PEABODY — When George Peabody gave away money, he wanted to be certain his efforts would show.
That’s why the 19th-century millionaire, this city’s namesake and favorite son, often earmarked his donations for education.
“We’re not even sure how many schools he built,” said Bill Power of the Peabody Historical Society.
Up to 35 survive, mainly across the South, where Peabody sought to help the region recover from the ravages of the Civil War.
Of course, in his hometown, he also built the Peabody Institute Library on Main Street, still one of the city’s most beautiful structures.
“He donated to education every time,” Power said, “because he didn’t have much himself.”
Moreover, he saw it as more than charity, but as a way for individuals to take control of their own lives and lift themselves up.
All of this explains the name of the George Peabody Legacy Award, a new honor offered by the Peabody Education Foundation. It is designed to recognize modern-day Peabodys, people who have made important contributions to education in this city. The first award will be given at City Hall’s Wiggin Auditorium in May.
In the interim, organizers are hoping to collect nominations for the 2013 award, and anyone is entitled to propose a nominee until Feb. 15.
To qualify for this honor, a nominee must live or work in the city, have had a lasting impact on education, be an advocate for students, and be an active person in the community. Finally, the person’s efforts will have created “change for the good of the people over a significant period of time,” according to the foundation’s website, peabodyedfoundation.org.
Teachers might be included, for example, and the award can be made posthumously.
Those wishing to make a nomination can obtain a form at City Hall or Treadwell’s Ice Cream on Margin Street, which is owned by foundation member and City Councilor Tom Gould.
Gould alerted the School Committee to the new award at Tuesday’s meeting. The Peabody Education Foundation, he explained, is a private organization designed to offer help to the schools. Its chairman is City Councilor Dave Gravel, and the honorary chairman is Mayor Ted Bettencourt.
Gould described the foundation as businesspeople, community leaders and educators “trying to bring resources from the community into the classroom. ... It’s a group ... that has the kids and their best interests at heart.”
In an interview, Gould noted that the award will encourage people to help the schools in a number of ways. For one thing, it raises the profile of education in the city.
The May event will include a silent auction.
“We’ve been looking to do a signature event,” Gould said.
School board member Dave McGeney called the effort timely in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. In that case, he pointed out, teachers gave their lives to protect their students. “Many teachers here have given a lifetime to Peabody education.” Giving an award to such people is “such a no-brainer, it makes you wonder why we hadn’t done it sooner.”
Power, hearing about the award for the first time, said the Legacy Award is long-overdue and a gesture George Peabody would have appreciated.