In 1986, Dr. Jesse Peel of Atlanta, Georgia, established the J. Woolard Peel University Scholars Award, along with his mother, Helen Peel of Everetts, North Carolina, in order to memorialize his father. Jesse and his mother were among the first 10 families to help establish what is now known as the EC Scholars Program.
Woolard Peel graduated from North Carolina State University, and Helen attended Louisburg College. Jesse completed his undergraduate work and medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill, but Jesse and Helen decided to establish this scholarship at East Carolina University because Woolard often said ECU was the future of eastern North Carolina. They had also heard that the EC Scholars Program did a good job of connecting the donors with the students who received their awards. Jesse and Helen both got involved with the Scholars Selection events—Jesse annually served as a judge and Helen made personal presentations to scholarship recipients at their high schools' award days.
In 1995, they increased the corpus of the J. Woolard Peel University Scholars Award and Helen established a life estate on three of her family farms in Martin County to fund a distinguished professorship. When Helen passed away in June 2005, the three farms in her life estate were sold and the funds were used to create the J. Woolard and Helen Peel Distinguished Professorship in Religious Studies. It was endowed at $500,000 in July 2007 and the first Peel Professor will be on campus in fall 2008. The sale of the three farms also added $150,000 to the J. Woolard Peel University Scholars Award, bringing its value to approximately $250,000.
In addition, Helen's estate made a bequest to ECU's Medical & Health Sciences Foundation to set up a Core Competencies Program in the Brody School of Medicine. Jesse has promised more funds for this project. At present, the medical campus is collaborating with various units on Main Campus to develop this program further.
Jesse's involvement with ECU continues to grow. He is now a member of the Chancellor's Diversity Council, chaired by Provost Smith and interim provost and vice chancellor Academic and Student Affairs, Dr. Marilyn Sheerer. As often as he can, he travels from his Atlanta home to attend meetings.
Although it seems almost impossible, Jesse's vision and commitment have continued to grow. He has set up a retained life estate planned gift, as his mother did. The life estate on Jesse's properties, three family farms in Martin County, has a value of approximately $1 million. This will create two distinguished professorships and provide unrestricted funds to support the newly established Institute for Social Diversity for East Carolina.
The Dr. Jesse R. Peel Distinguished Professorship in Social Diversity in the Department of Sociology will help attract and retain an outstanding faculty member for that department. The Dr. Jesse R. Peel Distinguished Professorship in Social Diversity in the College of Education will enable that college to attract and retain experts within the field of education. The Institute for Social Diversity Fund will provide support through the Department of Sociology.
Jesse's generosity will add to the quality of leadership and teaching in the Department of Sociology and the College of Education. Funding for the Institute for Social Diversity will increase awareness among the student population about the importance of diversity and understanding within the University community. The multi-pronged approach that Jesse has funded will increase the ECU community's ability to exchange ideas on these important social issues, serving East Carolina's faculty, staff, students and region well in the future.