A History of Service Timeline
What have I done today to lighten the burden upon those who suffer?“– Senator Claude Pepper
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, Inc. 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, the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair in Social Gerontology, the 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, 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 Claude Pepper Foundation remains actively engaged in preserving and extending the advancements that Senator Pepper achieved on behalf of all Americans.
The document that follows is a timeline that tracks and illustrates how the Claude Pepper Foundation and its related structures were created and erected and fortified. For clarity and ease of understanding, here are capsule descriptions of the Claude Pepper Foundation and its often- interlocking entities:
- The Claude Pepper Foundation, Inc.:
The Claude Pepper Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation created in 1986. It 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 Dr. 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:
With roots all the way back to 1977, the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy 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 Claude Pepper Foundation, the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, the Claude Pepper Library, the Claude Pepper 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.
- Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair in Social Gerontology:
The Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair in Social Gerontology 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 2019, the chair remains vacant. It, too, is based in the Claude Pepper Center.
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, October 20, 1987
September 8, 1900
Claude Denson Pepper is born in rural Chambers County, Alabama, a place so impoverished that he never saw a paved road until he went to college.
Senator Pepper serves in the Florida House of Representatives, elected by voters of Taylor County, southeast of Tallahassee.
Senator Pepper serves Florida as a U.S. senator, earning the appellation “Senator” that he would carry for the rest of his life.
February 5, 1959
The initial outreach between Florida State University and Senator Pepper began in 1959. In what could be called the “Genesis Document,” newly arrived director of libraries N. Orwin Bush invites Senator Pepper to donate his papers to the Florida State University Library. “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,” Bush writes. Five days later, Allen Morris, an influential former reporter (and ultimately clerk of the Florida House of Representatives), lends his support.
February 11, 1959
Senator Pepper expresses interest. “I would give serious consideration to depositing them [his documents] in the Florida State University Library,” he writes. The idea remains alive but largely dormant for nearly 20 years.
Senator Pepper serves a congressional district in South Florida as a prominent member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout both careers in Congress, he consistently champions the needs of the poor, the ill, the disenfranchised and, especially, the oldest among us. He drafts the first bill to establish a minimum wage and maximum workplace hours, introduces the first legislation that guarantees women equal pay for equal work, conducts the first hearings on drugs in schools and helps create the Juvenile Justice Agency. He sponsors the Older Americans Act, ends mandatory retirement and creates legislation to form the National Institutes of Health. Perhaps most significantly, he steadfastly protects Social Security benefits from incursions by budget cutters and others less concerned than he about the health and welfare of older Americans.
Senator Pepper describes 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.” He creates a legacy that many believe must be preserved beyond his years of service and beyond his lifetime.
Allen Morris again reminds Senator Pepper of the proposal, praising the ability of Florida State University’s Library to properly care for and display the senator’s papers. Morris writes: “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.”
William G. Bell, an associate professor of urban and regional planning at Florida State University, wins federal funding from the United States Administration on Aging for what he calls the Multidisciplinary Center on Gerontology at Florida State. This eventually evolves into the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy.
June 14, 1977
After meeting with Senator and Mildred Pepper, Harold Wilkins, executive director of the Florida State University Foundation, prepares a formal proposal 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.”
January 2, 1979
On a frigid, snow-flurried day, Senator Pepper and an ailing Mildred Pepper gather in Tallahassee for the inauguration of Governor Bob Graham. During a luncheon sponsored by Florida State University President Bernard F. Sliger, plans are discussed to establish the Mildred and Claude Pepper Library at the university. Afterward, the Peppers and others formally select the building – Dodd Hall – in which the library will be housed. Dodd Hall, built in 1923, is chosen for its architectural beauty and due to Mildred Pepper’s affirmative student experiences there when it housed the main library of what was then the Florida State College for Women. The space has been occupied by the campus broadcasting operation, WFSU-TV. An extensive renovation project already is being planned and financed.
March 31, 1979
Mildred Pepper dies of esophageal cancer after what Senator Pepper calls “a year and one-half of what the doctors said were the most gallant and brave fight against it they had ever seen.” In a letter to Edgar Percival of London, Senator Pepper says: “She passed away in my arms. You know the ordeal I have experienced by her passing.”
