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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
D-We are doing an interview with Eileen Bernard in her home on Pine Island.
The date is January 26, 1988. The interviewer is David Dodrill.
Eileen, tell me a little bit about your background. Where you born,
your education before you came to work for Gulf American.
E--I was born in northern New York on a farm. I only had a high school
education. I took two college courses, but I never went to college. But
:". during the war I worked for American CY'VUW during the Second World
War. And I was secretary to the director of laboratories. Then during
the WAr I started a newsletter for servicemen. And at the end of the war
they gave me a job as editor of the house magazine. And from that I went
to doing other magazines for American [cuWnle and various projects.
And then, in 1957 my husband was in an operation and they told him he
should go to a warm climate and we came down here. I had been making
about 15,000 a year which was a considerable sum for a woman in 1957.
And when I came down here I started working for Leonard Rosen for 225
dollars a month. And I was furious. I saw the exploitation of every-
thing and we had several fights. And I gradually got a little more money
but it took me ten years to get anywhere near what I had been making in
New York. Of course, Florida was even worse than now in those days about
paying people. ANd its' pretty bad right now in 1988. So, anyway when
I first came there I started doing correspondence. I wrote letters to
all the people who were interested in buying property. Most of them
were signed by Connie Mack but I signed some of them. If you put a
piece of paper down somebody signed Connie Mack's signature on it. And
so, at first there was one man who was an alcoholic from Punta Gorda and
I. And we were to do the letters. ANd we had an office manager who was,
well I can't tell you what she was like. We had a big pile. Everyday the
pile of letters would grow higher. And she would insist that we answer
each one personally. On the typewriter. We had to run across the room,
take the top letter off. come over here and write this letter out. Two
days went by and I decided this is not going to work. WE can't do this.
In the meantime, the gentleman from Punta Gorda insisted that we could
do it. And we'd do about five or six or eight letters a day or something
like that. Because each one of them asked you about Sea World and about
the pollen count and the taxes. And we had to write the letters in such
a way that we didn't lie, but that we didn't discourage them from coming
down here which was quite a feat. So, eventually, about a couple weeks
I got them to order what they call an autotype machine. It was a great
big heavy thing like a printing press. It went in one little room, and
we hired a girl to type. And I wrote the paragraphs. They were all
numbered and everything. So, when a letter came in, I would put 16, 22,
48, and so forth on the front of the letter. She would sit down on this
big, noisy autotypist and she would write this letter. EVery paragraph
had to mesh with the other paragraphs. So, this went on for quite some
D--So, were you a secretary?
E--No. Not really. I felt I was doing a pretty good job until they moved
to Miami. When they moved the thing to Miami in a year or so, I went
over there and they had hired a girl who played the trombone in a night
club to do the same job I'd been doing. And she had no background what-
so-ever except she typed a couple of letters. Which really destroyed my
ego to think that they would hire somebody like that to write these fab-
ulous things that couldn't be written by anybody, that I felt couldn't
be written by anybody, because we didn't' want to be sued. I sometimes
wonder why we never were.
D--What year was that that you came to work for them?
E--I came to work in February, 1958. And after that they wanted me to be
a secretary to Connie Mack. But I rejected that idea. So, Kenny Schwartz,
with who I had become quite friendly, said, "Would you do a newsletter
for us, or do some work like that?" So, that's what I did. I set up
bus schedules to Cape Coral. Any old thing that was like that. And
actually, that is what I did all the time I was with them. Writing pro-
motional literature. Writing this magazine, which got to be fairly....
A lot of people came to Cape Coral because they read that magazine and it
made everything look so wonderful.
D-What was the name of it?
E-The Cape Coral Sun. And actually I was doing other things. LIke, we had
a big program of editors coming down of major magazines and newspapers and
we would wine them and dine them and take them to the gradens and take them
to the country club and see that their every wish was satisfied. We had
a lot of imposters that would ocme in over the week-end. State that they
were working for the New York Times and/or some other remoter thing that
we could' t check on over the week-end. And then we could on Monday morn-
ing, we found out they never had been there. After we had given them
everything. It was very interesting.
