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Advisory Board Chair Phil Wenk Honored for Service to People of Tennessee

Dr. Phil Wenk, center, is pictured at a Delta Dental event this month with Jeff Ballard, Delta Dental president, left, and Dr. Paul Bacon, chair of the Delta Dental Board of Directors and a dental school classmate of Dr. Wenk.

“I think Phil is one of those people you meet, and you think, ‘I wish I’d met you earlier in my life,’” UT System President Randy Boyd said of Phil Wenk, DDS, the chief executive officer of Delta Dental of Tennessee. “My life has been so much better having known him, and I feel like he’s a friend and a partner.”

A UT Health Science Center alumnus, business leader, and philanthropist, Dr. Wenk will retire as CEO of Delta Dental on December 31. As he moves toward this personal and professional milestone, Dr. Wenk has been the recipient of several prestigious awards and honors attesting to the high regard in which he is held professionally and personally.  

In September, he won the Apollo Award from the Public Relations Society of America Nashville Chapter. The award recognizes a non-communications executive who has championed communications efforts in an organization and the community.

In October, Dr. Wenk was recognized as a 2023 inductee into the Tennessee Health Care Hall of Fame, which honors individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions to the health care industry in Tennessee. He is the first dentist to receive this honor.

In November, he received the Jim and Natalie Haslam Presidential Medal from the University of Tennessee President’s Council. The medal honors exemplary giving, leadership, and service, as well as a willingness and ability to motivate others to support the university, a lifelong commitment to UT and higher education, and a personal history of integrity and excellence.

This month, Dr. Wenk was the recipient of the Nashville Business Journal’s 2023 Most Admired CEOs Lifetime Achievement Award.

Also this month, Delta Dental of Tennessee and the Delta Dental of Tennessee Board of Directors announced the establishment of the Dr. Phil Wenk Scholarship Endowment at UT Health Science Center’s College of Dentistry to honor all that Dr. Wenk has done as president and CEO of the company.  

“As we contemplated a gift for Phil, we were at a loss for any tangible items,” Jeff Ballard, the president and incoming CEO of Delta Dental, said in announcing the scholarship. “We also know Phil’s strong belief that to whom much is given, much more will be required. Phil, to recognize your retirement, we would like to give you a gift that will be giving in perpetuity.”

Ballard said the endowment will provide annual scholarships at UT Health Science Center for deserving dental students, who are from East Tennessee or a rural area of the state and plan to practice dentistry in Tennessee. The initial scholarship is funded, so students will benefit beginning in 2024.

Dr. Wenk practiced dentistry with his father in his hometown of Clinton, Tennessee, for more than 20 years before joining the corporate world. He has served in many civic and professional organizations. He joined Delta Dental in 1997 as the chief operating officer and became its president and CEO in 2000. The presidency was transferred to Ballard in 2022, but Dr. Wenk has remained the CEO

“When I joined UT Health Science Center more than two years ago, Phil was one of the first people I had the good fortune to meet,” said Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD. “He has been a trusted colleague, advisor, and friend since that day. I know Delta Dental will miss having him as the CEO, but I am thrilled he will continue his outstanding support of UT Health Science Center as chair of our Advisory Board. I am also certain he will continue his lifetime dedication to improving the oral health of the people of Tennessee.”

Under Dr. Wenk’s leadership, Delta Dental contributed $6.3 million for construction costs and $1.4 million for equipment toward a new $45 million Delta Dental of Tennessee Building on the Memphis campus. With gifts of roughly $19 million for capital projects and scholarships, the company and its philanthropic arm, the Smile180 Foundation, named for the power of a healthy smile to change lives, have been outstanding benefactors for UTHSC.

Dr. Wenk has also been a leader in the development of the Healthy Smiles Initiative, a five-year, $94 million, state-funded, pilot program to increase access to dental care across Tennessee. UT Health Science Center is playing a leading role in that effort, stewarding $53 million of the funding into efforts to increase dental class sizes, hire more dental faculty, and expand training opportunities for students, who will increase the ranks of dentists for Tennessee.

Dr. Wenk is a 1973 graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a 1977 graduate of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Dentistry. He has chaired the UTHSC Advisory Board since it began in 2019, serves on the UT President’s Council, and is the immediate past chair of the UT Foundation Board of Directors.

After his retirement, Dr. Wenk will become the president of Delta Dental’s Smile180 Foundation.

“He cares about Tennessee, and he cares about every Tennessean,” Ballard said. “We say in Tennessee, it’s from Mountain City to Memphis. I think he’s traveled every part of this state, all 95 counties. He loves rural health care, he loves being an advocate, and he is continually lobbying for rural health care.”