Joe and Melinda Connell to be honored at Helen Ross McNabb Center’s Spirit Award Dinner
Joe and Melinda Connell

Joe and Melinda Connell are to be honored at the annual Spirit Award Dinner benefiting the Helen Ross McNabb Center. The event will be held Thursday, March 23 at the Knoxville Convention Center, starting at 6 p.m. 

The Spirit Award Dinner began in 2004 to recognize individuals who have supported the efforts of the Helen Ross McNabb Center and have worked selflessly to improve their community as a whole. Joe and Melinda Connell have made a lasting impact on East Tennessee. Their dedication to helping others shows through their involvement with many of Knoxville’s nonprofits and service organizations, including the Helen Ross McNabb Center. Joe has more than 30 years of experience in the real estate and development field, and Melinda has dedicated herself to her passion of working with children. Both of them have improved lives through their devotion to the community.

“Joe and Melinda actively demonstrate the Helen Ross McNabb Center’s mission of improving lives through their persistent support, guidance and generosity. This couple’s wholehearted advocacy of the Center is deeply appreciated,” said Jerry Vagnier, Helen Ross McNabb Center president and chief executive officer. “With support from partners like the Connells, the Center serves thousands of children and adults experiencing mental health, addiction and social challenges in Tennessee. Their investment of time, resources and talents makes our organization better and the results can be seen in the lives of those who have been positively impacted each day.”

Joe and Melinda became involved with the Helen Ross McNabb Center in 1999 when Joe began his work on the Center’s Board of Directors. From 1999 to 2005 and then again from 2007 to 2014, Joe served on the board. He led the organization as the chair of the board and as a member of the finance and nominating committees. His insight and business expertise created a sense of calm and confidence during a time of immense change and growth for the Center. Joe and Melinda also led and participated in several campaigns that raised nearly $12 million to provide access to affordable, quality behavioral health care and support services for 26,000 individuals each year. Specifically, funds raised have provided access to care for uninsured children facing serious emotional disturbances and uninsured adults who have severe and persistent mental illnesses.

The Connells have also supported the Helen Ross McNabb Foundation’s annual special events throughout the years, including the Spirit Award Dinner and the Bob Kesling and Bert Bertelkamp Golf Tournament. In addition, because of their enthusiasm for tennis, they enjoy supporting the Knoxville Challenger, a USTA Pro Circuit event, that benefits the Helen Ross McNabb Center.

In their 42 years of marriage, Joe and Melinda, together, have worked tirelessly to serve East Tennessee. They have helped many people along the way, including the children, adults and families served by the Helen Ross McNabb Center.

"Melinda and I continue to be inspired by everyone at the Helen Ross McNabb Center for their compassion and dedication to the people they serve,” said Joe Connell. “We have partnered with the Center for nearly two decades now, and we are thankful for the opportunity to see firsthand the positive impact of behavioral health care in our community."

For Spirit Award Dinner tickets or more information, please visit or contact Beth Farrow at 865-329-9030 or at