Cumberland University has been around for 179 years. In all that time, it’s never been on the receiving end of a donation like the one it announced last week when an alum pledged $5 million to the Phoenix.

Millard Vaughan Oakley and J.J. Oakley of Livingston committed the money, which will be used to name the school of humanities, education and the arts fund an expansion to the entrance of the Memorial Hall building and to support the needs of the school for years to come.

“Administration and faculty of the (new) Millard and J.J. Oakley School of Humanities, Education and the Arts are in the planning process for determining how to best use this gift to benefit the school,” said University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Bill McKee.

Far from strictly structural upgrades, the donation should assist in talent retention and financial-aid availability.

“We do know that this gift will fund student scholarships as well as assist the university in retaining our best and brightest faculty,” McKee said.

For Cumberland University President Dr. Paul C. Stumb, having such a distinguished alumnus make a gift like this fills him with gratification.

“We are so very proud of Millard Oakley, his accomplishments as an attorney, businessman, entrepreneur, and public servant and honored to list him as a graduate of our university,” said Stumb in a press release. “We are most appreciative of this truly transformative gift to which he and J.J. have committed.”

According to Stumb, the contribution was made out of Oakley’s philanthropic approach to life.

“Millard (Oakley) has told me that we should put more into society than we take out,” Stumb said.

The president added that he expects the donation will serve to “improve the educational experience for generations to come.”

Mr. Oakley graduated from Cumberland School of Law in 1951. He practiced law in Livingston for nearly 20 years before serving as general counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Small Business from 1971-1973.

From 1975-1979, Oakley served as insurance commissioner for the state of Tennessee. Since 1980, Oakley has been engaged in business investments and real-estate ventures.

That’s a long resume for someone who claims they “weren’t a very good student when they attended Cumberland.” Oakley’s wife J.J. cosigned the gift

For a man who operated a shoeshine stand at age 15 in his hometown to even be able to afford room, board and tuition, being able to give so much back now means the world.

“Cumberland provided me with a very good education, but it also opened doors of opportunity and created valued and lasting relationships,” said Oakley.

Oakley stressed the importance of higher education and said that he and his wife were “grateful to be able to give back to future Cumberland students.”

Mrs. Oakley holds a degree in nursing from West Virginia University, as well as a masters of nursing and law degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Mr. Oakley was recently on campus along with former Vice President Al Gore, participating as a speaker in the Peace Forum kickoff event that honored former U.S. Secretary of State and Cumberland alumnus Cordell Hull. His remarks were about the importance of hard work and the development of close personal ties with others.

The school of humanities, education and the arts is the last of Cumberland’s three schools to be named by a donor. Cumberland’s Labry School of Science, Technology and Business was named in 2002 by Edward Labry and the Rudy School of Nursing and Health Professions was named in 1991 by Jeanette C. Rudy.

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