The Secret History of Evans Library
“The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”Albert Einstein
The small woman moved with precision as she rearranged the bookshelf. She seemed to know what she was doing, but Jerry Keuper had no idea who she was.
Years later, Keuper recalled this first encounter with Eileen Hall in May 1961.
Four months earlier, University of Melbourne trustees had transferred ownership of the school’s 35-acre campus on Country Club Road to Brevard Engineering College (BEC). In April, workers poured the foundations for the administrative and first classroom buildings in what would become the academic quad.
“Who,” Keuper ventured, “are you?”
“I am the college’s librarian,” Hall replied.
That was impossible, Keuper said. BEC had no full-time employees, let alone a librarian.
Hall shook her head and kept sorting the books. If you are going to have a college, you must have a library, she said.
A Fateful Conversation
The genesis of what would become Evans Library grew out of a chance conversation two years earlier between David Sarnoff, then RCA president, and Irving Wolff, RCA’s vice president for research and director of the company’s Princeton Laboratory.
In spring 1959, Keuper had written to Sarnoff asking for tuition assistance for RCA employees who enrolled in BEC. Keuper’s letter was on Sarnoff’s desk when Wolff arrived for an appointment. Sarnoff handed Wolff the letter and asked him what he thought. Wolff told his chief that he would make a trip to Melbourne to inspect the college.
In June 1959, Wolff’s plane landed at the Melbourne Airport, today Orlando Melbourne International Airport. Keuper picked up the septuagenarian in his 1952 MG, and the two men hit it off.
After a whirlwind inspection tour, Wolff returned to Princeton and wrote a letter to Sarnoff stating that BEC was doing a great job and that RCA should provide tuition assistance for students.
A few weeks later, Keuper went to New Jersey to finalize the tuition agreement. As a personal gift to the fledgling college, Wolff gave Keuper his collection of The Physical Review and The IEEE Review—the journals that Hall was organizing when Keuper met her in May 1961.
Creating a Library
Hall, who had learned of BEC by chance, was the first of a cadre of remarkable individuals who have served as Florida Tech’s librarians and archivists. A Georgia transplant who had worked as a journalist before coming to Florida, Hall devoted herself to the library.
In May 1962, the Tech Library celebrated its first birthday. In the 12 months since her meeting with Keuper, Hall had recruited three youthful volunteers. She assigned Randy and Marsha Work, the son and daughter of Ray Work, Keuper’s colleague and BEC’s unofficial registrar, and Richard Merritt the task of binding Wolff’s copies of the Physical Review and IEEE Review. With the youngsters’ help, Hall managed to keep the library open on weeknights between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.
The library’s importance came into sharp focus in 1963, when BEC began a self-study program as part of its efforts to win accreditation. Keuper hired an educational consultant to review the college’s prospects.
The faculty was first-rate, and the students were hardworking. However, the consultant told Keuper that, as commendable as these accomplishments were, without a new library building, BEC’s prospects were dim. He advised him to hold off on his application for BEC’s accreditation.
A Rocket Scientist Meets a Blond
As always, money was a problem. Hall was great because Keuper did not have to pay her. Building a library, however, was problematic.
Then, Jerry Pettigrew, a Melbourne banker who served as a BEC trustee, proposed a novel solution. Pettigrew had learned that Nelson Rockefeller, an American businessman and then governor of New York, was going to be in Miami for a political meeting, so he suggested that Keuper go to Miami to convince Rockefeller to donate to BEC.
What did Keuper have to lose? At the very least, he would have a chance to see some different palm tree species.
The banker and the rocket scientist drove to Miami and went to the harbor where Rockefeller’s yacht, The Dragon Lady, was berthed.
Without an appointment, they asked for a meeting with the multimillionaire, shouting the request from the end of the yacht’s gangplank. Rockefeller’s secretary, however, demurred, explaining that Rockefeller was unavailable.
