Many generous families have contributed to Chattanooga’s philanthropic history, but few exemplify a tradition of giving more robustly than the Patten-Guerry family.
For more than a century, this storied family has been committed to the growth and excellence of UTC.
John Alanson Patten, head of the former Chattanooga Medicine Company (Chattem), held a seat on Grant University’s (later UC and UTC) board of trustees as early as 1894. Earlier still, Patten’s father-in-law, Rev. John Manker, had been an organizer of the University in 1886. By 1902 Patten was a major contributor to the University and remained active in its growth until his untimely death in 1916.
According to John Guerry, Patten’s grandson, it was his grandmother, Edith Manker Patten, who was also a driving force in creating a lasting family legacy at the University. With a $75,000 memorial gift, she funded construction of John A. Patten Chapel. Dedicated in 1919, the fine brick and stone structure has stood as a bulwark atop College Hill for 100 years.
“After grandfather died, I think grandmother was the lead person on getting things together to get it built.”
Now in his 90s, Mr. Guerry’s connection to the University is more personal than historic. In fact, from 1929 to 1938 he lived at 605 Oak Street, the President’s House, while his father Alexander Guerry, Sr. headed the University.
“I went to Bright School during that period and that was a wonderful experience. Of course, that wasn’t that far away because it was in Fort Wood; it was not across the river. So, I just have happy memories of it and of a number of things that went on at the University during that time period,” said Mr. Guerry during a recent interview at the Mountain City Club.
A commitment to bettering the lives of others through educational giving has been a theme within this family’s giving pursuits. Prior to his presidency at UC, Alexander Guerry, Sr. had been headmaster at Baylor School and later was president of the University of The South, Sewanee. Decades on, all three educational institutions still benefit from Patten-Guerry generosity through Hamico, the family’s charitable foundation.
“I think we’re very big on fiduciary responsibility with whom we invest,” said Zan Guerry, John Guerry’s nephew and chairman of Hamico.
“Whether it’s a university or a hospital, you’re investing, and so people who do great things with your assets motivate you to give more and more. I think if you look at the modern history of UTC you’ll see a transformed institution. Look at the buildings, the endowment, and the student body. Look at the number of PhD. programs we have. I see phenomenal growth and I see a commitment to continued growth. We like to put our philanthropy with people who do great things with it and make a difference.”
Alexis Guerry Bogo, a member of the fifth generation of the family to give to UTC and executive director of Hamico, believes that her involvement with philanthropy at UTC through the UC Foundation is a birthright.
“I think it’s a tradition; it’s something you feel in your blood, honestly. The stage was set by great-grandparents, great-great grandparents, uncles, fathers, et cetera, and you feel a duty to carry on and ensure that it continues to be the great institution that it was and has been and always will be.”
For Mrs. Bogo, connecting UTC with the community is an essential piece to the University’s success in recent years.
“Watching UTC grow and grow alongside the community and become part of the community—a bridge to the community—has been wonderful to be a part of. I think Chancellor Angle has done a wonderful job connecting the institution to other organizations in the community and in helping the whole community rise up together.”
Tradition and duty ring true with Mrs. Bogo, who as a young woman has been involved in nearly every major non-profit fundraising endeavor in the city of Chattanooga.
“The generations before me have set a precedent and have made our community a great place. There is a sense of duty that trickles down to you that you must carry on.”