By Mary Ann DeSantis
In 1957, a handful of key leaders in Marion, Citrus, and Levy Counties envisioned a junior college for the area. Deeply committed to extending educational opportunities for the community, they each brought skills and talents to help establish a solid foundation for the institution that would become Central Florida Community College. Now serving more than 20,000 students annually, CFCC is not only an institution of higher learning but also a beacon in the community for lifelong learning, workforce development, and civic leadership.
“The college is so much a part of the community after 50 years that one cannot tell where the college begins and the community ends — thus fulfilling the visions of the early leaders,” said nationally known educator Terry O’Banion, president emeritus of the League for Innovation in the Community College and the 1960 dean of students at Central Florida Junior College.
From humble beginnings in sparse classrooms of the Marion County Vocational School building to high-tech classes in the state-of-the-art Ewers Century Center, CFCC’s growth over the last 50 years has been phenomenal. In honor of CFCC’s golden anniversary, Ocala Style takes a look at 50 great moments in the history of the college.
1956: Ocala Star-Banner editor R.N. “Bert” Dosh writes a series of editorials urging area residents to support a junior college in the area after the Florida Legislature and the State Community College Council recommend Marion County as one of 14 localities for a junior college. Because he was one of the most vocal proponents for the two-year college, Dosh is considered by some to be CFCC’s “founding father.”
1957: Central Florida Junior College becomes the state’s eleventh junior college. The Marion County School Board pledges financial resources, establishes a junior college advisory committee, and names Dr. Kenneth R. Williams as the first president of Central Florida Junior College.
1958: In September, CFJC classes begin for 296 students in temporary quarters in the Marion County Vocational School building and the First Baptist Church of Ocala. The staff included six administrators, 10 faculty members, and three staff employees. The City of Ocala and the Atlantic Realty and Investment Company donate a 60-acre tract of land on State Road 200 for a campus.
1958: When Howard Junior College begins classes for 133 African-American students, it becomes one of six black junior colleges in Florida. Shortly after opening in September, the institution is renamed Hampton Junior College after Dr. Lee Royal Hampton Sr., an Ocala physician and leading proponent for quality education for everyone. College classes are held at Howard High School until a separate facility opens in west Ocala in January 1960. William H. “Bill” Jackson is named HJC’s first and only president.
1959: Lewis Dinkins becomes CFJC’s first student body president. Dinkins later becomes a prominent attorney in Ocala.
1959: CFJC’s first graduation ceremony is held on June 1 for seven students who transferred to the college as sophomores. Receiving the first Associate in Arts degrees awarded by CFJC were Richard Louis Park, Robert Thomas Bowles, Loring Gruber Lovell, Elmar B. Fetscher, Ned Broward Lovell, John Hemphill Priest, and Clifton Eugene Folsom.
1960: In January, the first CFCJ building opens on State Road 200 three miles west of downtown Ocala on land that had been part of the Rainbow Ranch. The 33,600-square-foot facility has eight classrooms, faculty and administrative offices, a clinic, and conference and counseling rooms. Still known as Building One, the facility is the present-day administration building.
1960: Dr. Williams resigns to become the president of Miami Junior College, and Dr. Joseph W. Fordyce, a University of Florida professor, becomes CFJC’s second president in April. Dr. Fordyce actively promotes the college, and during his first year as president the faculty grows to 40 members and enrollment increases to more than 600 students.
1960: During the fall semester, the “Rebel Retreat” opens as a student gathering place and snack bar. Community leaders contribute funds to construct the 1,500-square-foot wood frame building, because students have no place to grab a bite to eat between classes. Although the “Rebel Retreat” is slated to be temporary, the structure houses campus organizations and offices until its demolition in fall 2006.
1961: The student production of South Pacific opens under the direction of George Statler, who leads the college’s theatre department for 27 years. The colorful Statler works closely with architects to design the Fine Arts Theatre, which opens in 1967.
1962: Professor Ira Holmes creates the CFJC International Film Series — the first such film series at a Florida college. The International Film Series becomes the longest consecutive-running film program in the state and continues to be offered to the community free of charge through donations and support by the CFCC Foundation.
1963: Under the leadership of Coach Mel Carpenter, CFJC’s first tennis team wins the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Tennis Tournament in Joliet, Ill., less than five months after the team is established. Carpenter remembers driving players to tournaments throughout the state in his 1957 Ford.
1963: Student journalist Jim Huber hears on his way to English class that President John F. Kennedy has been shot. As the class is discussing Dante’s Inferno, he sees the flag outside the classroom building being lowered and realizes that the President has died. “The students silently closed their books and made their way into the halls without saying a word,” Huber remembers. Huber went on to become an award-winning journalist for CNN.
