Motivated to a different kind of greatness
Bob and Missy Weiler create Moore Scholars Program to deconstruct education barriers
by Robin Chenoweth
You would never call Bob Weiler, JD, PhD, ill at ease. The man commanded one of the most successful real estate development companies in Ohio. He is comfortable among CEOs, but just as easy-going around schoolkids.
But the exclusive club where he first met James L. Moore III was not his cup of tea. Time was when he, being Jewish, and Moore, being black, would have had to enter via a side door. The ghosts protested their presence.
Still, the two men sat just inside the front door. Moore, now vice provost for Diversity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer at The Ohio State University, said they talked about their mothers — unpretentious, discerning, charitable women.
They traded stories: How Weiler’s mother sat nights with him in a steamy bathroom as he suffered asthma attacks. How Moore’s mother taught him to respect his foundation, yet pushed him to attend an out-of-state college. How, besides family and faith, both women valued education above all else.
“It was like we were in this hypnotic trance,” the Distinguished Professor of Urban Education later recalled. Were they both near tears? Moore thinks he was.
“Every milestone in my life, my mom was always there, just like Dr. Weiler’s,” Moore said.
A mother’s wisdom burrows deeply. Both men have spent their lives acting on those convictions. It was easy to see, in that first meeting, that they both believed in the transformative power of a college education, and that every person deserves a chance to get one.
So Weiler introduced Moore to his wife, another amazing mom. “Missy and my mother have a lot of similar qualities,” Weiler said. “She was not impressed with people who were impressed with themselves. She was definitely for the underdog.”
Missy Weiler herself holds the distinction of longest-serving volunteer in the Columbus City Schools, tutoring children at Ohio Avenue Elementary. Though they could have enrolled their four children in pricey private schools, the Weilers chose to send them to Columbus schools, in part so that they would embrace diversity. Two became teachers. Bob Weiler served on the Columbus Board of Education and helped co-found I Know I Can, which provides millions in grants to college-bound students from Columbus City Schools.
The Weilers were stirred by Moore’s mission to help students of color breach barriers to college.
Moore remembers the day they set up the Weiler Scholars Program for underrepresented undergraduates committed to becoming teachers in urban settings.
“My knees were shaking,” Moore recalled. Of course, his mother’s words came to him. “She said, ‘Son, one day you’re going to meet people who just want to invest in the work that you do because they are just as committed to it as you are.’”
The day had come.
Going a step further
Ten Weiler Scholars have received full tuition and college expenses. Many now teach in schools or are completing graduate degrees or military service. The Weilers renewed their commitment to the program with another gift in 2018.
Then in October 2018, they went a step further, giving another gift to create the Dr. James L. Moore III Scholars Program. This fund will support undergraduate students transferring from Columbus State Community College to Ohio State. Moore and his team in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will select 10 scholars annually, beginning this fall.
“This is the third gift that they have given, over $2.2 million,” Moore said. “That’s humbling.”
The need is great. Although Pell Grant-eligible students receive full-tuition benefits from Ohio State, costs for room, board and books still can knock even middle-class students out of contention for attending college.
Nontraditional students, who entered the workforce and later apply to college, are looking to advance out of low-paying, dead-end jobs. If they are parents, childcare costs are formidable. Families of first-generation college students struggle to swing the expense.
“This is where we can help even the playing field,” Bob Weiler said.
The Moore Scholarships will allow these students to stay on track to earn their degrees. Moore Scholars will receive mentoring, tutoring, wellness services and financial literacy help — fostering skills vital to student success. Through other programs in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, scholars may qualify for childcare waivers that allow their young children to receive quality instruction at the Schoenbaum Family Center.
Now Moore and the Weilers meet at family gatherings or for a meal. They talked recently about granddaughter Annie’s new job as a teacher at Eastgate Elementary, about the history of segregation in Columbus, about how Moore’s mother told him to invest in nice stationery “because you’ll be saying thank you all of your life.”
Missy Weiler, who keeps all of the cards Moore sends her, responded, “I love your mother,” though Mrs. Moore died shortly before the three met.
“There’s a synergy between Mrs. Weiler and me that just reminds me of my grandparents,” Moore later said. “The way she communicates with me is very wholesome and encouraging.”
They trade bits of wisdom, passed down through their families: Focus on the things you do have rather than what you don’t. Keep working hard and that lot will expand. Practice humility because you’re always entertaining angels.
Those simple truths underpin their outlook, their friendship and the pivotal work of improving urban education and getting underprivileged students into college. The drive to help others achieve, for the Weilers and for Moore, is deeply rooted in the family who believed in them and championed them.
“I want to make a difference in other people because that’s really the groundswell that I came from,” Moore said. “In the work that I do, I honor all of those individuals.”