Champion of civic education and former Congressman Lou Frey Jr., the namesake of UCF’s Lou Frey Institute, passed away Monday in Winter Springs. He was 85.

Frey leaves a long legacy of service to the United States and Central Florida. He had a hand in both establishing Kennedy Space Center as the home of the space shuttle program and appealing to President Richard Nixon to turn over McCoy Air Force Base to the city of Orlando. That base would later become Orlando International Airport.

The UCF connection started with Frey’s donation of his congressional archives to UCF in 2002 to create the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government. The institute promotes the development of enlightened, responsible and actively engaged citizens through experiential learning and civic education. That mission was boosted through a partnership with former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham to create the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, which is housed in the Lou Frey Institute.

“Lou appealed to so many in this state for his honor, his attention to constituents and his love of Florida and his country,” says Stephen Masyada, interim executive director of the Lou Frey Institute and director of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship.

Frey was an attorney by trade, holding positions as assistant county solicitor for Orange County and counsel for the Florida Turnpike Authority before running for office as a Republican. His tenure representing Central Florida extended five consecutive terms before retiring undefeated in 1979. He also ran for U.S. Senate and Florida governor.

His political influence continued long after leaving office, including stints as committee member on the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Bob Dole and George W. Bush. Frey shared that wealth of knowledge as a frequent speaker through the institute on topics including homeland security, the space program, and church and state.

Senior Fellow Doug Dobson said Frey was happiest when he was surrounded by a group of students or teachers. His lectures extended beyond the surface level of “how government works” to include the mental and physical toll of running for office and the demands of life in the public eye. The result was one of the strongest civic education programs in the U.S, which, in turn, is producing students equipped for politics, Dobson says.

“Lou felt an incredible commitment to educating future public servants and passing along his experiences,” Dobson says. “That was part of his life’s mission.”

The value of civic education cannot be underestimated, says Kerstin Hamann, director of the School of Politics, Security and International Affairs, which houses the Lou Frey Institute. To fully exercise your rights as a citizen, you need to understand how the system works, what the Constitution represents, and our rights and processes, Hamann said.

“The Lou Frey Institute excels at providing K-12 students with the understanding they need to become educated citizens,” Hamann says.