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The Great Connector: The Influence of Derryle Peace

Derryle Peace presents at the Alumni Ambassador Forum on March 7, 2023, in Commerce.
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Texas A&M University-Commerce
Derryle Peace presents at the Alumni Ambassador Forum on March 7, 2023, in Commerce.

The retired director of Alumni Engagement at TAMUC built relationships with Lions across generations. A new endowment will continue his legacy.

For Derryle Peace, the word “connection” embodies a central theme that resonates across his years at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Throughout his career as director of Alumni Engagement, Peace connected with hundreds of alumni, drawing them back to their alma mater. He was also well-known by many students, the next generation of Lion alums.

Although he retired from A&M-Commerce in 2023, Peace remains firmly linked to the university by almost a quarter-century of memories from his time as a student and staff member. He also remains connected through his continued service as an adjunct instructor in the counseling department and as an active Alumni Association member. To further solidify this commitment, he and his wife established The Carolyn & Derryle G. Peace Endowment, which binds them to A&M-Commerce in perpetuity.

The Endowment

The Carolyn & Derryle G. Peace Endowment is unique in that it establishes scholarships for “hard-working students who do not have the most stellar GPAs.” To be eligible, students must be in good standing with a GPA of 3.0 or less.

“Our scholarship is designated for those middle-of-the-road and non-traditional students who may not receive the top-tier scholarships offered by the university,” Peace said.

The couple established the scholarship because they understand that while higher education transforms lives, it can be interrupted by financial roadblocks.

“Many students struggle academically because of the stress associated with their financial needs,” Peace said. “We hope these funds will alleviate the financial stress on the students and their families and alter the trajectory of their lives.”

Peace’s College Years

Peace first set foot on the Commerce campus as a teenager. His high school basketball coach was a university alum who encouraged Peace to check out the university for himself.

Although Peace had no idea where Commerce was located, he wrote the basketball coach a letter to express his interest and provide his stats. The coach invited him to campus for a basketball tryout. After spending the weekend at A&M-Commerce (known then as East Texas State University), Peace made his decision.

“I went back knowing this was the place I wanted to come,” Peace said.

On his first day of college in the Fall 1970 semester, Peace went to Gibson’s department store in Commerce and purchased a few supplies for his dorm. Then, he went to his new home—a room in Sikes Hall on the west side of campus—and went to bed. He proceeded to sleep through first-year orientation the following day.

“I missed freshman orientation; I never went,” Peace said. “[My classmates] had to tell me what happened…That’s why I had to learn how to connect with people; I wasn’t paying attention!” he laughed.

Lion Life

Despite his rough start, Peace picked up steam and became an active and involved student. Although he was offered a walk-on position with the basketball team, he decided not to play. Instead, he doubled down on classwork and enjoyed an active student life in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and several other student organizations.

Reflecting on Greek life, Peace said, “You didn’t want to go home because you were afraid to miss something! Every day was a new experience for me. I met so many people from not just rural Northeast Texas, but from around the world…”

Although the early 70s were still a tumultuous time for race relations in the South, Peace said that, as a Black college student, he rarely experienced overt racism on campus and generally felt accepted.

“The school had desegregated probably six years before I came,” Peace said, “but still, the African American population was small enough that I knew every African American [student] on the campus.”

He remembers volunteering for a weekend multicultural “living experience” organized by the renowned Dr. David Talbot, the university's first Black professor, who actively worked to promote positive race relations on campus. The event was held in Binnion Hall, and the purpose was for students of various cultures to get acquainted with each other. For the exercise, Peace was paired with a white male student.

“We spent time talking, learning about each other, and ultimately gaining insight about not only another culture, but about [ourselves],” Peace said.

Peace graduated with a double major in psychology and sociology in 1974 and a master’s in counseling in 1975. After graduation, his career path led away from Commerce for almost 30 years before circling back to campus in 2004.

Career Journey

Peace’s first full-time job was actually pre-graduation in the substance abuse ward at Terrell State Hospital. From there, he worked as a caseworker at a children’s home, leading to a directorship at a halfway house in Dallas and another directorship for Girls Inc., Dallas. After that, he worked for 12 years as executive director for the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, a non-profit that mentored at-risk children. Then, he received a phone call that brought him back to A&M-Commerce; he was hired in 2004 as director of Alumni Engagement and executive director of the Alumni Association.