Fundraising and other efforts related to establishing the Pepper Library expand at a rapid pace. The Florida Legislature appropriates $475,000 (and, later, another $400,000) for the physical renovation of Dodd Hall, but millions more are sought to manage the Pepper material on an ongoing basis and to support the library’s work, student scholarships and related items. An endowment fund has been created, though its funds are being routed through the Florida State University Foundation, which sets up a Mildred and Claude Pepper Library account.
Members of Senator Pepper’s Washington staff ship boxes of material for assessment and temporary storage at Florida State’s Strozier Library, four or five boxes at a time. A five-page, mostly single-spaced outline for cataloging the material is developed by Charles Miller, director of university libraries. “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,” he writes to Frances Campbell. Campbell served Senator Pepper as a constituent service aide, secretary, administrative assistant and staff director for 22 years. Later, shortly after Senator Pepper’s death in 1989, she takes over as president of the Claude Pepper Foundation.
December 5, 1979
The recently created Mildred and Claude Pepper Library Endowment Fund holds a reception in Washington, D.C., to raise funds. Comedian and actor Bob Hope is the honorary national chairman and former Florida Governor Reubin Askew, recently out of office, is the national chairman. The executive committee includes, among others, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Henry Ford II, comedian Jackie Gleason and eight current or former Florida governors. 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.”
December 21, 1979
Thank you notes are sent to 33 private, corporate, union, financial, health care and other contributors, among them John Culverhouse, Albert Lasker, Boeing, USAir and Texaco. “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, tells each contributor in the identical notes.
Over time, Senator Pepper labors assiduously, contacting people he worked with or served during his many years of public life. He seeks to arrange fundraisers in New York, Jacksonville, Miami Beach (at the Fontainebleau Hilton) and elsewhere. Among those who eventually contribute: 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 come from unlikely people in distant corners of the globe. Mr. and Mrs. Kee Seung Lee of Seoul, Korea, for instance, send a check for $1,000, apparently on behalf of a member of Korea’s National Assembly. “The library is very close to my heart, as it was to Mildred’s,” Senator Pepper writes in March 1980.
The first 900 boxes of the Pepper collection have arrived on campus. Material and staff are still in temporary space in Strozier, but they are compelled to move to three different locations within that library. Portions of the collection also are stored in the old Post Office on Woodward Avenue and the old Dodd Hall Reading Room (later, the Florida Heritage Museum) while Dodd is being renovated for the library, according to then university librarian Burt Altman.
Seeking to leverage the material and attention produced by Senator Pepper on campus, Joe Hiett, a Florida State associate professor of higher education, proposes federal and other funding for a new Claude Pepper Institute for the Improvement of the Quality of Life of Older Americans, to reside on campus. “It is conceived of having an endowment.” 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.
This concept seems meant to complement the existing Multidisciplinary Center on Gerontology at Florida State, which concentrates more on academic matters and professional development. (After several setbacks, elements of Hiett’s concept eventually find life in the Claude Pepper Foundation, the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, and the Claude Pepper Center.)
Joe Hiett, Florida State President Bernard Sliger and Senator Pepper meet in Miami and develop an action plan for the proposed institute. Sliger asks the Florida Legislature for $150,000 in seed money, and Hiett urges Senator Pepper to “secure the endorsement and support of the federal government.” Three “academic thrusts” are developed 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, creator of the existing Multidisciplinary Center for Gerontology. But plans are placed on hold after discovery of a similar project underway at the University of Miami.
January 30, 1981
A meeting between officials of Florida State and the University of Miami concludes with the University of Miami asserting dominance on this issue. A subsequent meeting between Florida State and Senator Pepper fails to resolve the problem. Florida State’s proposed Claude Pepper Institute is frozen in place.
March 2, 1981
A long-deferred memorial service for Mildred Pepper is held in the Washington National Cathedral. Among the speakers: Bob Hope, House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill and Barbara Bush, the vice president’s wife. More than 1,200 people attend.
Boxes of records meant for the Pepper Library continue to arrive regularly from the Federal Records Center in Suitland, Maryland. The material slowly is catalogued and stored until the planned renovation of Dodd Hall is complete.
