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The UT Board of Trustees on Friday approved awarding transportation magnate Scott Niswonger an honorary degree from UT Knoxville.

Scott Niswonger
Scott Niswonger

He will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at a future commencement ceremony.

A longtime resident of Greeneville, Tennessee, Niswonger founded Landair in 1981 with a goal of combing logistics and transportation to provide more efficient shipping service. He then founded Forward Air Corporation in 1990 to better connect air transport with ground delivery.

Today, those companies have annual sales of more than $1 billion.

He is well known in East Tennessee for the charitable foundation that bears his name and as the top benefactor of Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City. In addition to being the only child-focused hospital in the Tri-Cities area, it is one of only six St. Jude’s affiliate clinics and houses a Shriner’s Hospitals orthopedics clinic.

Niswonger earned his pilot’s license at 17 after taking his first lying lesson at age 12. His love of aviation continued through college, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in aviation technology from Purdue University. He earned a bachelor’s in business administration from Tusculum College in 1986. He has been awarded honorary doctorates by both schools and by East Tennessee State University.

He first came to Tennessee as a pilot for Magnavox and currently flies a number of personal aircraft, including a US Navy T-34.

A native of Van Wert, Ohio, Niswonger was the primary donor in the creation of Niswonger Performing Arts Centers both there and in his adopted home of Greeneville.

He is on the Board of Directors of First Horizon National Corporation—the parent company of First Tennessee Bank—and the Board of Trustees for East Tennessee State University.

Through the Niswonger Foundation, which he created in 2001, he has supported scholastic programs with a focus on preparing students in the region for postsecondary education and employment.

The foundation recently received a grant from the US Department of Education, which, along with its own funding, will provide $8 million to enhance high school preparation of middle school students across 17 East Tennessee school districts.

Stephen Mangum, dean and Stokely Foundation Leadership Chair in UT’s Haslam College of Business, made the nomination, noting that Niswonger “has focused on improving the lives of young people, giving youth increased opportunity to shine and fulfill their destinies. He stands as an extraordinary example of the power of a single individual to transform the lives and livelihoods of others.”