About Senator Claude Pepper

“What have I done today to lighten the burden upon those who suffer?”

– Senator Claude Pepper

Executive Summary

Born into a plowboy’s life in rural Alabama, Claude Denson Pepper attained his dream of serving in Congress and of achieving a much wider, deeper and durable life of service. A champion of the poor, of the disenfranchised, of the ill and, most of all, of the elderly, Senator Pepper came to believe that a lifetime of such devotion was not enough. His work would need to endure, long after his passing. And, so, it did. It endures primarily through the creation of the Claude Pepper Foundation and the other multifaceted, interlinked layers of educational, research and public- outreach entities associated with Florida State University in Tallahassee. These are now known as the Claude Pepper Library, Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair, Claude Pepper Center and serving as something of an umbrella over all of that the Claude Pepper Foundation.

All of these organizations and the students, the faculty, the researchers and, importantly, the individuals who still are being served by these operations profit mightily from a generous federal grant that arrived decades ago via an unexpected route and by a long and beneficial though occasionally arms-length relationship with Florida State University. That partnership was founded in what one might call a “Genesis Document” unearthed during research conducted for this report. That document was written at Florida State University and sent to Senator Pepper more than 60 years ago, long before most people associated with the Pepper entities or the school would have guessed.

Over the subsequent six decades, the partnership drove steadfastly forward, though sometimes over bumpy roads. Conceptual plans frequently evolved, fundraising efforts flowed and ebbed and were revised and flowed again, partnership difficulties emerged and were resolved. In the end, multiphased educational and research structures were designed and built to serve Senator Pepper’s legacy on behalf of older Americans and anyone found to be underserved, underprivileged and underappreciated.

These structures stand robustly today under the nurturing and protective oversight of the Claude Pepper Foundation. Pumping millions of dollars into a combined library, museum and educational building on the campus of Florida State University and into much of the research conducted over decades by occupants of that landmark building the foundation remains actively engaged in preserving and extending the advancements that Senator Pepper achieved on behalf of all Americans. This is the story of how the Claude Pepper Foundation and its related structures were created and erected and fortified.

The Claude Pepper Foundation – A History of Service

By Martin Merzer

“I have great hopes for The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation. Its possibilities are endless.”

– Senator Claude Pepper
The Claude Pepper Center at Florida State University

By the hundreds, young people walk past it nearly every day, unaware that the work undertaken by the Claude Pepper Foundation inside the Claude Pepper Center at Florida State University serves in multiple and significant ways their parents, grandparents and all of their elders. And that, one day, likely sooner than they imagine, it will serve them. All of this is due to the long life and sweeping legacy of a man named Claude Pepper.

Claude Denson Pepper was born on September 8, 1900, in close proximity to the start of the 20th century, in rural Chambers County, Alabama. It was a place so impoverished that he never saw a paved road until he went to college. Senator Pepper got his start as an orator by telling stories for pennies at a local post office. At age 17, he was hired as a teacher and, later, worked in a steel mill before being accepted into the University of Alabama. While attending the University, Senator Pepper joined the Student Army Training Corps as World War I was ending. A disability incurred during his time in the military qualified him for subsidized vocational training making it possible for him to attend Harvard Law School. In 1925, Senator Pepper moved to Florida and began practicing law in Perry, a town near Tallahassee. In 1928, he ran for the Florida House of Representatives and served two years in the Florida Legislature. In 1936 he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served for 14 years and in the United States House of Representatives from 1963 until 1989 representing the Miami area. Prior to his death in 1989, Senator Pepper received the National Medal of Freedom from President Bush, the highest civilian honor that can be given to an American.

Senator Pepper with parents Joseph and Lena Pepper, Camp Hill, AL

Senator Pepper’s path through life spanned most of a momentous century and carried him through consequential and sometimes perilous times: two world wars and other armed conflicts, a severe economic depression and, eventually, a brawny recovery and two visits by Halley’s Comet, one in 1910, the other 76 years later. He met aviation pioneer Orville Wright and watched the Apollo 11 crew lift off to walk on the moon. Senator Pepper appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1938 and again in 1981 and was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and to both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. He came to know and work with presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and, briefly, George H. W. Bush and came to know comedian and actor Bob Hope and dictator and mass murderer Joseph Stalin, Actress Helen Hays, statesman Bernard Baruch, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Senator Pepper on the cover of Time Magazine, April 25, 1983

Through it all, Senator Pepper clung to a true north and it was this: A deeply embedded sense of empathy for all Americans, especially those who were not born into privilege and especially those who were elderly. “I entered public life because my early years in the destitute South convinced me that life for human beings should, and could, be much better than it was,” Senator Pepper said. “What worthier purpose could government serve than to make life a bit happier and a lot less arduous for its people? “I thought as I was growing up and I think now that a nation is stronger and better in every way if it concerns itself with the health, the education, the housing and the economic security of its citizens.” Senator Pepper described his “bedrock” goal as “a better life not just for the elite, but for all. It rejects the notion that those who are underprivileged have earned their fate, that hard work inexorably leads to success. It holds that the health, economic security and to the degree possible happiness of its people is a proper concern of government.”

Senator Pepper, 1985

It was this path, this determination, that led him to consistently champion the needs of the poor, the ill, the disenfranchised and, especially, the oldest among us. Senator Pepper drafted the first bill to establish a minimum wage and maximum workplace hours, introduced the first legislation that guaranteed women equal pay for equal work, conducted the first hearings on drugs in schools and helped create the Juvenile Justice Agency. He sponsored the Older Americans Act, ended mandatory retirement and championed legislation to create the National Institutes of Health. And, perhaps most significantly, he steadfastly protected Social Security benefits from incursions by budget cutters and others less concerned than he about the health and welfare of older Americans. But this was not enough. It could not be enough.

Easing the Burden

Senator Pepper was determined to ensure that his work would not perish with him. In his 60, 70s and 80s, sparked by 20 years of lobbying by colleagues and admirers, sensing that time was growing short, he launched a multiphased campaign to preserve his legacy and extend his work well beyond his death and deeply into the future. These projects shared several features, among them a laser-focus on depth and quality, along with a geographic concentration on Florida State University in the capital of the state that Senator Pepper and his wife, Mildred, considered their natural home. “He was very partial to Florida State for a number of reasons,” said Thomas Spulak, his longtime aide in Washington and elsewhere and now chairman and president of the Claude Pepper Foundation. “He never attended Florida State, but his wife did.” “He just felt more comfortable in this part of the state. Tallahassee held some special favor for him.”

These projects and, on their behalf, numerous fundraising campaigns shape-shifted and evolved over four decades. He, his associates and supporters regularly seeded concepts that later flowered, sometimes in novel ways, into organizations, programs and initiatives that served the prime directive. This prime directive, in his words: “What have I done today to lighten the burden of those who suffer?” It culminated in what stands today as The Claude Pepper Foundation, Inc., located on West Call Street in Tallahassee at the Claude Pepper Center, also the home of the Claude Pepper Library, the Claude Pepper Museum, the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, and other associated operations.

Similar Names, Varying Purposes

For clarity and ease of understanding, let us go no further before sharing capsule descriptions of these and other often-interlocking entities:

The Claude Pepper Foundation, Inc.

The Claude Pepper Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation created in 1986. The foundation can be seen as an umbrella organization that raises and provides funds that, in turn, help support the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy and the Claude Pepper Center, including the center’s Claude Pepper Library and Claude Pepper Museum. It also sponsors research by Larry Polivka, scholar in residence and programs to share that research and other data for the benefit of older Americans.

Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy

The Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy with roots all the way back to 1977, serves as a hub at Florida State University for multidisciplinary research on aging. Linked to Florida State’s College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, the institute brings together faculty and students from disciplines such as political science, sociology, public health, medicine and psychology. Its research centers on four areas: pathways to later life, aging and health disparities, communities and transportation, and aging and health policy. It works in close concert with the Claude Pepper Foundation and the Claude Pepper Center.

Claude Pepper Center

The Claude Pepper Center is the name of a building on West Call Street within Florida State University’s campus. It houses the foundation, the institute, the library, the museum and related entities. It opened in 1997. The term “Claude Pepper Center” also refers to an organizational entity that conducts tightly focused research and assembles much of the work produced by related Pepper units and distributes it in the form of reports, studies, conferences and the like.

The Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair in Social Gerontology

The Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair is an endowed position at Florida State University. It is tied to the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. Its occupant conducts research and guides students regarding issues such as aging and health disparities, pathways to later life and other topics important to elder Americans. From its inception in 1987 and until 2015, the position was held by Professor Jill Quadagno. As of this writing in early 2020, the chair remains vacant. It, too, is based in The Claude Pepper Center building on West Call Street.

These are the dividends of the intertwined, DNA-like chains of compassion, knowledge and service created by Senator Pepper, his associates and Florida State University. “The way we got to where we are today was a fairly long road and process,” said Frances “Fran” Campbell, Senator Pepper’s longtime aide and a retired president of his foundation. That road began at a point distant in time and little known by most people.

The “Genesis” Document

“My dear Mr. Pepper…we shall be most pleased and honored to have you place any items in our Library that you might be willing to leave with us.”

