It is nothing unusual that the economic expansion of the early 20th century made many American entrepreneurs wealthy. When wealth and success came to George Pepperdine, an alumnus of Parsons Business College in Kansas, it came to man of deep Christian faith and a lifelong member of Churches of Christ.
In 1909 Pepperdine, then 23 years old and a newlywed, founded Western Auto Supply Company, a specialty retail chain of stores that supplied automobile parts and accessories, with an initial investment of five dollars. Serving a nation just beginning its love affair with the automobile, Western Auto grew at an exponential rate and eventually operated approximately 1,200 stores across the United States.
Pepperdine had always exercised a spirit of generosity and charity, and was a man who understood himself as a steward and caretaker of the assets that God had entrusted to him. That sense of stewardship matured into a call of destiny when he observed the alarming rate at which Christian young men and women lost interest in their faith after going on to higher education. He determined that he would dedicate his fortune to creating and endowing a college that would provide the best education possible, managed by administrators and taught by professors who would support students in their Christian belief.
On September 21, 1937 (commemorated annually as Founder’s Day) George Pepperdine College was opened and dedicated, a mere seven months after Pepperdine had decided to go ahead with construction in February. In November of that same year, Pepperdine addressed the students and first set out what continues to guide Pepperdine University’s educational philosophy and policy to this day:
There are many good colleges and universities which can give you standard academic training, but if our school does not give you more than that, it really has no reason to exist. The great difference between this college and other colleges is that we are endeavoring to place adequate emphasis and greater stress upon religious teaching and Christian character. We want to present to you, in teaching and example, the Christian way of life. We do not compel you to accept it. You are free to make your own choice, but we want you to know what it is.
Pepperdine remained thoroughly involved with the college for the rest of his life, frequently being seen on campus with Mrs. Pepperdine, attending chapel, board meetings, school functions, and sporting events. He narrated his life story and his purposes for the college in his biography Faith is My Fortune (1959). George Pepperdine died on July 31, 1962, his life an embodiment of Matthew 10:8, which has become the University’s motto: Freely ye received, freely give.