Charles A. Osborne

Category: Spirit of a Volunteer


The master’s degree Charles Osborne receives this May from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will make him an official Volunteer, but in truth he’s been one from birth. He grew up in Bristol, Tennessee, as a diehard UT fan and began his undergraduate education at the university. After his family moved from Tennessee, though, he ended up completing his bachelor’s degree in engineering at the University of Central Florida.

Osborne already has engraved proof that he’s all Vol, however. He received UT’s Spirit of a Volunteer Award in December 2023.

“Completing my degree and getting a UT class ring will check off a big item on my bucket list,” says Osborne. “Though I attended UT for a short time, I was part of the Pride of the Southland Band and got to play in the Sugar Bowl before I moved schools. So I was humbly surprised to receive this award and had no idea of the possibility of such a recognition.

“I am very proud of my Tennessee roots and the involvement my wife and I maintain with the university, including my family’s work with food scarcity programs like food4VOLS and Big Orange Pantry,” adds Osborne.

Charles Osborne receives the Spirit of a Volunteer Award

The Spirit of a Volunteer Award recognizes non-alumni friends of the university who have devoted significant time and resources to advance the people and mission of UT, and Osborne was a perfect candidate. Among their many gifts to the university, he and his wife, Leslie Osborne (’97), established a scholarship in the College of Communication and Information, where Leslie serves on the Board of Visitors. The couple was also heavily involved with the UT Central Florida Alumni Chapter before moving back to East Tennessee last year.

Most recently, Osborne regularly helped put meals together for food4VOLS. The program collects usable food from campus sources and transports it to the UT Culinary Institute to be transformed by students and volunteers into ready-to-heat meals, which are distributed through Big Orange Pantry to people on campus with food insecurity. Osborne and his wife have also supported the program through donations, leading the fundraising charge to secure a food truck to deliver meals.

His interest in the initiative was piqued during a visit to the Culinary Institute to introduce his second-oldest son to the university in preparation for a career in the food industry.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to assist a program that’s feeding students experiencing food insecurity,” says Osborne. “And it’s exciting to be part of the program’s expansion. There are still opportunities for obtaining food that would otherwise go to waste and finding equipment to deliver food, and they are in preliminary stages of helping other universities put programs like this in place. UT will be their benchmark.”

Service and charity run just as deep in Osborne as his Tennessee roots and Volunteer pride. He has supported local schools near his former Florida home in addition to his church and animal rescue organizations. He’s even assisted in the release of black bears through Appalachian Bear Rescue, a nonprofit organization based in Townsend, Tennessee, that works in collaboration with UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine to care for and rehabilitate the animals.

“My wife and I try to be good stewards of every dollar we receive,” says Osborne. “God blessed our business beyond our wildest dreams, and we’ve tried to live by the understanding that our resources aren’t ours in the first place.”

In 2004 Leslie and Charles founded Watauga Group, a media agency focusing on the outdoors and recreation. In the two decades since, Watauga has grown from a few staff members to a 40-person outfit with offices across the Southeast and remote employees across the country. Last summer, the business was recognized by UT as part of the inaugural class of Rocky Top Business Award recipients. While his wife acts as CEO and oversees the company’s daily media and advertising operations, Osborne assists in data and analytics and steers the ship toward their long-term vision.

Receiving a Spirit of a Volunteer Award comes as a timely reminder of how the couple is spending the results of their business success.

“We’ll be asked in the end what we did with what we were given,” says Osborne. “My wife and I came from meager beginnings, and once we got to a certain level of success we’ve always tried to give back and participate where we can.”

Many Volunteers already owe Osborne a debt of gratitude for his investment at the university to end food insecurity and promote access to education. UT looks forward to officially welcoming Osborne into the Volunteer family in May and is proud to honor his true Volunteer spirit.