(L-R) USC president C. L. Max Nikias, USC trustee Verna B. Dauterive and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas take up commemorative shovels to celebrate the event. (photo/Ziva Santop - Steve Cohn Photography)
Verna & Peter Dauterive put jewel in USC Trojans CrownThe eagerly awaited groundbreaking ceremony was held on September 5 for the first interdisciplinary social sciences building at USC .
Danny J. Bakewell Jr.Sentinel Contributing Writer The recent groundbreaking ceremony for the Verna and Peter Dauterive Hall on the USC campus was borne of a pledge made by USC Trustee Dr. Verna B. Dauterive for $30 million, in honor of her life’s work and that of her late husband Peter Dauterive. The gift is the largest made by an African American to an institution of higher learning. Once completed, it will be the first interdisciplinary social sciences building at USC and will serve as a research hub for brilliant minds working together to seek solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. Verna and Peter Dauterive have been a part of the USC landscape for over half a century.
While speaking to the Los Angeles Sentinel on the USC campus, Dauterive gave a brief view of her life and experiences, first as a student at USC, as an educator with LAUSD, as a USC Trustee and as an alumna and visionary – along with her late husband– as part of a select group of alumni with lifelong ties to the university.
The conversation took place with Dr. Dauterive and Danny J. Bakewell, Jr., (for the Sentinel) a few days before the groundbreaking.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL (LAS): This must be an exciting week for you?
DR. VERNA DAUTERIVE (DVD): It really is … a lot of excitement going on!
LAS: So the groundbreaking is for the Peter and Verna Dauterive Hall?
DVD: … well it is an interdisciplinary building for social sciences … but because of the long wording, they decided to call it Verna and Peter Dauterive Hall … but you’re right, it is the first interdisciplinary social science building here on USC’s campus.
LAS: So, how excited are you … how are you feeling about this?
DVD: I’m feeling very humble in one way and very excited in a different way … very happy to come to this point.
LAS: You and Mr. Dauterive met on this campus … how long ago was that?
DVD: Oh, way back in 1943 … a few years ago (smiling) …
LAS: A few years ago …you must have been just a baby (smiling)…
DVD: Yeah, just barely born (smiling) …
LAS: What inspired you to make such a large donation to USC?
DVD: What inspired me was the superior education that I received here … USC gave me the skills and the tools that I needed in my profession, and even beyond that, they gave me a very comprehensive education, which included the Arts and the Humanities. I found the experience to be a life-changing experience that guided my husband and me throughout our lives together. The education and the experience opened doors that we never could have imagined …
LAS: And I assume that since you guys met in 1943, there must not have been a large African American population on the USC campus like there is now?
DVD: Oh no … very few, you could’ve counted them on one hand … but we just lived and hoped, and decided that we would do everything that we could to have large numbers of people who look like us … and that’s why I’m so proud now of the university.
LAS: In my recent Black alumni meeting, they told me that this year, USC accepted a little over 800 African Americans students so it must feel good to see that the numbers have grown tremendously.
DVD: Oh, it really does … sitting in the trustees’ meetings, my ears are always open to hear how many African American students we have; and if I don’t hear it I’m quick to ask the question … to be sure that they have access to all the beauty and all the resources that this campus has to offer.
LAS: Beyond the building itself, what do you want your and Peter’s legacy to be at USC?
DVD: We’d like our legacy to be one about two people who really benefited from this university; who had a life-changing experience at this university; and two people who were deeply appreciative and never forgot to reach back to help those who followed us … because when we came to this university, we were able to enjoy it, to benefit from it because of our forebears who had invested in it. So we want to be remembered as two people who did not have short memories, but were willing to reach back to be sure that the university is even better now than the university that was handed down to us, and beyond that, as stewards of USC, to hold in trust scores of generations of students yet unborn.
LAS: Now, give us some back ground … a little historical perspective about you and Peter … where you were born … what brought you to California?
DVD: We both were born in Louisiana, but we didn’t meet each other until we were here on campus. I grew up in Shreveport; my father was a Pullman porter and my mother was a teacher and principal in the field of education. I was the valedictorian at Ingersoll Elementary School, and back then we didn’t have middle school, just one high school called Central Colored High School. I was the valedictorian in high school and Wiley College invited me to attend. I served as a reader of exams for various professors, which helped to pay for my tuition. Wiley had a great debate team and won when it debated USC. I grew up in the United Methodist Church and left the day after graduation from Wiley to enroll at USC,which was founded by the United Methodist Church.
Peter, (who passed away in 2002) on the other hand, was born in New Iberia, but he grew up, more or less in New Orleans. He went to school there and was a member of the Roman Catholic Church. He attended Xavier University for one year, then he went into the army. When he came to Los Angeles, he used his GI bill, and was able to use that money to attend USC. He was president of Alpha Psi Alpha fraternity, and he was in the business school. At that time, the business school was over in the old barracks, and he was in the top six in his class. So it was USC that got him his first job with Broadway Federal Savings. Later, he organized and became Founding President and CEO of the Founders Savings and Loan Association, where a large portion of their business was providing loans to Black Churches throughout the community.
LAS: Who had the greater love for USC – you or Peter?
DVD: Oh my goodness … we both just loved USC, but I think I might have had a little edge on him.
According to the pictorial rendering, the Verna and Peter Dauterive Hall when completed, will blend in nicely with the present, physical environment of the campus, with graceful arches – offset in places by its Gothic flourishes. It’ll be a six-story, 110,000 square-foot building that will evoke the dignified feel of USC’s most beloved buildings.
In addition, it (building) promises to bring faculty, fellows, graduate students and undergraduates together to foster interdisciplinary collaboration among research groups from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the USC Marshall School of Business, the USC Gould School of Law, the USC Price School of Public Policy, and other schools and departments.
USC president C. L. Max Nikias stated, “This structure will forever stand in testament to Dr. Dauterive’s visionary philanthropy, as well as the longstanding dedication of her and her late husband to the university and its mission to educate the leaders of the future and produce work that will change the world.”
On hand for the actual groundbreaking ceremonies were USC Trustee, Dr. Verna Dauterive, President C.L. Max Nikias, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Elizabeth Garrett, Director of the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center, Professor Dana Goldman, Mr. Leonard Schaeffer, and a host of invited guests and students.
The social science building is slated to be completed in summer 2014.