Improving TAMUC

Among the many highlights and accomplishments of his career at TAMUC, Peace is perhaps most proud of bringing the new Alumni Center to campus.

“I think if there’s any legacy that I’ll leave, it's this building,” Peace said. “When I came, we were housed in the old student center, and with GPS, you couldn’t find us in that building because, in my opinion, it was a leftover space…”

Peace oversaw the process of garnering approvals for a new Alumni Center, executing a ground lease with the university, hiring a builder, and helping design the building. The result was a welcoming new Alumni Center in the center of campus. Its visible presence helps make students aware of the Alumni Center and curious to find out more about the Alumni Association.

He’s also proud of the Brick Garden project, which he helped design and implement. The Brick Garden is a beautiful area behind the Alumni Center featuring bricks etched with the names of alumni and their loved ones. Alums may purchase and personalize the bricks, and all proceeds support student scholarships.

The Connector

Perhaps Peace’s most significant impact as alumni director was the hundreds of connections he made with current and future Lions. Peace knows how to put people at ease right away, and many get a sense that they’ve known him for years, even if they’ve just met. He knew the secret to building relationships with Lions of every age and generation, which was his favorite part of the job.

“There are people around campus who say I know everybody. I don’t, but I’m looking to know everybody,” Peace clarified.

Stories of Connection

One time, Peace was driving a golf cart to the stadium for a football game when he stopped to pick up a young man who was walking to the game. During the ride, Peace asked the student why he chose A&M-Commerce. The student said, “My daddy came here.” They soon discovered that the student's father was one of Peace's personal friends and a big brother in his fraternity.

Recently, Peace was buying a shirt from a Dallas-area department store when he struck up a conversation with the cashier. During their chat, Peace discovered that the girl had just enrolled at A&M-Commerce. “And so, I got out a business card and made sure she had my number…” Peace said.

Another time, Peace helped a fellow alum reconnect with his mother’s past. It was a Friday afternoon, and things were quiet in the Alumni Center as the week was wrapping up. A man walked in and asked to use the restroom. On his way out, he pointed to a piece of historical memorabilia on display and said, “East Texas State; that’s when I was here.”

Soon, the man and Peace were looking through yearbooks together. When they turned to a page that featured a photo of the man’s mother, who had also graduated from Commerce, they were astonished to discover a handwritten note on the page from his mother to her friend, Rachel.

“Those kinds of things happen constantly,” Peace said with a smile. “That’s my existence.”

One of Peace’s most fateful connections with a fellow Lion may have saved his life. It was 2017, and Peace was pumping gas at a station in Caddo Mills, Texas, when he started to feel sick. Noell Sutton, an A&M-Commerce alum, was also at the station.

“We have surmised now that we got off the interstate about the same time, and we were two pumps away from each other,” Peace recalled. “When [Sutton] came to my car, he knew I was having a stroke. He had some medical background, so he knew what was happening.”

Thanks to Sutton’s quick action, Peace received prompt medical help. Peace said that’s a Lion connection he will treasure forever.

“He was an angel sent because, like me, he had no plans of stopping in Caddo Mills,” he said.

A Lasting Legacy

Although Peace retired from his full-time position in May 2023, he’s “just one phone call away” from anyone who needs him. Through the scholarships produced by the Carolyn and Derryle G. Peace Endowment, students will continue to benefit from the Peaces' generosity and spirit of service.

“We are grateful for Derryle and Carolyn's generosity along with the countless connections Derryle fostered during his nearly two decades of service,” said Devin Girod, vice-president of Philanthropy and Engagement at A&M-Commerce. “Derryle has an uncanny ability to dig deep until he finds a commonality. Everyone feels special when they are with him, and Carolyn's kind spirit has the same power. It's fitting that they will continue creating connections as their planned scholarship binds them with future Lions.”

Upon his retirement in 2023, Peace requested that donations in his honor be directed to the Alumni Legacy Scholarship Fund.