Community leader Mel Sturm recognised by Rotary Club of Oak Ridge Sturm presented one of the first reports that advised the city to encourage builders to construct new and affordable housing which he considered one of Oak Ridge’s greatest needs.

Recognised as a 'major influence' in Oak Ridge for many years, Mel Strum (left), the latest recipient of the William T Sergeant Vocational Service Award, is pictured with Jennifer Campbell, President of Rotary Club of Oak Ridge, and Darrell Akins, Past President and Chairman, Vocational Service Award Selection Committee. (Special photo to The Oak Ridger)
Recognised as a ‘major influence’ in Oak Ridge for many years, Mel Strum (left), the latest recipient of the William T Sergeant Vocational Service Award, is pictured with Jennifer Campbell, President of Rotary Club of Oak Ridge, and Darrell Akins, Past President and Chairman, Vocational Service Award Selection Committee. (Special photo to The Oak Ridger)

Mel Sturm, a longtime owner of retail businesses and land in Oak Ridge who established scholarships 41 years ago for Oak Ridge High School students interested in economics, received the William T Sergeant Vocational Service Award of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge (USA, District 6780).

The award was presented at the club’s noon luncheon meeting on May 11 at the Calhoun’s restaurant on Melton Lake Drive.

Sturm graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in mechanical engineering, served in the US Navy during World War II and got a job with Fairbanks Morse in Chicago — where he took night classes at Northwestern University in biology, law and art and music appreciation.

When his father was killed in an auto accident, he took a leave of absence from his engineering job and took charge of a clothing store his father had purchased in Jellico, Tennessee.

He liked his new position because he was in charge and because he was earning a higher income than he had been receiving at his engineering job, said Larry Beeman, past president of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge, who nominated Sturm for the award.

While still in his 20s in Jellico, Sturm formed a business association. He was elected president of the Kiwanis club, a member of the City Council, and then mayor of Jellico.

He married Fran of Chattanooga and they moved to Oak Ridge. They had three children — Bradley, Diane and Michelle.

Mel Sturm started a clothing store in Oak Ridge in the Downtown Shopping Center in the 1950s.

And later, he and Homer Kramer started the Sturm-Kramer Shoe Store. Sturm’s final store in the shopping center was the clothing store Backstage.

He was involved in at least 32 local organisations over his career.

He served on the advisory board when the city of Oak Ridge was incorporated in 1949, the executive committee of Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge and the advisory committee for Oak Ridge Schools. He also was a founder of the Arts Council.

Sturm developed and presented one of the first reports that advised the city to encourage builders to construct new and affordable housing, which he considered one of Oak Ridge’s greatest needs.

He sold his retail businesses and became a landowner. Some of the land he sold as lots, and he had houses built for sale on other parts of his property.

In the mid-1970s, he bought two acres from the federal government for $1,800 and then later sold the tract for $75,000.

He turned part of his profit over to the local synagogue and the rest to the establishment of a scholarship fund initially called the Oak Ridge Business Association Scholarships for Oak Ridge High School students.

After his son Brad died in his mid-40s, however, Sturm renamed the aforementioned fund the Bradley Sturm Memorial Scholarships.

The purpose of the scholarship is to teach teens the importance of the American free enterprise system to our quality of life.

Established in 1977, the Vocational Service Award of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge recognises “the extraordinary vocational service of local individuals not only in pursuit of their normal career endeavors, but in service to society in general.”

The award is named after Bill Sergeant, a past president of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge, a past governor of Rotary District 6780, a past vice-president and trustee of Rotary International, and a past chairman of RI’s PolioPlus Committee, which is charged with directing Rotary’s global efforts to eradicate polio worldwide.

As part of the award, Mel Sturm received $1,000 that will be donated to the Sturm scholarship fund held at the East Tennessee Foundation. 

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