UC Foundation adds two to its special life trustee society, Zan Guerry and John “Thunder” Thornton
TThe University of Chattanooga Foundation has recognized two great friends of the University for their altruistic support of UTC and its students. Alexander A. “Zan” Guerry and John Calvin “Thunder” Thornton have been proclaimed life trustees of the UC Foundation for their contributions to many philanthropic endeavors across the Chattanooga community, the growth of the UC foundation and the decades of support they have provided UTC students and faculty.
“It is such an honor and a privilege for me to be able to be involved in showing appreciation to these individuals for the countless hours and significant financial investments that they’ve made to the University,” says Foundation Chair Mike Costello. “We want to keep them engaged. We want them to be included in and knowledgeable about what we’re doing. That’s why we decided now is the time to honor John and Zan. Both are great men, personable and great philanthropists. And I’d like to add that both are rock stars in their lives not just as businessmen or individuals, but because they’re so successful in everything they do.”
Thornton and Guerry join three other previously named UC Foundation life trustees: Max Bahner, Joseph Decosimo and John Guerry, who is Zan’s uncle.
Bill Kilbride, head of the foundation’s nominating committee, was the person selected to inform Thornton and Guerry they were being recognized for their philanthropic work and their recurring care and support for others. Notifying Thornton was a special moment for Kilbride. They have been friends for more than 50 years, first meeting as fraternity brothers at Tennessee Wesleyan University. “It was fun to chat on the phone about many thing—we talk on the phone all the time. This time, after some small talk, I got around to informing Thunder about his being named a life trustee. He said it was the greatest honor of his life.”
Thornton has been a behind-the-scenes worker supporting the institution, notably working with foundation fundraisers and UTC campus leadership. He was instrumental in the conceptualization of the Wolford Family Athletics Center, a soon-to-be-built 65,000-square-foot addition/renovation to the McKenzie Arena named in honor of UTC graduate and former football star James “Bucky” Wolford.
“You don’t do any of this for personal glory,” informs Thornton. “You do it for the cause and the benefit. The best money I’ve ever raised in my life was for Bucky Wolford’s addition and for the Joseph F. Decosimo Success Center (a career development assistance hub housed in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business). Everybody knows how much the University of Chattanooga and UT Chattanooga meant to Bucky—and how much Bucky meant to the University. And Joe Decosimo is a living legend with all of his philanthropic causes. I was merely a conduit in giving people the opportunity to give to these great projects. I was honored to have that role.”
Zan Guerry is part of a storied family committed to the University’s growth, dating back to the 1880s. The Guerry commitment to philanthropy at UTC through the UC Foundation can be seen throughout campus, from Guerry Hall to Guerry Apartments to Guerry professorships.
As the leader of Hamico, Inc., the family’s charitable foundation, Guerry and his family spearheaded the start of the UTC Honors College, now housed in refurbished Guerry Hall. He has been a longtime contributor to and supporter of UTC athletics. Zan served as a voluntary assistant tennis coach, supported the development of the Chattem Basketball practice facility and the Wolford Family athletic strength and conditioning center.
Zan Guerry speaks at Chancellor Steve Angle’s State of the University Address, Guerry Center, Sept. 2019.
His daughter, Alexis Guerry Bogo, currently serves on the foundation’s board.
“Most of the projects we look at, we say, ‘Are we making a difference with this?’ Sometimes you put money in and you’re not really sure,” Guerry says. “But with the Guerry Professorships, the Honors College, the basketball arena, the Bucky Wolford center … each of those things and others we’ve been involved in changes students’ lives and professors’ lives. It makes a big difference at UTC. I’ve mentioned many times that UTC is probably the most underappreciated, fabulous success story that I’ve been associated with. The University continues to want to be better. That makes you more inclined to say, ‘Hey, I want to help. I want to be involved in this great transformation.’”
The UC Foundation, which manages the private endowment of UTC, was created in 1969 when the University of Chattanooga merged with Chattanooga City College and joined the statewide University of Tennessee system.
Fifty-two years since its inception, the UC Foundation has grown from $3 million in assets to more than $200 million. During the most-recent 2019-2020 fiscal year, 253 UC Foundation endowment funds provided scholarships to 1,550 students. In addition, 42 endowed professorships support UTC faculty.