– N. Orwin Bush

This continuum began – at least in a formal sense – with a letter written way back on February 5, 1959. This is what we legitimately may call the “Genesis Document.” This is the beginning. This is the idea, the outreach, the proposal that paved the way for everything that followed during the next six decades and beyond. For it was on this date that N. Orwin Bush, the newly arrived director of libraries at Florida State University, wrote to Senator Pepper. Bush was looking to make an impression on his new bosses at Florida State, and he decided to go for the garnet and gold. At this point, during the interregnum between his Senate and House service, Senator Pepper was in private law practice in Miami.

“My dear Mr. Pepper,” Bush wrote, “I am a new comer [sic] to Florida but I have long known about your outstanding contributions to the state, to the South, and to our country as a whole. “I believe that you will be interested in learning of our special efforts to make the Florida State University Library outstanding.” That was the windup. Now, the pitch. “I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to deposit your papers in the Florida State University Library. We shall be most pleased and honored to have you place any items in our Library that you might be willing to leave with us. “Your papers dealing with your long and distinguished public life would have a very cherished and important place in our Library and we do hope that this idea appeals to you…“I shall be most pleased to hear from you and to have you visit our Library if you would like to discuss the matter with us.”

Five days later, the influential Allen Morris weighed in. A former reporter for the Miami Herald who would go on to a 20-year career as clerk of the Florida House of Representatives and author of the annual Florida Handbook, Morris was serving in 1959 as head of Florida State’s photographic archives. Due to his earlier role as a reporter, he already had an inside track with Senator Pepper.

“I Value Highly Your Interest”

So, Morris telephoned Senator Pepper and lobbied on behalf of Florida State’s library. “He has the continuing notion of writing about his public life,” Morris reported to university colleagues, “and hence I stressed the fact that lodging the papers in the Library actually would afford both the security of preservation and the opportunity of access, neither of which seem to exist adequately. “It seemed to me he was favorably inclined toward depositing the papers here, despite the facilities elsewhere, for he asked me to inquire about the possibility they could be catalogued so his own task will be made easier should he pursue the writing of memoirs.” And, just one day after that, on February 11, 1959, came a promising response from Senator Pepper. “I told him [Allen Morris] that I had made no decision about the disposition of my papers but that I would give serious consideration to depositing them in the Florida State University Library,” Senator Pepper wrote, again emphasizing his interest in having the library organize any material he might donate. “It may be that we can discuss this matter personally sometime when I am in Tallahassee. I value highly your interest in my papers.”

And there, things stood. And stood. And stood. For nearly 20 years. Every so often, Bush or Morris or their successors or their colleagues would write or telephone or meet with Senator Pepper, reminding him of the original correspondence and keeping alive their offer – and their hopes. In June 1976, for instance, 17 years after the initial correspondence, Morris, now firmly entrenched as Florida House clerk, was still on the case. He wrote to Senator Pepper again, outlining the assets of Florida State’s library and the benefits of storing his papers there. Doctoral dissertations, professional cataloguing, a search already underway for an appropriate on-campus home. “The Pepper papers tell the story of a Floridian in world affairs and thus it seems desirable, fitting and inspirational that they should be situated in Florida and conveniently accessible to Florida scholars,” Morris wrote. “I am convinced the reach of your public service best could be lengthened through the years by lodging the Pepper Papers in a Pepper Library at Florida State University.”

“To Honor a Man”

Finally, after yet another year of indecision, it began coming together, as foretold in another consequential document. The cover letter to a three-page, June 14, 1977, internal memo from Harold Wilkins, executive director of the Florida State University Foundation, to Charles Miller, director of university libraries, began this way: “During the past weekend, we were able to spend several hours with Senator and Mrs. Pepper. We feel that it is important that we take immediate action to secure a firm commitment to secure Senator Pepper’s library for this University.” The accompanying draft began this way: “It is proposed that the Claude Pepper Library be established on the campus of Florida State University at Tallahassee, Florida as a part of the existing University Library.” The collection would consist of Senator Pepper’s papers, books and “such memorabilia as would be necessary to create a facsimile of Senator-Congressman Pepper’s Washington office” along with other acquisitions.

The purpose would be “to honor a man whose lifetime coincides with the Twentieth Century” and whose public service has “spanned the years from 1929 to the present.” Other purposes would include making available reams of material for researchers in various fields. Two key points: 1. “Florida State University will provide both temporary and permanent housing for the Claude Pepper Library.” 2. The FSU Foundation would create and administer a distinct “Claude Pepper Fund” to handle financial contributions and other gifts “to support and to supplement the Pepper Library.”

And there you have it. Deal just about done, though the official “instrument of gift” would not be signed until May 1986. As Robert Rubero, the Claude Pepper Library archivist, put it in November 2019, “It ultimately worked. This is a case study in donor relations, 20 years in the making.” Quite true, and it also is much more. The actions that founded, financed and ultimately created what initially would become the Mildred and Claude Pepper Library at Florida State University molded and set into motion the multiple projects that followed.

Guiding Principles

This is particularly true regarding the overarching Claude Pepper Foundation that was created nine years later and, at a key moment, fortified by a crucial grant – as generous as it was unusual. How generous? How unusual? For now, let’s just say that a multimillion-dollar check was carried by hand to a local bank. Playing an important role in that, in the library and in virtually everything that followed was a woman who began working for Senator Pepper in 1966 as a “case worker,” now generally called a constituent liaison. As time passed and her talents and work ethic became evident, she moved into and through the roles of secretary, administrative assistant and staff director. For 22 years, Frances Campbell worked for and with Senator Pepper. After his death, she succeeded him as president of the Claude Pepper Foundation. “We started from scratch,” Campbell recalled in 2012, “but we dedicated ourselves to the guiding principles that Senator Pepper had throughout his life.” In a very real sense, this comprehensive effort began with what would become known as The Mildred and Claude Pepper Library. Thus, understanding the establishment of the library is to understand much of what followed.

The Mildred and Claude Pepper Library

“The library is very close to my heart, as it was to Mildred’s.”

– Senator Claude Pepper

The day in Tallahassee dawned gray and uncomfortable, but with promise. At noon on this day, January 2, 1979, Bob Graham of the Miami area would take the oath of office as Florida’s 38th governor. For most in attendance, the happily anticipated ceremony could not end quickly enough. It was one of those North Florida winter days when each hour of daylight somehow produces lower temperatures. As Graham raised his right hand, the temperature lowered to 37 degrees, the 14- mile-an-hour northwest wind snapped flags and bunting, and…yes…snow fluttered to the ground. “It was long said it would be a cold day in Hades when a person from Dade County was sworn in as governor,” Graham later recalled. “The fact that it snowed on our inauguration proved that.”

Sitting close by were Senator Pepper, still and always granted the appellation “Senator Pepper” for his previous service in Congress though now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and his wife. Mildred was ill, quite ill, suffering from advanced esophageal cancer. But, as always, they endured together, now huddled against the cold. They knew that awaiting them later that day – a full 20 years after the Genesis memo – was the warmth of another, even-more-meaningful ceremony. Upon the inauguration ceremony’s end, a luncheon sponsored by Florida State University President Bernard F. Sliger honored the Peppers, and plans were advanced to establish a project now dear to the celebrated couple: The Mildred and Claude Pepper Library at FSU. “Afterward, we drove to the campus and selected the building in which the library would be housed permanently,” Senator Pepper later said. The selected building: Dodd Hall, chosen for its Collegiate Gothic architectural beauty and as a result of Mildred’s agreeable student experiences there when, a half-century earlier, it housed the main library of what was then the Florida State College for Women.

Named for William George Dodd, a former English professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dodd Hall had been constructed in 1923. It housed FSU’s main library until that operation moved to the Robert Manning Strozier facility in 1956. Still, on that day in 1979 and to this day, this is inscribed over the entrance to Dodd Hall: “The half of knowledge is to know where to find knowledge.” Over time, the knowledge accumulated during seven decades by Claude and Mildred Pepper would be found here. But now, in 1979, Dodd Hall largely was occupied by the campus broadcasting operation, WFSU-TV, and that was about to change. Nourished by an initial legislative appropriation of $475,000 and by a subsequent $400,000 appropriation, WFSU would move out and the building would be transformed into the Pepper Library, though Mildred Pepper would not live to see the plans materialize.

Dual Challenges

Already, even before the luncheon and the building selection, Senator Pepper and his staff had been wrestling with the dual daunting challenges of raising funds to support the library’s ongoing work and assembling, cataloguing and transporting the 2 million pages of documents that had accumulated over those decades and would be made available to the library.

Now, upon the formal selection of a site, fundraising and other efforts expanded at a rapid pace even as financial goals ebbed and flowed. It is here that a variety of Senator Pepper-related projects, all of which experienced changes in name and sometimes function, and the sometimes simultaneous fundraising goals on their behalf start to become bewilderingly tangled and more so with each passing decade.

At this point, it is important to distinguish between the cost of renovating Dodd Hall for use as the Pepper Library – a cost generally covered by the $875,000 in legislative appropriations – and the cost of supporting on an ongoing basis the library’s work, student scholarships and related items. That was seen as requiring an endowment, first with a goal of $750,000, then $1 million and ultimately $5 million. Initial, good-faith and intensive efforts to reach this goal did not go well. Fundamental changes were made. Lessons were learned – lessons that later well served establishment of the Claude Pepper Foundation and related entities. Let’s start at the start.