D--How did people get a copy of the Cape Coral Sun?
E-We sent it to all the prospects and all the owners of the land, and so
forth. At one time....
D--Would they just send you a list of all the names and addresses of all
E-Oh, this was a big operation. It was on computer, or what they called
computer in those days. In Miami, there wasn't a mailing list that
they hadn't got a hold of somehow. And, so at one time The Cape Coral
Sun had the largest circulation of anything in Florida, except the two
supplements to Sunday newspapers. I can't remember now how many it was.
So, that's what I did. And then most of us lost our job.
D--Who do you think was the most important person to the success of Gulf
American, besides Leonard or Jack?
E-I think Tom Weber. In one area, Tom Weber. If he hadn't been the kind
of man that he was, and hadn't demanded the respect from these strange
men that he dragged up to do the work of the place. The operators and
the dredge men. He was very softspoken and not at all but
he was very firm when he made up his mind. But he got the respect of
all of these strange people who came to work there. I think he was im-
portant. I'm trying to think of someone else. Possibly, Berneice Frei-
burg. I think she was important. I think Charles Hepner was most impor-
tant. Very important.
D--Why is that?
E-I think he was sort of a steadying influence for the Rosens. He was a
smart man. He had the whole picture in mind and I found him a very inter-
esting person. Of course, in the early days, I kept thinking Kenny
Schwartz helped get things together. With his personality and his
/ 7 mentality. Fascinating individual, to most people.
sometimes very rude. Lots of people were like this. The Rosens were very
much like that. They could go from rude to wonderful in a second, you
know. I had worked before for a corporation, American which
was run by a Quaker. Ultraconservative. This was my first experience
with entrepreneurs and it was the Rosens. And I know their approach to
life was very interesting. They were imaginative, they were aggressive.
avoracious and agitated most of the time. I think that they came as a
shock to the whole Ft. Myers area which at that time and still is full
of ultraconservatives. And this represented something new and probably
dangerous they thought, I think. And they resented this. There was a lot
of anti-semitism, as well as racism.
D--Tell me a little bit about that.
E--It wasn't overt. They would never say it to you in town, but they would
say, "This is going to be another Miami Beach." And all of this sort of
thing. ANd the racism, of course, was more overt. And I was rather dis-
appointed in Leonard and Jack. I always thought that Jews should be at
the forefront discrimination. And I was quite active in tht in those days.
I worked for the Civil Rights and Human Rights groups we call them in
Ft. Myers. And we went through a lot of terrible experiences where we
would, some black and white people would meet at some place-a minister's
house., And the deputy would ome to the door and then he would read out
their license numbers and then they would read out the names of those who
had those licenses over the loudspeaker in the neighborhood. And we were,
you know, I would get phone calls at night. "Why don't I go back home
and take the black babboons with me?" It wasn't really easy, because you
could only find a handful of people who cared at all about prejudice in
those days. And I went through the whole area. Going to the college
trying to get it integrated.. And the school superintendent didn't want
that. And getting the soda fountains and McCrory's integrated. So I
had that experience. After that I went to work for women. Now I'm in
animal rights. I don't know what's next.
D--Do you think that it was a conscious effort on the part of sales people
to keep blacks out of Cape Coral?
E--Oh, Yes. That's what I was going to say about the Rosens., I thought
that they must have known, at least Leonard must have known that they
were telling minorities these things and doing these things to them.
But I guess they had more important things on their minds. I thought that
that was rather ridiculous. The salesmen would laugh about what they did.
They would take them over to a mudhole or something. That sort of thing.
D--Which of the important, the higher ups in the corporation, who did you
know the best?
E--Maybe, well I forgot to mention Connie Mack was most important. Because
he added dignity to the place and respectibility. And he was often get-
ting furious because they would deal with us you see in many ways. I
think Connie kept the place honest enough to get by. And I don't think...
