WSCC renames Tazewell campus in honor of local philanthropist

Published 2:00 pm Thursday, July 13, 2023

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Longtime business leader and philanthropist Eleanor Yoakum says she is overwhelmed and grateful to the powers that be at Walters State Community College for renaming the main building at its Tazewell campus in her honor.

Yoakum has for decades quietly went about the business of finding ways to enrich the lives of others – taking the lessons learned from her father, the late businessman Glenn Yoakum.

Education, she says, was first and foremost in her parents’ hearts not only for family but also for those within the region where the couple lived and worked.

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In fact, Glenn Yoakum was honored when the old Claiborne High School gymnasium – that is now part of the WSCC Tazewell campus – was renamed for him.

His daughter is carrying on the family tradition. Eleanor was instrumental in the eventual opening of a satellite campus inside Claiborne County – although, she is quick to point out that many entities came together to bring it to fruition.

Yoakum discovered during her time on the WSCC board that the college had initially wanted its first permanent expansion to be located in Claiborne County.

“One day, I was driving by the old high school, and I always like to look up there to see my daddy’s name. And I thought ‘that’s our campus,’” said Yoakum.

The building was purchased from the school system at a “reasonable” cost and the Claiborne County Industrial Development Board stepped up to the plate to help secure a zero-interest loan for renovations.

The campus remained in the board’s hands until the loan was paid off. The college then purchased the campus.

“That’s what happens when all these entities come together and work together,” said Yoakum. “The thing that impressed me most is just how people stepped up. It was such a beautiful cooperation.

“I always say ‘it’s the gift that keeps on giving.’ Our kids can get a two-year education. It’s going to make a difference for generations to come. It’s going to make a difference in our children, in our economy and the growth of our county. It’s just a wonderful thing for our county. It’s an affordable, quality education. And, beyond that, the building was built like a fort. You probably couldn’t build that building now for $10 million. And it was just sitting there.”

Yoakum says the opening of the campus was “a dream” in which “everybody worked together to make happen.”

She says she does not want to see any child that wants to go to college prevented from doing so because of the high cost of an education.

On July 19, the main building of the campus will be rechristened the Eleanor E. Yoakum Building. The official ceremony, to begin at 10 a.m. inside the main auditorium, is open to the public.

The building measures over 10,000 square feet and includes classrooms, labs and offices along with areas for study and student activities. The building also houses the Tennessee College of Applied Technology which teaches classes for those earning their licensed practical nurse certifications.

The Tennessee Board of Regents, the governing body of the state’s community colleges, approved the name change during its March meeting.