The fascinating story of James Brinkley and his late wife, Nellie, is centered on the life-shaping, life-long impact ETSU has had in their lives. Together with their generous forward looking philanthropic support to encourage and educate future generations of ETSU students form our region, their "ETSU story" offers insights for the deep commitment, stewardship, and philanthropic vision Jim and Nellie have for our university.
Jim literally grew from boyhood to adulthood on the ETSU campus. He was an elementary and secondary student at the "Training School," now known as the "University School." Jim's parents owned and operated a small restaurant in Johnson City. They also had a farm, which Jim worked. Jim shares the story that he spotted Nellie one day while he was bringing in a wagonload of pumpkins to town, and he was instantly smitten. Jim and Nellie married as teenagers, and Nellie worked in a local bank to support the couple as he started his higher education at East Tennessee State College.
Jim's education at ETSC was interrupted by service in the United States Navy. After serving the nation in the Pacific and being honorably discharged, Jim returned to complete his education. He persevered to receive his undergraduate degree in 1960.
Although Jim and Nellie moved away from the ETSU community as Jim managed several offices for the Social Security Administration in Alabama and Florida, they never forgot all that ETSU and the faculty had done to urge Jim to "stay the course" to graduation. He explains that "ETSU opened doors for me that would have been otherwise closed, and Nellie was always there to support me." Nellie became a certified real estate agent in Florida, and she also managed several commercial properties in the Jacksonville and Fort Pierce areas. Together, they also opened car washes, which proved to be financially rewarding in the Sunshine State. They developed "Park Ridge," a manufactured home community in Orange Park, Florida, which also proved to be successful and is managed today by their son, Jimmy. Jim is always quick to give credit to Nellie for the couple's business successes as "Nellie was a friend to everyone and everyone loved Nellie."
Sadly, Nellie passed away in March 2009 from complications of multiple myeloma. Yet Nellie's wonderful legacy, as well as Jim's will live on in a very special and generous way at ETSU through the ETSU Foundation. In their estate planning, they both thought the perfect thing for them to do would be to encourage future ETSU students with scholarship opportunities. They particularly wanted to provide support for students who may have difficulty meeting the costs of college. When the James and Nellie Brinkley Scholarship Endowment is fully funded with Jim's estate at the Diamond Society level, a new generation of ETSU students across the university known as "Brinkley Scholars" will grace the campus at ETSU. They Brinkleys' story and their giving certainly advance the cause of higher education for the students we serve today and tomorrow. Jim is passionate with respect to his encouragement of others to support "my university." He challenges others to follow his and Nellie's forward-looking and forward-reaching stewardship example. He serves the university also as a member of the ETSU Foundation.
For sharing their philanthropic spirit and their "ETSU story," the Tennessee Board of Regents is proud to recognize Jim and the late Nellie Brinkley with the "Regents' Award for Excellence in Philanthropy." Their giving and their story inspire us all to thoughtfully consider the significant impact ETSU has in our lives, too, as we create a promising future for the university in the years ahead.