It Was a Different Era

By November 1979, to meet the ambitious endowment goal, the Mildred and Claude Pepper Library Endowment Fund had been created and it held a fundraising reception on December 5 of that year in Washington, D.C. Comedian and actor Bob Hope, a close friend of Senator Pepper, served as the fund’s honorary national chairman and former Florida Governor Reubin Askew, recently out of office, took on the role of the national chairman. From an official announcement of the event: “The reception is scheduled at ‘The Florida House,’ 2nd and East Capitol Streets, from, 6 to 8 p.m. Tax-deductible donations of $100 per person will be accepted.” One hundred dollars per person. It was a different time. The Florida House was – and to this day remains – located close behind the U.S. Supreme Court building.

Members of the “distinguished honorary executive committee” included many heavy hitters: First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Henry Ford II, comedian Jackie Gleason, New York Mayor Ed Koch, Governor Graham and former governors Claude Kirk, Haydon Burns, Farris Bryant, LeRoy Collins, Charley Johns, Millard Caldwell and Askew. Keenly aware of the political and fundraising benefits of positive coverage, Senator Pepper made certain that invitations were sent to many members of the media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and all three major networks then in existence. Afterward, those public relations efforts continued. Senator Pepper responded in writing to Dan King, news director of WCTV, the CBS affiliate in Tallahassee, thanking him for sending along a tape of the reception’s news coverage. “You know,” Pepper wrote, “the Mildred and Claude Pepper Library in Tallahassee holds very special meaning for me, and I am deeply grateful for the support it has received through the efforts of good people like you at WCTV. Kindest regards to you, and Always Sincerely, Claude Pepper, Member of Congress.”

A courtly man of Southern grace, Senator Pepper rarely missed other opportunities to make certain that gratitude was expressed and relationships were cemented. By the end of 1979, for instance, thank you notes were sent to 33 private, corporate, union, financial, healthcare and other contributors, among them the widow of influential newspaper columnist Drew Pearson, Boeing, USAir, Texaco and a number of unions and union officials. “Your contribution is a fine tribute to an outstanding American family and their dreams of sharing their experiences with students through the Mildred and Claude Pepper Library at Florida State University,” Ted J. Ouzts, director of the Pepper Endowment Fund, told each contributor in 33 identical notes dated Dec. 21, 1979.

Raising the Fundraising Bar

Within a few months, as the objectives and costs of future operations came into sharper relief, the fundraising bar was elevated. The degree of difficulty followed suit. Now underway was a campaign to raise “a minimum of $5 million as a trust fund for the future support of the library,” Senator Pepper told former New York Governor Averell Harriman in an April 29, 1980, letter. “The FSU Foundation Inc. hopes to match the amount appropriated by the Legislature with private donations, bringing the total to $1 million,” Senator Pepper told Harriman, a banker, railroad baron and man of significant means. That left $4 million still to be raised, somehow.

Note, though the library’s endowment fund had been created, its funds were being routed through the Florida State University Foundation, which set up a Mildred and Claude Pepper Library account. The Florida State foundation soon was to play a larger role in this effort. This illustrates the close, enduring partnership between Florida State and Senator Pepper’s legacy plans, a partnership that embraced subsequent Pepper-related projects and, though the occasional challenge had to be resolved from time to time, continues to this day.

Interestingly, it turns out that in the earliest of these days, Florida State had been the winner of a significant behind-the-scenes competition. Senator Pepper told Harriman: “Mildred and I were invited by the Roosevelt Library, the Kennedy Library and other institutions to leave our papers with each, but we chose Florida State University because of the high academic standards it has always had, its location in the Capitol [sic] of our State, it being an institution which Mildred attended as a student, it being Mildred’s and my former home and now her resting place, and it was the former home of my father and mother and is now their resting place.”

So, beyond the $1 million mentioned in that letter, millions more would be required to adequately endow the library operation – and retail fundraising events were held on a regular basis. For example, on June 2, 1980, a fundraiser occurred in Tallahassee at the Capital City Country Club from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. “A tax-deductible contribution of at least $50 per couple is required.” Fifty dollars per couple. Again, a different time. Potential attendees were assured that “the [library’s] collection, which will be expanded as Rep. Pepper’s public career continues, is believed to be one of the largest and most valuable of any member of Congress.” But fundraising results lagged far behind from the goal.

Notes of Thanks

Over time, Senator Pepper labored assiduously, contacting people he worked with or served during his many years of public life, and he sought to arrange fundraisers in New York, Jacksonville, Miami Beach (at the Fontainebleau Hilton) and elsewhere. Among those who eventually contributed: the International Longshoremen’s Association ($5,000), the University of Southern California ($400 in return for his participation in a conference there regarding aging and retirement), and many individuals. Numerous contributions came from unlikely people in distant corners of the globe. Mr. and Mrs. Kee Seung Lee of Seoul, Korea, for instance, sent a check for $1,000, apparently on behalf of a member of Korea’s National Assembly. In response, Senator Pepper sent effusive notes of thanks and, toward the end of the campaign, a promise to forward “a most cordial invitation to attend the Library opening on May 15, and it would give us great pleasure and honor if you could be with us.”

And so, during the next three or more years, Senator Pepper wrote thank you note after thank you note, often for contributions as modest as $25. But he also had bigger game in his sights. On July 5, 1979, he sought a $30,000 grant for the fund from Livingston Biddle, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “I believe that this project will greatly benefit the students of this fine university as well as other students in the fields of government, history, law, and other related research areas,” he told Biddle. “In addition to honoring Mildred and me, Florida State University was also Mildred’s alma mater, so naturally, this project means a great deal to me.” But it didn’t work. All of that work was not paying off. By September 25, 1980, the fund could boast a net worth (after expenses) of only $41,017.91. A new approach was required.

A Summit Meeting

On November 2, 1981, three of the most powerful players in Tallahassee and in the state met to figure it out: Senator Pepper, former Governor Reubin Askew, and Harold D. Wilkins, president of the Florida State University Foundation. Their decisions would set the stage for many future fundraising activities on behalf of many Senator Pepper-related projects. They decided, according to an after-action memo written eight days later by Wilkins:

  • To reject suggestions that they hire a professional fundraiser “as this duplicates the efforts and functions of the Florida State University Foundation and would be very costly.” Instead, the FSU Foundation would enhance its effort to assist the Pepper Library’s endowment campaign.
  • To cease and desist when it comes to those fundraising events in distant cities. “These are high-cost events with a low net profit per gift.”
  • Instead, the FSU Foundation’s staff would “compile a list of foundations and corporations which have a history of giving to libraries,” and letters of solicitation would be prepared for the signatures of Senator Pepper and former Governor Askew.
  • Though staffing would be a problem, the FSU Foundation recently had acquired some of that newfangled “word processing equipment” and that would make things a bit easier.

As the reader can and will see, very much was happening almost simultaneously during these years. Indeed, as fundraising efforts changed direction and advanced, a parallel effort was underway to eventually fill the library with that material.

Multiple Shipments; A New Space Crunch

For the most part, this became the task of Senator Pepper’s aides in Washington. By August 1979, they were shipping boxes of material to FSU for temporary storage at the Strozier Library. Steadily, this material arrived, four or five boxes at a time. “We started sending his collection down to Tallahassee,” Campbell recalled. “I took responsibility for that, in small shipments at a time so it could be archived in Dodd Hall.” By the end of that year, the first 900 boxes of the Pepper collection accumulated on campus, creating something of a space crunch and organizational challenge.

Material and staff were compelled to move to three locations within Strozier. According to an account by then-university librarian and archivist Burt Altman, portions of the collection also were stored in the old Post Office on Woodward Avenue and elsewhere including a preservation facility in Naples, Florida as Dodd Hall was being renovated for the Pepper Library. At about the same time, Charles Miller, director of university libraries, wrestled with the ever-intensifying task of cataloguing all of this stuff. He crafted a five-page, mostly single-spaced outline of his plans and sought the assistance of Campbell in Washington. “I can imagine that your knowledge of Congressman Pepper’s work would be of immeasurable help to us in organizing these materials and I hope that you will permit me to call on you for information from time to time,” Miller wrote to Campbell.

Now joining the deluge of records sent directly from Congress came additional boxes that had been stored at the Federal Records Center in Suitland, Maryland. And that was not all. This work also required funding for new staff and shelves, folders, typewriters and such. Two initial tranches of money were requested from an accommodating state legislature – $25,000 for fiscal year 1979- 1980 and, as the load became heavier, $28,750 for fiscal year 1980-1981. Library staff had requested $39,477.53 for fiscal 1980-1981, but FSU President Bernard Sliger marked that down before submitting it to Chairman Herb Morgan of the House Committee on Appropriations.

The search for exhibits continued for years and extended as far as the American Restaurant Supply Company in Tallahassee, which Senator Pepper learned might have “some material relating to me or my public career which might be suitable for inclusion.” In a May 14, 1980, letter to the firm, he said: “You would be rendering not only a favor to me but a service to Florida State University and future students of history and political science if you would consider donating to the library any material of consequence which you may have saved.”