Walking back to their car, Pettigrew and Keuper came upon two women, twins, sunning themselves on a boat’s deck and introduced themselves. Sara Bartholomae and Midge Fernandez were making a cruise up the East Coast. Pettigrew told them that Keuper was a bona fide rocket scientist and college president, and Bartholomae declared that she was a space aficionado.
When they parted, Keuper invited the sisters to bring their yacht to Melbourne, promising to show them the college and arrange a tour of Cape Canaveral.
Driving back, Keuper and Pettigrew agreed the trip had been worthwhile.
“We missed out on Rockefeller,” Keuper declared, “but we landed a couple of blonds.”
Bartholomae and her sister arrived in Melbourne a week later. Over cocktails, Keuper learned that Bartholomae had recently divorced William August Bartholomae, a California oil and mining tycoon. In January, she had received a $4.25 million settlement in the divorce proceedings. She confided to Keuper that she planned to use $1 million of the settlement to build a Mercury Space Capsule Chapel, celebrating John Glenn’s orbital mission, overlooking Brea Canyon near Los Angeles. (See: Chasing the Moon, March 7, 1963)
The idea of creating the Mercury Chapel had come to Bartholomae on the anniversary of John Glenn’s orbital flight. Something drew her to church. Inspired by Glenn’s courage, she knelt to pray.
“As I prayed,” she recalled, “I had a vision, and in the vision, I saw John Glenn’s space vehicle, not as the mercury capsule, but as a beautiful shrine.”
At that moment, she resolved to spend $1 million of her divorce settlement on building a chapel shaped like the Mercury capsule. The 114-foot-high structure would be the centerpiece of a 17-acre site surrounded by a lagoon fed by a 150-foot waterfall.
During Bartholomae’s stay in Melbourne, Keuper shared his vision of creating a space-age university. He described BEC’s “missilemen” students as they walked through Countdown College’s campus.
Keuper seized the moment and proposed that she help the college win accreditation by financing the new library building. Bartholomae promised to give the idea serious consideration and vowed to return for an extended stay.
In August 1963, Bartholomae returned for a two-week visit with Keuper and Rosemary Pettigrew, wife of Jerry. Before returning to Los Angeles, she promised to help with the library.
Privately, Keuper, Pettigrew and George Shaw, chairman of BEC’s trustees, discussed how much money they were going to ask the millionaire divorcee to contribute. When Bartholomae left Melbourne, they had succeeded in winning a commitment from Bartholomae for $100,000.
Murder, Mayhem and Building a Library
Four months later, Bartholomae’s ex-husband lay dying on the kitchen floor of his Newport Beach, California, estate with wounds from a butcher knife. A sordid story of intrigue and betrayal ensued.
Initially, the police charged Carmelita Bartholomae, William Bartholomae’s sister-in-law, with homicide. The charges, however, were dropped when Minola Gallardo, a Spanish flamenco dancer and Carmelita’s sister, admitted to the stabbing.
The Los Angeles district attorney characterized the confrontation between the 70-year-old oil tycoon and Gallardo as a “real, choice battle.”
Gallardo, who spoke no English, had come to America two months earlier to help her sister, who had recently given birth, and she became one of four women that William Bartholomae was considering as a “prospective spouse.” A more significant battle loomed, however, between the four women over his $11 million estate.
Though not named in his will, Sara Bartholomae claimed that she was entitled to part of the estate, arguing that her ex-husband had not fully disclosed his holdings in the divorce proceedings.
Robert Neeb, Sara Bartholomae’s lawyer, made two startling claims in the court proceedings. He maintained that the divorce had not been finalized and that the real value of William Bartholomae’s holdings was $25 million, not $11 million.
Throughout the yearlong struggle over the estate, Sara Bartholomae relied on her attorney to handle her affairs.
“During 20 years of marriage,” she told a reporter, “I never had to make a decision.”
She returned to Melbourne in May 1964 to attend BEC’s fourth commencement.
