Guest post by Meg Brown, Head, Exhibition Services and E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Librarian
A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of spending a magical evening with Jerry and Bruce Chappell, the namesakes of the Jerry and Bruce Chappell Family Gallery near the main entrance of Perkins Library on Duke’s West Campus.
Jerry was a member of our Library Advisory Board for 12 years. She and Bruce have long been generous supporters of the Libraries’ exhibition program, and they have always been very kind to me personally. Sadly, Jerry passed away a few days after our visit, on November 6, 2023, and I’m so grateful to have had such a wonderful evening with an amazing, warm, loving woman.
I was there with Susan Berndt of Duke Alumni Engagement and Development. It was a beautiful night, and Jerry took us through her garden and shared stories of special people who taught her about plants. She spoke with gratitude of the time she spent with her mother in the yard. She asked me about my mother, and she listened with interest. She toured us through her book-filled home, including a room with an extensive genealogy collection. She spoke about researching her family history and how it was all intertwined with her studies years ago at Duke, and how she never lost her love of learning. She worried aloud about new generations of people who don’t appreciate books, and we commiserated about a future full of digital history. But together we tried to look on the bright side of all of the opportunities for research this might bring.
We all sat down and talked about the library, and about the future of the library exhibition program. Bruce and Jerry told us stories about what Duke had meant to them. They explained that it was fun, it was extraordinary, it was hard work, and it was family. One of Jerry’s favorite professors was Dr. Robert Durden, a professor of history and author of several books about the history of this institution. It turned out that Durden’s mother was also Jerry’s housemother when she was a Duke undergraduate in the Woman’s College. She spoke of how important those relationships were, and how she always felt welcome there. She spoke of Duke even today as an extension of her family, her sorority sisters, her classmates, her teachers, the new students and alumni she meets all around the world.
That night, Jerry treated me like family. She asked me about my work, my kids, my passions. She hugged me when I left and she thanked me. She held my hand and I felt appreciated, like she wanted to make sure I knew I was doing good work. All that the Chappells asked of me that night was that I make the library a place where people feel inspired—and in Jerry’s honor, I hope I am able to always fulfill that request.
The next time you visit Perkins Library, I hope you will look up and see the Chappells’ name on the gallery near the main entrance. And I hope the exhibitions there will inspire you to feel that Duke is still a welcoming place.
Thank you, Jerry, for everything.