Son Donates UT Geography Building to Honor Father

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee dedicated a new geography building Thursday in honor of a Sevier County businessman whose son graduated from the geography program and donated money for construction.

UT officials and Burchfiel family members gathered to christen the new facility, the William W. Burchfiel Sr. Geography Building, which stands across Phillip Fulmer Way from the University Center.

“The Burchfiel building gives us space for hosting research projects and allows us to get students involved in research very early in their studies,” said Dr. Bruce Ralston, geography department head. “We have better teaching labs and state-of-the-art media equipment that will allow us to bring Internet resources into the classroom.”

The estate of William Burchfiel Jr. was the major contributor to the $5.1 million building. Burchfiel Jr. held two degrees from the department and a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Maryland. The gift is one of the five largest outright gifts from an individual in UT history.

The four-story brick structure contains 33,000 square feet and houses the whole geography department under one roof. The department previously shared space with geological sciences in the Geography and Geology Building on the Hill.

Burchfiel Sr. owned an insurance agency in Sevierville for 50 years. His son was co-owner for 18 years.

Burchfiel Jr. earned the doctorate in 1953 while working at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., after World War II service in the U.S. Navy. He returned to Sevier County to join his father’s insurance agency and also owned motels in Gatlinburg, but he remained close to the UT geography department through the years, said Dr. Sydney Jumper, professor emeritus in economic geography.

“It had been a dream of Bill’s for geography to have its own building ever since he was a student in the department,” Jumper said. “Bill owed a great debt to his father and wanted him recognized.”

Dr. J. Wade Gilley praised the vision and generosity that led to the gift.

“The role of our alumni in supporting UT’s quest for excellence can’t be overestimated,” Gilley said. “This fine family’s largesse will have a positive impact on the university and its students for generations to come.”