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Buck Vaughn: Living to Serve

VaughnAs the founder of the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame, Buck Vaughn understands deeper than most what it means to build something great from a dream. With the belief in the ineffable good of people, Buck and his wife, Linda, continue their family's profound compassion, integrity and tireless commitment to philanthropy in the Knoxville community and at UT. They have added UT Knoxville College of Nursing to their long charitable list with a scholarship endowment for students who are victims of sexual or domestic violence. In memory of Buck's mother and her avid love for golf, the Vaughns also have generously given to Tennessee Athletics to create a women's golf scholarship and to establish a locker in the yet-to-be built golf club at UT Knoxville.


He didn't need to know her name or where she was from to know that she mattered.

With the quickness of a grasshopper, Buck Vaughn (Knoxville '59) jumps from his office chair and dashes through the door to the other side of the narrow two-lane street.

The stranger, seemingly unfazed by the whizzing cars, slowly presses on in a motorized chair through cracked pavement and weeds. Picking up discarded soda cans, she views the urban pasture as her resource for living, but to Buck, it represents harm's way.

Flailing his arms for traffic to slow down, Buck walks alongside the edge of what has become a speedway, until she reaches a wide bend in the road. It's still not safe by Buck's standards, but he urges her to be careful anyhow. She becomes a fixture on his prayer list.

And so does the elderly man who Buck's wife, Linda, met during a routine grocery run. She paid nearly $30 for his meal of ribs, greens, cornbread and a gallon of milk. Before tending to her own grocery list, Linda prayed for the hunger pains of the frail stranger to at least temporarily subside as she watched him exit the automated doors with a satisfied grin.

Random acts of kindness have been part of the Vaughns' routine long before such gestures drew fanfare and media praise.

Five years ago, a fancy plated chicken dinner—UT Knoxville's College of Nursing annual NightinGala—turned into a party with a purpose. The lives of nursing students affected by domestic violence stayed with Linda well past the table chit-chat of nursing professor Ginger Evans. Before dessert, Buck already knew that the College of Nursing would be added to their mile-long charity list. The car ride home confirmed his suspicions.

Collectively with the financial favor of Jim and Natalie Haslam, the Vaughns created the Student Emergency Assistance Endowed Fund (SEA Fund). It acts as lifesaver for students who are victims of sexual or domestic violence or any other life-altering event that might threaten class and clinical requirements.

"To help those who are less fortunate," says Linda, "is part of our hearts."

While Linda served on the advisory board of the UT College of Nursing, her loyalties are not to any one college or agency, but instead to being a change agent, leaving the world a better place.

"It is really simple—the greater the blessings, greater the responsibility."



At the age of 30, Buck Vaughn (left) took over the reins of Emmet Vaughn Lumber Co. Founded in 1956 by his late parents, Emmet (center), also a UT graduate, and Blanche, the lumber company enjoys a national reputation as a leading hardwood supplier. While not in the lumber industry, Buck's grandfather, Preston (right), an attorney, acquired the same gene of tenacity.

Although the sign outside the building says it's a lumber company, the inside looks more like the "Mad Men" television series married a sports memorabilia aficionado.

Slivers of the wood paneled walls barely peek through hundreds of hanging framed photos, newspaper clippings, thank you notes and brochures of famous football players, coaches, track stars and boxers. It's a who's who rundown: Olympic medalists Ralph Boston and Wilma Rudolph; basketball coaches Al McGuire and Sonny Smith; football coaches Vince Dooley, Phillip Fulmer, Gene Stallings and Dick Butkus; former pitchers Sparky Lyle and Jim Bunning; NFL Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke; first baseman Todd Helton; football greats Peyton Manning and Chad Pennington.

The montage of sports legends continues on every surface area—end tables, side tables, window sills—except for Buck's oversized '70s-throwback wood desk. A few photos of the lumber executive's most prized possessions—his family—neatly dot the outer edge of the desk while a paper calendar and even fewer business files and papers find placeholders.


With enough accolades to fill a library, Buck and Linda Vaughn, while grateful for the frequent recognitions, are not interested in fame or fanfare. "It's God's calling we are working to fulfill," Linda says, "not ours."

You don't have to look any further than his office to know what is important to him—"my beautiful wife, our three children and five grandchildren (which includes a soft spot for their fluffy, white-haired Westie, Lillie), sports and my God."

Upon introductions, Buck shakes hands and then digs in his pocket to offer a small metal cross with the poem, "The Cross in my Pocket," on a business-sized card. He always carries one and has plenty more on hand to give away daily.

Sharing the gospel and convincing others—athletes and community heavy hitters alike—to walk out the love of Christ is how Buck continues to raise millions for charitable causes like the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley. And it is how he spearheaded Knoxville's unsuccessful bid to land the 1992 Olympic Trials for track and field. Even though New Orleans was the chosen host, Buck also adds, quoting Runner's World magazine: "Knoxville was most prepared to host the event."

He was on the ground floor with others in starting Knoxville's first Women's Professional Golf Association tournament in the '70s and the United States Golden Gloves Boxing Championship in 1987.

After years of dreaming, in 1980, he rallied the talents of givers and thinkers to create the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. A star-studded annual dinner celebrates and inducts Knoxville-connected athletes of mythical proportions. But for more than three decades, the real superheroes of the evening are the children of the Boys & Girls Clubs, who benefit greatly from the funds raised during this event and the Phillip Fulmer Invitational, formerly the D.D. Lewis Golf Tournament.

Buck's father, Emmet Pryor, whom he is named after, planted the Boys & Girls Club seed. He helped create the Vestal club.

His parents also passed along the entrepreneurial gene to Buck, who has been at the helm of Emmet Vaughn Lumber Co. since he was 30. Founded in 1956 by his dad and mother, Blanche, the Knoxville lumber company enjoys a national reputation as one of the leading wholesalers and distributors of mostly Appalachian hardwood lumbers. Even with the dark cloud of the economic downturn and the overseas pull on U.S. furniture-making companies, Buck revamped and continues to vow to sell only to U.S. companies.

Just as the Army paratrooper of the famed 82nd Airborne Division and UT business graduate believes in keeping jobs in his own backyard, he believes in helping his neighbors.

Linda Vaughn

Married for 34 years, the former Delta Airlines agent and Army paratrooper believe in living and loving well. The chemistry of Buck and Linda Vaughn is palpable and their affections run deep for one another, their family and friends and strangers alike.

With "the most beautiful wife" at his side in business and giving endeavors, Buck applies that same can-do attitude by maxing out his minutes on his dated flip-phone to call soldiers to the frontlines of fundraising for "people helping people" nonprofits.

Having been intricately involved in many board appointments, Linda put Knoxville's Interfaith Clinic and Helen Ross McNabb Center on her husband's radar. The Delta Airlines retiree, who has worked at Emmet Lumber for the last 20 years, is anything but a seat warmer at board meetings.

"She gets to work," Buck says dotingly. "She's going to find out the needs and figure out how we, as a couple and community, can fulfill our duty to be a blessing to someone else."

Their calling to write dozens of life-changing checks monthly has earned them enough awards, accolades and resolutions to create a Hall of Fame of their own, but they care not to talk about the lifetime achievement awards bestowed upon them "because that is not why we do this," they both wholeheartedly agree.

"We want to be change agents for good—for babies, toddlers, kids, college students, adults—for people," says Linda.

"It's God's calling we are working to fulfill, not ours."

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