If he hadn't been there then it probably would have gotten in more trouble
than it did.
D--Why did he stay with them?
E-He has, what, nine children, I think,., And he wasn't a rich man by any
means. His parents had money but I don't know how much money he had.,
But I think that he needed the money. And certainly they paid him not
very much, as much as they should. But they paid him more than he would
get wherever he was working and whatever he was making.. Now, I'm not sure
about all of this. I don't know. He may have had zillions. But I don't
think so. And I think also he found it satisfying, We all did. People
stayed there for hardly any money and everything. Because, you know,
they found the atmosphere so titalating and exciting that you were so
worn out at night, but you didn't want to go home because you were afraid
that you wold miss something.
D-A lot of people have said that. They say that things were changing all
the time and that things were being built.,...
E--Of course, this what I try to get in my book. This came at the beginning
of the sixties, which surely was a historical era. You know, the sixties
were so vibrant, so changing. And here we are starting this thing right
in the midst of this. All these values changing, everything changing.
And I think that was part of it. BEcause the seventies were so dull, you
know. And then the sixties came and all this music came and the sexual
revolution. EVerything was going so fast. And, of course, this went
right along with it.
D-You mentioned that on e o f your first jobs was answering a lot of let-
ters, inquiries from people, a home owner or homesite owners and stuff.
After that operation move to Miami, in other words, all the inquiries were
pretty much answered through the Miami office after that. How big of an
operation did that become over there?
E--Quite a big operation in every way. And then of course they started call-
ing on the phones., This is one thing I got in trouble about. Kenny
Schwartz and I had a fight about it. Because I went over there and I
heard all of these men sitting over there on their high stools on phones,.
And they were all saying, "This is Connie Mack, Jr," And saying God
knows what to these people. I'd come back home and jst like the old
Irish busybody that I am, I went to Connie and I said, ")o you know what
they are saying? They are calling everybody night and day and saying this
is Connie Mack, Jr.." Well, he bellowed like a bull and ran into Leonard's
office and they had a big argument and so forth. And Kenny was in there
and he came out afterwards and he gave me hell about it.. He said,.....
So, I looked at him for a minute and I said, "Well, if it had been you,
woudln't you want me to come and tell you abou t it?" And he looked at
me and said, "I guess so.." That's the way Kenny was. I think I knew
Kenny in the short period of time that he was there., Because he left
in the sixties somewhere.
D-So they kept using Connie Mack's name and still kept doing that?
E-No, they quit.
D-Oh, they quit.
E--They stopped after that. But who knows how long they had been doing it.
And some of them had accents from God knows where, Hungary and everything.
All saying this is Connie Mack, Jr.
D-How many people would be in that telephone room making calls?
E-Well, I think that I saw about eight to ten. And there were more other
places than that. Because in Miami everything was scattered. First of
all, they were scattered in all different places until they got that
building and all., Well, I went over there once. I had to stay a week.
When they first moved over, and got them situatied. And I had the flu and
there wasn't a chair that I could sit down in. Not a chair. I couldn't
find one anywhere. I had to stand up all the way through the flu. That
was an experience too.
D-I guess. O.K., Answering questions, that all moved to Miami and stuff.,
But, you stayed over here and wrote The Sun and that type of stuff.
How many people, would you do that by yourself or would you have people
helping you with that?
E-No, I did it all myself,.. All myself,. And, I didn't have much of a back-
ground in layout., When I worked before we had a big art department and
all I did was, you know, set the editorial column and write the stuff
and give them ideas., And when I first came I had an awful time trying
to get all this stuff done., They wouldn't give me enough money to
hire anybody to do this. They just wanted me to do it all. But event-
ually I got someone to do it.,
D-Was it primarily just articles about Cape Coral itself or about Gulf
E-No, I would get in terrible arguments with Baltimore, the headquarters
and sales were there then. I would get in terrible arguments because
they wanted me to depersonalize the thing and write these big words
things about how great everything was. Just typical promotional stuff.