1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 signals that change is on the way for both Hampton Junior College and CFJC. Marion County School Superintendent John Seay proposes a plan for the merger of the two colleges, which will take place during the 1966-1967 academic year.
1965: Hampton Junior College’s Cobra Basketball Team wins the FJCAA state championship under the leadership of Coach Simon Johnson. More than 775 students are enrolled at HJC during the 1965-66 academic year, the school’s final year of existence.
1965: Dr. Fordyce resigns to become president of the new junior college in Gainesville that will eventually become Santa Fe Community College.
1966: Dr. Henry E. Goodlett becomes Central Florida’s longest-serving president on January 1. Under his leadership, the college experiences rapid growth and increased prominence among Florida’s junior colleges.
1966: Dr. Goodlett and Dr. Jackson work together to merge HJC and CFJC successfully on July 1. Black and white students will attend classes at both campuses. President Jackson transfers to CFJC where he serves as Dean of Research and Development until his retirement in 1985.
1966: The CFJC Endowment Corporation receives a $160,000 bequest from the estate of Mont and Josie Shackman. The gift becomes the genesis of CFJC’s formal scholarship program.
1968: On July 1, the new seven-member CFJC District Board of Trustees accepts all titles, property, and other college assets from the Marion County School Board, thus removing CFJC from the school board’s authority.
1968: Emotions run high in April when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated. CFJC administrators ask student leader Bobby James to ease unrest among students of all races by speaking to the entire student body. He says, “We, as a school, came together that day.” James later becomes a prominent Marion County educator.
1969: The Rebels become the Patriots and the college mascot, “Little Colonel,” is replaced by “Pat the Patriot” to reflect team and mascot names more appropriate to the college.
1969: Music fills the air when Don Tyler is hired as the vocal instructor, and he creates the Variations show choir, which wows audiences with rock, Broadway, pop, and classical songs. Tyler teaches the students showmanship and style for the next 32 years.
1970: The African-American Student Union begins and is led by Frank Hendrix, who is chairman of the first “Soul Food Day.” The popular activity evolves in later years to become the International Food Festival, which showcases not only soul food but also delicacies prepared by CFJC’s expanding population of international students.
1971: To more accurately reflect the college’s purpose to serve a larger community, CFJC becomes Central Florida Community College on July 1. The school newspaper also reflects a new name and becomes The Patriot Press, with Volume 1, Issue 1, on Sept. 3.
1971: CFCC’s newly formed concert band, under the direction of Gene Lawton, performs publicly for the first time on Nov. 23. Band students are encouraged to play more than one instrument.
1972: The Florida Department of Education designates CFCC as an Area Vocational Education School (AVES) because of the excellent occupational training programs being offered. This year saw the beginning of such programs as Automotive Body Repair and Refinishing, Mobile Home Trades, and Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration.
1973: Academic programs continue to expand at a rapid pace with Associate in Science degree programs established in Church Music, Child Care Technology, and Real Estate. Professor Ernest Jernigan says that programs result from public demand as well as from faculty suggestions.
1974: Student activities run full-throttle, combining hilarity with fund raising for a variety of student organizations and community causes. Tricycle and bed races mark the beginning of spring.
1979: CFCC’s Reactor Training Technology Program gains national recognition under the leadership of nuclear-training expert Frank Holland. Students in the program go to Three-Mile Island near Harrisburg, Penn., to assist with the clean-up from a nuclear spill. Several stay on to work full time at Three-Mile Island.
1982: CFCC expands beyond the Ocala campus when it opens the Levy County Center in Bronson and the CFCC Branch Center in Lecanto. The Levy County Center eventually moves to a renovated storefront in Chiefland. The CFCC Citrus County Campus moves to its own 88-acre complex in August 1996.
1983: The college observes its 25th anniversary with a week-long celebration, culminating in a speech by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
1987: Dr. Henry Goodlett retires after 21 years as the college president. His successor is Dr. William J. Campion, president of Trinity Valley Community College in Texas. Goodlett is named President Emeritus and the Patriot baseball field is dedicated in his honor.
1987: Theatre director George Statler announces his retirement, and his successor is David Hartley, an award-winning drama teacher from Dunnellon High School. Hartley’s first play, The Curious Savage, opens to rave reviews.
1989: Fund raising becomes increasingly important, and Dr. Cash Pealer accepts a $10,000 challenge grant on his first day as the CFCC Foundation’s new executive director. The Foundation not only matches the $10,000, but exceeds it. By the beginning of the 1989-90 academic year, the foundation reaches its fund-raising goal of $1 million!
