Visionary Leader - December 2013

David Peikoff

David Peikoff, graduation photo
David Peikoff graduated from Gallaudet University in 1929.

Activist, organizer, scholarship founder, fundraiser, advocate, journalist, and leader are all words that describe the late David Peikoff, ’29, who served the U.S. and Canadian deaf communities for 70 years. In recognition of his accomplishments, Peikoff has been selected as Gallaudet’s Visionary Leader for the month of December.

Peikoff at his desk reading a journal
Peikoff wrote many articles and letters to raise funds to benefit the deaf community, such as scholarships at his alma mater, and to support the Alumni Association. He volunteered at the Alumni House until the end of his life, at the age of 95 in 1995.
Peikoff with man dressed in traditional Native American headdress and outfit in a stadium
Peikoff at the opening ceremonies for the Tenth International Games for the Deaf, in 1965 at the University of Maryland, College Park, Md. The games were run by the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf and the American Athletic Association of the Deaf, now known as the United States of America Deaf Sports Federation.
Peikoff with wife Polly in front of Peikoff Alumni House
Peikoff married Pauline in 1934. They are pictured in 1987 in front of the Alumni House, which was named in their honor in 1995.
Meisegeiers in front of Peikoff banner hanging near the Peikoff Alumni House
Joyce Meisegeier, daughter of David and Pauline Peikoff, with her husband Professor Emeritus Dr. Richard Meisegeier stand below her father's banner in front of the Alumni House named in his honor. (Photo courtesy Jean Bergey)

Peikoff was born in Yanoschina, Russia in 1900, one of 15 children in his family. When he was a boy, the family relocated to Canada, where Peikoff attended the Manitoba School for the Deaf from 1908 to 1917, then struck out on his own. He supported himself as a linotype operator during his years as a Gallaudet student, still finding time to get involved in campus life. Peikoff was president of the Kappa Gamma Fraternity, and Editor-in-Chief for The Buff and Blue student newspaper. He also played football and ran track, and was manager of the football team for two years. He was also the editor of The Year Book, the forerunner of today’s Tower Clock.

After graduating from Gallaudet, Peikoff married Pauline “Polly” Nathanson (E-’36) in 1932; they were married for 61 years and had two daughters. The Peikoffs moved to Canada, where David first ran a printing business with a partner in Winnipeg, Manitoba, then moved to Toronto, Ontario, to join the family-owned mattress franchise, where he worked for 24 years as service manager. He founded a newspaper for the Ontario Association of the Deaf—the first newspaper for the deaf community in Canada—where he served as editor for 20 years and was president of the organization for 20 years, as well. The Peikoffs moved to the United States in 1961; David Peikoff began working at Gallaudet the same year and retired in 1970.

The list of Peikoff’s accolades is extensive: He spearheaded campaigns that raised more than $1 million dollars for his alma mater between 1961 and 1970, including $520,000 for the Gallaudet Alumni Association College Centennial Fund when he was a director of Development at Gallaudet. He was noted for his work on behalf of his fellow alumni as president of the Gallaudet College Alumni Association from 1954 to 1961 and as a member of the association’s Board of Directors from 1939 to 1954. For his efforts, in 1961 Peikoff became the first person to receive the Alumnus of the Year award from Kappa Gamma Fraternity.

in costume with top hat and curly moustache posed under cartoon picture dressed the same
Peikoff often performed at various fundraising events. He also was the "star" in a Gallaudet 1925-1926 production, The Man Upstairs, presented by the Saturday Night Dramatic Club.

An activist and advocate, Peikoff channeled his energy to bring about equal treatment for deaf people. “I felt it was my duty,” he said. Peikoff used his position with the Ontario Association of the Deaf to work with the Canadian government and the Ontario Department of Education improve the quality of education for deaf children, and he succeeded in having several schools for deaf students reopen. He also helped create the Deaf Education Fund, and while he was executive secretary for the Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD), he established the McDermid Scholarship Fund in 1945, now part of CAD’s Canadian Deaf Scholarship Fund, making it possible for hundreds of deaf Canadians to matriculate to Gallaudet.

Peikoff was also instrumental in securing employment for deaf people. As a licensed placement officer for the Dominion Manpower Commission, he helped more than 200 deaf people find jobs during World War II. In addition, Peikoff helped empower the deaf community by creating the Western Canada Association of the Deaf in 1923 and the Canadian Hearing Society in 1940. He was active with the National Association of the Deaf, as well, serving as the organization’s chief fund raiser from 1949 to 1960.

The awards Peikoff received in recognition of his achievements are too numerous to list. They include Honorary Master of Arts (1950) and Honorary Doctor of Laws (1957) degrees from Gallaudet, the World Federation of the Deaf’s International Solidarity Merit Award, and a gold medal of honor from the British Deaf Association, He was also inducted into the halls of fame for the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf, the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf, and the National Congress of Jewish Deaf. Additionally, in 1987, the University of Alberta Deaf Studies Department named its endowed-professor position the David Peikoff Chair of Deafness Studies.

Peikoff remained active at Gallaudet and in many organizations for deaf people after he retired, despite suffering a stroke in 1971. He volunteered at the alumni house until the end of his life in 1995 at the age of 95. He will always be known as “a man with the energy of six men.”

Gallaudet’s iconic “Ole Jim,” built in 1880 as the college’s first gymnasium, was renamed Peikoff Alumni House in 1995 by the Board of Trustees as a tribute to the Peikoffs. They also have a street named after them in Ottowa, the capital of Canada.

*All photos courtesy Gallaudet Archives unless otherwise indicated.

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