Peggy Houston was only 15 when she graduated from high school, and there was never any doubt in her mind that she would attend college. She was thankful to be raised in a community which valued education as a top priority; the question was never “are you going to go to college,” it was “where are you going to college?”
Having lived in Portland since the age of five, when Peggy entered Portland State in the late 1950s it had just become an accredited four-year institution. This meant she could easily afford college since she would not have to move and the tuition was low. “I received local scholarships and worked while I was in school,” she recalls. “I did not apply for any university scholarships – I just didn’t think to. Tuition was maybe $90+ a year. I was extremely grateful to have Portland State.”
Peggy graduated Portland State in 1959 with a degree in education. She had majored in music for two years singing soprano, however her parents urged her to get a teaching degree as “something to fall back on.” That had a lot to do with social conditions; it was only a year before she graduated that the first African American woman, Gloria Davy, sang at the Metropolitan Opera. During her time at Portland State, Peggy was the only African American in the music department.
Peggy taught in the Portland area and then in San Francisco where she met her husband Clarence, who was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force base. Clarence had trained with the famed Tuskegee Airmen black pilot fighter squadron in World War II. He was also a painter. In 1969, Peggy and Clarence moved to Spain when Clarence retired from Vandenberg. Peggy studied at the conservatory in Spain, rekindling her passion for singing, and Clarence concentrated on his art.
It was in the early 1980s, now living back in the United States, that Clarence was commissioned to create a calendar for the Miller Brewing Company that featured portraits of Civil Rights leaders. Not only was he to paint the portraits, he would write the content. Heading down to their local library in Colorado Springs, Clarence had a hard time finding any history of the movement or of black history in their collection. This always stayed with Peggy and in 1993 they did something about it.
Celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, which fell over Thanksgiving weekend, Peggy and Clarence had a weekend of festivities which included an art show of Clarence’s work. The pieces sold like wildfire and with this windfall, the Shiver’s donated a portion of the proceeds to library with the direction of building a collection. The Shivers African-American Historical and Cultural Collection was not to be sequestered into its own corner of the library, it is circulated throughout, with children's books in the children's section, and so on.
Having had so much fun at their anniversary celebrations, friends urged Peggy and Clarence to host festivities the following year. “I said I will do it again, but you guys need to pay for it,” jokes Peggy. “This is when we realized that our donation did not have to be a one-time thing.”
Earnings from the endowment—which now totals over $100,000—are used to maintain and expand the library’s collection of works about, by, or for blacks.
Now in its 20th year, “The Celebration Concert Series,” which features black classical musicians from all over the country, is the main fundraising event for the Shivers African-American Historical Cultural Collection of the Pike’s Peak Library District.
The Shivers Fund benefits the African-American Historical and Cultural Collection at PPLD and provides cultural opportunities for youth. The Fund also offers special concerts throughout the year, and a Thanksgiving Celebration every other year featuring musicians, authors, and artists from around the country.
Peggy cites her mother as the original inspiration for her giving back to the community. "I grew up in a giving environment. I just feel that it is the normal thing to do. If one lives in a community, one should do all they possibly can to make that community the best it can be."
Learn more about The Shivers Fund
To donate to the Shivers Fund, make checks payable to Pikes Peak Library District Foundation with "Shivers Fund" written on the memo line and mailed to 3055 Purgatory Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80918.