And they would say, well that's what gets them. I said, "I don't care.
I'm not going to write that." And I wouldn't do it. I'd write things
based on people and how they lived and you know, when they had a nice
home. We had a house that had a boattel and things like that. And I
felt that that gave more of a authenticity to the place than all of that
type. But we would have arguments because their marketing would say, most
of them wanted to do the same old stuff.
D-Who gave you the most headaches up there?
E--Len Rich was pretty bad. I don't remember some of the other ones now.
They were quite forgettable. But I had some confederates here. Kenny
and Connie, both,. They thought I was doing what should be done. And
so they would back me up all the time. Once Jack Rosen called me up to
from Baltimore. And I think he was going to fire me, but I don't know
for sure,., And I went into his office. And he had these big white teeth
that flashed right at you. And I don't know. I was almost in a spell.
I sat down to watch those teeth flashing.. He was taking and talking
about nothing about what I was there for,.. Just giving me his philoso-
phy of life and everything.. He didn't fire me or do anything like that,
but when I went out of the office I thought, what has he been saying to
me? I figured out what he had been saying to me was justifying the over-
all things that they were doing that I had complained about and saying
that the end justifies the means. That's what he was saying... So, he
got me up there to tell me that these tings he didn't really mean to do
and I think that he had a little more sensitivity than Leonard. And I
think that's why he was so, he was not very stable and I think maybe his
knowledge, his realization that these things were immoral, and not goog
caused it. Leonard had no such problem with such things.
D-So, The Cape Coral Sun was kind of a little promotional magazine.
E--Yes. It always said when we had something new, like we had the new restaur-
ant or what they golf course was like, or the country club, or the yacht
club. ANd we had stories on that. But we also showed the kind of people
who were coming. The most interesting people, and we would show that.
Always put a blue sky sort of thing. But, I hope it wasn't overdone. I
tried to get quality..
D--How was The Sun different from the different promotional pieces that
Dick Sayers and Vince SMith and some of those other would do?
E--Well, I did some of that too. I did these sorts of things. It was kind
of a different thing. A magazine is a little different than publicity
D-So, they did mostly publicity releases?
E--Yes. That's what they did. And they worked with newspapers. Mainly like
sports editors ans things like that.
D-So, you guys were pretty much two separate things?
E-Well, we all worked together.. I wouldn't admit that I worked for Dick
SAyers, because I didn't agree with him most of the time. And I went
to Connie Mack and I said, "get me out of here. Get me in another room.,
I don't want to be in here." So, he got me in another room,, I wasn't
very popular, I'm sure,. I felt some of the things that were being done
were not right and I didn't like it., And I guess I'm an old Irish blab-
D-Nothing wrong with that., When did it become obvious that the Rosens
were going to seel Gulf American to GAC? When did you first find out?
E--Well, I guess, I didn't know too much about it,. We heard rumors you know.
But most of it was kept from us. We just did our jobs and so forth,., Now,
I know Eddie Pacellit and all those people would know.,
D--Was there kind of a feeling that something was in the wind because of the
E--Well, nobody really knew what was going to happen after that. Of course,
the first day they started selling, I guess as you probably heard, they
sold more property than they ever had before and faster., So, it doesn't
matter what they say about the name.
D-How was it different when GAC took over?
E--Well, really everything.. GAC was full of younger men, the briefcases,
and they always had a girl along to carry their briefcase. That gave them
a little status, I guess., I went over to Miami once and I was amazed.
I sat there and I was laughing inside so hard. There were these men and
all of these girsl., Of course, I was a feminist.. I was really en-
raged at the same time. And here were these girls in their miniskirts
going aroung carrying their briefcases., Oh, God, I heard one man say
on the phone to the personnel manager. He was short. He said,,._.it was
a woman who had worked for Gulf American for many years sitting there
who was his secretary, but she was an older woman. She was sitting there
and he was calling on the phone to the personnel department saying, "I
want a girl. She can't be over 5'2" and she had to be no more than 22.,"
On the phone with the secretary. He was looking right at the woman.
