It wasn't long after graduating from Elon College that J. Early Danieley came right back to the classroom. And between then and spring 2015 when he finally retired from teaching, the chemistry department — and so much more — was forever changed.
“When he [first started teaching at] Elon, chemistry was a service department that didn’t really have majors— it was just to serve other departments,” said Karl Sienerth, Karl Sienerth, professor and Chemistry department chair, who joined Elon’s faculty in 1998. “He was one of the people who helped transform it into a department that would stand alone.”
Gene Grimley III, professor of chemistry, former department chair and longtime friend of Danieley, came to Elon in 1987 to assist Danieley in his overhaul of the chemistry department.
“He had lab drawers full of papers,” Grimley said. “All these old tests. I looked at them and said, ‘Oh my gosh.’ He put some tests out there — they were long tests.”
For the 10 years following, Grimley and Danieley — along with Ray Covington, who was also assisting in the revitalization of the chemistry department — went go to the YMCA together at 6 a.m. before morning classes.
“You get close to people early in the morning,” Grimley said.
If anyone had a question or concern about the chemistry department or the university as a whole, they knew they could ask Danieley — and he would have an answer.
“He was a good, sage, wise person who you could go to,” Sienerth said. “He was humble.”
Sienerth recalled how, unlike many chemistry professors who teach to non-majors, Danieley never glazed over the tough stuff.
“He would not [shy away from the math-oriented stuff]. He stuck to his guns,” he said. “In terms of his teaching, he was rigorous and he felt that students should understand how the world works.”
Junior Alessandra Brainard took CHM 130: "Introduction to Chemistry" with Danieley and recognized the expectation he had for his students.
“He would call every student to the board to perform chemical bonds far outside of our spectrum of knowledge," she said. "He desired everyone to face a challenge and aspire to rise above the occasion as well as demonstrate a passion that he exuberantly possessed within the subject of chemistry.
“In turn, students pushed themselves everyday with a desire to meet the Doctor's standards and demonstrate to him their comprehension in order to impress him.”
Senior Jade Marson says that Danieley taught like no other teacher she had had before. Throughout the semester, Danieley would take each student out to lunch, and Marson remembers her turn, when they ventured to a local hot dog restaurant.
“When we sat down, I didn't ask a single question I had prepared because Dr. Danieley had immediately starting asking about me,” Marson said. “He genuinely wanted to hear all about my life, my family, my friends and my past”
Sienerth believes that of Danieley's Elon legacies, the most important is rooted in Elon’s students and faculty.
“I think a lot of what we call the ‘Elon Personality’ was created or engendered by Earl,” he said. “Keeping Elon a giving and welcoming place [as well as] broadly welcoming and diverse. Continuing to strive in those areas would be keeping him alive in terms of who he was and how he impacted the university.”