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis as well as an active volunteer in the community before taking the lead role at the East Tennessee Foundation in 2001. He and his team helped build the foundation from total assets worth $30 million to now over $300 million.

We had the privilege of speaking with Mr. McClamroch at his office in downtown Knoxville. Sincere gratitude and thankfulness radiated from Mr. McClamroch as he discussed his upbringing, his faith and family, his present-day accomplishments and what the future may hold.

We want you to tell our readers about who you are! Can you begin by telling us about your childhood?

“I am from Knoxville. My parents are from Knoxville, all the way back to my great-grandparents, so I am an East Tennessean born and bred. I grew up in the country in West Knoxville and had all kinds of animals growing up. I was the only kid at Sequoyah School who was a member of 4-H. I grew up with lots of space, and we did everything outside. You know, it was a great way to grow up. We had a garden, not because we had to have it to eat. We had a garden because it was great fun. And I still have a garden, I still work in the yard and I still work outside. That’s how I relax.”

Can we talk a little bit about your upbringing as far as your faith is concerned? Is it a big part of your life?

“It is a huge part of my life. It, in fact, is the driver for almost everything that I do. I learned a reliance early on where it feels absolutely natural for me, when confronted with a problem, to hand it over to God and ask for guidance and wisdom and strength and the wherewithal to get through it. And that serves me really well.”

“I would not be here with ETF if I hadn’t had enough faith to take a real jump, a real counter-intuitive jump. You know, I went to a lot of people to seek advice. I went to my dad, and I said, “Dad, they’ve come to talk to me about this job. What do you think?” And he said, “Are you crazy? Your law practice is booming. You are doing so well. You’ve worked so hard. My advice is no way.” And for your gut, your heart, to tell you that your dad is just dead wrong, because he doesn’t know you as well as God knows you, or you know yourself, that was a hard thing for me to do. But I knew it was the right thing to do, and I called them back and I said, “Yes.”

Tell us about your son. We know he is very important to you.

“He is the most important thing to me. I am continually amazed by him. He is a wonder to behold. I could not be more proud of him, and not just in his accomplishments. He is a great athlete, and a great student, but he also is a deep thinker and really well spoken. Sometimes it is shocking to me and I have to remind myself that he is only fifteen. I love seeing him be a natural born leader. I love seeing him interact with his peers. He is one of those children who is equally at ease with his peers as he is with adults.”

“Recently, we cooked and served dinner at Knoxville Area Rescue Mission and Michael’s response to that was not, “Oh my gosh, that was such hard work.” We stood for hours and made 34 pork tenderloins. The hair on both my arms was singed from the oven. It was hard work. His response was, as we got in the car after dinner and were driving home, “If we made a grant out of our fund to KARM, what do you think they need the most?” That’s the stuff that makes you cry as a parent. I believe as parents we cannot impart that to our children—that is a God-given sensibility. I am just gratified that he has it. And he has a lot of it.”

What sort of goals did you have when you were younger?

“You know, my goals have morphed or matured over time. I was really idealistic at twenty-five. Back then, I really thought that I could reform public policy. But as I grew older and I got deeper into politics, I grew increasingly weary of politics for the sake of politics. Back then, I was the youngest-ever GOP chair and I may be the only GOP chair that counted the seconds until my term ran out. It was an eye-opening experience for me and a great way to pivot and shift gears. I recognized that I needed to figure out a better fit for me to make changes in our community.”

Tell us a about the East Tennessee Foundation and what you do there.

“ETF was founded in 1986 and I joined shortly after 9/11 as the economic crisis of 2001 was underway. Our growth since then has been really significant, with the crash of 2008 sitting right in the middle of that. We were able to maintain our grantmaking through both crashes, and it provided survival dollars for a lot of organizations, especially arts organizations that would have gone out of business otherwise. Cumulatively, our grants in the region are over $250 million. That goes a long way and changes a lot of lives in East Tennessee. We are all proud of that.”

