Recipe for Success. UT Education and Farm Work Ethic

Category: News

Lowell Luther Woods (’60) left his family’s farm in Dandridge, Tennessee, in 1956 intending to find success as an industrial engineer. He did so with an education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a career that included senior roles at Alcoa and Clayton Homes.
Starting out wasn’t easy for Woods, who had hitchhiked to Knoxville with a secondhand suitcase made of cardboard and $892 in savings from working on tobacco farms and trapping animals to sell for fur. He wanted to be an engineer because a of a neighbor who was an engineer drove a Cadillac and because Woods was inspired by a television program called Industry on Parade.

“When I left for UT, my mother packed half a gallon of milk, a can of pinto beans, and some cornbread for me,” Woods said. “The same milk truck driver passed by every day, and he picked me up and could tell I was leaving the farm. ‘You’re darn right,’ I told him. ‘I’m not coming back, either.’”

When Woods registered at UT he had to catch up on trigonometry and solid geometry with extra tutoring. He was also a successful track runner.
“I had to study all of the time because I was behind, and luckily I had good roommates who were quiet,” Woods said. “My dad only had one year at Carson-Newman University and my mom had a third-grade education. Still, they knew an advanced education meant you weren’t going to be poor and that work was going to be easier for you. My family expected me to succeed at UT.”

Looking back, Woods believes UT and the track scholarship he received opened a path for him. In 2008, he decided to pay it forward by establishing the Lowell Luther Woods Scholarship Foundation, which supports students who share the ethics he learned from his parents: hard work and conservative frugality.

Woods’s foundation has helped approximately 40 students so far, and his goal is to reach 100 before asking past recipients to chip in and help future generations. The foundation’s guiding principle is a favorite motto of Woods: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Stacy Whitaker Arnold (’13), the foundation’s first scholarship recipient, will eventually be involved in its administration.

“Having the scholarship helped me financially, of course, but it came with Lowell as a mentor, too,” Arnold said. “After my first semester at UT, I reached out to Lowell with a thank you card and my grades. I didn’t know what major I wanted to pursue, but Lowell met with me at the library to discuss it. He gave me the direction I needed to choose industrial engineering as a major.”

Woods admires Arnold’s work ethic and intelligence, which is why he granted her the scholarship and chose to mentor her. He’s particularly impressed that Arnold graduated from UT debt free by working as a student.

“Graduating debt free is a major accomplishment, and that’s just the kind of person Stacy is,” Woods said. “She grew up on a farm—there’s nothing she can’t do on a farm—and I just wanted to see her reap the rewards of her sacrifice. She’s smart and she always got good grades.”

Woods’s legacy at UT will live on through his scholarship foundation, and he consistently selects students with the work ethic and background he shares with Arnold. He does so because, during his time as a student, having a track scholarship made all the difference. He remembers the coaches who saw his potential and still meets up with his teammates for reunions.

“Sam Venable Sr., who was head of the physical education department at the time, noticed my ability to run,” Woods said. “Those were austere times, and you had to be darn good, but he helped me get a track scholarship. Our track captain was Norman Stone, who is still my best friend, and the entire team credits UT as being the common denominator to our success. We were good guys trying to do what was right. We followed the UT way, and, by golly, it worked.”