1989: The first outdoor graduation ceremony is held on the lawn of the Fine Arts Building for 349 graduates in the spring, thus beginning a tradition of outdoor commencements.
1990: A sophisticated telephone registration system, known as OSCAR, is installed so that students can dial-in to register for classes. Although they still have to peruse printed schedules, they do not have to stand in long lines.
1994: College Square Apartments opens its doors to 192 students, and CFCC becomes only one of four community colleges in Florida to offer student housing.
1995: Brick City Center for the Arts becomes a showcase for local artists with the help of the CFCC Foundation. The former department store gets a new life as Artist-in-Residence John Briggs helps art students create a mural on the Broadway Street side of the building.
1995: A gift from longtime benefactor Gladys Webber enables the college to build an exhibition center just west of the Fine Arts Building. The 4,400 square-foot Webber Center is designed to specifications for hosting Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibitions.
1996: Amid much public controversy, Dr. William Campion resigns as CFCC president in February. Dr. Charles R. Dassance, president of Ashland Community College in Kentucky, becomes the fifth CFCC president in November.
1997: Professor and professional artist Jack Thursby acquires distinctive art pieces for the CFCC collection. As the formalized “art on campus” program grows, Thursby is instrumental in seeing that the collection is displayed to its fullest advantage in buildings around campus.
1997-98: Basketball dominates sports talk around campus as the Lady Patriots win the state championship and are the runners-up for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) championship with a 33-1 record. The men’s team captures the state championship title for two consecutive years.
1999: CFCC sophomore Kelli Mierhenry wins the Miss Florida crown and represents the state in the Miss America pageant in Atlanta City, N.J.
1999-2000: The CFCC Lady Patriot tennis team finishes fourth in the nation, a warm-up for 2000-2001 when the team captures the NJCAA Division II title. Marta Jedrezak is named NJCAA Women’s “Tennis Player of the Year,” while Coach Jim Hawkins is named “Coach of the Year.”
2000: Alumni Frank and Pamela Stafford have the unique distinction of being the only husband and wife team ever to head two major community college posts concurrently. He is the chair of the District Board of Directors, while she is the CFCC Foundation chair. The couple met in the 1960s as CFCC students.
2001: Ron and Phyllis Ewers donate $2 million, the college’s largest cash gift ever, to the Building Futures campaign. The most notable result of the $7 million campaign is the Ewers Century Center — a three-story, 60,000-square-foot facility that will become CFCC’s new “front door” when completed in 2004.
2001: The $4-million CFCC University Center opens, making it possible for students to stay in Ocala to complete their college education. Through partnerships with seven universities and colleges, students can obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees without leaving the Ocala campus.
2004: The Florida Junior College Athletic Association (FJCAA) honors CFCC basketball coaches Tim Ryan and Cheryl Rice as “Coaches of the Year.”
2004: The CFCC Hampton Center is reborn in time for spring semester with a new 21,400 square-foot building on the site of the former Florida State Fire College in west Ocala. An array of community partnership and outreach programs are housed in the facility, including a county dental clinic where students can train to become dental assistants. The Florida Department of Education names the Hampton Center as one of Florida’s Best Business and Education Partnerships in 2004.
2004: CFCC assumes full responsibility for the operation of the Appleton Museum of Art in the late fall, ending several years of uncertainty about the museum’s future. The inspirational and educational aspects of the museum are a natural fit with the goals of the college to enhance lifelong learning and culture for the entire community.
2004: The first Equine Studies associate degree program at a community college is launched at CFCC, funded in collaboration with private donors from the area’s equine community.
2006: The center of campus dramatically changes with the newly renovated Bryant Student Union and a bell clock tower that will ring as the 50th anniversary celebration gets underway in January 2007.
CFCC: Celebrating 50 Years with Pride
A pictorial history about Central Florida Community College will be available in early December to mark the college’s 50th anniversary in 2007. Celebrating 50 Years with Pride is a 120-page book featuring photos from the college’s first year of operation in 1957, its merger with Hampton Junior College, and its phenomenal growth through five decades. Rare photos and historical records document the college’s beginnings from a small school with less than 300 students to a higher education institution that now serves more than 20,000 students in a three-county area. Former students, faculty and staff share their special memories about the campus in this special coffee-table edition.
Softbound copies are available for $25 including tax; the hard cover edition is $40. To order your copy, please contact the CFCC Foundation, P.O. Box 1388, Ocala, FL 33478-1388 or call (352) 873-5808.
By Mary Ann DeSantis