Deavenports’ $3M gift moves MSU capital campaign past goal

A new $3 million gift from Earnest W. “Earnie” Deavenport and his wife Mary Ann will support student scholarships at Mississippi State University through the ongoing Infinite Impact campaign.

The Deavenports’ commitment led a flurry of calendar year-end gifts for Infinite Impact. Since its launch in mid-2010, the campaign has exceeded its $600 million goal, and Mississippi State is continuing to place an emphasis on campaign fundraising priorities at this time.

“Mississippi State University gratefully acknowledges Earnie and Mary Ann Deavenports’ continued generosity and commitment to assist their home state,” said John P. Rush, vice president for development and alumni and president and CEO of the MSU Foundation. “They are setting an example for other alumni and friends as they help our university pursue its long-range goals through Infinite Impact.”

Specifically, the Deavenport gift supports scholarships with preference given to engineering students. Each recipient of the Earnest W. and Mary Ann Deavenport Scholarship will be awarded up to eight semesters of schooling, provided established academic criteria is maintained.

“As an alumnus of the university, I particularly value the education I received here and wish to return something to the institution that contributed to my professional success,” said Earnie, a 1960 chemical engineering graduate.

Though they now reside in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, the Deavenports are Mississippi natives. Earnie Deavenport is from Macon, and the former Mary Ann Penton is a University of Southern Mississippi graduate from Bay Springs. They met and married while working at Eastman Kodak in Kingsport, Tennessee, where Earnie began his career.

The couple’s support of Mississippi State also includes the Earnest W. and Mary Ann Deavenport Jr. Chair, an endowed position held by the dean of engineering. A second endowed position, the Earnest W. Deavenport Jr. Chair, directs the Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering also benefits from their support. The position was established by the Eastman Chemical Co. in honor of Earnie’s lifelong contributions to education and the chemical industry.

The Deavenports’ giving began at MSU in the 1990s when they established the Earnest W. and Laura Mae Deavenport Endowed Scholarship for engineering students in memory of Earnie’s parents. Earnest William Deavenport Sr. died in 1982, and Laura Mae Deavenport died in 2004. Both were residents of Noxubee County who made their home in Macon, where they farmed and operated a Western Auto store.

After graduation from MSU, Earnie earned a Master of Science in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School in 1985. In 2000, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws from King College in Bristol, Tennessee. Then in 2011, he received an honorary Doctor of Science in the fields of business and engineering from Mississippi State. He was honored in 2015 as the university’s National Alumnus.

Earnie serves as a member of the Bagley College’s Dean’s Advisory Council and chair of the board of directors for the MSU Foundation. He is also an inductee of the university’s Chemical Engineering Hall of Fame.

Spanning more than five decades, Earnie’s career in business and engineering began with the chemical division of Eastman Kodak Co., and a number of progressive managerial positions followed. By 1989, he was named group vice president of Eastman Kodak and would serve in that role until 1994. That year, he became chairman and CEO of Eastman Chemical Co. as the result of its spin-off from Kodak. He would remain with Eastman Chemical until his retirement in 2002, after which he continued to serve on the boards of several corporations including Milliken and Co., Pacolet Milliken, AmSouth Bancorp, Theragenics Inc., King Pharmaceuticals, Acuity Brands and ZEP Inc. From 2010 through 2013, he was chairman of the board for Regions Financial Corp.

As the Infinite Impact campaign continues, gifts are needed for priorities across campus in the university’s academic colleges and schools, MSU-Meridian, athletics, the library, and the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College.

Alumni and friends can join the Deavenports and contribute to Mississippi State’s continuing success and growth by making a campaign commitment today. Gifts through the campaign may support scholarships, chairs and professorships, facilities and programs.

More on the campaign can be found at

By Amy Cagle