“Part of my job is to make sure that everyone here who is crunching numbers or reading grant applications, proofreading the newsletter or whatever it is, feels connected. To the ones whose lives we are changing. It is not uncommon for me to read the thank you letters, the gut-wrenching stories, in our staff meetings. I encourage everybody to go on the site visits, to serve on the scholarship committees, to do all of that work. It is what they have to do to stay focused and to remember that their job has meaning, no matter how difficult it is that day. It is easy for me, because I am at a 20,000-foot level, and at any point, I can go down and get involved in any part of it, but I think that it is important for our team. And it matters.”

What ETF accomplishments are you most proud of that have taken place in the last year?

“I am proud of so much, but I am most proud of the way our team works with each other to get it all accomplished. This is not false modesty, but anybody that knows the Foundation and sees the way that it works, day in and day out, knows it is not a reflection of me. It is a reflection of this team. I am a part of, always, a larger whole, and the way they respect each other, the way they communicate with each other, the way they are able to advance the mission of the Foundation and just, one after another, set records in all of these accomplishments…it’s a reflection on them. Overall, I think the thing I am most proud of is our work environment, because it is conducive to success. It makes success not just possible, but likely. And I am really proud of that.”

Looking ahead at the next couple of years, what is the ultimate goal?

“The ultimate goal is to stay in that position where we are managing, guiding and feeding that growth. We are going to be stretching in some areas in which we have never been able to stretch before, and we have done a great job on a meager budget on name recognition and brand recognition. We have done a great job on becoming the conversation starter for meaningful philanthropy in East Tennessee, so we have to continue all that. But we are going to be exploring really fascinating things like mission investing and other things that are going to be really attractive to potential donors, potential fund holders, and will multiply, I hope, exponentially, our impact in the region. When we get to invest, not just through grants but through investments in projects that are changing people’s lives, our impact and the benefit we provide is going to increase exponentially. I am really excited. We are now positioned to not only watch it happen, because there is nothing passive about any of this, but also to make it happen.”

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Nothing Stops The News Not Even A Tornado

Both The Daily Post-Athenian and WYXI-AM 1390 in Athens were affected by the EF-2 tornado that ripped through McMinn County on Nov. 30, 2016. Yet, in spite of the damage, both were back up and running in no time.

Since the Wednesday morning of the tornado, DPA staffers have been working from various locations to continue to print the newspaper Monday through Friday. The DPA’s sister paper, The Monroe County Advocate & Democrat, hosted several DPA departments – including the newsroom, composing, business, classifieds, advertising and circulation – from Nov. 30 until Jan. 13, when the final employees set up shop at either less-damaged areas at The DPA’s location at 320 S. Jackson St., or the basement level of SouthEast Bank on Congress Parkway.

“I don’t think most people really think about how difficult it would be if everything they use to do their job was gone,” said DPA Publisher Jeff Schumacher. “I know I never really thought about it before this.”

Still, each publication day, DPA staffers at the SouthEast Bank location work to put together the newspaper and send the pages electronically to the Knoxville News Sentinel to be printed. A DPA employee drives to Knoxville to collect that day’s edition and bring the papers back to the newspaper’s permanent location on South Jackson Street where the mailroom prepares them for distribution to the carriers. This process takes more time than when the paper was printed in-house, so delivery has been later than customers are used to – this issue is a concern that The DPA works daily to improve, although delays should be expected.

As the employees continue to do their work, so do the crews working to rebuild the newspaper’s offices.

“Once the new roof is complete, work on the interior can begin,” Schumacher said. “We are probably looking at three more months before we can anticipate being back in our newly remodeled building. And that will be cause for a huge celebration.

“Meanwhile, we cannot give enough thanks to the great folks at SouthEast Bank for our temporary home,” she added.

The contact number for The DPA is 745-5664, and any department can be reached by calling that number.

Unlike The DPA, WYXI was not forced out of its building, though it still sustained some damage.

“We were on the air at the time the tornado hit giving updates as we always do,” WYXI co-owner Bob Ketchersid said.

However, as the wind funnel passed through town, the roof was torn off the station’s transmitter building, causing the building to flood and WYXI to go off the air. A 10-foot satellite dish was blown about 100 yards away and the AM transmitter was completely destroyed, and the station’s metal tower was damaged by the harsh winds. The roof of the studio building on Slack Road was also badly affected, allowing water to seep in and damage some equipment.

