Interview with Eileen Bernard, January 26, 1988

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Interview with Eileen Bernard, January 26, 1988
Bernard, Eileen ( Interviewee )
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Lee County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
Lee County (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Lee County' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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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

the prospects?

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,, 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

about him?

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 '-