April 29, 1980
Senator Pepper’s fundraising campaign now seeks to raise “a minimum of $5 million as a trust fund for the future support of the library,” according to a letter from him to former New York Governor Averell Harriman. Senator Pepper tells 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.”
May 14, 1980
The extensive search for exhibits extends 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…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.”
June 2, 1980
A fundraiser is held at the Capital City Country Club from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. “A tax-deductible contribution of at least $50 per couple is required…The 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.”
June 24, 1980
Referring to his fundraising efforts, Senator Pepper writes in a letter to John Koziol of Miami: “I am profoundly grateful for the wonderful response the library has received from dear friends.”
Sept. 25, 1980
But by this date, the fund can boast a net worth (after expenses) of only $41,017.91. A new approach is required.
Senator Pepper and others accumulate items beyond documents to furnish the library. At one point in 1984, he sends a check for $350 to the assistant superintendent of the Senate to purchase a desk identical to the one he had used there. It is moved temporarily to his office in the House. He sets 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). He also spends some time seeking material held by others – and fending off insurance brokers, architects and others trying to get a piece of the action.
Dodd Hall is renovated, funded with a $475,000 appropriation by the Florida Legislature, followed by another $400,000. According to architect Herschel E. Shepard, the project involves two major phases.
The first phase is the restoration of gothic-styled Dodd Hall to its original configuration after long- term use as a television studio. The second phase is the adaptation of this space to serve as the Claude Pepper Library, including recreations of Senator Pepper’s offices as a senator and representative. An elevator to the second floor is added, as is an entrance for physically challenged visitors. The project is completed in 1985, with more than 6,200 square feet of space on the first floor and on the mezzanine.
November 2, 1981
Three of the most powerful players in Tallahassee and in the state conduct a summit meeting to resolve the financial issue: Senator Pepper, former Governor Reubin Askew and Harold D. Wilkins, president of the Florida State University Foundation. Their decisions would set the stage for virtually all future fundraising activities on behalf of many Senator Pepper-related projects.
November 19, 1981
Wilkins writes an after-action memo summarizing decisions made at the November 2 meeting. They 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 Florida State University Foundation will enhance its effort to assist the Pepper Library’s endowment campaign. They will end fundraising events in distant cities. “These are high-cost events with a low net profit per gift.” Instead, the Florida State University Foundation’s staff will “compile a list of foundations and corporations which have a history of giving to libraries,” and letters of solicitation will be prepared for the signatures of Senator Pepper and Governor Askew.”
Professor William G. Bell steps down as director of the Multidisciplinary Center on Gerontology, triggering a domino effect of affirmative developments on many related fronts.
Marie E. Cowart, an energetic and dynamic Florida State professor of nursing, is named to the post. Before long, the place is a beehive of activity that continues during her entire term, which ends in 1992. Among the highlights: the Center’s certificate program expands, annual conferences and publications are started, grant funding increases significantly, full-time and half-time staffing expands, and Cowart renames the operation as the Institute on Aging. Cowart: “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’.” In coming years, it would be renamed twice again.
May 15, 1985
Hundreds gather 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, Pepper receives an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. After accepting this degree from President Sliger, Pepper says he believes that Florida State is 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. Dodd Hall remains the library’s home for the next 11 years before the collection is – again – moved into storage while ground is broken on the new Claude Pepper Center on West Call Street.
Even amid the other initiatives, Senator Pepper and his associates work to endow a completely separate Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholars Chair in Gerontology at Florida State. By April 1, 1985, $600,000 has been raised, triggering another $400,000 from a state trust for eminent scholar programs. “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,” according to fundraising documents. “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.”
Senator Pepper becomes concerned about issues related to the Pepper Library. Among them: the proper protection and care of the documents, the facility’s limited hours of operation and the budget allocated to the library. At the same time, new and more ambitious plans are mapped to administer the library, with rotating exhibits, a public relations campaign, etc. Frances Campbell in a note written on April 19, 1986: “It must not become a dusty, deserted facility, but it must be made into a living memorial to you and Mrs. Pepper.”
May 27, 1986
Interestingly, though the library is open and functioning, the whole business isn’t formalized until this date, when Senator Pepper signs an official, four-page “Instrument of Gift” that later is signed by Harold Wilkins on behalf of the Florida State University Foundation.
