Part of the Tennessee Alumnus‘ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.
When Don Frieson and his twin brother, Ron, came to UT Knoxville as students, they were far from their Memphis home and longed to find a welcoming spot on the large Knoxville campus. They found it at the then-Black Cultural Center – at the time a house on Volunteer Boulevard.
UT Knoxville, ’90
“As a freshman, the transition to campus living and the absence of parents and familiar friends can be daunting,” says Don Frieson, who earned a bachelor’s in business operations management in 1990. He is now executive vice president of operations for Sam’s Club at Walmart Stores Inc., responsible for the operations of more than 600 Sam’s Club locations in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Don Frieson and his twin brother wanted to help other students find a home away from home on campus, so in 2015 they gave $1 million in support of the center. It’s now at 1800 Melrose Ave., in the heart of campus, and named the Frieson Black Cultural Center.
Their goal, Don Frieson says, was to help the center continue providing “a home and a foundation where dreams can be realized.”
“The University of Tennessee holds a really special place in our hearts; the education, the experiences and the friendships that we developed here have all played a role in contributing to the fabric of the men we have become,” he says.
UT Knoxville, ’81
As they were growing up, Ron Frieson and his twin, Don, had a great friend and mentor in their loving grandfather, Charlie Lemmons.
“Papa Charlie” was a second-generation freed slave who worked hard to support his family and give back to his community. He spent a lot of time with his first-born grandsons, and they’ve never forgotten the wisdom he shared.
“He was the smartest man we’ve ever known,” Frieson says.
In honor of Papa Charlie and other family members, Frieson founded an endowment to help the Frieson Black Cultural Center provide cultural programming, academic support, diversity workshops, peer mentoring and leadership development opportunities.
“My parents and grandparents stressed the importance of getting the best education possible. UT provided me and my siblings with an opportunity to get a quality education from a quality institution. My desire philanthropically is to support those institutions that have demonstrated the will to support all people, and UT has done just that,” he says.
Frieson earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from UT in 1981 and an MBA from Georgia State University in Atlanta and completed an executive management program at Emory University. He is now president of foundation and external affairs at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.