Jack Bovender ’67, M.H.A. ’69 grew up in King, North Carolina, a small rural town near Winston-Salem “where everybody was like everybody else.” When he arrived at Duke in the fall of 1963, Bovender was in for a culture shock. He encountered people who had attended prestigious private schools, courses that opened his eyes to the arts and humanities, and classmates from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, including Northerners, “who didn’t sound like I did."
It was a turning point in Bovender’s life. He embraced the array of opportunities available to him, joining a fraternity and majoring in psychology, which led to a student job in the psychiatric unit of Duke Hospital. By the time he graduated, Bovender says, “I learned what a true liberalarts education meant. I hadn’t just been prepared for a vocation; I saw the world in a very different way than when I entered.”
After graduating, he earned a graduate degree in hospital administration and married Barbara Tuttle, a nurse he’d known since grammar school. A stint as a lieutenant with the U.S. Navy was followed by a successful career in the health-care industry. Most of his career was spent with the Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), one of the largest private providers of health-care services. He retired in 2009 as its chairman and CEO.
Along the way, Bovender never stopped repaying Duke for the opportunities it afforded him and his family (son Richard earned an M.B.A. from the Fuqua School of Business in 2008). He has served on both the Fuqua and divinity school boards of visitors and the executive committee of the Duke Annual Fund and has been a member of Duke’s board of trustees since 2007.
The Bovenders have been generous financial supporters of Duke as well. They’ve made a $25 million bequest to support Fuqua, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and the School of Nursing. During the Financial Aid Initiative, they gave $1 million to Fuqua to establish a scholarship program for minority students in the school’s Health Sector Management program. Most recently, they established a $1 million scholarship to encourage Duke’s diversity efforts, given in honor of five of Bovender’s 1967 classmates who were the first undergraduates to integrate the university.
As part of Founders’ Day, Bovender will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Duke Alumni Association. With his trademark humility and grace, Bovender says that “I’m sure my fraternity brothers will be amazed this happened to me, and if I look at my undergraduate transcripts, I’m amazed, too. But it’s a great honor. I’m very humbled and obviously very honored. I’m sure there are people who deserve this a lot more than I do, but none that appreciates it more than I do.”