Mr. Dennis L. Vonderfecht - 2010 ETSU Foundation Margin of Excellence Award

Scott Niswonger

A hallmark principle for East Tennessee State University is to explore and develop innovative, beneficial partnerships that advance the cause of higher education in service to our the people of our region and beyond. Guided by the visionary and transformative leadership of Dennis Vonderfect for twenty years, Mountain States Health Alliance has actively embraced the value of developing these partnerships with ETSU. Many of these relationships have centered on the constant quest to improve the delivery of quality health care to people of all ages throughout Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Western North Carolina, and Southwest Virginia, Western North Carolina, and Southeast Kentucky. Putting MSHA's motto of "Bringing Loving Care to Health Care" in action, the MSHA partnership has resulted in a positive impact to affect thousands of lives – one patient and one person at a time – for the betterment of our quality of life while remaining clearly focused on patients and people as individuals.

MSHA's corporate support as the most generous corporate benefactor in our region (over $9 million to date) to the university and ETSU Foundation is truly impressive, and yet a closer analysis of this philanthropic commitment to the university demonstrates specific endeavors where Dennis has empowered the MSHA team to assume a position of pioneering leadership to chart a new course for ETSU and the people we serve each day. MSHA's early support and then continued support for the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Quillen College of Medicine allows ETSU faculty and physicians to treat a population at a great risk for cardiovascular and heart disease.

As ETSU and MSHA recognize the alarming trend for a shortage of nurses, the university and Mountain States partnered together again to attract and retain Nursing faculty at ETSU. Addressing this problem, MSHA provided significant support with the "MSHA-ETSU Evening/Weekend B.S.N. Program and the "Second Degree Program." Other endeavors between ETSU and Mountain States have been far-reaching, too. When the ETSU department of Social Work and the academic leadership of the university concluded that a Masters of Social Work degree program was a necessity, it was likewise understood that this new program could not succeed with only state dollars. Dennis Vonderfecht enabled MSHA to "stand in the gap" with a multiyear commitment of private support to sustain the effort so that graduate social work professionals would be equipped to address counseling, family, and health care needs. Mountain States provided one of the earliest and most generous gifts to meet the challenge of raising private support for the establishment of the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy. Dennis Vonderfecht personally marshaled MSHA's efforts of support and encouragement to rally MSHA's team members along with other people and organizations of our region to heed the call to action to demonstrate to Nashville the bedrock of support for Pharmacy education at ETSU. Mountain States has also supported Athletics (BASA) and sponsored the Buccaneer Sports Network, and has worked closely with ETSU for the establishment of the Niswonger Children's Hospital, the Regional Perinatal Center, Regional Transplant Center, and the Med-Tech Regional Business Park and Corridor and the Regional Cancer Center.

Prior to moving to East Tennessee with his wife, Peggy, and their daughters, Jennifer and Kristen, Dennis was the Regional Vice President for Research Health Services System based in Kansas City, Missouri. Dennis studied at Colorado State University and received his B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska. He then earned two graduate degrees from the University of Missouri in Business Administration and Hospital Administration, respectively. He is an Honorary Alumnus of ETSU, a recognition bestowed by the ETSU Alumni Association.

His service to the profession and to the region are exemplary and far-ranging as he has served or continues to serve on the board of directors for the Tennessee Hospital Association (THA), the Hospital Alliance of Tennessee, ETSU Foundation, the United Way, the Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Chamber of Commerce, the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence, and the Central Church of Christ. Dennis is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives, a "Health Care Hero" award recipient, and a "Leader in Christian Service" from Milligan College among other recognitions. As Dennis lives the Mountain States' values of "integrity, service, leadership, and excellence, " the THA recognized Dennis with its "Distinguished Service Award.

We are deeply grateful to Dennis Vonderfecht for his caring, steadfast commitment for excellence in partnership and landmark service for East Tennessee State University and the ETSU Foundation.