Couple’s love for Baxter leads to estate gift for Upperman High students

COOKEVILLE — Nearly 30 years ago, a couple with a love for the Baxter area and Tennessee Tech chose to include the university in their estate plans. Now, a scholarship in their names will help generations of Upperman High School students pursue a college education. 

Cleo Nash Dennis was born and raised in Baxter and married B.J. Dennis of New York, New York, in 1951. For several years, they lived in Baxter and owned and operated the local H&N Campbell grocery store. Although they moved to California many years ago, their love for the Baxter area continued. Cleo passed away in 2011, and B.J. in 2018. 

“We are grateful that the Dennis family saw that Upperman High School students could pursue a great education and the full college experience at Tech,” Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham said. “With these scholarships, dozens of UHS students each year will be supported and encouraged to earn a college degree.” 

Brandon Johnson, Tech’s vice president of Enrollment Management and Career Placement, says he is consistently impressed with the character and talent of Upperman High School students.

“UHS graduates are future leaders of our local community and region,” said Johnson. “Their impact will be great as they graduate from Tech and go on to lead successful personal and professional lives.”

The B.J. and Cleo Dennis Scholarship provides up to $65,000 annually for Upperman students. 

Breeonna Wheeler, assistant principal at Upperman, says the high school was honored to learn that the Dennis family chose to support their students through this scholarship. 

“Receiving a scholarship from our community makes this very special,” said Wheeler. “We are extremely proud of these students and look forward to watching them take the next step in their educational journey.” 

The scholarship was awarded for the first time this year to 34 UHS students planning to enroll at Tech this fall. 

“I am beyond thankful for this scholarship,” said Marc Hardin, an Upperman High senior and recipient of the Dennis Scholarship. “It’s truly a humbling experience. Being named a recipient makes me feel accomplished. This scholarship will allow me to double major in history and economics and eventually go to law school, make change in the world and, most importantly, make my dad proud.”

Scholarship recipient Kaitlyn Rich explains that the scholarship is particularly beneficial for her because she will be paying for her tuition on her own. 

Ethan Conley says the scholarship will help him become a pediatric nurse, while Macy Wheeler plans to become a psychologist for adolescents. 

Trenton Bilbrey says he is looking forward to studying business management at Tech.

“Successful people want others to succeed,” said Bilbrey. “I’m thankful for the Dennis family for helping me start on my path.”  

To apply for this or any other scholarship, prospective students should complete the scholarship application by Dec. 15 prior to the year they wish to attend. The application for fall 2022-spring 2023 will open Aug. 1. Visit to learn more. 

“Upperman High School students come to Tech well-prepared and succeed here,” said Oldham. “I encourage every student to explore what Tech has to offer them.”    

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