Legacy lives on with Excellence Fund from Mollie and Lou Pepper

Mollie and Lou Pepper in a rose garden
The late Lou and Mollie Pepper were long-time supporters of apparel education at Washington State University. Their commitment lives on through the largest endowment ever received by AMDT.

Education mattered more than just about anything for the late Mollie and Lou Pepper.

After financially helping students in the WSU Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles program for decades, Mollie, who passed away in 2015, and Lou, who followed her in 2016, memorialized their support with the newly established new Mollie Pepper Apparel, Merchandizing, Design and Textiles Excellence Fund. It is the largest endowment ever received by the department.

“My parents both came from families where education was number one, and that carried into our family,” said Margy Pepper, daughter of Mollie and Lou. “Education for the women in their families was just as important as the education of the boys, which wasn’t always common in the 1930s and ’40s.”

“For my mom, one of three children and the only girl, her dad made it clear to her that marriage was not an option until her degree was in hand,” Margy said.

For Lou’s family, too, education for women was paramount. He had three older sisters, all of whom graduated as valedictorians of their high school classes and went on with their educations. Two became teachers and one worked in business.

“This was during the depression—his oldest sister lost all of the money saved for college in a bank failure, and they still made it work,” said Margy.

Mollie earned her degree and worked at Frederick & Nelson in Seattle until the birth of her first child. Lou, who went to college on the G.I. Bill after serving as a pilot in World War II, became a highly respected banking attorney and CEO of Washington Mutual.

As parents, Mollie and Lou supported their children’s schools in hands-on ways, as well as monetarily.

“They made sure we had what we needed to succeed,” said Margy. “It wasn’t just about our educations, though, but what could we do to help others pursue their academic dreams.”

The Peppers’ relationship with AMDT began during Lou’s service as a WSU Regent, from 1986 to 1996.

“For my mom, it was an extension of what she loved,” said Margy.

Mollie had studied fashion merchandizing and design at the University of Washington’s School of Home Economics, and had a passion for the field.

“When Dad became a Regent, my Husky mom happily became part of the WSU family,” Margy said. “To learn about the department at WSU was very exciting for her, and was something she was thrilled to support!”

Mollie attended many student-produced Mom’s Weekend Fashion Shows, and loved being able to give her scholarship in person.

“She really loved meeting the students and professors, and watching the department made her proud,” Margy said. “To see others being able to live out their dreams in a field that meant so much to her, was a dream come true. For my dad, it was a perfect match, and he was thrilled to be able to honor her in this way.”

In a letter to WSU written before her death, Mollie commented that her and Lou’s support “has given us a great deal of pleasure.”

While the Peppers weren’t able to attend recent fashion shows, AMDT sent them videos of the show and information about outstanding designers and scholars.

“So, we feel very personally involved,” Mollie wrote.

Today, their endowment will continue to support student scholarships, undergraduate and graduate programs, and the $1,000 Mollie Pepper Best of Show Award for student designers at the annual Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show.

“It was truly one of the great joys of my parents’ lives to be able to make this happen,” said Margy. “To know that their support of AMDT will make it easier for students to live out their dreams, I’m sure would make my dad look at mom and say, ‘We did alright.'”