WYXI was off the air until Thursday afternoon, Nov. 31, when another transmitter was installed to allow the station to continue broadcasting on its FM feed, 94.5. “We get pretty good range with that,” he noted.

As of today, WYXI is back to broadcasting 24 hours a day on both AM 1390 and FM 94.5. While WYXI AM is required to reduce its power at sunset, WYXI FM’s power remains the same around the clock.

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The King Of Grinders: Walter Brend

Mention the name Walter Brend around collectors of knives, swords and daggers, and smiles will fill the room. With decades of experience hand producing highly collectable weapons, Walter is considered by knife experts to be one of the most sought after creators of hand ground knives in the world.

After living in several states, Walter and his wife moved to rural McMinn County home and soon began turning out new styles for collectors in an expanded work shop. The shop is filled with different sized belt grinders and unique equipment needed to cut and finish his one-of-a kind creations. Several machines were designed by him and built by a specialty company. Along with constantly developing new and unique knife design styles, Walter also takes special orders from collectors who have their own ideas. Buyers in other countries often seek special creations, asking for both hunting and collectable knives. Walter said his most expensive weapon created was a sword that sold for $30,000 to a collector in China.

But the current success was not always
a part of his life. Twenty years ago disaster struck.

“I was a meat cutter for 15 years, and everyone told me if you ever let the knife slip, you will cut yourself,” said Walter. “I was fast with the knife, but unfortunately the warnings became a reality. A slip with the knife happened, and after two surgeries a specialist said my hand was useless.”

He had movement, but no strength with a nerve severed. Walter had often dreamed of creating new knife styles – he grew up in the central Florida swamps where owning a knife could be a lifesaver. But with the injury that dream was impossible. He was on workman’s comp with little to live on, and no money to purchase equipment.

“My cousin said to make a knife the old fashioned way with sandpaper,” so in desperation he opted to try and file out a knife from a steel blank – to see if the impossible could become the possible.

“I started to file on this knife, but my arm would give out. I started praying to God, if it is in your perfect will, please heal my hand,” said Walter. “I started to work again, all of a sudden I was covered in sweat, and turned to go through a door. I stumbled and instinctively grabbed the door knob. Suddenly I had full strength in my hand. God healed me that morning.”

That began a new life with his dream becoming reality. Success soon followed and Walter was the first person to ever make the knife makers guild in one year. After three years of part-time work, he began full time creating a variety of knives. He now is known in knife circles as “The king of the grinders” and a featured maker in many knife shows.

“I do some knives in 3 hours but some take 20 or more,” Walter said. He is teaching a grandson the trade, but to date will not let him work with the larger grinders. “They are too dangerous.”

One unique creation which Walter especially favors, is for the 82nd Airborne Special Forces, several members telling him those knives saved their lives in many precarious situations. The knives, called model two’s, have no markings on them to reveal who created them or who owns them.

He has also styled special knives for missionaries who go into the jungles of South America, with several admitting the knives have saved their lives from attacks by rogue tribesmen bent on killing the missionaries. In addition, he has designed specialty knives for movie and music personalities, often using rare woods with epoxy resin along with silver and gold for handles.

At age 72 Walter has admittedly cut back on the number of hours he puts in each week, but plans to never quit designing new creations – “It’s in my blood,” he said, as he stepped up to the grinder to cut a new blade.

Walter’s web site is

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Easy Plants for East Tennessee

Congratulations! You are lucky to live in an area with a long growing period where you can enjoy flowers for much of the year. With that said, there are still some challenges to gardening in this area. Temperatures can go up and down like a rollercoaster, and the heat and humidity make this a breeding ground for disease and insects. Over the years, I have learned what some of the “tough” guys of the annual flower garden are, so let’s talk about them. I’ll talk about the sun lovers first.

Hands down, the toughest plant that we sell is Lantana. This beauty takes heat and drought like a champ, and rabbits and deer don’t like it. It is available in several colors and in an upright or sprawling form.