Playing Defense During Renovations

Senator Pepper also spent more than a little time fending off insurance brokers, architects and others trying to get a piece of the library’s action. Meanwhile, back in Washington, items well beyond documents were being accumulated to furnish the library. At one point during 1984, Senator Pepper sent a check for $350 to the assistant superintendent of the Senate to purchase a desk identical to the one he had used there. It was moved temporarily to his office in the House. He also set about purchasing other furniture – two hutches, two “Turkish” chairs, a sofa, six tables, etc. – from his House office. All of this, and more, now can be found in the Claude Pepper Library on the first floor of the Claude Pepper Center.

As those efforts proceeded, Dodd Hall was being renovated under plans developed by the selected architect, Herschel E. Shepard of St. Augustine, and his firm, Shepard Associates. From Shepard’s after-action report: “This project involved two major phases. The first was the restoration of gothic-styled Dodd Hall to its original configuration after long-term use as a television recording studio. It had mammoth oak beams, converging in the loft like a cathedral and stained windows. “The second phase was the adaptation of this space as the Mildred and Claude Pepper Archives, which included recreations of Claude Pepper’s offices as a senator and representative. An elevator to the second floor was added, as was an entrance for physically challenged visitors. The project was completed in 1985, with more than 6,200 square feet of space on the first floor and on the mezzanine.”

The Mildred and Claude Pepper Library in Dodd Hall was deemed ready to open in early 1985, but as late as February 1985, Frances Campbell found the display cases wanting, in terms of exhibits and explanatory material. “They were not sophisticated exhibits, to say the least,” she later recalled. A fierce advocate of Senator Pepper, Campbell wrote a stern letter to the organizers at Florida State and shared her concerns with the boss. “I asked Senator Pepper if he would like me to try to improve the exhibits prior to the dedication,” Campbell recalled, “and he agreed that it would be a good thing for me to do. “I began working with some exhibit planners.…I went through some papers and selected some special ones. This was one of those jobs that kept me up to 1 or 2a.m. I had a lot of those papers spread out all over my dining room and I’d spend hours going through all of those papers and pulling out the ones I knew he felt were important to him.” Others didn’t like to disappoint or tangle with Campbell, so they helped her rework some of the exhibits.

But the site’s inherent limitations still weighed on Senator Pepper and Campbell, establishing the kernel of an idea for something, anything, in the future that would be larger and more appropriate.

The Doors Open

Those standing with Pepper include Florida State University President Bernard Sliger; Governor Bob Graham, and Rep. Don Fuqua

Still, the immediate situation at Dodd Hall was improved by the time the library opened on May 15, 1985. And it was quite an event. Hundreds gathered in Florida State’s Ruby Diamond Auditorium for the official dedication of The Mildred and Claude Pepper Library and to see Senator Pepper receive one of the highest honors granted by the university. In recognition of his work and long relationship with the school, Senator Pepper received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. After accepting this degree from President Sliger, Senator Pepper said he believed that Florida State was the most fitting place for his papers and museum, largely because Mildred’s spirit and his memories of her always would be part of the campus.

Mildred had died on March 31, 1979, just three months after that frigid day in Tallahassee when Bob Graham had been inaugurated and Dodd Hall was designated as the library’s site. Her passing came, according to a letter sent later in 1979 by her husband to a friend in London, “after a year and one-half of what the doctors said were the most gallant and brave fight against it [cancer] they had ever seen. “She passed away in my arms,” Senator Pepper wrote. “You know the ordeal I have experienced by her passing.” Now, with the library a reality, Senator Pepper referred in the dedication speech to his “silent partner.” He called the library a monument to all that he and Mildred together had achieved.

Interestingly, though the library was opened and functioning, the whole business wasn’t formalized until May 27, 1986, when Senator Pepper signed an official, four-page “Instrument of Gift” later signed by Harold Wilkins on behalf of the Florida State University Foundation. The document, perhaps intended to deal with some library-management issues that had emerged (and will be discussed later in this report), laid out in extreme detail what material was being conveyed and, importantly, the rights and obligations of both parties. In May 1989, with Senator Pepper’s health deteriorating, the Instrument of Gift was amended to make clear that he wanted Frances Campbell to remain executive director and curator of the Pepper Library, a position funded by the Pepper Foundation. This seemed intended to protect Campbell’s position. Senator Pepper died about two weeks later.

Claude Pepper and others standing in the replica of Pepper’s Congressional Office in Dodd Hall Photograph taken at the dedication of the Mildred and Claude Pepper Library at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. Those pictured include Don Fuqua and Mary Rose Oakar

Among the library’s eventual 2 million documents and other items: Senator Pepper’s official and personal correspondence, speeches, legislative and committee and campaign files, photographs, recordings and memorabilia. Also found there are Mildred Pepper’s personal papers, photographs, recordings and memorabilia. The treasures include personal letters from Winston Churchill, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, and recordings of such political notables as Lyndon Johnson, Tip O’Neill and Hubert Humphrey. All of this remains available, without charge, to researchers, students and the general public. In the words of Senator Pepper: “The great rewards of research should not be available only to those with sufficient wealth to pay the bills.”

More was to come. Much more. An institute. An endowed chair. A foundation. A building to house all of it. And a statue outside that building. Each a monument informed by the lessons learned in creating The Mildred and Claude Pepper Library.

The Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy

“What is proposed is that the Claude Pepper Institute for the Improvement of the Quality of Life of Older Americans be established at Florida State University.”

– Joe Hiett

With the library now founded and open, attention largely shifted to other threads of those intertwined projects started by Senator Pepper and by others inspired by him. Even as it did, however, Senator Pepper’s friends and loyalists didn’t avert their gazes from the library or neglect efforts to map new, ambitious plans to improve it through rotating exhibits, a public relations campaign and other activities. “It must not become a dusty, deserted facility,” Campbell wrote to Senator Pepper on April 19, 1986, “but it must be made into a living memorial to you and Mrs. Pepper.”

As far back as late 1979, when the library still was in the conceptual stage, proposals were being developed and debated to capitalize on Senator Pepper’s name, reputation and influence in other ways that would benefit older Americans and reflect well on Florida State University. One such effort was birthed by an associate professor at Florida State, gestated over several years and eventually matured into today’s influential and ambitious Pepper Institute of Aging and Public Policy, based in the Claude Pepper Center a few steps from the offices of the Claude Pepper Foundation.

During the closing months of 1979, Joe Hiett, an FSU associate professor of higher education, found himself entranced by what he saw as the myriad new opportunities presented by the university’s tightening bonds with Senator Pepper. In short, Hiett told anyone who would listen, a library filled with material related to the senator and his times and, especially, his devotion to the needs and talents of the elderly was something that should be leveraged in every way possible. “The high percentage of senior citizens in Florida and many of the documents in the new Claude Pepper Library at Florida State University not only makes us aware of the need to address the task of improving the quality of life for older Americans but also gives us unique opportunities and qualifications,” Hiett wrote on December 21, 1979, to Charles H. Edwards III. Mr. Edwards was the chief of staff of the House Select Committee on Aging, which Senator Pepper chaired.

The Concept Wins Favor

Around the same time, Hiett had been passing around campus a detailed, seven-page concept paper that summarized the value of the material being gifted to Florida State by Senator Pepper and the nation’s growing awareness of the needs of the elderly. “Many at this University and others among the University’s constituencies are convinced that a relatively modest investment of federal funds could in a short period of time begin to provide the nation with procedures for more fully utilizing the talents of our older citizens and at the same time provide tested models for improving the quality of their lives…,” Hiett wrote in the concept paper. “What is proposed is that the Claude Pepper Institute for the Improvement of the Quality of Life of Older Americans be established at Florida State University.” It would be funded through an endowment created with federal and other funds. It would not need a new building. It would concentrate on organizing senior citizens to deploy their skills for continued use, involve them in identifying problems and solutions regarding aging in modern society, develop programs to otherwise enhance their quality of life, produce conferences, reports and pilot programs, and develop and recommend policies.

Edwards, the chief of staff, liked the idea, as did his boss. “Your proposal seems like a very promising idea to me and I hope you will keep me posted as your vision of the Institute takes further shape,” Edwards told Hiett. “Please let me reassure you that Congressman Pepper is very interested in your project.”

That vision did, indeed, take further shape at a rapid pace.

  • By April 1980, Hiett, FSU President Bernard Sliger and Senator Pepper met in Miami and developed an action plan.
  • Within a few weeks, Sliger decided to ask the Florida Legislature for $150,000 in seed money, and Hiett urged Pepper to “secure the endorsement and support of the federal government.”
  • By the end of 1980, a series of meetings at Florida State culminated in creating three “academic thrusts” for the institute: 1. Quality of Life for Older Citizens, run by Joe Hiett. 2. Education and Aging, run by Adult Education Professor Irwin Jahns, and 3. The Center for Gerontology, run by William G. Bell, an associate professor of urban and regional planning who already was a Florida State pioneer when it came to the study of gerontology. “Available for each of these academic endeavors will be the Pepper Papers,” a summary of the arrangement carefully noted.

