Thomas W Briggs Foundation Awards

 The Thomas W. Briggs Community Service Award

In 1985, the Board of Directors established the Thomas W. Briggs Community Service Award to be given annually as a memorial to Mr. Briggs. The award benefits the work of a local Memphis organization in the field of community service. Its purpose is to recognize outstanding leadership provided by an individual in an organization whose creativity, effort, commitment, professionalism and exceptional initiative have enabled the organization to excel in its special mission. Recipients are nominated and chosen by the Board of Directors. It is the hope of the Directors that the recognition from the award will inspire others to reach higher and achieve more than they thought they could.

The 2016 Community Service Award

Dr. Ken Steorts – Visible Music College

K SteortsDr. Ken Steorts is the founder and president of Visible Music College and founding guitarist of the Grammy-nominated band Skillet.

During his tours with Skillet, Ken saw many promising musicians with talent and drive but in need of structure and instruction for success in a music career.  He developed the appropriate curriculum and founded Visible Music College in 2000 to offer them a degree granting program and hands-on professional experience in a Christian discipleship model.   The college’s name, “Visible” comes from the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who described Christian believers as a “visible community infiltrating the darkness, bringing a light into the world that cannot be hidden.”

Students from all 50 states and over 20 foreign countries come to Visible and become professional artists, musicians, worship leaders, audio technicians, and music business leaders through instruction in music performance, music production, and music business.

With Ken’s vision and leadership the school has progressed from its 2000 beginning in an abandoned catfish restaurant in Lakeland.  In 2011 it relocated to its dramatic current home at 200 Madison in the 2011 repurposed C&I Bank, an iconic architectural landmark in downtown Memphis.  Visible Main Events44-M (2)Since then, Visible has opened campuses in Chicago and Dallas, and it also gives students the chance to experience the music industry in the Black Forest of Germany at its affiliate campus.  Its students have recently been finalists on NBC’s The Voice and American Idol.

Ken represents this vibrant institution to the local music industry and church leaders, creates opportunities for musicians of all kinds to interact and forges partnerships with groups like Stax Academy, Ardent Studios, and various churches and ministries around the world. Visible Music College also operates Madison Line Records and the Visible Community Music School – a program providing affordable and accessible music education to underserved communities.

Ken received a Master of Music degree in Composition and a BFA in Commercial Music – Recording Technology from the University of Memphis; toured as a Dove Award-nominated songwriter/musician, worked in management and marketing within the music industry and received his Doctorate in Sociological Research at Oxford Graduate School.

He has served on the Board of Governors of the Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy (Grammys), is a member of the Gospel Music Association, regularly participates in the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce and received the Downtown Memphis Commission’s 2013 Visionary Award.  Ken is happily married to his wife Joy and they have two sons, Freedman (19) and Skye (16).


Past Recipients

  • 2015 David Montague, Memphis Teacher Residency
  • 2014 Nancy Coffee, New Memphis Institute
  • 2013 Dorothy Gunther Pugh, Ballet Memphis
  • 2012 
Jackie Nichols, Playhouse on the Square & 
Circuit Playhouse
  • 2011 Jim Duncan, Memphis Botanic Garden
  • 2010
 Richard Nathaniel Donlon, M.D., Christ Community
 Health Services
  • 2009
 25th Anniversary Celebration, Honoring All Previous Recipients
  • 2008 
Beverly Robertson, National Civil Rights Museum
  • 2007 
David Loebel, Memphis Symphony Orchestra
  • 2006
 Margaret Craddock, MIFA
  • 2005
 Kaywin Feldman, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
  • 2004
 James R. Boyd, BRIDGES
  • 2003
 Kenneth R. Bennett, Streets Ministries
  • 2002
 Colenzo J. Hubbard, Emmanuel Episcopal Center
  • 2001
 Larry B. Lloyd, D. Min., Hope Christian Community Foundation
  • 2000
 Douglas R. Noble, D.P.A., The Pink Palace Family of Museums
  • 1999
 Brad F. Baker, Young Life
  • 1998
 Jeffrey D. Nesin, Memphis College of Art
  • 1997
 Patrick W. Lawler, Youth Villages
  • 1996
 Josephine H. Walt, The Neighborhood School
  • 1995
 Michael J. Labonia, WKNO-TV/FM
  • 1994
 Eleanor Prest, Thomas W. Briggs Foundation
  • 1993
 Roger T. Knox, Memphis Zoological Society
  • 1992
 Gid H. Smith, Community Foundation of Greater Memphis
  • 1991
 JoeAnn Ballard, Neighborhood Christian Center
  • 1990
 John E. Buchanan, Jr., The Dixon Gallery and Gardens
  • 1989
 G. Scott Morris, M.D., Church Health Center Memphis
  • 1988
 Patricia C. Howard, Girls Incorporated of Memphis
  • 1987
 James C. Carlile, Boys Club of Memphis
  • 1986
 Virginia L. Dunaway, Memphis Food Bank
  • 1985
 Father Donald Mowery, Youth Service USA

