The Founders of the University of Central Florida

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The Founders of the University of Central Florida

The Founders of the University of Central Florida

August 31, 2016

Martha Hitt, Dr. John Hitt, Mary Jo Davis, Charles Gray, Saundra Gray, Joe Guernsey, and Jim and Betty Robinson are pictured from left to right in this photo of the founders of The University of Central Florida.

Listen as Attorney James Robinson describes how the group came together to form and develop a university for this area, in this excerpt from an oral history interview with Jim Robinson at his home on Lake Conway, March 11, 2016.

LISTEN Part III (20:28)

Forming a University

In the early sixties, a group of people, in which I was just one, decided that for the growth of our community we needed a university in the nine county eastern part of Florida. And so, we worked toward that. It was a lot of maneuvering. We finally got legislature passed creating it. And Senator Beth Johnson, our local senator was very important and I was one of the group that helped get it passed. The legislature gave the, what they called at the time, The Florida Board of Control: the power to decide where and how the university would be formed....

Choosing the Site for a University

So I went with the county commission in a car to Tallahassee to a meeting with The Board of Control and they selected two sites that had been offered. One was Seminole County, former naval base and the other one was on South Orange Blossom Trail. Well, there were seven members, but the one from Orange County had been removed because he failed to file an income tax so they only had six, and they voted three to three. On the way back, I said to them, "Look, I know a place that's a lot better than either of those." And they said, "Where?" I told them, "Way out in East Orange County and it would be more attractive to people on the coast." And so they said, "Well, they like to see it." So, out on Alafaya Trail was where it was. So far east the Davis family lived and they raised horses and American buffalo, and so, they loaned us the horses and I got Harry Price to lead us through this property. He had been putting it together for years and I had become his lawyer. And he made a cattle ranch of it. But he sold it all to a man from New Jersey named Frank Adamucci.There was nothing there but pine trees and cow pasture. Anyway, I always remember Harry's horse, Shine. He hard a snake and fell over backwards and I thought he was killed, but he got up.

$1,000 an acre

Anyway, the county approved that. They thought it was a good site so we got the Board of Control to come up. They looked at it, but they sent us a letter and said that we should provide clear title and surveys, a bunch of expenses, within 30 days. And I told them "We can't do that that fast." They said, "You'd better do it quick or we're going to withdraw it." So Beth Johnson and I and others sat down.... Well, I tried to call Frank Edwards on the way back and didn't get him. But I did get him when I got home afterwards and I said, "Frank, they need a 1,000 acres at least and it's got to be free and clear. Can you give us any land?" He said, "I'll give you 500 acres and you pay me a $1,000 an acre and I'll provide you an equal amount." Well, we had no money.

Paying for the University

So, we arranged a schedule and it was very involved. People in the community who would pledge a certain amount of money by signing promissory notes which we took to the bank and they honored money on it. And we raised nearly a million dollars. And, these people were agreeing that their money could be used, but they were going to get it back. Of course, they were taking a chance. Well, it took us four years to get it cleared out because the state had to pass laws which gave Orange County the power to spend money for a university. It had no authority to do that for them to have the ability to levy taxes to pay for the university. It took four years. Anyway, we got it and we managed to pay off the creditors and so forth. And so we got the land and they chose Dr. Charles Millican to be the first president. And I became very close to him. Anyway, I handled their estates, and we got a state university. And Millican retired and the second person [Dr. Trevor Colburn, UCF President 1978-1989] became very close to me and we worked on it together. And finally the third president came. But the second was brilliant and a very good friend....

Photo courtesy of the James C. Robinson Archives

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