By then, Bell already had won federal funding from the United States Administration on Aging for – and established in 1977 – a Multidisciplinary Center on Gerontology at Florida State. At first blush, this would seem to render as redundant a new, on-campus Pepper institute devoted to older Americans. Bell’s center, however, concentrated on academic matters and professional development, while the new Pepper Institute would be more user-centric – that is, it would devote itself in a more concentrated way to practical, rather than academic, efforts to assist older Americans. But now came a problem – a big problem.

A Name Game

While all of this was happening at Florida State in Tallahassee, it turned out that parallel and competitive efforts were underway at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, the area that had sent Senator Pepper to the U.S. House of Representatives. The University of Miami’s gerontology program had struck first, persuading Senator Pepper to lend his name to a spanking new “Claude Pepper University of Miami Center on Aging.” You could almost hear the brakes squeaking on Florida State’s campus in Tallahassee. Conversations were held. Memos were sent. If texting had been invented by then, texts would have consumed every available electron on the Internet. On Friday, January 30, 1981, Jack Gant, Florida State’s dean of the College of Education, and Warren Mazek, Florida State’s dean of the College of Social Sciences, met with Morton Teicher, director of the University of Miami’s gerontology program. They concurred on pretty much only one thing: They had a problem. “We all agreed that there is no reasonable way to share the Pepper name,” Mazek reported to Florida State President Sliger. “We also agreed that there is no way to solve Pepper’s problem of having to choose between the two schools; he’ll have to decide himself.”Wait, it gets worse. That meeting really did not go well for Florida State. “He [Teicher] also said that upon returning to Miami he would generate political pressure on Pepper to get the name for the University of Miami,” Mazek added. Ten days later, Gant was in Washington and met with Senator Pepper to plead Florida State’s case. “I emphasized that we were going to continue to do high quality work in keeping with the FSU tradition,” Gant reported on February 12, 1981. “We wanted to use his name to give status and dignity to our effort and, by our quality work, to give honor to a life of quality service by him.” It didn’t work. This is his very next sentence: “Mr. Pepper is giving his name to the University of Miami Center on Aging.” That said, Pepper expressed an interest in eventually finding a way to give his name to Florida State’s institute, but for now, Gant advised: “My recommendation is that we continue to work for a quality institute on aging and that our name remain the ‘FSU Institute on Aging.’“

The unsatisfactory situation festered for years but began improving as new leadership took hold at Florida State’s academically focused – and still rather blandly named – Multidisciplinary Center on Gerontology. In 1984, Bell announced that he was stepping down as director of that center and, by 1985, Marie E. Cowart, an energetic and dynamic professor of nursing, was named to the post. Before long, the place was a beehive of activity that continued during her entire term, which ended in 1992. Among the highlights: The center’s certificate program expanded, annual conferences and publications were started, grant funding increased significantly, full-time and half-time staffing expanded, and Cowart renamed the place as the Institute on Aging. “I said, ‘No one is going to go to the phone book – we used phone books back then – and look for an aging institute under ‘M,’” Cowart, who retained the title emerita dean and professor of urban and regional planning, recalled. “So, I retired the use of ‘multidisciplinary center.’“ (In coming years, it would be renamed twice again.) But there was more, and it reflected Senator Pepper’s growing awareness of both his legacy and the passage of time. During these years, a number of related activities were occurring, interacting and, before long, producing results.

A New Project

As Cowart pressed ahead on various initiatives at the institute, Senator Pepper and his associates worked to endow a completely separate Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholars Chair in Gerontology at Florida State.

By April 1, 1985, $600,000 had been raised, triggering another $400,000 from a state trust for eminent scholar programs. He was not bashful about this. At one point, Senator Pepper remarkably sought the entire $600,000 (or, alternately, $250,000) for the chair from Bankers Life and Casualty in Chicago, with which he had been in close touch through the years. “I feel that our papers can be of some value to students and scholars who are studying the times through which we have passed in the last approximately 50 years,” he told Robert Ewing, the firm’s president and chairman, in an October 8, 1981 letter.

More specifics were shared in briefing papers sent to Bankers Life and other potential donors. “Scholars and researchers at Florida State University are well aware of the complexities and problems affecting the aged, and agree with Congressman Pepper that the problems are multifaceted and require multidisciplinary approaches to their solutions…,” the university said. “It is our intent to use The Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholars Chair to fund the research and scholarly activities of nationally recognized experts in Social Gerontology and to use the resources of the State University System of Florida as a focus for the dissemination of research results,” the papers said. And now came the hook: “Additionally, the proposed Chair will benefit from the presence of The Mildred and Claude Pepper Library, now being established on the campus of Florida State University.” And so it went, and it worked. The chair, endowed by the money raised through Senator Pepper’s efforts, was and remains tied to the aging institute through Florida State’s College of Social Sciences and Public Policy’s Department of Sociology.

A Stellar Hire

By 1987, Professor Jill Quadagno, who had been teaching at the University of Kansas, was hired to fill the new Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair, a position she held with prodigious productivity until 2015. The program’s marching orders: “To advance scientific research and training in the area of Social Gerontology.” During her term in that position, Quadagno served as senior policy advisor on the President’s Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform in 1994. In 1998, she served as president of the American Sociological Association. Her research focused primarily on aging policy, Social Security reform and the uneven history of attempts to reform the American health reform system. In 2006, the Oxford University Press published her book, “One Nation, Uninsured: Why the U.S. Has No National Health Insurance.” Quadagno also wrote 11 other books and scores of articles. She was a source of unending pride for Senator Pepper. “He was very interested in and so proud of his professor,” Cowart said. “He always introduced Jill as ‘my professor.’ “From Quadagno’s perspective, it was an opportunity and experience of a lifetime.“It certainly was a highlight of my life to meet him,” said Quadagno, who still proudly held the title of Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Emeritus in late 2019. “It was the legacy of his name and carrying on research in areas that he cared about, like universal health care and long-term care,” she said. “I already was doing research in those areas, but I cared even more about those subjects because I now also was honoring his legacy.”

Carrying the Pepper Name

Also during Cowart’s tenure, she and others developed a concept paper for creation and construction of a “Pepper Center” that would link the Institute on Aging ever-more-closely with the newly formed – and here, we begin to arrive at – “the Claude Pepper Foundation.” More about both of these will follow in just a moment.

Back at the Institute on Aging, pretty much everyone close to it saw even greater potential. This included Senator Pepper, Frances Campbell, Marie Cowart and many administrators at Florida State. So, in June 1988, a series of meetings yielded a document called “The Pepper Institute: A Plan.” It dealt mostly with fundraising – from Congress and individuals – but note the name: The Pepper Institute. Past issues were evaporating, in some cases slowly. Finally, during the early 1990s, with leadership coming largely from Cowart and from Campbell serving as the nexus between the Pepper Foundation board and FSU, who agreed to have the Pepper Foundation fund several institute programs and scholarships, the Institute on Aging and later the Institute on Aging and Public Policy became the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy. An international dimension was added, as were strong research programs on cognitive aging, Alzheimer’s disease, retirement security and health care policy.

Joe Hiett’s notion was now reality: a multidisciplinary research institute named for Senator Pepper and based largely on his body of work. It took 13 years to happen. And then, two years later, in 1997, it moved into the newly constructed Claude Pepper Center, occupying offices a few steps from those of The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation.

The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation

“Providing help to those who are deserving in our society.”

– Frances Campbell

The foundation that was to become the umbrella, funder and protective shield for the institute and so many other Pepper-related projects and programs also had its roots in the pioneering initiative that created the Pepper Library. We may recall that the site in Dodd Hall, despite the renovation and all other best efforts, just didn’t work all that well. It was not as large as desired, and environmental conditions remained a constant concern. Sunlight flowing through the windows bleached documents within their display cases, asbestos was found in the building, that sort of thing. “Under the deed of gift, they had agreed to maintain the collection in a manner consistent with standards, but that wasn’t happening,” Thomas Spulak recalled. “It was a hostile environment for his collection.” Spulak had worked for Senator Pepper in Washington as general counsel for the House Rules Committee and in other roles. At the time of this writing in early 2020, he serves as chair and president of the Claude Pepper Foundation. In addition, Florida State literally wasn’t keeping the doors open. The library’s hours were so curtailed that Senator Pepper once found himself locked out during school hours – a particular embarrassment because he was trying to show off the place to a news reporter.

All of this weighed heavily on Senator Pepper and Spulak, even in the immediate wake of the library’s opening in 1985. “I think he was wondering, ‘What kind of deal did I make here?’“ Spulak said. Campbell recalled: “Dodd Hall was a beautiful building, but it didn’t have the conditions that were proper to protect that collection of papers. So, it was at that time that we started thinking – what can we do to provide the funding to take care properly of the collection?” The first plan: Senator Pepper, who had been delivering speeches around the country on a regular basis, decided to devote all of his fees – referred to in polite society as “honoria” – to taking better care of his papers and other material at the library. They tried this for a few years, but it didn’t work. “He became disturbed because he felt that his collection [still] was not receiving the care that it needed,” Campbell said. “So, then we started talking about, what can we do to provide a source of funding in an ongoing way.”

