Life Trustee James B. Powell celebrates President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley '46 at College Chapel
James B. Powell, an Elon Life Trustee, shared entertaining and illuminating stories about the life and career of President J. Earl Danieley ’46 at College Chapel on Thursday, March 11.
After a musical performance by Danieley’s nephew, Jacob Danieley ’11, Powell spoke about President Emeritus Danieley’s upbringing on a tobacco farm not far from Elon’s campus and the role it played in shaping his life.
“He had the advantage of being reared on a family farm in an environment that was conducive to building force of character … an instinct to lead and have a concern for his fellow human beings,” Powell said.
Powell gave an overview of Danieley’s ancestral ties to Elon: his great-great-grandfather, A.F. Isley, served on the board of Graham College, a predecessor to Elon in the 1850s, and also taught at the Cable School, a two-room schoolhouse on the land adjacent to Rhodes Stadium. Another relative, Frank Isley, worked to clear the land upon which Elon now stands.
Powell also shared a little-known fact about Danieley’s early days at Elon: He was a football prospect.
“The football coach saw this big strapping fellow around campus, and he asked Earl to come out for the team. I can certainly understand his interest – have you ever shaken hands with Earl Danieley?” Powell said, eliciting a round of laughter from the audience.
Powell also shared the story of how Danieley found out he’d been elected president of Elon College. Danieley and his family had moved to Baltimore, Md., so he could pursue postdoctoral research at Johns Hopkins University. One evening, he received a call from a friend who was working at Elon. He told Danieley he’d just been elected president of the college. After he hung up the phone, Danieley went to break the news to his wife, Verona.
“Earl said, ‘They elected a new president of the college.’ She said, ‘They did? Who?’ Earl paused for a second and said, ‘Me,’” Powell recalled. “Verona then uttered an expression that Earl would never forget; she said, ‘Poor Earl!’” knowing the long hours the job would require.
In reviewing the many advances Elon made during the Danieley presidency – including the college’s first true fundraising job and the construction of many campus facilities – Powell also noted Danieley’s strong, calm leadership during the political turmoil of the Vietnam War years.
“Earl certainly didn’t experience peace and quiet around the campus,” he said. “But Elon had the perfect man – they had found a brilliant man with country-boy, walkaround sense.”
In closing, Powell returned to the idea of force of character, which has become a defining characteristic of Danieley and his contributions to Elon.
“He’s been doing much more than running the institution and teaching chemistry,” he said. “This gets us back to what Earl Danieley is all about. He’s been developing character in his charges throughout the education process.”
Elon’s Founders Day celebrations conclude tonight with a “fireside chat” at 7 p.m. in Whitley Auditorium. The Founders Day trivia contest concludes tonight at 6 p.m. Faculty, staff and students are invited to view poster presentations about Founders Day and Danieley in Belk Library and Moseley Center throughout the week. Also, please click the link to the right to view an audio slideshow about Danieley’s legacy at Elon.