In Honor of Longtime Staff – and Their Times

“You experienced the Iran-Contra Affair, the Challenger Explosion, the Exxon Valdez spill – big hair, parachute pants, really long phone cords – and you probably ate at Skeeter’s Big Biscuit House!,” President Kent Fuchs told longtime employees at the annual Staff Appreciation Reception. “…I hope you’ve enjoyed and benefited from your years here. I know the university has gained from your work.”

In Honor of Longtime Staff – and Their Times

It’s a delight to be here with you at Powell University House to share my appreciation for your work and your contributions.  I am grateful to you for sustaining and strengthening our university, and also to your families and partners, many of whom made sacrifices so that you could dedicate your careers to UF.

All of you began your service between the years 1979 and 1994, so …

When you started at UF, your president may have been Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush or Bill Clinton.  But your Turlington Plaza preacher was very likely Brother Jed, possibly with his wife, Sister Cindy!

You experienced the Iran-Contra Affair, the Challenger Explosion, the Exxon Valdez spill … big hair, parachute pants, really long phone cords … AND you probably ate at Skeeter’s Big Biscuit House!

So, you remember Skeeter’s!

I bet you also remember the “Asher Special” featuring two eggs, “home fried taters covered with melted cheese” and “Skeeter’s Big Ole Buttermilk Biscuit.”

According to The Alligator the “Asher Special” was $2.95, which isn’t bad, even if you’re still digesting it today!

Once you fueled up at Skeeter’s, you could pick up a new backpack at Brasington’s Trail Shop and fill it with cassette tapes from Spec’s Music … depending on your age,  “Thriller” by Michael Jackson,  “Purple Rain” by Prince, “Like a Prayer” by Madonna or “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” by MC Hammer.

If you arrived in 1979, you could pick up a Smith-Corona Coronet Super 12 typewriter for $219.97, according to The Alligator.  A decade later, in 1989, you might spring for an Apple McIntosh, but it would cost you $4,800!

When you didn’t want to stay home listening to your hi-fi, you could go see a local band at Dub’s.

Dub’s is the bar where Tom Petty and his bandmates cut their teeth.  By the time you arrived at UF, he was way too famous to play there … but Dubs was still soldiering on.

I love one of its Alligator ads from 1979 touting 1) a miniskirt contest 2) a beer drinking contest 3) a Saturday Night Fever dance contest AND 4) a “le Freak” contest.

The Dubs building still exists today on NW 13th Street, except that it is now the local Social Security Administration office.  That’s what age will do!

You experienced the era of bigtime Gator Growls with controversial performances by stars like Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Jerry Seinfeld.

Robin Williams caused so much offense in 1983 that Bob Hope was brought in for the 1984 Growl!

Robert Bryan served as interim UF president from 1989-1990. Although his term was brief, he was known for his caustic wit. In fact, I recently learned that President Bryan is the man who nicknamed the sculpture between Marston Science Building and the Computer Science Building. Its name is “Alachua” but he called it “The French Fries from Hell.”

According to The Alligator, for the 1989 Gator Growl, President Bryan appeared in a video welcoming students and alumni.

Quote, “He then donned a hockey mask like the one worn by Jason in the Friday the 13th series and took a chainsaw to Alachua, a modern-art sculpture known to students as the French Fries.”

Well, the French Fries survived, and today they proudly anchor the hub of a university that has grown and become more exceptional in every way.  I hope you’ve enjoyed and benefited from your years here.  I know the university has gained from your work.

We were admitted to the Association of American Universities in 1984, the year the 35-year employees we are honoring arrived.  Thanks to your and your colleagues’ dedication, we climbed the ranks in the ensuing decades, reaching the top-10 in 2018 and top-7 today.

UF’s total budget in 1979 was $250 million.  Today it is $7 billion.

From the late 1970s through the ‘80s, enrollment never exceeded 36,000.  We began this academic year with more than 56,000 students. 

We had between 2,000 and 3,000 professors in the years you started your careers.  Today, we have about 5,500 professors and, indeed, have created and filled hundreds of new faculty positions in recent years.

You saw the Gators win four national championships in gymnastics, three in football, two in basketball, one in baseball and many in other sports.

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

The historic core looked much as it does now, but the UF Health campus has expanded dramatically, and longtime UF icons like the Reitz Union, the O’Dome, and Newell Hall have been completely remade.  We’re also steadily adding incredible new facilities such as the new Gator ballpark and the Wertheim Laboratory for Engineering Excellence.

Our student body is far more diverse than it was in the years you started.  We’re more globally oriented.  We’re already among the very best public universities in the nation, and we will crack the top 5 very soon.

Also, since you arrived, we’ve graduated hundreds of thousands of students.  Each of you has contributed not only to our university’s progress, but also to those 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 your 25-, 30-, 35- or 40 years of making UF the exceptional university it is – with many more wonderful years ahead.  It is great to be a Florida Gator!