The People in the Room: Don & Donna

by Jim Campbell, ETEC’s First President |May 22, 2020 |

Don Maxwell and his young family came to Oak Ridge from Aiken, S.C., in the early 1970s at a time when the newly incorporated city of Oak Ridge was stepping up to a whole new series of challenges. The Atomic Energy Commission was shutting down. In its place would be the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a new strange organization called the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). ERDA didn’t last long and became the Department of Energy a few years later. How were ORNL, ORAU, and the gaseous diffusion enterprise going to fit into this new picture? Where was Y-12’s mission delineated in any of the above? Meanwhile, the city’s economy needed to grow. New businesses needed to be cultivated. Diversifying the economy away from almost total dependence on the federal complex was a community-wide goal.

Don was a banker. A good one. Coming out of Aiken he knew a good bit about federal communities like Oak Ridge. Hand-picked by Gene Joyce, who was chairman of the Bank of Oak Ridge’s board of directors, Don came in and went to work as the Bank’s president.

In 1973 he co-founded the Roane-Anderson Economic Council with Oak Ridger owner Tom Hill and attorney Gene Joyce. Ben Adams and a group of contractor and federal leaders were there too. Over the first year, they wrote a plan to recruit energy companies, and in 1975 they unleashed Don on a west coast tour. He started in San Diego and went north all the way to Seattle. Stopping at SAIC, then brand new; up to General Atomics, Bechtel, Boeing, Exxon—all companies heavily focused on the energy sector—were visited. SAIC came to Oak Ridge first, hiring a young ORNL physicist named Pete Craven as its Oak Ridge lead. Bechtel arrived in the mid-1980s, Boeing about the same time. Exxon almost came, too. It slipped away as the nation moved away from nuclear power after Three Mile Island.

All in all, Don did very well. Thousands of new jobs grew here over time.
I didn’t know Don very well. I probably learned more about him from his funeral service and Jesse Noritake’s meticulous minutes from R-AEC board meetings. But I know his daughter very well.

Donna Sullivan, nee Maxwell, who with her husband Tom started the Hot Bagel Company in 1994, has been all over Oak Ridge, trying to sell more bagels to more customers; raising funds to fight Lupus, serving breakfast to rowers from all over the U.S. She sometimes seems like a whirling dervish, always on the go.

Donna and Tom were engineers working on the reservation when they decided to start their restaurant adventure. Tom loves to bake pastries. He even went to France to learn his art. It helped that Donna’s godfather, Gilford Glazer, was on the Forbes richest people in the world list. Glazer, whose shopping center development business started in Oak Ridge and boomed through the Midwest and California, kept her informed about retail trends, and just watched out for her. (Glazer’s heirs still own property in Oak Ridge and donated the building that UT’s Law Enforcement Institute and ETEC occupies now to the University of Tennessee.)

She has been ETEC’s caterer for so long I can’t remember who it was before Hot Bagel, and at a price that hasn’t changed in 25 1/2 years. She likes what we do, and if we stray from her Dad’s Oak Ridge values, she lets us know.

Donna and Tom have decided to retire. They’ve earned that. The business was on the market, and it looked like a deal was going to be made until the virus came upon us. Instead, they are donating their equipment to Pellissippi State Community College’s Culinary School. The Culinary Arts Program at Pellissippi State has agreed to provide the food for the Butterflies for Hope bike ride post-event feast in 2021, an event organized by Hot Bagel for a cause near to the Sullivan’s heart, raising funds for the Lupus Foundation.

Donna says these last few weeks have been busy. They are shipping bagels all over the country. There was going to be a celebration on May 30… closing day. I was going. But it’s been canceled. Through it all, Donna maintains her upbeat mentality. She told me about her work at Hot Bagel, “I am probably the only person that can say that I’ve had the most perfect job and had a blast, every day.”

Don and Donna will always be a part of what we do, our history. ETEC honors those who make a difference. Tom and Donna are with us in the room each Friday by way of their bagels. It’s always important to celebrate the people in the room.

Be safe. Be well. Have a Happy Memorial Day!