A Solution is Found

Spulak had an idea. “I said to him in the most delicate way that I could, ‘If this is how they’re treating you when you’re around, what’s going to happen when you’re not around?’” Spulak recalled. “I said, ‘Maybe you should set up some sort of a foundation so that all of the money you’re raising for them, you just put in your foundation and then give it to them on a performance basis.’” The bottom line: A well-endowed foundation could funnel earnings from that endowment into the library and, with luck and enough money, into so much more. The endowment part would be a challenge, but first the foundation would need to be developed and created, so the lawyers and others got to work.

On June 23, 1986, Spulak sent to Senator Pepper an eight-page, double-sided “checklist of considerations for the establishment of a charitable foundation for you to consider.” “The most fundamental question before proceeding, I believe, is how you envision the scope and breadth of the activities of the foundation,” Spulak wrote. “As you know, the foundation would have two major activities (1) fundraising and (2) contributions. The way the foundation is set up will greatly affect, I believe, these activities.” Within three weeks, questions were resolved regarding scope (national or primarily state/local) and the selection of officers (in number and experience). The foundation would focus primarily on the Pepper-related entities in Tallahassee. The initial directors would be Senator Pepper (then legally residing in Miami), Frances Campbell (then of McLean, Virginia), Irene Hudak (a certified public accountant who had assisted the senator with financial matters for years and at this time was living in Orlando), and Thomas Spulak, then of Washington, D.C.

On August 18, 1986, the deed was done. The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation, Inc., a not- for-profit corporation, was registered by the state of Florida. And…not much initially was done with it. Senator Pepper remained far more involved with his congressional duties than with nurturing his foundation. It existed primarily as a collection of state-registered documents. “By the time of his death in 1989,” Campbell recalled, “the foundation still had not been developed at all.” He did take one important action, however. A few weeks before he died, Senator Pepper stepped down as chair and president of his foundation and he made certain that Campbell would succeed him.

When the unwelcomed moment arrived, she wasted little time. “After he died, I proposed to the board that we develop as an organization that would continue as best we could to honor his ideals and support those things that occupied the majority of his public life,” Campbell said. “He was interested in almost everything, but he had a heavy focus on health care for all people, on education for the underprivileged persons he supported so strongly. “Health care, education, aging. If we put that under one big umbrella, it would be providing help to those who were deserving in our society.” The concept was weighty, but resources were slim. At that point, the foundation occupied one room in Campbell’s home in McLean, Virginia. “We didn’t have a staff. We didn’t have a mission statement. We didn’t have any money,” she said. “We started from scratch, but we dedicated ourselves to the guiding principles that Senator Pepper had throughout his life. It took time. It took a lot of hard work and the support of numerous people.”

And it would take money. A lot of it. But from what source? Suddenly, Campbell had an inspired notion. From time to time, though still rather rarely, Congress had appropriated large sums of money to projects intended to honor the work or legacy of its veteran or retired members. “And I thought, well, Senator Pepper deserves an appropriation as much as any of these other persons, all of whom I thought were well deserving,” Campbell recalled.

Senator Pepper’s former aides began consulting with the chairmen of key congressional committees, who proved receptive. Before long, they were asked to draft legislative language. One thing led to another. And, on November 21, 1989, fewer than six months after his death, Senator Pepper was honored by Congress with a mega-grant. From Public Law 101-165, Title VIII: “For payment to the Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation, a direct and unrestricted grant, including any interest or earning therefrom, to support the purposes of the Foundation, its ongoing educational and public services program and to serve as a memorial to the late Senator Claude Pepper.” Due to the often-inexplicable workings of Congress, this grant came through the Department of Defense. So, a few weeks later, Frances Campbell was called to the Pentagon to pick up a check that she would carry by hand to a local bank for deposit. The check was in the amount of $10 million. That is today’s after-inflation equivalent of $20,753,709.68. The foundation would survive – and it would thrive.

How to Pay for It

The Real Work Begins

“It was such a happy occurrence for us because we were struggling to truly develop an organization that would appropriately honor Senator Pepper and carry on the activities that were so important to him,” Campbell said. Staffers were hired. Guidelines were developed. A logo was designed, prominently featuring a helping hand. But Spulak also remembers a period of indecision. What, exactly, was the foundation’s mission? Should it attempt an international span of interests? Should it act largely as a lobbying organization, much like the American Association of Retired Persons (now known as the AARP)? Something else? After a bit of time, they sorted it out. Programs were launched, among them a study regarding grandparents who were compelled to take over as parents, and grants were distributed. The top-line criteria: The projects had to relate to aging, education or health care.

A mission statement was carved from stalwart material: “The purpose of the Foundation is to promote and support policies and programs which will improve health, provide economic opportunity, and contribute to social justice for all Americans, with a special emphasis on the betterment of life for elderly Americans: all of which is consistent with Claude Pepper’s dedicated efforts to meet the needs and maximize the potential of a burgeoning elderly population….”

At the same time, challenges materialized out of nowhere. One involved a contagion of unrelated entities seeking to exploit Senator Pepper’s good name. Within a few months of his death, Campbell was learning of at least six occasions when the senator’s name was used without permission for fundraising activities. “If his name is being used primarily to raise money, we’re not too happy about it,” she told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in September 1989. “In these cases, we would contact the party and ask them to stop. “He was so humble. I don’t think it ever occurred to him while he was alive that things like this could happen. I do believe he would want the foundation to control how his name was used.”

Guidelines, programs, grants and protecting the senator’s name. These activities developed over ensuing years, most often with a focus on the Pepper-related units at Florida State University and in Tallahassee. Over time, it seemed wise to move the foundation’s headquarters from McLean to Tallahassee itself. By October 1994, the foundation was based at 101 South Monroe Street, two blocks from the state Capitol and just a few more blocks from Florida State’s campus. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this move. “When things really began to happen for FSU was when the foundation was able to move from Washington, D.C., to Tallahassee,” Cowart said. “It was a very positive thing to have happened.”

By the end of that year, the foundation clearly was fully established.

  • Led by Campbell, the board had eight directors.
  • Its board of advisors had 33 members, including power players such as Florida State President Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, former President Gerald Ford, U.S. Senator Bob Graham, Miami Herald Publisher David Lawrence Jr. and feminist writer Betty Friedan.
  • It issued 29 significant grants that year. Recipients included an annual aging symposium sponsored by the foundation, a Senior in Service Overseas program, the Pepper Institute and other entities on Florida State’s campus, the Alzheimer’s Project of Tallahassee and the Florida Council on Aging.
  • Even after making those grants, the foundation still boasted a 1994 year-end fund balance of $10,590,707.

Florida State Comes A’ Courtin’

But now, a new opportunity – and a very major challenge – emerged for the foundation. During the very next year, in 1995, efforts were underway at the highest levels of Florida State University to bring The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation into the university itself – or, at least, to substantially tighten the bonds between them.

A careful reading of internal documents suggests that several motivations were at work here. Obviously, a certain logic came into play. The Pepper Library, the Pepper Institute, the Pepper Chair and now the Pepper Foundation all were active on or near campus. Wouldn’t it make sense for all of them to fall at least to some extent under Florida State’s administrative and fundraising embrace? In addition, moves were underway to create the Claude Pepper Center, a term that came to mean two things: 1. a building on campus to house these various units and 2. yet another sort- of quasi-independent entity that would have authority over much of what was housed and happened in that building. The situation was becoming unwieldly and even more confusing. It cannot be denied, however, that Florida State University’s administrators also had their eyes on the Pepper Foundation’s healthy endowment fund. They made several attempts to bring that also into the university, efforts that disturbed the foundation’s board of directors.

With negotiations well underway and not going well, Florida State President Sandy D’Alemberte, J. Jeffrey Robison of the Florida State University Foundation and their staffs searched for a way to entice and persuade Campbell and the board. They discreetly undertook some financial and strategic due diligence. “Please note that their Boards, especially their Advisory Board, has [sic] some major players,” Robison wrote to D’Alemberte on April 17, 1995, as part of a “research profile on Pepper Foundation.” This doubling would result from state matching funds. So, by absorbing the Pepper Foundation and not even touching its $10 million, Florida State would reap another $10 million for other purposes, free and clear. “As best we can tell, they have $10 million in assets, which we could double to $20 million,” Robison said. Robison continued: “Should we approach them to donate their assets to FSU and then match them with State funds, we need to: 1. Make provision for their staff to become FSU employees. This would give Ms. Campbell (and any others) a sense of security which would negate their opposition to the arrangement. 2. Provision would have to be made to sustain their Board’s involvement in the Pepper program.” The rather bold concept found some support within existing, on-campus Pepper programs.

Inside Help

Exhibit A: On May 30, 1995, John Myles, who had succeeded Marie Cowart and soon was to step down as director of the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, endorsed D’Alemberte’s proposed “marriage” between Florida State and the Pepper Foundation. “It’s a marvelous idea,” Myles told D’Alemberte in a letter. “If successful, the result will be an organization of national significance…. Your proposal for a ‘marriage’ between FSU and the Pepper Foundation is visionary and ambitious. If I can help with the ‘courtship,’ please feel free to call on me.” D’Alemberte needed all the help he could get. Said “courtship,” in fact, was not going smoothly. The foundation’s board was proving difficult to woo. Five weeks after distributing the “research profile” of the foundation, Robison wrote another note to D’Alemberte – a note that ended: “Good luck. I am sorry this has proven so problematic.”.

