Founding Members

Betty S. Sembler

Betty S. Sembler has dedicated the past four decades to fighting the war on drugs. In 1976, she was one of ten founding members of Straight, Inc., a nonprofit drug treatment program that successfully treated more than 12,000 young people with drug addiction in eight cities nationally from Dallas to Boston.

Mrs. Sembler then turned her sights to establishing a national drug policy to reinforce the four critical fronts to combat drug abuse: education, treatment, interdiction and law enforcement. She has helped form public policy in the United States' campaign against drugs through her participation in the White House Conference for a Drug Free America, as a member of the Governor's Drug Policy Task Force in Florida, and as a board member of DARE Florida (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), a national organization that provides drug resistance education for elementary and middle school students. Mrs. Sembler also serves on the board of DARE International as vice-chairperson.

Mrs. Sembler has continued her campaign against liberal drug policies and legalization of mind-altering substances on an international basis. She accompanied her husband, Mel, on both of his missions to Australia and Italy as United States Ambassador and presently resides in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Mrs. Sembler is the founder and board chair of Save Our Society From Drugs (S.O.S.) and founder and immediate past chair of the Drug Free America Foundation, Inc. Both organizations work to educate people about attempts to legalize as “medicine” unsafe, ineffective and unapproved drugs such as marijuana, heroin, PCP and crack as well as to reduce illegal drug use, drug addiction and drug-related illnesses and death.

Mrs. Sembler volunteered on the boards of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Operation PAR (Pinellas County, FL), Florida Holocaust Museum, Florida Governor's Mansion Foundation, Florida National Guard Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Training Advisory Board at St. Pete College, the Jewish Policy Center and St. Petersburg’s Menorah Manor.  She has also supported local groups such as the Boy Scouts, CASA, Temple Beth-El, Shorecrest and Academy Preparatory Schools, Remember Honor Support, Dali Museum, Tampa Bay Rays, and Florida Orchestra.

In 1991, the Jewish Day School bestowed upon Mrs. Sembler their “Friends of the Children” award.  In 1996, The Houston Drug Free Business Initiative recognized her for exemplary efforts in drug prevention.  She was awarded the “Distinguished Citizen” award by the Greater Tampa Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America in 1999.  In the year 2000, the Girl Scouts of Sun Coast Council presented Mrs. Sembler with a "Women of Distinction" award. In that same year, Governor Jeb Bush designated August 8 “Betty Sembler Day” in Florida to recognize her outstanding efforts to fight drug abuse. The Jewish National Fund also awarded her the "Tree of Life Award" for her outstanding commitment to the State of Israel and she was awarded the Florida Holocaust Museum’s “To Life Award.”

On March 6, 2008 the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum Foundation presented its “Lifetime Achievement Award” to Mrs. Betty Sembler for her thirty years of leadership and commitment to fighting drugs. The Lifetime Achievement Award is the highest honor bestowed by the Foundation and recognizes long and sustained commitments to drug law enforcement, drug abuse treatment and drug abuse education. Mrs. Sembler was previously awarded honorary agent status by the DEA - only the second such designation to ever be given.

In 2009, she was inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame by then Governor Charlie Crist.  The National Narcotic Officers' Association Coalition "J. Dennis Hastert Lifetime Achievement Award" was awarded to Mrs. Sembler in 2010. It is NNOAC's highest award and Mrs. Sembler is one of only six individuals to have received the award in the history of the NNOAC. The NNOAC represents 68,000 narcotic officers across the nation.  In 2013, Mrs. Sembler was bestowed the prestigious honor of “Great Floridian” by Governor Rick Scott.  She has been officially recognized twice by the U.S. Congress for her efforts against drugs.

The Honorable Mel Sembler

Mel Sembler, Chairman of the Board of The Sembler Company, served as United States Ambassador to Italy from 2001 to 2005 and as Ambassador to Australia and Nauru from 1989 to 1993.

As the President's personal representative, he actively promoted United States' interests abroad during his two terms of service. At the recommendation of the Governor-General of Australia and with the approval of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Sembler was named an Honorary Officer in the Order of Australia at an investiture ceremony in October 2000. The Order of Australia is an Australian society of honor for the purpose of according recognition to Australian citizens and is rarely given to foreigners.

As a developer, Sembler is responsible for building The Sembler Company into one of the nation's most recognized shopping center developers. The Sembler Company is identified as an innovative leader in the industry, and Sembler-built centers are known for their creative design and environmental integrity.

In 1986-1987, Sembler served as the international leader and spokesman for the shopping center industry as President of the 40,000-member International Council of Shopping Centers, a position that capped 25 years of active service to this worldwide trade association.

Sembler's work as a civic and political activist is equally noteworthy. A supporter of George H.W. Bush since 1979, Sembler played a leadership role in raising funds for the Bush for President campaign. He was Finance Co-Chairman of The American Bicentennial Presidential Inaugural, raising the dollars needed for the nation's 41st inauguration of the President of the United States.

Although best known as a leading shopping center developer, Sembler is also renowned for his activism in the anti-drug movement. In 1976, Sembler and his wife Betty co-founded STRAIGHT, an adolescent drug treatment program. During its 17 years of existence, STRAIGHT successfully graduated more than 12,000 young people nationwide from its remarkable program. He is nationally recognized as an activist in the anti-drug campaign and as a staunch, long-time supporter of the Republican Party and its candidates.

Sembler served as Finance Chairman for the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2000. He also served as Florida's National Committeeman to the Republican National Committee after his election in 1994 until 2000. Sembler is on the Board of Directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition and has served on the boards of the Drug Free America Foundation, the International Council of Shopping Centers, the Florida Governor's Mansion Foundation, and the Florida Holocaust Museum, and is a member of the Florida Council of 100, a business advisory group to the Governor of Florida. He also serves on the boards of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and the American Australian Education Leadership Foundation.

Born in 1930 in St. Joseph, Missouri, Sembler is a 1952 graduate of Northwestern University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree. He and his wife Betty have three sons, Steve, Brent, and Greg, and are the proud grandparents of eleven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.