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Devoted alumnus Richard Pepper left a lasting legacy at Northwestern

richard pepper
Richard Pepper passed away on January 28, 2021.

For long-time benefactor and volunteer Richard Pepper ’53, who passed away on Jan. 28, Northwestern University was foundational to a life of leadership, service, and philanthropy. 

Richard Pepper’s Northwestern direction began in 1949 when he enrolled at the Technological Institute, now the McCormick School of Engineering. That same year, he met Roxelyn “Roxy” Pepper ’53, who was studying at the School of Speech, now the School of Communication. They married as students in 1952 and would go on to share 69 years together. 

After earning their degrees, Richard Pepper in civil engineering and Roxy Pepper in speech, they began a lifelong relationship with Northwestern as benefactors and volunteers. Over the years, the Peppers have supported several areas across the University, including Northwestern Engineering, the School of Communication, and Athletics and Recreation.                        

At the McCormick School of Engineering, the couple established the Stanley F. Pepper Chair in Civil Engineering in 1978, and in 2020, they endowed the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Family Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering, a rotating professorship held by the department chair. Their philanthropy has supported undergraduate research, and the Pepper Family Foundation Civil Engineering Wing of the Technical Institute was dedicated in 1998. Their giving has also funded research in audiology, speech, language, and learning at the School of Communication.     

Richard Pepper loved Northwestern, and he gave so much to the University through his visionary philanthropy and volunteerism — as have many Wildcats throughout the Pepper family.”

President Morton Schapiro

They made a leadership gift in 2013 to support the renovation of Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, the home of the Northwestern baseball team. The name of the park honors Roxy Pepper’s father, J. Roscoe Miller ’30 MD, ’31 GME, who served as president of Northwestern from 1949 to 1969 and dean of the Feinberg School of Medicine from 1941 to 1949, and her mother, Berenice.

A dedicated Northwestern volunteer, Richard Pepper served on the Civil and Environmental Engineering Advisory Board, the McCormick Advisory Board, and the McCormick Resource Development Board. He was instrumental in establishing the Master of Project Management Program and received the Alumni Merit Award in 1986 and Alumni Service Award in 1987. Richard Pepper was part of a multigenerational Northwestern family that includes several alumni relatives.    

“Richard Pepper loved Northwestern, and he gave so much to the University through his visionary philanthropy and volunteerism — as have many Wildcats throughout the Pepper family. Northwestern would not be what it is today if not for Richard’s leadership and generosity,” said Northwestern President Morton Schapiro.

Richard and Roxy Pepper were active philanthropists and volunteers in the Chicago metropolitan area. The Pepper Family Wildlife Center at the Lincoln Park Zoo was named to honor a 2019 gift to transform the historic lion house. In 2006, the Illinois Humanities Council and the Barrington village board awarded them the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award for their many civic contributions. Richard Pepper was also involved with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, the American Scandinavian Council, and the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation.

Richard Pepper began working for Pepper Construction Group — known at that time as Pepper Construction Company — in 1953 as an estimator. He became president in 1957 and chairman in 1972. Under his watch, the firm expanded into Texas and Indiana, completing projects for clients like Allstate, Tellabs, and Ameritech. In 1983, he became chairman — and, in 2004, chairman emeritus — of both the Pepper Companies, Inc. and Pepper Construction Group.

Through the philanthropy and volunteerism of the Peppers, Richard Pepper’s legacy of generosity will continue in perpetuity at Northwestern.

Tyler St. Peter is associate director of marketing and communications in Alumni Relations and Development.

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