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UT Alum Establishes First SIS Endowed Scholarship as a Gift to His Parents

Two people are sitting at a table, from left are Nicki and Tommy Lamar. Behind them are their children, from left, Todd Lamar and his sister, Mindi.

From left, front row: Nicki and Tommy Lamar with their children, back row from left, Todd Lamar and Mindi.

Just before Thanksgiving, Todd Lamar (’85) headed from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina, to his parents’ house in Memphis to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. There was much to celebrate with family, but Lamar wanted to make Tommy and Nicki Lamar’s six decades together extra-special with an unusual gift: the establishment of the Lamar Family UT Knoxville Alumni Scholarship Endowment. 

This is the first-ever endowed scholarship designated for students in the School of Information Sciences’ undergraduate program, which was established in fall 2019 and has been growing steadily since its inception. While Lamar was a zoology major who now runs the moving and storage company Armstrong Relocation, the choice for his gift was inspired by his mother’s lifelong endeavor and profession: librarianship. Librarianship and information sciences fall under the same umbrella, and the field is becoming increasingly relevant in an era where information is being produced in massive quantities, requiring professionals to organize, manage, and make that information accessible to relevant audiences.

Todd knew he wanted to establish a scholarship in the Lamar name to honor his parents, but he wasn’t sure which program to support; once he spoke to a representative at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, he learned about the fledgling undergraduate program that would greatly benefit from such a gift.

“They said, ‘Why don’t you do something to honor your mother? We’ve got this great program.’ And I thought, that’s wonderful,” Todd said.

Nicki earned her undergraduate degree in education and library science from what was then Memphis State, but is now known as the University of Memphis. She graduated at a time when legislation had just been enacted that required elementary schools to have their own librarian, so she was able to quickly land a position at the elementary school in Graceland (yes, that Graceland, the one where Elvis lived, Nicki Lamar said, with a chuckle). 

“Before we had librarians in high schools, but not permanent ones at elementary schools. They would travel around from one elementary school to another,” she said. “I worked at Graceland for four or five years, until my second child came along.”

Though she stopped working at the school, Lamar continued to champion and run libraries for the next 37 years. She just recently retired as librarian at her church, Germantown Presbyterian, and she also was responsible for establishing and certifying the library at her children’s private school. 

As for her son’s gift to her, Nicki said she was surprised at the gift but not by her son’s generosity.
“I thought it was awesome, I cannot believe he did that. He’s always been generous with UT from the year he graduated, but to do this in our honor was beyond the call of duty. He’s a fine, fine son, a wonderful young man. We are proud of what he’s accomplished,” she said.

Nicki noted that the University of Tennessee has been a touchpoint for her family, since Todd moved east and her daughter, Mindi, moved north, and they would all meet up in Knoxville for football games.  Todd said he feels fortunate and blessed to be able to create a gift that will impact the lives and education of students at SIS.

“That’s kind of the whole point, is to help somebody out. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is just a wonderful, wonderful place, and a wonderful resource,” he said.