The University of Tennessee College of Dentistry Alumni Association has selected Justin D. Towner III, DDS, and Philip A. Wenk, DDS, as the 2016 recipients of the Outstanding Alumnus Award. This award was created to give special recognition to graduates who have distinguished themselves in their dental practices, their professions, and their communities.
Justin D. Towner III, DDS
A lifelong Memphian, Justin attended Memphis City Schools, Washington and Lee University, and then graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry in 1954. Shortly thereafter, he served in the Air Force for two years before returning to Memphis to practice periodontics for 44 years and teaching in the Department of Periodontics at the UT College of Dentistry for 15 years.
As author and co-author, he published several articles on clinical periodontics and occlusion as well as contributing to continuing education courses and programs. His professional memberships include Memphis Dental Society, where he served as president and received the Humanitarian Award. He also served in the Tennessee Dental Association, American Dental Association, Southern Academy of Periodontology, and American Academy of Periodontology.
Dr. Towner was one of four dentists who initiated the formation of the UT Dental Alumni Association in the early 1960s and served as president from 1965 to 1966. He was instrumental in establishing an annual alumni meeting, which would evolve into the Mid-South Dental Congress and today’s William F. Slagle Dental Meeting.
A member of Second Presbyterian Church, he has served as elder and clerk of the Session. He enjoyed teaching Sunday School and served on numerous committees—most notably the World Missions committee—and made several trips to Haiti and Belize as a dental missionary. He is most proud of his wife of 61 years, Ginny, his three children and their spouses, and his seven grandchildren.
For Dr. Towner, the most rewarding aspect of his career is the opportunity to teach students and young dentists the importance of including the treatment of periodontal disease into their practices.
Philip A. Wenk, DDS
Philip Wenk, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Tennessee, is a 1977 graduate from the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry. Even as a student, Phil showed an interest in leadership as vice president and president of the UT Student Association and a member of the Student Government Executive Council.
He transitioned from a well-honored student leader to small-town dentist seamlessly, practicing in Clinton. His community involvement there included civic organizations, local government and athletics. Theses roles provided the perfect training grounds for his current position, where he places strong emphasis on corporate citizenship.
Phil served in private practice until 1997, when he accepted the role of chief operating officer at Delta Dental of Tennessee, eventually moving into the chief leadership role in 2000. Among his many accomplishments with the company includes enhancing the partnership between Delta Dental and his alma mater through engagement and charitable support.
Under his leadership at Delta Dental, the company has increased revenues nearly fourfold. As a result of its success, Phil has ensured that the company maintains a focus on giving back to the communities it serves. Delta Dental has become the single largest donor to the College of Dentistry, with more than $13 million given for capital and scholarships since 1998 by Delta Dental and its new philanthropic arm, the Smile180 Foundation, created in 2014.
The Smile180 Foundation, named for the transformative power of a healthy smile to change lives, is dedicated to providing resources for free and reduced cost clinics, children’s hospitals, and the state’s dental colleges. The program builds off a 2014 initiative which provided more than $5 million to these and other community organizations. Over the past five years, the company has provided more than $12.7 million in statewide grants and community support.
In addition to directing support from Delta Dental, Phil co-chaired the Campaign for Tennessee with former Governor Winfield Dunn, which concluded in 2011. The campaign exceeded its $15 million goal, generating $19.7 million for the College of Dentistry.
Phil’s professional memberships include the International College of Dentists, the American College of Dentists, the Academy of General Dentistry, and the American and Tennessee dental associations. He is the board chair for the Franklin American Music City Bowl and the board chair for the Brentwood Country Club. In addition, he currently serves on boards for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, and Civic Bank. He is also on a committee for the American Red Cross, Middle Tennessee Division.
Phil lives in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife, Brenda. They have two children and three grandchildren