Their daughter’s fervent passion for life, in spite of her lifelong and ultimately fatal battle with neurofibromatosis, compelled Vicki and Peter Pellerito (MBA ’74) to establish a legacy for their beloved daughter in the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS). Vicki and Peter decided that a scholarship for students pursuing degrees in the health professions would be an ideal way to establish and honor her legacy.
Since 2006, the Annemarie Pellerito Scholarship has helped numerous CHHS students studying to be allied health and medical professionals. Vicki and Peter had two goals in establishing the scholarship at the College of Health and Human Services. They wanted to raise awareness of neurofibromatosis, which is an uncommon disorder, among future health care professionals. They also wanted to continue their daughter’s legacy of perseverance, inspiration, tenacity, and courage.
Vicki and Peter knew their daughter was special. Annemarie loved well and unconditionally: everyone she met, Baskin Robbins Gold Medal ice cream- a daily ritual- bowling, horses, bicycling, and all animals. She was a very sweet, loving, pretty, and inspiring person. Her daughter, according to Vicki, “had a way of making lemonade out of lemons. She never let life get her down.” She inspired so many people that her reputation preceded her. A famous children’s songwriter/singer, Dave Kinnoin, wrote a song about her- “I Am Anne” is a song about never giving up or giving in and embracing life.
The type of neurofibromatosis that Annemarie battled ravaged her nerves and spine with tumors. She underwent 13 major surgeries, including three surgeries on her spine. According to Vicki and Peter, one of the most defining things about their daughter was that she didn’t let her battle with neurofibromatosis define her or how she lived. Annemarie was an avid horsewoman, having won numerous riding medals in the Special Olympics. When she could no longer ride due to the surgeries and progression of her disease, she took to following the horse racing circuit. Hollywood Park held an Annemarie Pellerito Day in her honor. There is a thoroughbred Arabian National Champion, Annie’s Lullaby, named for her by the owner. Vicki and Peter continue to remember their daughter for her can-do attitude and vivaciousness for life.
After Annemarie’s passing in 2006, her parents were looking for a way to keep Annemarie’s legacy alive. Peter, who had a history of being on the CHHS School of Nursing advisory board as Kaiser Permanente’s representative, asked former CHHS Dean Donald Lauda for his thoughts on how to sustain Annemarie’s legacy. Dean Lauda suggested a scholarship. They chose the scholarship, first awarded in 2006, for CHHS students pursuing degrees in health related fields to acknowledge the multiple medical professions involved in Annemarie’s health care and to increase awareness about neurofibromatosis in the medical world. The motivation, passion, drive, and work-ethic Annemarie had throughout her life are the types of traits the Pelleritos look for in their scholarship recipients.
And their involvement does not stop at funding the scholarship. Vicki and Peter are advisors to the selection committee and make every effort to get to know each recipient personally. As a memento for winning the scholarship, each awardee is also given a horse statue to take with them throughout their lives and careers. These statues serve as a reminder of Annemarie’s legacy and also help raise awareness of neurofibromatosis. The Pelleritos keep in touch with their scholarship winners long after the awarding of the scholarship. Annemarie lives on in each of the Annemarie Pellerito Scholarship recipients-the medical doctors, researchers, and health professionals of today and the future.