Georgia Southern University hosted its annual Gratitude Gala to recognize key donors for their longtime support of institutional initiatives. The event was held last Friday at the JW Marriott Plant Riverside in Savannah where honorees were presented with awards.

“The Gratitude Gala is a chance for us to celebrate you,” Trip Addison, vice president for University Advancement, said to the group. “Each one of you has gone above and beyond in your support of the University, and for each student who is chasing an incredible dream, your support is helping them to take hold of it. Because of supporters like you, more than $3 million in scholarships were awarded this year.”

The 2022 recipients are:

2022 President’s Visionary Award: Karl E. Peace

Karl E. Peace, Ph.D., grew up humbly in southwest Georgia and worked seven part-time jobs to help fund his college education at Georgia Southern. His story is one of perseverance and determination and he has made it a mission to give back. 

After graduating from Georgia Southern in 1963, Peace received a Ph.D. in biostatistics and made his mark in the pharmaceutical industry. Discouraged by the lack of public health programs in the state of Georgia, Peace named and endowed the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health (JPHCOPH) after his late wife.

Through the years, Peace has endowed numerous scholarships to help recruit outstanding students to the University. He created the Karl E. Peace Center for Biostatistics on campus, along with JPHCOPH faculty chair positions and graduate assistantships. He also established scholarships for students from Baker County, where he grew up, so they can experience similar opportunities that led him to a stellar career. In total, Peace has created 14 endowed funds at Georgia Southern that generate more than $200,000 annually for the University. 

Georgia Southern honored Karl E. Peace for his lifetime support and transformational giving to the University with the President’s Visionary Award.

2022 Legacy Award: Billy and JoAnn Hickman

Billy and JoAnn Hickman have been loyal supporters of Georgia Southern for more than 50 years. Billy, a 1974 graduate of Georgia Southern with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in accounting, has been a partner with Dabbs, Hickman, Hill and Cannon, LLP, since 1984. Billy successfully ran for state senate to fill the position left vacant after Jack Hill’s untimely death in 2020.

Billy and JoAnn endowed the Billy and JoAnn Hickman Master of Accounting Scholarship, which awards outstanding students pursuing a graduate degree in accounting.

The Hickmans also established a deferred gift commitment in 2016 to provide funding for a Chair in Accounting that allows the school to recruit and retain top talent for educating our future accountants.

Georgia Southern honored Billy and JoAnn with the 2022 Legacy Award for their many years of giving and for their deferred charitable commitment to the Parker College of Business and the School of Accountancy.

2022 President’s Innovator Award: Paul and Elizabeth Gillespie

Paul Gillespie, a 1974 health and physical education graduate, and his wife, Elizabeth, have led the way in providing funding for various areas of need throughout the campus.

Their first major gift was a gift in honor of Elizabeth’s father when they established the Robert S. Haywood Family Scholarship. The scholarship helped children of former Army Rangers attend Georgia Southern. Throughout the years, they have endowed scholarships for the University’s Performing Arts Center and Honors College, have established scholarships for University Athletics and provided funding to support the athletic move to Division I. Most recently, they assisted with funding for the Anthony P. Tippins Family Indoor Practice Facility.

Georgia Southern honored Paul and Elizabeth Gillespie for their True Blue spirit with the President’s Innovator Award.

2022 President’s Ambassador Award: Ronald and Rebecca Tiller

Ronald (Ron) Tiller, a 1968 College of Business graduate, has been instrumental in the Parker College of Business “Building a Legacy” campaign while Rebecca (Becky) Tiller, a 1969 sociology graduate, provides funding for annual scholarships in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences for sociology students.

Both are also avid supporters of University Athletics as “Transition 20” members, offering support to Eagles’ football. In addition, the Tillers invested in the new Jack and Ruth Ann Hill  Convocation Center and the Anthony P. Tippins Family Indoor Practice Facility. 

Georgia Southern honored Ron and Becky Tiller with the President’s Ambassador Award for their unwavering support of Georgia Southern academics and athletics.