The high point of the ceremony came when Keuper awarded honorary doctorates to her and Wernher von Braun, a pioneer in U.S. rocket and space technology.
A newly minted doctor of space education, Sara Bartholomae used the occasion to announce her promise to donate $100,000 for the construction of the new library, which she wished to dedicate to her ex-husband’s memory.
“It is a wonderful thing for people like Mrs. Bartholomae to have such faith in the college and the community,” Keuper said. “Her contribution has removed a major obstacle towards getting us accreditation.”
A Broken Promise
The dedication of the William August Bartholomae Library took place Jan. 23, 1965. Howard Nichols and his wife hosted a gala prededication party. George Shaw, the senior vice president of Radiation Inc. and a chairman of the BEC trustees, delivered a short impromptu address thanking Bartholomae.
The two-story building had space for 40,000 books and study space for 250 students. Hall was ecstatic. Keuper beamed as he watched Bartholomae use a pair of giant scissors to cut a ribbon marking the “debt-free” library’s official opening.
“My husband planted many seeds in his life. They all reaped …,” she told a reporter. Her gift, she explained, was motivated by her desire that her late husband’s name “would be remembered in a wholesome and dignified manner—near Cape Canaveral, where John Glenn was sent into space. I feel God sent me here to leave this library for all of you.”
An Acquittal and a Beauty Queen
Gallardo’s murder trial, on the other hand, had not been a “wholesome and dignified” affair.
During the proceedings, Bill Vickry, captain of William Bartholomae’s yacht, characterized his former employer as a “meticulous gentleman who left no doubt that he was the boss in all things concerning him.”
Charles Bartholomae, William Bartholomae’s brother, revealed that his brother had told him that there were four women in the running to become his wife.
Through an interpreter, Gallardo testified that William Bartholomae had made advances on her and asked her to be “his woman.” She had refused his overtures and, upon entering the kitchen, she found her sister lying on the floor with him standing above her, holding a paring knife.
She believed that William Bartholomae had killed her sister and was going to attack her. The flamenco dancer reached for an 8-inch butcher knife and stabbed him two times in the stomach.
It had, she acknowledged, been a mistake. Her sister had fainted.
Paul Caruso, Gallardo’s defense attorney, succeeded in convincing the six-man, six-woman jury of his client’s innocence.
“I can’t believe American justice would treat a poor girl as a rich girl,” Gallardo declared in front of the courthouse.
While the case was playing out, Keuper waited for Sara Bartholomae’s promised check.
BEC’s agreement stipulated that the college must begin payments to the bank on a $100,000 note 45 days after the library’s completion.
Bartholomae’s negligence in sending the promised check may have been that she had hoped to use her share of her ex-husband’s estate to redeem her pledge. If so, this hope was dashed when the Los Angeles County probate judge awarded the majority of the estate to William Bartholomae’s daughter, Sarajane.
The 17-year-old aspirant beauty queen promptly purchased a Jaguar XKE. She showed little interest in libraries.
“I guess I don’t have the same money problems as other teenagers do,” she told a journalist after the ruling.
Keuper tried to remind Sara Bartholomae of her promise tactfully.
A year passed, and the promised check still had not arrived. Countdown College, however, was undergoing dramatic change.
The college’s first dormitory, Brownlie Hall, opened.
In April 1966, Hall announced a campaign to add 5,000 books to the library’s collection.
Two months later, Tom Adams, Florida’s secretary of state and a BEC trustee, granted BEC exclusive use of the name Florida Institute of Technology.
The school officially adopted the new name at the August board of trustees meeting.
Keuper instructed the manager of the new F.I.T. Bookstore to raise the price on BEC T-shirts because they had become collectors’ items.
Behind the scenes, Keuper’s patience with Bartholomae was wearing thin.
