Dr. Renee O'Leary
“Retired” is not a word that can be used to describe Renee O’Leary’s busy lifestyle.
Following a fulfilling career as a kindergarten teacher in the Delaware public schools (she was named 1981-1982’s “Teacher of the Year”) and earning a Ph.D. in early childhood science from LaSalle University, Renee designed and taught an early childhood science enrichment program for nearly two decades at Caravel Academy in Bear, DE. She now teaches that same program at Holy Angels School in Newark, DE, as a volunteer. In 1994, Renee was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame – the only Delaware teacher to date to receive that honor. She is active with her churches, the Newark Rotary Club, the Chapel Street Players, Delaware Teachers of the Year Organization, and the Brandywiners Limited. Renee also serves on the Newark Country Club Board and is a trustee at the Christiana Care Health Systems. A highlight of her life is doing science projects with the children at the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware. She is a die-hard Blue Hens fan and in her spare time enjoys attending UD football and basketball games.
Renee grew up underprivileged in Turtle Creek, PA, and, as a child dreamed of marrying a doctor and living in a house on a hill in a college town. After her graduation from Millersville University, she met fellow Pennsylvanian Jack O’Leary through a mutual friend. They shared a ride to Pittsburgh and her dream became reality: they married and moved to Newark, DE, where Jack was a resident at Delaware Hospital (now Wilmington Hospital) and bought their “house on a hill”. Jack maintained a private practice in oral maxillofacial surgery and served as head of that department at Christiana Health Care Systems for 17 years while Renee dedicated her life to teaching.
Through their love of cheering on the Fightin’ Blue Hens in their adopted hometown, they developed a friendship with the football team’s physician, Dr. C. Roy Donoho, who commissioned Jack to develop a protective mouth guard for the players. Jack provided the mouth guards for many years and operated on many players who sustained facial injuries while on the field at Delaware. This personal investment in the health and success of the student athletes deepened the O’Leary’s support of UD in the years to come.
When Jack and Renee made their estate plans, they included a bequest intention for UD. “We wanted to give back to what had made us happy, what had given us joy. That included Jack’s relationship with the football team. We lived here for so many years and we supported UD Football because we became a part of it, we had a connection to it,” explained Renee. Though Jack passed away in 2007, Renee continues her commitment to UD by attending campus events and football and basketball games, and by making annual gifts to support UD Athletics, scholarships, and the College of Education and Human Development.
“Jack and I both worked very hard during our lives. There was always a time for work and a time for play but work always came first. And we were so fortunate to have had success in our careers,” Renee said.
“We learned that to have so much is wonderful, but to give it away is the very best reward you can receive, because of the feeling you get inside. It was so important to us to be a part of giving someone else a chance – we were both given chances in our lives and were so grateful for that. It’s the feeling that money can’t buy, the knowledge that you have made a difference in someone’s life that might lead to a better tomorrow.”