By the fall of 1995, it became clear that Pepper Foundation board members were – and would remain – unwilling to be absorbed by the university. They simply would not cede full control of the foundation or its endowment and the earnings on that endowment. At the same time, however, groundbreaking would occur within a month for construction of the Pepper Center building (which was being funded by the state legislature). Both sides had to end the impasse and find a way to finance the center’s furnishings and programs – and to get along in the future.

Absorption of the Pepper Foundation into the university was a dead issue now, so another form of partnership – a deep partnership – had to be created. The Pepper Foundation already had committed $2 million for development of the interior of the soon-to-be-constructed Pepper Center. That seemed right and proper, but the foundation board needed certain guarantees before it moved farther. “The board was extremely reluctant, if not outright opposed, to donating its funds beyond the $2 million that it had committed in exchange for the agreement to use state of Florida funds to build the Pepper Center building,” Spulak recalled. “Sandy D’Alemberte, then also a [Pepper Foundation] board member, argued that by donating additional funds to FSU, the state would match the amount, thereby doubling the amount that was contributed,” Spulak said. “As tempting as that was, the board was concerned that once FSU had the money in hand, there would be no guarantees that it would be used for purposes that the board felt were only those consistent with its vision.”

The board also harbored concern over who actually would run the Pepper Center in the future. As a result, the board made it clear to Florida State that any future agreement under which Pepper Foundation funds would be granted to the university had to include an agreement that a future Pepper Center director would be approved by the foundation board and that the board would approve the Pepper Center’s annual budget. “So, though the board could not select the Pepper Center director or establish an annual budget, neither could Florida State without the affirmative consent of the Pepper Foundation,” Spulak said.

At Last, a Deal

It took many months of intermittent negotiations to resolve the board’s concerns, but finally, by early 1996, an agreement was reached and papers were signed. The Claude Pepper Foundation (the donor) would remain independent, but it would donate an additional $2 million to the Florida State University Foundation (the “donee,” on behalf of the school itself), an amount that would be matched with $2 million from the state of Florida. This money would be earmarked for Pepper- related purposes, primarily the Pepper Center. “The core idea is to gain the advantages of a combined program with an increased endowment and administrative support without losing the energy and relevancy due to a distinguished outside board [emphasis added],” according to a draft of the agreement dated December 7, 1995. “Pepper Center will provide the Donor and the Donee with a unified presence that will strengthen the ability to enhance the work begun by Senator Claude Pepper.”

Under the agreement, the Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation would retain its independence, carrying out its own programs without interference from the university. The foundation also would have the right to approve Pepper Center directors and the center’s annual budget. In addition, earnings from the new $4 million “Pepper Center” endowment would be split between the Pepper Center and the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy. The bulk of the foundation’s original $10 million congressional grant and its earnings would remain under the foundation’s control. FSU was compelled to agree to that, so it did.

To this day that “marriage” has not been fully consummated. Nevertheless, a significant degree of unity had been achieved: the bonds between the Pepper Foundation and Florida State University remain quite tight, and the Pepper Foundation has pumped millions more into the Pepper Center and other on-campus activities over the years. “We have come a long way,” D’Alemberte told Campbell as the negotiations approached completion, “and I want to congratulate and thank you and everyone involved…. Just think of what we can do for the Pepper legacy.”

The Claude Pepper Center

“What defined him were people in need. There were so many people he was champion for.”

– Marie E. Cowart

That unity, those bonds, had and continue to have their physical manifestation at the Claude Pepper Center, an impressive, multipurpose building of brick and stained-glass on West Call Street within the main Tallahassee campus of Florida State University.

The concept originated in the fertile mind of Marie Cowart during her tenure as director of the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy. “I came up with this crazy idea that we should have a triangle of research and communication and public service that the Pepper Institute as the research arm, [the Pepper Library as the data resource] and the Pepper Foundation could be involved in and communicate and disseminate information to the general public,” she said. “And not just to academic outlets, but with outlets to the public, as well.”

The venue for all of this would be a two-pronged Claude Pepper Center. Prong No. 1: A Pepper Center research and administrative unit would serve as an investigational and coordinating entity. Prong No. 2: A similarly named Pepper Center building would resolve serious space crunches endured by the foundation, the library and the institute. “It kind of developed into a need to have an auditorium and a larger library and a museum,” Cowart said. “The Pepper Institute was housed in the little cubbyhole on the sixth floor of the Bellamy building and we were just totally outgrowing our space.” The Pepper Museum emerged as a particularly central element of the proposed building. “That came about because he said along the way, ‘If we do have a space that can accommodate it, I would like to have my office recreated there,” Campbell said. “He had said that, and that gave us the inspiration to go ahead and do it.”

So, even as Florida State advanced its efforts to woo the foundation, plans were being mapped for the Pepper Center. Construction of the building would be funded through a grant from the Florida Legislature, money that took several years finally to be allocated. By early 1994, a Pepper Center planning committee had been organized and was holding regular meetings. On April 18, 1994, for example, the planning committee held a meeting in the second-floor Plantation Room of the Governor’s Club on Adams Street. Foundation President Frances Campbell presided. The subject: prioritizing programs to be offered. A decision emerged.

  • The first priority featured conferences related to Senator Pepper’s foremost concerns, including racial conflicts, intergenerational issues (such as economic challenges), crime and violence, health care, aging and labor.
  • The second priority: preserving for future generations Senator Pepper’s history and legacy (the primary purpose of this report).
  • The third priority: curriculum development, including identification of target audiences such as seniors and students.

This “Pepper Center Development Committee” met regularly through the years, even after the center’s building was built and open.

Setbacks and Solutions

That construction project generated seemingly unending complications. After many months of planning, a promising site in the middle of campus suffered a fatal setback when Florida State President Sandy D’Alemberte and other university administrators unexpectedly vetoed it – after architects had produced detailed designs. The site was too close to Bellamy Hall and a new building there would consume too much of the campus’ increasingly precious green space. Finally, during the summer of 1994, everyone involved settled on a new site – a parking lot on Call Street, nearly adjacent to Florida State’s School of Music and concert center. Well, nearly everyone. In September 1994, Dean Jon Piersol of the College of Music was not thrilled to learn that his faculty and staff would lose 123 parking spots on the perennially parking-challenged campus and that many of his older concert patrons would be considerably inconvenienced. “If it is not too late, I wanted to express some concerns I have in that regard,” Piersol told Florida State President D’Alemberte in a September 19, 1994, letter. It was too late. D’Alemberte scrawled to his staff this note on the bottom of Piersol’s letter: “I do not regard this as a serious concern. Am I wrong?” Apparently, he was not. Planning moved forward.

In February 1995, Frances Campbell sent a progress report to D’Alemberte: “The planning of the Pepper Center advanced [in 1994] with the selection of an accessible, highly visible site on the campus of Florida State University. Final conceptual schematics are now being prepared by the architect and we anticipate a ground breaking ceremony will be held in the latter part of the year.

Plans for the interior of the Pepper Center continued with the engagement of an exhibit design firm by the Pepper Foundation. Their work is now about half completed.” The architect was Clemons, Rutherford & Associates, Inc. of Tallahassee (now CRA Architects). The general contractor was Culpepper Construction Company of Tallahassee. The museum exhibits were designed by Abrams, Teller & Madsen, Inc. of Chicago.

To allocate space within the building and otherwise establish “harmonious” policy guidelines, the school in April 1995 created the “President’s Pepper Consociation.” This group included Frances Campbell, University Libraries Director Charles Miller, Director John Myles of the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, and Chuck Cnudde, dean of the College of Social Sciences. It had a great deal of work to do and many issues to resolve. How much space must be devoted to the library? How best to design and furnish the museum? What else should be included in the building? Who gets office space – and where? How is all of this to be financed? As to that last question, in addition to the $2 million donated by the foundation as part of the…non- marriage…contract with Florida State, the foundation gave $414,000 to the university for interior fabrication of the Pepper Museum.

Breaking Ground

Culpepper Construction broke ground in January 1996 and signed off on the completed building in December 1997. Pepper-related occupants began moving in shortly after. Much later, in 2002, the Pepper Foundation gave another $4 million to Florida State. This money, matched in kind by the state of Florida, added $8 million to the original $2 million and created a $10 million endowment for the Pepper Center and its future operations. In the end, the Claude Pepper Center’s building would contain the complete Mildred and Claude Pepper Library; the Pepper Museum; office space for the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, the Claude Pepper Foundation and the Pepper Center research unit; a 110-seat auditorium; conference rooms and other facilities. The auditorium was Cowart’s idea. “Some of the faculty thought I was pretty nuts,” she recalled in late 2019. Actually, she had many ideas. “We have a building with large offices, with built-in wall-to-wall bookcases, lots of things that are hard to find on campus,” she said. “The only thing I didn’t get was an outside patio for receptions,” Cowart said, laughing. “I really wanted a roof garden for cocktail parties.” Watching with particular care over all of this was an eagle-eyed Frances Campbell. At one point, after examining furniture destined for the museum’s replicated Senator Pepper offices, Campbell sent librarian Burt Altman a lengthy list of needed repairs. A sample: Regarding a credenza in the House of Representative’ office, “the wood is scratched and chipped on the bottom molding.”

