Henry and Dolores Davis never had the opportunity to go to college, but they now have a scholarship named in their honor, thanks to their five children – all University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduates. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Alumni Association recently awarded their youngest son its Lifetime Achievement Award.
(Stories continues below video…)
Video by Chris Baylor
Davis, who is now chief executive officer of Bob Evans Farms Inc., in turn celebrated the hard work and encouragement of his parents in his acceptance speech for the award and announced the scholarship. Henry Davis died in 2013, but Dolores Davis was present at the Nov. 14 Alumni Association Awards event.
“They saw a vision for their children,” said Davis, who earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from UWM in 1980. “They were my role models.”
Henry Davis not only worked hard, but also was active in his community and church, said Steven Davis. Dolores Davis had received a scholarship to attend Cardinal Stritch College (now University), the first African-American woman to do so. But because of her own mother’s illness, she made the difficult decision to turn down that opportunity to help raise her siblings, said Davis. “She became the wind beneath the wings for others.”
Davis became interested in business thanks to the encouragement of one of his teachers at Messmer High School. Following in the footsteps of his older siblings, he found encouragement and support for his goals at UWM. “I had four high achievers ahead of me,” he said proudly.
“At UWM, I not only got the chance to study business, but to work in business,” said Davis, who has spent his career using innovation to transform retail foods into nationally known brands. The UWM Alumni Association gives the Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize an alumnus/alumna for exemplary achievements over the span of a lifetime.
Like many UWM students at the time, Davis not only worked his way through school, but also was able to participate in internships with local companies such as Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.
“I was able to apply what I was learning in class to what I was doing with the company.”
As a working student, a key resource for Davis was the university’s 24-hour-library. Often he’d go to class, work, nap and then head to the library at midnight or 1 a.m. to study.
Davis attributes the broad, general background he received in business along with supportive faculty for his career success. Two of his professors took the time to write strong letters of recommendations when he applied to the University of Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree. In addition to heading Bob Evans, Davis worked with Kraft Foods for nine years and Pizza Hut for 14 years. He also sits on the board of a number of companies, including Walgreen’s and Marathon Petroleum. In 2005, Black Enterprise Magazine named him one of the 75 Most Powerful Black Men in American Business.
Davis lives in New Albany, Ohio and he and his wife Lynnda give back to the community. She is very involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and he serves as a board member for the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, Operation Feed, which supports the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, and Jobs Ohio. (Ohio governor John Kasich videotaped a message shown at the Alumni Awards ceremony congratulating Davis on the award and thanking him for his leadership in Jobs Ohio.)
The scholarship Davis and his family established will provide support for other first-generation minority university students.
Henry and Dolores Davis provided him the encouragement, Davis said, and UWM gave him the opportunity:
“UWM is where the American dream really does happen.”