Ronald and Dianne Damper are the recipients of the 2022 Knoxville College President's Award.
Rising Like A Beautiful Phoenix
By Michael Blum Blummichael80@gmail.com
Knoxville College shaped the lives of Ronald and Dianne Damper. Ronald grew up with ten siblings in Birmingham Alabama and enjoyed a stellar high school education. He came to Knoxville College because KC had a work study program which would enable him to pay for his education. The pair met during the 1960s when Dianne was a high school student and Ron, a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, was president of the Panhellenic Council. Dianne’s mother advised the Panhellenic Council. Dianne remembers, “Ron came to see my mother because she had a broken ankle. It was not love at first sight. I did not like him at all. As a matter of fact, it took about two years for us to get together but look at us now. 52 years later…” Knoxville College brought Ronald and Dianne together and prepared them for success.
The Dampers see a bright future for Knoxville College. The Damper Leadership Pavilion will stand as a reminder of the past and elevate the College’s future.
The Damper’s have had extraordinary careers. Initially, Ron attended New York University Law School until he was drafted and later worked on an MBA. He served in the Air Force and Air National Guard as a medic and was his unit’s first black squad leader. After graduating from K.C. Dianne completed her Ph.D in Microbiology at Yale and later graduated from medical school and started a practice in internal medicine. After Ron finished his military service, in 1974, the couple moved to Chicago where Dianne worked at the University of Chicago. In 1984, Ron founded Damron Corporation, a tea manufacturer and McDonald’s first racially diverse national supplier. He later started DAMPER Enterprises, which includes packaging, logistics, and hemp cultivation and processing businesses. Ron served on the Board of Trustees of Knoxville College from 1999-2007.
“KC has a rich and storied past but like a beautiful phoenix, she is rising, epitomizing resiliency. Her future is very promising with the return of accreditation, newly formed partnerships with educational institutions and the business sector, an online presence, active student recruitment, and an online associate’s degree program.”
Recently, the Damper’s decided to shape the future of Knoxville College by funding the Ronald and Dianne Damper Leadership Pavilion, a new building on campus. The idea came about after the couple met with President Leonard Adams, Jr. at a gathering in Atlanta. After hours of conversations and information sharing Ron, Dianne and the “mystery 6” alumni group gave their full support and Ron pledged $100,000 with an upfront payment of $50,000 for the new modular building allowing the return of in-person learning. They are supporting this endeavor because of “our love of the school and the vision the newly appointed President Leonard Adams has for the school.
From its legacy of educating free blacks and formerly enslaved people to educating our youth today, Knoxville College is regaining its importance as an HBCU” and the Dampers believe it once again deserves support,” [We] desire to give back to an institution that gave so much to us.” Dianne grew up on campus and was a majorette at age five for the K.C. Marching band. “Everybody I knew went to K.C. My mother, my father, my brother, my sister-in-law, all of my elementary and high school teachers and assorted others graduated from K.C.” The Damper’s credit Knoxville College for their success, “K.C. instilled values that helped prepare us for the world at large. HBCU’s provide a supportive learning environment in which to flourish and develop confidence, leadership, decision making, problem solving, and relationship skills in a smaller setting.”