Illinois alumnus Joe Pedott has been waiting 63 years to take part in the Illinois commencement ceremony. The 86-year-old graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1955, but he left campus to work in Chicago before he had the chance to participate in the ceremony. With more than 60 years of suspense looming, Pedott says he is excited to cross the event off his bucket list.
“I’ve ordered my cap and gown, and I’m all ready to go,” Pedott says. “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s an emotional thing for me, and it’s going to give me great satisfaction.”
Pedott says it wasn’t an easy road to graduation, but he knew he wanted to get a great education. He chose to attend Illinois – the first in his immediate family to attend college – and began his freshman year at the temporary Navy Pier campus and, eventually, transferred to Urbana-Champaign.
“At that time, you couldn’t get any poorer than me,” he said. “In those days, there weren’t scholarships or loans. My tuition was $64 a semester. I was getting paid 65 cents per hour. I was always doing odd jobs. Somebody at NBC said to me, ‘Why don’t you open up an advertising agency while you’re going to school?’ So I did.”
He began the agency, Pedott & Peters, with his friend Daryl Peters and the two began writing and producing commercials. They would work at their company in Chicago all weekend, and then drive back to campus at 5 a.m. Monday morning.
“I paid a dear price to go to the University of Illinois,” he said. “And I have no regrets.”
While he was a student Pedott took several courses with Charles Sandage, the professor who founded the advertising department.
“He knew that I had an agency, and he was very interested in it,” Pedott explained. “He said ‘Maybe you should teach the 101 course for advertising for credit.’ So, I did that. My friends said, ‘Will you give me a good grade?’ I said, ‘No, I will give you what you deserve.’”
Pedott & Peters grew to be immensely successful, and after his last course Pedott moved to Chicago permanently to manage it full-time.
While he was doing business with a drug company, he found himself at a tradeshow in Chicago. It was there that he met someone who introduced him to the Chia Pet.
“I ran into the vice president of buying, and he said, ‘There’s this stupid item called the Chia Pet. I don’t know why anybody buys it.’ He faxed me a picture, and I loved it! It was a great item, it just needed better advertising.”
Pedott bought the Chia Pet, and he changed everything about the product except the name. Then, he introduced the world to the familiar jingle, “Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!”
Pedott then founded Joseph Enterprises, a gadget company, to take his business interests in a new direction. Their next most popular product is The Clapper. Both products are now featured in the Smithsonian in an exhibit about American icons. Pedott says his success has been a wonderful surprise.
“It’s hard for me even to accept,” he says. “It’s just amazing – an achievement beyond my wildest dreams.”
Pedott will be returning to campus the Friday before commencement to meet with Illinois Promise students and campus leadership. He has dedicated part of his estate to Illinois Promise, which provides scholarships to low-income, academically gifted students.
Joe Pedott’s 5 Rules for Success
- “Believe in yourself.”
- “Never lie. If you don’t want someone to know something, say ‘None of your business.’”
- “Know the price. Work and put in the effort.”
- “If you have an idea, follow through on it.”
- “Failure is a strength in you. When I do something wrong, I allow myself 48 hours to cry over it, and then I get up and kick butt.”