It was ., We had some in there., I don't
want to get into too much of this.. But, I did go to a meeting in
which a representative of Wills was telling us, I couldn't believe
he was telling all of us from the public relations department that
they had every date represented and I think that he said U.S,.. Represen-
tatives and Congressmen set ones in their pockets., He stated this
right out,, He said, "This is the name of the one that we don't have
anything on." Any of you people know anything negative about this guy..
I couldn't believe it. I was in shock.
D-Was this a private meeting for all the public realtions people?
E-There was mobody on the committee in there, but a lot of us were really
shocked by it.,
D-Well, anybody else? Let me ask a question on GAC again,. Did they change
what you did or did you pretty much keep on doing what you were doing?
E-Well, they gave me more money to do it. And they didn't put anything
in my way. And I had no difficulty that way., But the whole thing
changed from something, I can't think of the word.. It changed into a
typical business sort of thing. It didn't have the interest that it had
had before. They were interested in the bottom line,. Afterall, they
were financing the company. And they were interested in the bottom line
completely., I don't think they had much knowledge about how to sell
land., They were not entrepreneurs., They were not., They were really con-
servative kind of types., I'm sure they thought of themselves as such.,
But the contract between them and the Rosens it was obvious.
D-WEre Gulf American people gradually being moved out, released and fired?
E-After a while, this always happens. Some of them were kept into the
seventies., Some of them didn't live up to hwat they thought of them-
selves., But they kept the really good ones.. There is a story in the
book about Charlie Hepner.. Most of the good ones, A lot of them in
sales stayed on, But, of course, that had been going on quite a while.,
They were all the ones that couldn't cut it.,
D-Why do you think, I know you weren't into a lot of stuff, but why do you
think that Cape Coral succeeded in becoming a city whereas, and really
becoming a dynamic city in many ways, whereas a place like Lehigh is
still just kind of putting along out there?
E-Because of the waterfront. Because for many, mnay years, probably up
to now, waterfront in Cape Coral can be found anywhere around.. You
ought to have 410 miles of waterfront., How they are going to maintain
all of this and all the roads, I sometimes wonder. The basin they have
without industry, or industry,. But they are working hard to get
all that. When you could take the back roads around Cape Coral and you
see all this roads that have to be maintained,. Some of them are very
bad,. But I'm still amazed that everything comes out al right.,
D-Anybody else that was a particularly important character or colorful
E-Milt Mendelson., Everybody tells you about Milt.
D--Yes., Tell me a little bit more about him.
E--Milt had a lot to do with the imagination.
D-Was he on the property here? A lot in the early years?
E--He was here a lot.
D-What did he do? Did he have a particular job?
E--He did everything,. He was an architect. He thought everybody was a
designer. Everybody was a writer. He thought he was a promoter., sales-
man., He thought he was everything., I liked him very much., He also
laughed at my statements. I sat once in a room between him and Leonard
Rosen working and I would say things to Leonard like, "Don't call me dear.
Or don't call me anything like that." And MIlt Mendelson would chuckle
under his breath.
D-That's interesting., What are some of things that he would od, besides what
you mentioned there, any particular instances that you remember about him?
That would tell what he contributed., That would tell me a little bit
E-I don't know. I.,...He wrote rather well. He seemed to be very educated,.,
He had a lot of flair and imagination., And I think a lot of it was frus-
trated, of course., And I think he was a hard worker,. He tried to do a
lot of different things for the Rosens, probably would not of got done
otherwise, I really like him.
