Saluting Longtime Staff with a Look Back

“I know the university has gained tremendously from your work and from you, personally,” said UF President Kent Fuchs at a luncheon honoring employees with 31-35 years of service.

Saluting Longtime Staff with a Look Back

I want to start very simply by saying “thank you” to each one of you being honored today.

Thank you for your contributions and commitment to UF that has strengthened our university and the people at this university. I’m grateful to your families and partners, who have sacrificed so that you could work at UF, sometimes early, late or on weekends.

So: We are honoring you for 31-35 years of consecutive service, which means you began your service at UF between 1983 and 1987.

Ronald Reagan was president, Bob Graham was governor and Marshall Criser was UF president. It was the era of Smurfs, Nintendo, boom boxes, really big hair … and fanny packs!  Remember those? Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union and the Challenger disaster happened.

But what was UF and Gainesville like in those days? We looked back at the UF and Gainesville of your first years at UF – with the help of some old editions of The Alligator and information from the university’s archives.

One of the first things that leaped out was the big, gaudy advertisements for a restaurant on Northwest 13th Street called Skeeter’s Big Biscuit House.

So you remember Skeeter’s!

The ads touted Skeeter’s signature dish, which was called “The Asher Special:” “Lots of hash browns or good ol’ home fried taters covered with melted cheese, topped off with two eggs any style & served with toast or Skeeter’s Big Ole Buttermilk Biscuit.”

Not bad for $2.95, even if you’re still digesting it today!

Many of you may also remember that in addition to that “Big Ole Buttermilk Biscuit,” Skeeter’s offered Chinese food. In their Alligator ads, they even bragged that their Chinese food was made by quote “real Chinese cooks!”

Well, once you fueled up at Skeeter’s, you could pick up a new backpack at Brasington’s Trail Shop, buy some records or cassettes at Spec’s Music … maybe “Lawyers in Love” by Jackson Brown or “Cold Blooded” by Rick James ... and then go see a live local band at Dub’s.

Dub’s was the bar where Tom Petty and his early bandmates famously cut their teeth. By the mid-1980s, he was already way too famous to play there, but he did return to Gainesville on tours.  

One show, on Feb. 10, 1983, featured Tom Petty with special guest Nick Lowe at the O’Dome. Tickets were $9.50. The day after the concert, the Alligator ran a picture of Tom with his dad, Earl Petty, who still lived in Gainesville, and who had come to the O’Dome to see his son perform.

UF students in the mid-80s sometimes tussled with the administration, as they do now.

For example, UF made a controversial decision during this period to stop allowing students to place long-distance calls directly from their rooms in their residence halls.  Most colleges had only one phone per hallway or floor.

Fortunately, I don’t have to explain the meaning of the term “long distance call” to anyone in this crowd!

The new policy came about because long-distance calls cost money, and … shockingly … students were not paying their bills.

The Alligator noted that the price of a call from Gainesville to Miami was 38 cents for the first minute and 27 cents for each additional minute.

It’s amazing to think that in just a couple of decades, students would be face-timing anyone in the world for as long as they wanted for free.

The two biggest annual events on campus were Gator Growl in the stadium, which was attended by as many as 70,000 fans, and the wild Halloween Ball.

The less said about the Halloween Ball, the better!

Well, we’re fortunate to have with us today dedicated and effective employees from across our university: Administrative assistants, biological scientists, research coordinators, clerks, pest control workers, engineers, accountants, groundskeepers, librarians, custodians, mechanics, news communications specialists, and so many others.

I know the university has gained tremendously from your work and from you, personally. I hope you’ve enjoyed and benefited from your years here.

In the mid-1980s, UF’s enrollment fluctuated between 33,000 and 35,000 students.  We began this academic year with 55,500 students. 

We had about 2,500 professors back then. Today, we have about 5,500 professors.

Our operating budget was $600M in 1988. Today, it is about $2.5 billion – and $6 billion including UF Health.

Our university is both entirely transformed and recognizably the same UF that you found when you got here.

Our historic core looked much as it does now, but the UF Health campus has expanded dramatically, and even longtime UF icons like the Reitz Union and the O’Dome have been reimagined. We’re busy doing the same with other icons, including Norman Hall and the Institute of Black Culture.

Our student body is far more diverse than it was in the mid-1980s.  We’re more globally oriented. We’re not only the best university in Florida. We’re among the very best universities in the nation. And since you arrived, we’ve graduated somewhere on the order of 350,000 students.

Each of you has contributed to this progress and to these graduates.

Those contributions will only become more meaningful with time, as the university continues to flourish, and as graduates’ children and their children’s children become the next generations of Gators.

Thank you for more than 30 years of making UF the exceptional university it is – with many more wonderful years ahead.  It is great to be a Florida Gator!