Attending the Clemson University School of Architecture was a life-changing experience for William “Bill” H. Pelham, AIA, ’77 and M’81, especially the semester he spent in Genoa, Italy. Immersed in design and culture at Clemson’s first Fluid Campus satellite — the Charles E. Daniel Center for Building Research and Urban Studies, also known as “the Villa” — he describes the trip as eye-opening and confidence-building, navigating his way through Western Europe to sketch, study and admire what he calls “phenomenal architecture.”
Now, desiring to create more life-altering opportunities for talented architecture students, Bill and Laura Pelham, art and education philanthropists, are giving the Clemson University School of Architecture, in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities (CAAH), a new gift of $3 million. With this donation, Bill and Laura Pelham become Clemson University’s newest Academic Cornerstone Partners.
“I am so grateful to Bill and Laura Pelham for their generosity and their visionary leadership that will enable more students to pursue careers in architecture,” said Clemson University President Jim Clements. “This gift will pave the way for students who may not have had the opportunity to study architecture otherwise. I believe that the best mix of the best minds produces the best outcomes, and Bill and Laura are helping us bring more of those top minds to our School of Architecture.”
Strengthening Clemson’s relationship with the Fine Arts Center (FAC) in Greenville, South Carolina, this gift will provide need-based scholarships for talented students who attended the Fine Arts Center’s architectural program: “Art of Architecture.” These highly qualified FAC graduates might not otherwise be able to pursue architectural studies while remaining in the state.
Additionally, their gift will support an endowment for Emerging Scholars, creating the architecture track for this program, and provide unrestricted funds for the School of Architecture and CAAH.
“The beauty of this gift is how strongly it connects to the fundamental purpose of education, and even more, to education as an ongoing project,” said Nicholas Vazsonyi, CAAH dean. “We have a responsibility to all the children in our state, especially the ones who are not growing up with the expectation that they will attend college. We need to reach them as early as possible and instill in them the idea that going to College is not out of their reach, but rather something they should expect of themselves.”
Offering degrees in architecture, landscape architecture, historic preservation and resilient urban design, the School of Architecture educates students to understand and address design issues affecting health, well-being and quality of life, while improving and preserving built, natural and social environments in the state of South Carolina and across the globe.
This gift not only provides opportunities to retain the state’s top talent and create a pipeline of undergraduates exposed to interdisciplinary research, public service and design activism, but also supports instruction and facilities.
“I noticed in my freshman year that there were a number of students who had chosen their majors and their university, but they had absolutely no idea what they were going to be studying. A lot of them transferred after the first semester because of that. The Fine Arts Center’s architecture program avoids that issue by exposing students to many aspects of an architectural education while in high school,” said Bill Pelham. “And Emerging Scholars is a way of making students aware of other possibilities. There are few architects on the I-95 corridor, so it is a great way to give them insight into the profession. The other piece of it is that an undergraduate architecture degree is pretty good training for just about any profession.”
Earning a Bachelor of Arts in pre-architecture in 1977 and a master’s in architecture in 1981, alumnus Bill Pelham has generously given back to Clemson University and the School of Architecture over the years. Wanting to give back to the University that had prepared him for his career, gifts totaling $2.8 million were given through the Jean T. and Heyward G. Pelham Foundation to support the School of Architecture, the Clemson Architectural Foundation (CAF) and other initiatives since 2007. Two endowments established earlier, one for the Director of the School of Architecture and one for the CAF will be increased, providing unrestricted funding forever.
Along with the Pelham family’s support of Clemson and the CAF, they also support the Fine Arts Center, the Peace Center, the Warehouse Theatre, Christ Church Episcopal School, Camperdown Academy and many other arts and education organizations, all in Greenville, South Carolina.
In 2020, he received the Philanthropic Spirit Award from the Marsh & McLennan Agency. The award “honors an outstanding individual or organization that fosters charitable giving and is dedicated to giving back to the Upstate in a significant manner.”
Today, he remains the president of Pelham Architects LLC, which he founded in 1983. The company specializes in residential projects, including new houses, renovations, additions and historic preservation.
Although Laura Pelham did not attend Clemson University, her father did. She grew up frequenting Clemson events and then married a Clemson alumnus — even though she attended the University of South Carolina, earning a Bachelor of Science in nursing. She retired from the Greenville Hospital System as a registered nurse and continues to support art and education causes.
They have two daughters, Mary Catherine, an Auburn University and Georgia State alumna, and Ana, an incoming freshman at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Image Credits: Clemson University Relations. | Photographs and material from Clemson University Relations used by permission.