June 23, 1986
Amid continuing concern, longtime aide Thomas Spulak prepares a memo suggesting and outlining creation of a charitable foundation to raise funds for and help administer the Claude Pepper Library and other Pepper-related entities in Tallahassee. “The most fundamental question before proceeding, I believe, is how you envision the scope and breadth of the activities of the foundation,” Spulak writes. “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.”
August 18, 1986
The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation Inc., a Florida not-for-profit corporation, is registered by the state of Florida. The initial directors are Claude 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. Initially, hampered by limited funds and attention span, the foundation engages in little activity, a situation that will change after Senator Pepper’s death in 1989.
Professor Jill Quadagno, who had been teaching at the University of Kansas, is hired to fill the new Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair, a position she holds with prodigious productivity until 2015.
The program’s marching orders: “To advance scientific research and training in the area of Social Gerontology.” Her research focuses primarily on aging policy, Social Security reform and the uneven history of attempts to reform the American health reform system. She becomes a source of unending pride for Senator Pepper. “He was very interested in and so proud of his professor,” Cowart says. “He always introduced Jill as ‘my professor.’“
June 1988-Early 1990s
Institute-related issues associated with use of Senator Pepper’s name evaporate. With leadership coming from Cowart, and with funding from the Claude Pepper Foundation, the Institute on Aging continues to expand its operations. It changes its name to the Institute on Aging and Public Policy and, ultimately, to the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy.
May 13, 1989
With Senator Pepper’s health clearly deteriorating, the 1986 Instrument of Gift related to the Pepper Library is amended to make clear that he wants Frances Campbell to remain executive director and curator of the Pepper Library, a position funded by the Claude Pepper Foundation. (This seems intended to protect Campbell’s position.)
May 30, 1989
Senator Claude Pepper dies, a victim of stomach cancer. He was 88 years old. Frances Campbell takes over as president of the foundation.
Recognizing that The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation now has an even more important role in preserving Senator Pepper’s legacy but also is severely hampered by low funds, members of the board lead an effort to win congressional financing. In the past, they note, Congress has appropriated large sums of money to projects intended to honor the work or legacy of veteran members of Congress. “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 recalls. She, Thomas Spulak and others begin consulting with the chairmen of key congressional committees, who prove receptive. Before long, they are asked to draft legislative language.
November 21, 1989
Fewer than six months after his death, Senator Pepper is honored by Congress with a mega-grant. The amount: $10 million. 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, the Claude Pepper Foundation grant comes through the Department of Defense. Frances Campbell is called to the Pentagon to pick up the $10 million check, which she carries by hand to a local bank for deposit.
Based in McLean, Virginia, The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation takes shape and, after some debate, a mission statement is created: “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….” Guidelines, programs, grants and activities to protect the senator’s name are developed, most often with a focus on the Pepper-related units at Florida State University and in Tallahassee.
Given the tight connections to Florida State University and Tallahassee, the board insists that the Claude Pepper Foundation move from McLean to Tallahassee, setting up shop at 101 South Monroe Street, two blocks from the state Capitol and a few more blocks from Florida State’s campus. “When things really began to happen for FSU was when the foundation was able to move from Washington, D.C., to Tallahassee,” Cowart says. “It was a very positive thing to have happened.”
Concepts are developed for creation of what would become the two-pronged Claude Pepper Center. The original concept was developed by Marie Cowart, at that point still in control of the Pepper Institute. She recalls: “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 Claude Pepper Foundation could be involved in and communicate and disseminate information to the general public. And not just to academic outlets, but with outlets to the public, as well.” 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. A Claude Pepper Museum emerges as a particularly central element of the proposed building. “That came about because he [Senator Pepper] said along the way, ‘If we do have a space that can accommodate it, I would like to have my office recreated there,” Campbell recalls.
April 18, 1994
A Pepper Center planning committee holds a meeting in the second-floor Plantation Room of the Governor’s Club on Adams Street. The subject: prioritizing programs to be offered. A decision emerges: The first priority features 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 timeline). The third priority: curriculum development, including identification of target audiences such as seniors and students. This “Pepper Center Development Committee” meets regularly through the years, even after the center’s building is built and opened in 1997.
