Donor Spotlight: Cindy Wyrick

A Lifetime of Loving Libraries

Cindy Wyrick learned early on that it doesn’t take deep pockets to make a significant philanthropic impact when you can rally others around a common cause.

“You will never be sorry for the hours you spend giving back.”

UT alumna Cindy Wyrick has lived by this philosophy for a long time, and it continues to serve her well. In 2019, after serving as the city attorney for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and after nearly twenty-five years as a member of the law firm of Ogle, Wyrick and Associates in nearby Sevierville, Wyrick accepted an appointment as United States Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Tennessee. She is deeply honored by this opportunity and sees it as a new chance to make a difference.

Wyrick has been making a difference since she was a student at UT. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science in 1990 and her JD in 1994. While she was in law school, she became involved in student government and was elected vice president of the Graduate Student Association. One of her responsibilities in that role was to develop a philanthropic project as a way for the GSA to give back to the university. “When I started thinking about what we might do, I wanted to tackle something that would benefit not just the Law School, where I was, but the entire campus,” she recalls. “So when I started thinking about what is it that is a common thread, regardless of what reason you are at UT, it was the Libraries.”

It empowered me to realize that I could make a difference.”

Wyrick decided the most impactful way the GSA could help all UT students was to focus their philanthropic efforts on a fundraiser for the UT Libraries, and in February of 1993 she launched the first “Love Your Libraries” Fun Run. The 5k race was a valentine to the Libraries, raising both funds and awareness of library collections and programs. The chilly jog became a signature event for the Graduate Student Association, which continued to host the Fun Run – along with the John C. Hodges Society (at that time the UT Library Friends) as well as the Knoxville Track Club – for nineteen years.

Not only did the successful event benefit the Libraries; for Wyrick it served as a catalyst for a lifetime of giving back. “It was wonderful to give to the Libraries and to see what the Libraries got from it. But also — when you do those things— you get so much in return as well. It empowered me to realize that I could make a difference,” she says.

Wyrick’s impressive organization of the Fun Run prompted an invitation to join the UT Library Friends Advisory Board as a student representative, and she continued to cultivate support for the Libraries among her peers. Wyrick recalls a time when she and several other GSA members made “BEAT BAMA” buttons and sold them on a corner of Cumberland Avenue on game day. A police officer stopped Wyrick to check whether she had a permit – she didn’t – but he allowed her to continue when she told him the proceeds would benefit UT’s libraries.

Once she earned her JD and began practicing law, Wyrick transitioned from student representative to a full member of the Library Friends Advisory Board and continued using her talent for rallying people around a cause to benefit the Libraries. As a resident of Sevierville and a long-time fan of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, she became very interested in a new project spearheaded by UT librarians Anne Bridges, Russ Clement, and Ken Wise: the Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project. “The idea of being able to preserve Park history and especially to have UT Libraries preserve it – it was very exciting,” Wyrick says. What excited her was both the UT Libraries’ exceptional ability to care for one-of-a-kind materials and its ability to make the archive of Smokies materials available to both the East Tennessee community and to scholars across the globe.

At some point you just have to say, ‘This is important to me. And it’s important to me to make a difference in my world.’

As a young professional just embarking on her career, Wyrick was not in a position to make a significant financial gift to support the Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project, but she led the effort to crowdfund an endowment, which was successfully funded in 2007. “To be able to give the endowment a start was a very exciting opportunity, and it’s been so nice to see it grow over the years,” she says. The Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project Endowment remains one of the Libraries’ more popular funds, enjoying broad donor support to this day.

Wyrick credits her early engagement with the UT Libraries for preparing her to assume greater responsibilities down the road. In giving back to the Libraries, she was afforded an opportunity to work with administrative leaders in a way she hadn’t before. “It allows you to build confidence in your ability to give back, it’s an opportunity to understand better how the world works, be it the world at the university level or the world at large,” she says. She got involved with the Tennessee Bar Association, where she took on progressively more responsble leadership roles, ultimately becoming president of the entire organization in 2013. She is also involved with the Tennessee Lawyers’ Assistance Program, a free, confidential assistance program providing consultation, referral, intervention, and crisis counseling for lawyers, judges, bar applicants, and law students who are struggling with substance abuse, stress, or emotional health issues.

Looking back on her experiences thus far, Wyrick offers this advice to students and young professionals who want to get involved with philanthropic activity:

“I think that when you are in the midst of obtaining your education, you can get into the mindset that you’re so busy, and you can tell yourself that you just don’t have time to get involved and to give back, and you’ll do that at some later point after you’ve established your career. But if you wait to find the time to give back, you’ll never start giving back. At some point you just have to say, ‘This is important to me. And it’s important to me to make a difference in my world.’ And, whether it’s volunteering your time or giving of your financial resources, you’ll never be sorry that you made the choice to give back.”

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