Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine


The Investiture of Dr. Peter Penzes as the Ruth and Evelyn Dunbar Professor

(from left to right) Dr. Eric G. Neilson; Dr. John G. Csernansky; Dr. Peter Penzes; Mr. Craig Grannon; and Dr. Richard J. Miller.

On October 12, Peter Penzes, PhD, was formally invested as the Ruth and Evelyn Dunbar Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. At a ceremony held at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, Craig Grannon of The Davee Foundation joined Dr. Penzes and his family, faculty colleagues, and Northwestern leadership to celebrate.

The Ruth and Evelyn Dunbar Professorship in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences was endowed in 1990 by longtime Northwestern devotee and alumna Ruth Dunbar Davee and her sister Evelyn Dunbar to support research and study into depression, tension and stress management, and geriatrics.

“Carrying great prestige within a university, an endowed chair embodies the highest honor an institution can bestow on a prominent faculty member,” said John G. Csernansky, MD, the chair and Lizzie Gilman Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, who served as the evening’s emcee. “By providing specially dedicated resources for world-class research and teaching opportunities, this professorship position will enable Dr. Penzes to excel in his scholarly activities.”

Celebrating Decades of Philanthropic Support

Both Ruth Dunbar Davee and Evelyn Dunbar grew up in West Chicago during the Depression. Ruth received both her master’s and doctorate degrees in English literature from Northwestern University in 1937 and 1942, graduating with honors. In 1950, she began a career at the Chicago Sun-Times, eventually originating the position of education editor. Ruth won the Education Writers Association Award and the Marshall Field Award in 1955 for a series she wrote criticizing a controversial book that blamed school teachers for low literacy rates in the United States. According to Craig Grannon, executive administrator of The Davee Foundation and the executor of Ruth’s estate, both sisters believed strongly in giving back. They created unitrusts, which they used to support Northwestern and other causes that were important to them. 

Dr. Csernansky presents Dr. Penzes with his professorship medallion.

In 1988, Ruth married Ken Davee, a Chicago philanthropist and fellow Northwestern graduate. Ken had established The Davee Foundation in 1964 with his late first wife, Adeline, to support their philanthropic works. Ruth became Ken’s partner in philanthropy and, through the foundation, they generously supported Northwestern and many other Chicago organizations. Their philanthropy lives on today through The Davee Foundation, which remains a valued partner of Northwestern University and the medical school.

“I am quite certain that Ken and Ruth Davee would be very pleased that this professorship is going to Dr. Penzes,” said Mr. Grannon.

In addition to this prestigious professorship in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Mr. Grannon has been instrumental in facilitating the support of The Davee Foundation for other high-impact endeavors at Feinberg, including the Ken and Ruth Department of Neurology and its Ken and Ruth Davee Fellowship Program, the Ken and Ruth Davee Research Fund for Depressive Disorders, the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC), the Epilepsy Research Center, the Department of Family and Community Medicine, stroke research, stem cell biology research, and the newly created Davee Professorship in Alzheimer’s Genetics. Over the years, The Davee Foundation also has funded the Ken and Ruth Davee Professorship in Stem Cell Biology, held by John A. Kessler, MD, and the Dunbar Professorship in Bipolar Disease, held by Jelena Radulovic, MD, PhD. The estate of Ruth Dunbar Davee funded the Ruth Dunbar Davee Professorship in Neuroscience, which is held by M. Marsel Mesulam, MD.

An Ambitious Neuroscience Career

After earning his doctorate in biochemistry at SUNY in Buffalo, New York, Dr. Penzes completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. There, he began studying a protein called kalirin and discovered it was associated with synapses in the brain. In 2003, Dr. Penzes was appointed an assistant professor at Northwestern, where he began to focus his research on brain synapses and the pathology of mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Dr. Penzes making his remarks.

Richard J. Miller, PhD, the Alfred Newton Richards Professor of Pharmacology, served as Dr. Penzes’ extoller. “Being awarded a professorship represents the pinnacle of Dr. Penzes’ career,” said Dr. Miller. “Dr. Penzes has four R01 research grants from the National Institutes of Health, which is an extraordinary feat. His lab is considered a center of excellence. We are lucky to have him and he does a great honor to Northwestern and to science in general.”

“I am extremely honored and humbled by this opportunity and being entrusted with this recognition,” said Dr. Penzes. He also spoke of how grateful he was to have this professorship award him the academic freedom to pursue his research interests.

According to Dr. Penzes, the sequencing of the genome in the late 1990s was a game-changer for his field, and translating neurobiodiscoveries is the next opportunity. “Northwestern is one of the most exciting places to do research,” said Dr. Penzes. “I hope to use this endowment to translate discoveries from my lab to treatments for mood disorders.”

“Northwestern is one of the most exciting places to do research. I hope to use this endowment to translate discoveries from my lab to treatments for mood disorders.”

- Dr. Peter Penzes