A hometown dentist-turned-corporate executive, Phil Wenk, DDS, has spent a lifetime serving his community, his profession, his state, and his alma mater.
Dr. Wenk, chief executive officer of Delta Dental of Tennessee, 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 served as chair of the UTHSC Advisory Board since it began in 2019 and is the immediate past chair of the UT Foundation Board of Directors. This genial man with a big smile and a firm handshake has made it his business never to forget where he came from as he builds a better future for others.
Dr. Wenk practiced dentistry with his father in his hometown of Clinton, Tennessee, for more than 20 years. “I was just very lucky my dad was able to tolerate me,” he quips. From his years as a practicing dentist in that small town in East Tennessee, Dr. Wenk is acutely aware of the oral health needs of the residents of this state, particularly those in rural areas.
He has been a leader in the development of the state’s five-year, $94 million pilot program to increase access to dental care across the state known as the Healthy Smiles Initiative. UTHSC is playing a leading role in that effort, stewarding $53 million of the funding into its efforts to increase class sizes, hire more faculty, and expand training opportunities for students.
Dr. Wenk served in many civic and professional organizations before joining Delta Dental in 1997 as the chief operating officer and becoming president and CEO in 2000. Under his leadership, Delta Dental has steadily prospered. As it has grown, the organization has also expanded its efforts to serve its members and the public. His selfless service in the civic and business arenas has enabled him to give back in many ways to the Volunteer State he loves.
Delta Dental has become the single largest donor to the UTHSC College of Dentistry and is a significant support of dozens of safety net dental clinics across the state, the state’s seven children’s hospitals, other nonprofits statewide, as well as being a champion for oral health education for all Tennesseans.
The new $45 million Delta Dental of Tennessee Building on the Memphis campus is a reality, thanks to a generous gift by Delta Dental. Under the leadership of Dr. Wenk, Delta Dental provided $6.3 million for construction costs and $1.4 million for equipment. With gifts of roughly $15 million given 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.
“Doing well allows us to do good in the community, and I’m proud that we’ve made expanding access to quality care for all Tennesseans a priority at Delta Dental,” said Dr. Wenk, who now lives in Brentwood, Tennessee, and was named an Outstanding Alumnus by the College of Dentistry in 2016. In 2017, he was named one of the 100 Distinguished Alumni by Tennessee Alumnus magazine, which is now Our Tennessee, the alumni magazine for the UT System.
“We are so privileged to have him as an alumnus and as the inaugural chair of the UTHSC Advisory Board,” said UTHSC Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD. “Phil is a remarkable leader who brings all his connections to bear to make sure the state’s public academic health care institution thrives and is positioned to help all the people who call Tennessee home. He is interested not just in the oral health of Tennessee, but in the total well-being of the people of Tennessee.”
A larger-than-life personality with a big vision for Tennessee, Dr. Wenk understands that improving the health of his home state will take collaboration. He is expert in bringing people from different arenas together for a better Tennessee.
Dr. Wenk is a key player in UTHSC’s commitment to improving the oral health of individuals across the state. Last month, Delta Dental made a $250,000 donation from its Smile180 Foundation to purchase equipment for a dental clinic in Kingsport, Tennessee. The clinic is a highly innovative joint initiative of the City of Kingsport, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Ballad Health, East Tennessee State University, and others to expand access to oral health care services in the region and provide more training opportunities for students.
Numerous awards attest to his outstanding work in the community. He was named a 2-2022 “Most Admired CEO” by the Nashville Business Journal. The publication has also recognized him as a “Health Care Hero” and included him in the “Health Care 100.” A past chair of the American Cancer Society board, Dr. Wenk was honored with the organization’s national St. George’s Award.
True humanitarians, Dr. Wenk and his wife, Brenda, are generous of spirit and passionate about making a difference by giving broadly to many causes across the community and state.
Additionally, it has given them great joy over the years to support students across UTHSC’s campuses in large and small ways when individual needs arise as they move through their education.
Dr. Buckley said he and his wife, Leonie, view Dr. Wenk and his wife, Brenda, not only as great friends, but as exemplars. “Leonie and I view Phil and Brenda as extraordinary friends and role models for all of us to emulate for all they do for Tennessee,” Chancellor Buckley said. “When I think of Phil and Brenda, I am reminded of the quote by H. Jackson Brown, ‘Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.’”
Visit this link to read about the College of Dentistry’s Grand Opening of the new $45 million Delta Dental of Tennessee Building: https://news.uthsc.edu/uthsc-college-of-dentistry-to-host-floss-cutting-grand-opening-of-new-45-million-delta-dental-of-tennessee-building/