When Gay Su Pinnell was a young girl in New Mexico, she taught herself to read by looking through comic books, connecting words with what was happening in the pictures. She recalls taking one of her father’s books and circling all the words she recognized, which was not looked upon kindly by her professor father. “In my house you didn’t even turn down the corner of a page,” Pinnell said.
Pinnell’s love of reading blossomed into a rewarding career. After teaching first through third grade, she came to The Ohio State University to get her master’s and PhD.
“I went back for my PhD partly because I wanted to learn how to help kids that had difficulty learning to read,” she explained. “Reading has always been such a joy to me, but I was sorry to see some kids struggle.”
In 2019, Pinnell established the Gay Su Pinnell Education Trust Fund, a Donor Advised Fund at the Foundation, to oversee her charitable giving, including extraordinary gifts to both OSU and Lesley University to support the schools’ ongoing work to develop and promote literacy efforts and programs.
Today, Pinnell is Professor Emerita at OSU and a member of the International Reading Association’s Reading Hall of Fame. In addition to her work in the classroom, she’s also done extensive field-based research, and developed comprehensive approaches to literacy education.
In 1984, she brought Reading Recovery, a powerful intervention program for first-grade students, to the United States. Developed by Marie Clay, a New Zealand educator and psychologist, the program provides intensive, highly skilled one-on-one daily lessons.
“I continue to support Reading Recovery at Ohio State and professional development for classroom teachers called Literacy Collaborative. I’m focusing on that because classroom teachers need the highest level of skill if they’re going to create places in schools that help all children become literate.”
In addition to her passion for literacy, Pinnell is committed to creating opportunities to experience the joy of music, especially the symphony.
"Music lifts us. All of the arts help us know what it is like to be truly human. It brings people together.”
GAY SU PINNELL, PhD, COLUMBUS FOUNDATION DONOR
In 2020, she established the Gay Su Pinnell Designated Fund to provide focused, multi-year support for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO), CSO’s endowed fund at the Foundation, and other organizations that are meaningful to Pinnell, including her alma mater, Eastern New Mexico University. She believed this funding was critical, especially for CSO, in the midst of the pandemic.
“The organization needed support, particularly at a time when they could not play to live audiences except with severe limitations,” Pinnell explained. “While there was no income, we were one of the few orchestras in the country that was able to keep our musicians working and serving the community.”
Pinnell feels that her support helped reward that effort and recognize CSO’s importance in the community during an unprecedented time. She felt the same about supporting literacy programs during COVID-19 through her Designated Fund. “Teachers are struggling,” she said. “They have done a heroic job. It intensified my commitment to provide those resources.”
“In education and in organizations like the symphony, they live from year to year not knowing what to plan on and the resources they will have,” Pinnell continued. “With the Designated Fund they can plan over a three- to four-year period. That makes a great difference.”