Betsey B. Creekmore possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of University of Tennessee history and traditions—knowledge that she accrued over four decades at the university in a number of positions in the chancellor’s and president’s offices before retiring in September 2012 as associate vice chancellor emerita.
Now, she has translated her knowledge of UT into an enduring gift to present and future Vols: an online encyclopedia of university history, facts, legends, and traditions. The Volopedia launched just in time for celebrations of the university’s 225th anniversary.
Creekmore joined the university in 1972 and campus planning soon became her area of expertise. As the Knoxville campus grew and improved over the decades, she was a part of each campus master plan and several major building projects. When campus libraries reached capacity in the late 1970s, for instance, Creekmore was a key member of the team that devised a bold plan to “recycle” an earlier library that stood at the center of campus. New construction took advantage of the existing foundation but expanded the building in every direction, adding two floors and tripling the library’s square footage. Planning for the new John C. Hodges Library involved relocating library services for three years as well as moving more than a million books.
Many campus projects reflect Creekmore’s input. In 2009, UT opened a new building to house business college classes and offices. The current James A. Haslam II Business Building was constructed on the site of the former Glocker Business Administration Building, and the facade of the earlier building was preserved as part of the new structure. In addition to being a guiding force in the design of the new building, Creekmore coordinated the relocation of classes displaced by the four-year construction project. It’s the less glamorous side of overseeing the campus’s architectural heritage: over the years, she was responsible for finding temporary quarters for countless university classes.
One of her more cherished projects was renewal of the campus’s architectural icon, Ayres Hall. Ayres was closed from 2009 to 2011 while the interior was restored to its early-20th-century glory. Since the interior was already undergoing extensive work, the planning committee decided to also upgrade the energy efficiency of windows, lighting, and power. Ayres Hall became the first building on campus to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
The Ayres renovation finally fulfilled the original plans to install working clocks on the bell tower. As Creekmore told the Knoxville News Sentinel, those plans were stalled for 89 years due to a lack of funds—although both the 1931 and 1981 UT graduating classes donated money for the clocks. The reopening of Ayres Hall in 2011 realized the vision of those alumni.
Over the years, Creekmore assumed the role of unofficial university historian, on call to local media to answer questions about UT’s history, campus construction projects, or the origins of UT traditions.
It could be said that she inherited her love of the university and interest in local history, as she is the great-niece of James Dickason Hoskins, who served as president of the university from 1934 to 1946. Her mother, also named Betsey Beeler Creekmore, was a prominent local historian and the author of several books on our region, including Knoxville, Our Fair City and Arrows to Atoms: The Story of East Tennessee.
When the university celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1994, Creekmore’s exhaustive knowledge of UT history and her planning skills made her the obvious choice to head the bicentennial steering committee. Much like the 225th anniversary celebration, the yearlong bicentennial celebration included a full agenda of events highlighting UT’s distinguished past and unlimited future. Creekmore also wrote the text for a coffee-table book commemorating UT’s 200th year. Tennessee: A Celebration of 200 Years of the University is filled with historical and contemporary photographs of university life.
Following the bicentennial, she continued to transcribe facts, figures, biographies, and narratives that synopsize UT’s history. Several years ago, Creekmore approached staff at the Libraries with a proposal to create a searchable online database of this historical record. She contributed the first 5,000 entries, and the UT Libraries set to work on a platform to host the encyclopedia. Volopedia launched in August, under the auspices of the UT Libraries’ online imprint, Newfound Press.
Creekmore has been a longtime generous supporter of the University Libraries, the College of Law, and other areas of the university. In appreciation of her exceptionally generous support of the Libraries, the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives was named in her honor in 2017. Creekmore has established a deferred gift that will provide continued funding for the archives. Her substantial endowment will support acquisition, preservation, and processing of archival collections far into the future.
She was for many years a caretaker of the university’s architectural heritage. But her transformative gift to the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, which will advance the university’s prestige as a center of scholarship, may well prove to be an even more lasting legacy.