University of Memphis Awards


For over forty years the Thomas W Briggs Foundation Inc. has supported the University of Memphis.  The Foundation began this relationship by establishing The Eleanor O’Neill Scholarship to assist deserving students with their educational goals.  The scholarship is named in memory of Ms. O’Neill who was a long standing Welcome Wagon employee and University of Memphis Foundation Trustee.

Based on academic merit, each year a student in the University of Memphis journalism program concentrating in public relations and a marketing student in the Fogelman College of Business and Economics are selected.

Teaching Awards

In 1995 the foundation established the Thomas W. Briggs Foundation Excellence in Teaching Awards to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching, and the first awards were given in 1997. In 2017 one award was given for outstanding teaching to Dr. Scott Marler.

Scott Marler, Associate Professor History

Dr. Marler, a former editor at the Journal of Southern History, is associate professor of history at the University of Memphis, where he joined the faculty in 2007. His book, The Merchants’ Capital: New Orleans and the Political Economy of the Nineteenth-Century South, was awarded the 2013 Kemper Williams Prize for the best book in Louisiana history. He teaches a wide variety of courses at the U of M, mostly in American, southern, and Atlantic history.  He keeps physical and virtual open door policies, invites discourse and discussion, empathizes with students given their situational needs and makes an effort to keep up with students after they leave his classes.


Past Recipients


Mr. Kevin Hagopian                English

Dr. Phillip Kolbe                      Finance, Insurance & Real Estate


Dr. Ruthbeth Finerman,          Anthropology

Dr. Thomas R. Caplinger         Mathematical Sciences


Dr. Jack Grubaugh                   Biology

Dr. Mark Timmons                  Philosophy


Dr. Julia Heath                        Economics

Dr. David Mason                     Political Science


Ms. Candace Justice               Journalism

Dr. Robert Marcini                  Physics


Dr. Melvin Beck                       Biology

Dr. Charles Camp                    Civil Engineering


Dr. Kantaylieniere Hill-Clark   Education

Dr. Nele Hemple                     Foreign Languages/German


Stephen W. Hancock              Theatre and Dance

Dr. Charles J. Biggers              Biology


Dr. John Hanneken                  Physics

Dr. William Jerman                Electrical and Computer engineering


Dr. Robert Frankle                  History

Dr. Lawrette Axley                  Nursing


Dr. Dennis Laumann               History

Ms. Margaret Quinn               Family and Consumer Sciences


Dr. Joe Hayden                        Journalism

Dr. Nancy Mardis                    Accountancy


Dr. Anna Bess Sorin                Biology

Dr. Fred Albertson                  Art


Dr. Phillip Franceschetti         Physics

Dr. Irvin Tankersley                 Accounting


Ms. Charlotte Spiceland         Accounting

Dr. John Haddock                    Mathematics


Dr. Mark Freilich                     Chemistry

Mr. Kriangsiri Milasri              Computer Science


Dr. Angela Grant                     Mathematics

Leonard Jackson                      Hospitality and Resort Management


Ms. Nataliya Doroshenko       Mathematics

Jacob Allen                                Communication & Fine Arts


Dr. Douglas Campbell              Economics

Dr. Shirleatha Lee                     Nursing


Denis Grele                                 French

JoAnne Rhodes                          Physics