By the end of the year, The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation has eight directors and a 33- member board of advisers. It has issued 29 significant grants during the year. Recipients include 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 boasts a 1994 year-end fund balance of $10,590,707.
Efforts are 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. Among the reasons: The Pepper Library, the Pepper Institute, the Pepper Chair and now the Claude Pepper Foundation all are active on or near campus. Florida State administrators believe it would make sense for all of these entities to fall to at least some extent under Florida State’s administrative and fundraising embrace. In addition, moves have begun 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. Also, Florida State has its eyes on the Claude Pepper Foundation’s $10 million endowment – and the ability to double that, for the university’s benefit, through state matching funds. These moves disturb the foundation’s board of directors.
April 17, 1995
J. Jeffrey Robison of the Florida State University Foundation tells Florida State President Sandy D’Alemberte in a note: “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 Claude Pepper Foundation remains unswayed. It intends to remain independent.
It remains clear that the foundation will not agree to being absorbed by the university. The foundation’s board also needs assurance that it will have a role in selection of Pepper Center directors and approval of the center’s annual budget. At the same time, however, groundbreaking is to occur within a month for construction of the Pepper Center building (which was being funded with matching funds by the state legislature). Both sides realize they have to end the impasse and find a way to finance the center’s furnishings and programs.
An agreement is reached and papers are signed. The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation will remain independent, but it will donate $2 million to the Florida State University Foundation (on behalf of the school itself), an amount that will be matched with $2 million from the state of Florida. This money will 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. “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. 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. The foundation also will have the right to approve Pepper Center directors and the center’s annual budget.
Culpepper Construction Company of Tallahassee breaks ground on Adams Street for the Claude Pepper Center. The architect is Clemons, Rutherford & Associates Inc. of Tallahassee. The museum exhibits are designed by Abrams, Teller & Madsen, Inc. of Chicago.
The Claude Pepper Center is fully constructed and opened. The building eventually contains the complete Mildred and Claude Pepper Library (moved over from Dodd Hall); the Claude 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 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 opponents during one of his campaigns to hang him in effigy.
February 18, 2000
During an annual meeting of The Mildred and Claude Pepper Foundation, a formal vote is taken to amend the articles of incorporation so as to rename the foundation as The Claude Pepper Foundation, Inc., dropping Mildred’s name. The vote is 4-1, with Frances Campbell voting in opposition. Board member (and eventual board chair) Tom Spulak says the change was undertaken solely to shorten the foundation’s rather unwieldly name when attached to a project or program.
November 14, 2003
Standing at eight feet, two inches, a bronze statue of Senator Pepper statue is unveiled in the courtyard of the Pepper Center building. It is created by prominent sculptor 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 says as the statue is readied for unveiling. During his career, Estern also created stunning bronze sculptures of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Pepper Foundation chose Estern because of Senator Pepper’s admiration for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the desire to have a connection between the two.
Dr. Larry Polivka, a renowned expert in the field of aging, becomes the Claude Pepper Center’s scholar in residence, subsequently adding the role of director of the Pepper Center’s research and coordinating unit. Over the years, he and the Pepper Center’s primary research interests center on long-term care, affordable health care and economic security for America’s elderly population. He also conducts similar aging studies related to the global community.
Largely overseen by the Claude Pepper Foundation, the various Pepper-related entities deepen and broaden their activities while tightening the bonds that link them.
As of early 2020:
The Claude Pepper Foundation
Now administered by Chair and President Tom 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.
Meanwhile, the Claude Pepper Foundation still makes numerous grants each year to deserving organizations, programs, initiatives and research studies. Among the recipients in recent years: the Florida Council on Aging and its legislative initiatives, the 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, the 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. Scholar-in-Residence Dr. 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 its 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. Regarding the creation and past work of the Pepper Institute, former director and now Emerita Dean Marie Cowart says: “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. 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. The library is also the home to 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 says. “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.”
Shortly before his death in 1989, Senator Pepper signed a Last Will and Testament in which 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.” He also directed that the bulk of his estate be left to the Claude Pepper Foundation for its work on the campus of Florida State University and elsewhere.