Opened in 1997, the building features an entrance largely created by a striking set of eight stained- glass windows. Designed by glass artist Nancy O’Neil, the windows highlight four stages of Senator Pepper’s life and four issues of supreme importance to him: the elderly, worker’s rights, civil rights and health care. The museum contains numerous and fascinating artifacts, such as a replica of his black 1939 Studebaker campaign car, replicas of both of his U.S. Capitol offices, walls covered with plaques and photos, and even a replica of a noose that was used by political opponents during one of his campaigns to hang him in effigy. That’s the Pepper Center building.

As for the Pepper Center research and administrative unit, its own scholar-in-residence is Larry Polivka, a nationally renowned expert in the field of aging. A graduate of Florida State, Polivka arrived back at Florida State in early 2009 as the Pepper Foundation’s scholar-in-residence and subsequently added the role of director of the Pepper Center research and coordinating unit. He also has served in many capacities at state and federal levels. “I’ve been very fortunate to have this position to work with the people I have here and the foundation’s board and the university,” Polivka said in late 2019. “All of the parties have been very supportive of this effort for a decade. “I deeply admired Senator Pepper since I first became aware of his political work in the mid- 1960s,” he said. “I could not think of a better job at this point in my life and career.” Over the years, he and his Pepper Center’s primary research interests have centered on long-term care, affordable health care and economic security for America’s elderly population. He also is conducting similar aging studies related to the global community.

Senator Pepper Still Towers Over it All

Back at the Pepper Center building, a bronze statue of Senator Pepper was added in 2003 to the front courtyard of the Pepper Center building. Standing at eight feet, two inches, the statue was funded by the foundation and by a donation from the late Margaret Mosher, a business executive and philanthropist from Santa Barbara, California.

It was sculpted by Neil Estern and appears to capture the senator in the midst of a passionate speech. “I want those who knew him personally as well as those who know him only by reputation to immediately recognize the man for who he was and what he stood for,” Estern said as the statue was readied for unveiling on November 14, 2003. Estern was the sculptor of the statues in the Roosevelt Memorial in DC. The Pepper Foundation chose him because of Senator Pepper’s admiration for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the desire to have a connection between the two.

And so, the pieces now were in place. A foundation. A library. An institute. A separate Pepper Center research unit. An endowed chair. A building. All at Florida State University. All honoring Claude Denson Pepper’s life and his work and his legacy.

Postscript – Early 2020

“When we look at what’s happened over time, the dream has come true.”

– Marie Cowart

Change is inevitable on university campuses (and most everyplace else) and, over the years, the Claude Pepper entities at Florida State experienced their share of that, but the primary objective of each remained in sharp relief. Here are capsule summaries of where things stood as of this writing in early 2020:

The Claude Pepper Foundation

Now administered by Chair and President Thomas Spulak (Senator Pepper’s longtime aide in Washington and elsewhere), Treasurer and Executive Director Tom Herndon (a veteran public servant in all three branches of Florida state government) and the board of directors, the foundation continues its role as a funder and umbrella organization for much of the Pepper-related work on campus.

Separately, in early 2000, Mildred’s name was dropped by the foundation, which reincorporated itself as “The Claude Pepper Foundation, Inc.” Four of the five members of that board voted in favor of that move; Frances Campbell voted against it. According to Campbell, when the foundation was being created and named in 1986, Senator Pepper said: “Mildred’s name always comes first. No matter what it is, her name comes first.” But, by 2000, the majority felt that the lengthy title had become too cumbersome. “The name change was merely to shorten the name,” Spulak said. “To be sure, the original name was Senator Pepper’s choice. He was devoted to his late wife. We certainly meant no disrespect to her or him, but became aware that it was a rather long name to use whenever it was attached to a project or program.”

Now, the foundation conducts symposia, conferences, public outreach and other activities, many of them linked to the Claude Pepper Center’s research and coordinating unit, which the foundation still oversees and makes numerous grants each year to deserving organizations, programs, initiatives and research studies.

Among grant recipients in recent years: Florida Council on Aging and its legislative initiatives, Claude Pepper Scholars program that focuses on economically disadvantaged students in the Miami area, television commercials for Medicare’s Meals on Wheels program, Leadership Florida, Tallahassee Senior Center and so on. In addition, the foundation has cosponsored pre-election political debates, most recently an October 2018 gubernatorial debate at Broward College in Davie, Florida. Chair and President Thomas Spulak: “Through its efforts, the foundation advances the ideals that Claude Pepper tirelessly promoted during his over 50 years in public service – protecting the human, civil and social rights of all Americans, especially those least able to provide for themselves.”

The Claude Pepper Center

The Claude Pepper Center remains the hub of Pepper-related activities on the campus of Florida State University. As an organizational entity, the Pepper Center still assembles much of the work produced by related Pepper units and distributes it in the form of reports, studies, conferences and the like. As noted above, Scholar-in-Residence Larry Polivka and his associates continue to conduct their own research related to long-term care, health care, economic security and other issues important to older Americans.

As a physical entity, the multipurpose building known as the Claude Pepper Center serves as the home of the Claude Pepper Library, the Claude Pepper Museum, the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, the Claude Pepper Center research unit, the Claude Pepper Foundation and the Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair in Social Gerontology (which remained vacant in late 2019 due largely to the difficulty of finding a qualified and interested full professor of gerontology).

Among many other activities, the Pepper Center building also provides office space, classroom space and logistical support (in association with the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy) for the Osher Lifelong Living Institute at Florida State University. Widely known as OLLI, this branch of a national network of adult-education programs serves more than 1,000 older residents of the Tallahassee area with more than 100 classes per year, plus additional enrichment programs. The program, based at the Claude Pepper Center building, has become a key element of life for the elder population of North Florida.

The Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy

Now under the auspices of Director Anne Barrett, a sociologist who specializes in issues related to aging, the Pepper Institute retains is core mission as a multidisciplinary research organization. Students study various curricula related to the challenges of and opportunities associated with aging.

Administrators, faculty and students participate in numerous conferences and programs, often funded by grants received by the institute. Faculty associates produce or partner in dozens of wide- ranging research studies each year. Examples: Adjustment to widowhood and loneliness among older men: the influence of military and Expanding the happiness paradox: Ethnoracial disparities in life satisfaction among older immigrants in the United States. “The faculty at the Pepper Institute are doing so much good research on inequality in health care and so many other subjects that I think Claude Pepper would be pleased to know about and they’re having conferences and inviting speakers,” said Quadagno, who worked closely with the institute. “All of that is part of his legacy.” Regarding the creation and past work of the Pepper Institute, Cowart said: “We helped to bring his name out nationally. It was just fun to grow something like that.”

The Claude Pepper Library and Claude Pepper Museum

Over its 34 years of existence, the Claude Pepper Library – Mildred Pepper’s name also was dropped from this institution – has grown significantly in size and scope. Naturally, it still serves as the official repository for the Claude Pepper papers, the rich lode of letters, official documents, diaries, photographs, audio-visual recordings and memorabilia associated with one of the most notable Americans of the 20th century. But now, it also is the home to more than 2 million documents and 25 collections, including the papers donated by former governors Reubin Askew, Thomas Leroy Collins and Fuller Warren. Also there are papers and records associated with former Florida State University President Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, other prominent Floridians and groups such as the Tallahassee chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Under the leadership of Claude Pepper Archivist Robert Rubero, the Pepper Library and Pepper Museum host numerous archive-training sessions, class tours and guest lecturers. In academic years 2018 and 2019, The Claude Pepper Library served over 400 patrons, taught 12 classes on utilizing the library for archives research, and hosted more than 25 tour groups and on-campus organizations for social events. Over the same time period, the Claude Pepper papers were accessed by researchers more than 75 times. Other political collections, ranging from the Tallahassee chapter of the League of Women Voters to the Reubin Askew Papers, were accessed more than 30 times. “In my time working at the Claude Pepper Library, it has been a privilege to come to know the life and times of Senator Pepper,” Rubero said. “Working with students and teachers, I am able to bring this history to life and introduce the senator to a new generation of scholars and visitors.”


Claude Denson Pepper died on May 30, 1989, a victim of stomach cancer. He was 88 years old. He was mourned by countless millions, including those who worked for and with him. Thomas Spulak: “We all loved him and were so loyal to him. We always were thinking, ‘What could we do to help the senator?”

In his Last Will and Testament, signed on April 21, 1989, Senator Pepper directed that the bulk of his estate be left to what now is called The Claude Pepper Foundation, Inc. He asked to “be buried next to my wife in the Pepper Family Plot at the Oakland Cemetery in Tallahassee, Florida.” And that his gravestone be marked with this epitaph: “He loved God and the people and sought to serve both.”

Martin Merzer spent nearly 30 years as a business reporter, foreign correspondent, national correspondent and senior writer for The Miami Herald. He also served the Associated Press for six years as a newsman in Miami and business writer in New York. Now semi-retired, Merzer lives in Tallahassee with his family.