Eleanor J. Yoakum

Eleanor Yoakum

Eleanor J. Yoakum '65
1999 Outstanding Alumna

Eleanor Elaine Yoakum, a 1965 graduate of East Tennessee State University, is a native of Tazewell, Tennessee. Her father, Glenn Yoakum, was a State Senator where he served as minority leader when she was a small child, thus beginning her interest in and awareness of the importance of political involvement in state and national government. Her mother, Leo Walker Yoakum, was an educator, former school superintendent, and longtime member of the Claiborne County Board of Education, and the Board of Trustees of Carson-Newman College. She and her two sisters were raised in a nurturing atmosphere where community involvement and public service were ways of life. Her sister, Martha Yoakum, who also attended ETSU, is Public Defender for the 8th district of Tennessee. Yoakum, a speech and hearing therapy graduate, began her career teaching in Fort Lauderdale Oral School, a boarding school for the deaf which emphasizes speech reading and oral communications rather than using sign language. In 1968, her daughter Stephanie was born and she returned to Tazewell where she became involved in her family's businesses, Yoakum's Banner Warehouse and First Claiborne Bank. In 1972, her son Robert Glenn Barger was born and she stayed home to mother her children and was involved in school and community activities. In 1974, Ms. Yoakum became the first woman to serve on the eight-state Burley Auction Warehouse Association Board. In 1990, President George Bush appointed her to the United States Federal Advisory Board on Tobacco.

Yoakum was active in her state and community beginning with her service as District President of Tennessee Federation of Women's Clubs, later serving as state chairman for education and arts. She was also involved in state politics, serving as a state officer for the Tennessee Republican Woman's Club, and 15 years on the Claiborne County Election Commission. In 1985, Governor Lamar Alexander appointed her to the Tennessee Arts Commission, where she served as chairman in 1989-90. In 1991, she was re-appointed to the Commission by Governor Ned McWherter.

Following the death of her father in 1990, Yoakum was elected chairman of First Claiborne Bank, and also served as one of only four female bank presidents in the state. In 1995, Governor Don Sundquist appointed Yoakum to his newly formed Tennessee Board for Economic Growth, a board which helped develop the economic policy for the state.

In June 1996, Governor Sundquist swore in Yoakum as Commissioner of Personnel for the State of Tennessee. During her tenure, she served for three years as the governor's designee on the United Way board, and statewide coordinator for the annual Governor's Prayer Breakfast. In 1998, Senator Howard Baker asked her to chair the fund-raising efforts for the Howard H. Baker, Sr., and Irene Baker Cancer Center. Yoakum was appointed to the ETSU Foundation board in 1991, once more following in her father's footsteps. Yoakum was a charter member of the Foundation board in the 1970s. In 1997, she was an alumni guest speaker for the the College of Public and Allied Health. When asked about her experiences at ETSU, Yoakum stated, "The years I spent at ETSU prepared me for the diverse life I have been privileged to enjoy. I am proud to have chosen State in 1961, and I would be just as proud to choose it today. It is an honor and privilege for me to be an advocate for this fine institution."

Yoakum and her husband Bill Dunavant, former Commissioner of Economic and Community Development for Tennessee, share residences between Nashville and their mountain home adjacent to the Big South Fork National Park. Her daughter Stephanie Barger Conner is Deputy to Deputy Governor Justin Wilson. She and her husband Lewis Forrest Conner reside in Nashville. Her son Robert Glenn Barger has joined First Claiborne Bank as the manager of the Powell branch. He is the third generation in the Yoakum family to be involved in banking.