The Tax Man Cometh
On June 3, 1967, Curtis Barnes, Brevard County’s circuit court clerk, announced that property owned by Sara Bartholomae would be sold on the courthouse steps in Titusville for failure to pay taxes.
Barnes’ repeated efforts to reach Bartholomae had failed.
“I hate to see this valuable land go to tax sale,” Barnes said. “Possibly, some friend of hers here will be able to contact her in time to pay the taxes before the noon sale on Monday.”
Thirty minutes before the deadline, Mrs. Howard Nichols, who had hosted the William August Bartholomae Library’s prededication party, arrived in Titusville, Florida, with a check for $1,419.45 for the back taxes.
Barnes expressed relief that the fees were paid but told a reporter that Bartholomae faced another deadline in August, when taxes for her 2.7 acres in Canova Beach were due.
Bartholomae’s financial problems were not limited to Brevard County. The law firm that had represented her in the divorce proceedings sued her for $50,000 for failure to pay her legal fees.
In 1968, Neeb, the lawyer who represented Bartholomae in her discussions with Keuper, sued her in Los Angeles Superior Court for $287,500 in fees.
The small blond ex-beautician had run out of money. The problem was that she was land rich and cash poor. Of the $4.25 million divorce settlement, $3 million consisted of a ranch in Walnut, California.
After the divorce was finalized, Bartholomae had burned through the roughly $1 million she had received in cash. The architect’s plans for Mercury Chapel were expensive. Trips to New York and cruises in a private yacht followed.
In 1967, Florida Tech filed a lawsuit in Orlando charging Bartholomae with a breach of promise. Three years later, Bartholomae found herself unable to pay the taxes on her California properties. The Balboa estate was sold.
By 1990, Bartholomae was living in Palm Springs, California. A news report mentioned her purchase of a table and chairs from Liberace’s estate.
Bartholomae died in 2005.
Friends to the Rescue
A chastened Keuper ordered that William Bartholomae’s name be removed from the library’s facade.
In Melbourne, Florence “Flossie” Evans rallied support for the library. The immediate challenge was paying off the $150,000 loans that Keuper had secured with Bartholomae’s pledge.
Flossie Evans and her husband, John, were prominent members of the community. In the past, the Evans’ had played a critical role in building Melbourne’s first library and led the campaign to build what would become Holmes Regional Medical Center.
In 1973, Flossie Evans became Florida Tech’s first female trustee. Three years later, the university recognized her contributions to the campus by naming a dormitory in her honor.
In 1978, Flossie Evans died after a long illness.
In 1980, John Evans announced his plans to sell his 144-acre Melbourne citrus grove to the DeBartolo Corp., which had plans to build a 1,220,637-square-foot mall on the site.
Tom Adams, Florida Tech’s development vice president, revealed that Evans would donate the $5 million from the sale to building a new library dedicated to the memory of his wife and his mother.
On Jan. 24, 1985, the four-story, 66,500-square-foot building was dedicated. Sadly, Evans died before the library’s completion.
Hall would serve as the university’s librarian until 1972.
In monthly columns in the Melbourne Times, she chronicled the library’s development.
In 1981, Hall celebrated her 20th year at the university.
“I like the people,” she explained, “and I very much like the work. It has been an interesting 20 years,” she said with a smile.
“I like the people, and I very much like the work. It has been an interesting 20 years.”Eileen Hall, BEC’s first librarian
In that short sentence, Hall defined Florida Tech’s genius.
It is the people who have made this university a special place. Individuals like Hall who, through their hard work, dedication and personal sacrifice, have made Florida Tech what it is today—individuals like Tori Smith, who joined the library staff in 1979 and left the university 41 years later, or Erin Mahaney, who served as the university’s first archivist until June 2020.
These individuals and librarians, like Kathy Turner, Rosemary Kean, Ilona Mueller and countless others who have worked in the Evans Library, have shown us who we are and, certainly, this historian, where we need to go.
Einstein was right: The one thing you need to know is the location of the library.