MARTIN, Tenn. – During his lifetime, Dave Wilcox changed the lives of many UT Martin rodeo team cowboys and cowgirls. He went out of his way to help those around him and through his charitable foundation, he will change the lives of many more in the years to come. Wilcox’s legacy will live on with a generous $100,000 pledge from his Betsy Ross Foundation to the University of Tennessee at Martin rodeo teams.
Wilcox, a fixture on the local rodeo scene before passing away in 2011, founded and was board chairman of Allegro Fine Foods in nearby Paris, Tenn., and established the Betsy Ross Foundation in 1987. The foundation, named in memory of his late wife, helped send Tennessee and Kentucky residents to college over the last quarter-century.
This donation is a one-of-a-kind offering that is the largest gift given to rodeo in UT Martin history. The Betsy Ross Foundation presented a check for the Wilcox Family Rodeo Scholarship, which will annually give $20,000 for scholarships over a five-year span.
“We are so fortunate to have community leaders supporting our rodeo program,” UT Martin Chancellor Tom Rakes said. “This gift is a major benefit for our riders for years to come.”
Head rodeo coach John Luthi came to UT Martin in 1997 and quickly developed a friendship with Wilcox.
“Dave was the most kind-hearted man I ever met and was very supportive – he would do anything he could to help us out,” Luthi said. “This kind of commitment is a solid base to build on and does a lot for recruiting. What a blessing.”
Wilcox valued family as much as anything, and that is evident by the board members of the Betsy Ross Foundation. The chairperson is Julie Williams, Dave’s middle daughter, who saw her own daughter Catlin attend UT Martin. The secretary is Ruth Conroy, Dave’s youngest daughter who attended UT Martin in the 1980s. The board also includes Mary Lou Reed (Dave’s oldest daughter), John Fuqua (president of Allegro) and Thomas Harrison (executive vice president of Allegro, UT Martin graduate).
Fuqua and Conroy were instrumental in the gift process.
“What Ruth and I have done is one of the true blessings in life – executing a plan to remember people like that,” said Fuqua, who has been at Allegro for 30 years and was Wilcox’s first employee at Allegro. “Dave had such a genuine appreciation of character and work ethic for a cowboy or cowgirl. He was always partial to those who raised cattle, had a genuine respect for the equipment and an appreciation for farm animals.”
Conroy also echoed Fuqua’s sentiments of her late father.
“I came to UT Martin around 1983 and was coming to rodeos with my father even before then,” Conroy said. “Dave was a very unique person and was very caring towards others.”
Among many of the lives Wilcox touched was David Pruitt’s. The public relations officer for the UT Martin rodeo Booster Club, Pruitt was a member of the rodeo team at UT Martin before graduating in 1993.
“Dave gave me the confidence to come back to school and finish my degree,” Pruitt said. “He would always be there for you anytime you needed him – no questions asked.”
Fuqua, whose stepson Alan Chase played football at UT Martin in 2000-01, knew that the gift would carry on Wilcox’s heritage for many years to come.
“We are only here a short period of time and if you can continue to help people after you’re gone, you’re pretty successful then,” Fuqua said. “If you help a kid get an education, you help them for the rest of their lives.”