D-Did he ever talk to you about his early association with Leonard and
E-Never., He was not the kind to do that. His mind was always sort of in
the clouds. Great things and going deep,., I think I said something once
about his going and drinking martinis with Connie Mack. I heard that
they drank all day long and I asked Connie about it., He said, "Listen,
if you listne to Mendelson talk all day long, you'd be dead of boredom.,
I would never have been able to stay there and listen to him." I think
he was a funny guy,.. People like Connie were always talking about the
great things that he's done and the great things that he was going to do.
I guess he's still, have you talked to him?
D-Um. He's not alive anymore,.
E-He died this year?
D--I believe Kenny Schwartz said that.,
E--Oh, I didn't know that., Because a year or two ago, as I heard he was
writing a book on the company.
D-Kenny said that he had a chance to read a rough draft. He said it was
pretty awful. So, it runs in my mind that Kenny had siad that he died.
E--I wanted to make some sort of statement about I know you
should never explain and never complain in these things. But I wanted
to say, because I think that a lot of people might expect something
different from this book., Just to write the history rather than an
entertaining book. I made it as accurate as I could., And I just
wanted to get the flavor of the experience.. That was my main goal, not
an entertaining book., And also it made the
D--I think that you did that.,
E-Well, thank you., I hope so, and I hope also that I wasn't being minded.
You know, it's so easy to get carried away and to write an expose that
doesn't give a rounded picture of the whole experience or the individuals
involved. And I was a keen observer of these people.. But afterall, my
association with some of them was rather limited,. So, I had to make the
most of the few times, you know, to really spend them to get any sort of
an idea what they were really like.,
D-Were there any other local people here besides the higher ups that were,
that really did a good job here at Cape Coral?
E-Well, I mentioned Teriry Fagan of First National BAnk, and I don't know just
how that relationship got started or anything., And I think Homer Welch
of the Lee County Electric Cooperative., I know that the Rosens had a lot
of trouble with a lot of people., Connie Mack could tell you more about
D--Connie is reluctant to talk about a lot of things,.
E-Well, another thing is, I think the men who did the work, I think that they
didn't get much credit,. The actual workers,. The ones who had the wole
thing on them. This was terrible terrain. And they had no money. They
didn't have money for at least equipment. I don't know how they handled
the men or how they paid them or anything,. I'm sure it wasn't great.. And
think they did predigious things with it.. Whatever went against it. The
hurricane, the first year.,
D-I understand they had dredges working sometimes around the clock?
E-Yes, people wanted to buy.
D-Did you ever know a guy named Joe Miller?
D-What did he do? Do you remember?
E-He was a promoter.. He promoted various things. I think he had promoted
things like Hall of Fame or Railroading, miniature railroads and that
sort of thing,. He was always the promoter of ideas and things., He
was a clever man. I like him,. I didn't know him too well,., Did you
take to him?
D-I'm going to be seeing him this week probably,,, here., Good,. Anything
else that you want to say?
E-Well, I was going to say in the beginning with the democracy, I think this
is important to the history of Cape Coral, In the early days, it was such
a small group like pioneers.. The banker lived next to the plumber and
we were rather proud of it,. We used to write things about that, but then
it all began to change. The money came in., More people came in. We
lost the little small town thing., And I think we've been going through
a long period now of down in Cape Coral,. They are having
all the trouble of all the retirees versus the other. They have other
people coming in. I think maybe we are reverting now or we are coming
into a period now where it will be more democrat., I think the older ones
are going to be forced to give in somewhere,. You know, when they wanted
the tires to be washed on trucks coming into Cape Coral. STuff like that
would have been pretty bad there., And I think..,...,
D-When was this?
E-This is one of the things that was proposed by some of these people in
the early days who ran the place, they didn't' want trucks with dirty
tires coming into Cape Coral., You know, perfection's impossible these
days. These people who think they are going to get it, they are not
going to get it., They are going to have to compromise. And the young
people have got to be taken care of. See that they have jobs because life
is too difficult for them. But I don't know whether there is an age gap
or what it is that's cuasing it. Things change.
D-Good,. Anything else that you want to say?
E-It was a great experience. Very tiring, but it '-