Flowering vinca is number two on the tough scale. It is a prolific bloomer available in shades from white to red. The only downside to this plant is that it should not be planted in the same bed repeatedly. It harbors a fungus in the roots that will build up after about 3 years. Try alternating it yearly with another flower.

If you are absentminded about watering, Portulaca is your friend. It has a succulent leaf and takes the summer sun and heat very well. The flowers do close in the middle of the day, but that is the time that most of us are least likely to see it anyway!

Verbena is another tough little sprawler and is available in several colors. It also comes in a perennial form if you love it so much you want to keep it!

Angelonia is a terrific plant that will add a little height to your landscape or containers. Some people call this the summer snapdragon because of the similarity in blooms. It is heat and drought tolerant once established.

Zinnias are an old-fashioned plant that has stood the test of time. The larger blooming ones make great cut flowers, and the smaller Profusion varieties are great in the landscape.

Petunias, and their mini-me friends the calibrachoa, are great plants that can fill up an area quickly. They do prefer weekly fertilizing and may need the occasional haircut. I had a Cali survive in a pot all winter!

Now let’s talk about the shady guys:

Impatiens are the probably the most popular shade lover, which is why the impatien downy mildew problem a couple of years ago hit so hard. As a reminder, there were no greenhouses in the state with this disease. That is another reason to always buy from a local grower. Impatiens can take some fairly deep shade and will let you know if they are dry. Give them a drink and they will perk right back up!

Green leaf begonias are a close second for shade gardens. They are available in white, pink and red. Their larger cousins the big leaf and dragon wing begonias are also wonderful if you are looking for something a little bigger for containers or beds. Tuberous begonias have stunning colors, and there are also some new varieties in the Angel wing family.

I love caladiums and have them in most of my pots. Those big, heart-shaped leaves make a dramatic statement in containers as a background for smaller plants.

Coleuses have beautiful foliage and are another great backdrop for smaller plants, or do fine as a standalone. The Kong series is my favorite.

Have you seen the Torenia? It is also called Wishbone flower and is available in blue, which is unusual. I like it because it is pretty and because it is very attractive to bees. We need to help our pollinators!

My last shade loving recommendation is the good ole fern. Boston ferns look great hanging, and Kimberly Queen ferns are an upright that can take some sun. Both are heavy feeders that will love to be fertilized every other week or so.

These are, or course, just a few of the plants that we have in stock. We also have a great selection of perennials, and we will be happy to help you make good choices for your yard!

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Hiwassee Tigers First Ever Win at NCCAA National Tournament

The Tigers made their return to Mason, Ohio to participate in the NCCAA World Series this past week. This marked the second year in a row making it to the national tournament and the Tigers were seeded 10th.Hiwassee College baseball posted its first-ever win at any NCCAA National Tournament in school history. The Tigers ended the season with their third straight 30 win season by posting a 31-21 overall record and finished ranked 8th in the nation.In the third game of pool play, the Tigers faced a familiar foe in Oakland City University (IN) (NCAA Division 2). The Tigers got on the board early and never looked back in route to the programs first ever win at the World Series. Jake Williamson threw a complete game and scattered 6 hits over 9 innings. His performance earned a spot on the All-World Series Team. The Tigers won 8-1 and remained alive for a semi-final berth.In the final game of pool play, The Tigers faced off against Bethesda University (CA) (NAIA) with the winner remaining alive for a National Semi-Final berth. Both starting pitchers were outstanding as Cameron Alday matched the Flames starter pitch for pitch.  Bethesda plated 2 runs in the 5th and another 2 in the 7th to push their lead to 4-0. The Tigers left 8 runners on base and could not push across a run. The Flames took the game 4-0. The loss eliminated the Tigers from advancing to the semi-finals.Head Coach Shane Gardner went on to say, “We had chances all week to drive runs in but could not get the big hit when we needed it. All in all, we are happy with the win and setting that record but we really feel like we left some wins on the board. Going into the last game and having a chance to play in the semi-finals was a testament to this team and how they never quit. We only had 3 seniors so we feel like we can get back next year and have a shot to win it.”

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