History of Florida SouthWestern State College

1962 - 2002 - The First Four Decades

The top song on the hit parade was Chubby Checker’s "The Twist." The Beatles performed their first U.S. concert in Washington D.C. The top TV show was "Bonanza," and America’s families were falling in love with a new family called the Clampetts. John Glenn orbited the earth in Friendship 7 and Johnny Carson began his long stint as host of "The Tonight Show." The year was 1962, a significant time in U.S. history. It was also the year when Edison Junior College was established.

Born in a year when so much monumental history was made in the world, Edison had a rather modest beginning. Its first location was the Andrew Gwynne Institute Building in downtown Fort Myers. The former elementary school was part of the Lee County Public School system and was pressed into service to house the fledgling junior college. Edison’s first president, Dr. Charles Rollins, recalls the beginning as "an act of faith that brought a number of challenges."

'Picture a former elementary school,' Dr. Rollins said, "the night before it will open its doors to a group of college students. In one of the larger rooms are the president and the new dean, David Robinson. They are busy painting the walls a nice shade of green to transform the playroom into the college Business Office. This tableau represents the sense of commitment, camaraderie and enthusiasm which makes starting a college a uniquely satisfying experience for everyone involved."

Edison was created as part of a nationwide movement to meet the burgeoning demand for higher education directly after World War II. The Florida Legislature, following the lead of the rest of the country, began to expand the state’s educational system at all levels. The Legislature was convinced that the university system could not meet the need and passed visionary legislation in 1947 providing the Minimum Foundation Program to bring financial equity to education in all parts of the state. In 1953, the Council for the Study of Higher Education was formed, including the Community College Council. In 1957, this body, under the direction of Dr. James L. Wattenbarger, produced the blueprint for development of Florida’s junior college system. The criteria established by the Community College Council described a community college in the following way.

It is flexible.

It offers a broad curriculum.

It maintains academic standards.

It helps each student develop his or her own potential.

It provides a personalized educational atmosphere.

It is related closely to the secondary schools and to the life of the community.

It recognizes that it is a two-year institution.

It has a unique function in the community.

Further, the council established a goal of serving 99 percent of the population within a distance of 30 miles. The purpose of this design was to eliminate the necessity of dormitories, thus reducing the cost both to the student and the state and putting a college education within commuting distance of every potential student.

Chapter I

1962-1972: From Swamp to Campus

Higher Education in Southwest Florida

Southwest Florida was among the last areas to experience the rapid growth that characterized Florida during the 20th Century. Prior to 1940, relatively few had discovered the lush, tropical area with its beach-lined barrier islands, with two rivers as broad as bays and with inland expanses so rich that crops virtually grew themselves. Then came World War II, and with it an influx of thousands of new temporary residents assigned to Page Field and to Buckingham Air Base. Hundreds of them liked what they found here and returned after the war to make their futures in a climate where snowplows were unknown and where the quality of life was what others only dreamed of. These veterans spread the word about this tropical promised land, and many returned after 1945 to establish farms, ranches, and businesses and to integrate their talents with those of the long-time residents in order to build a thriving economy. Tourism flourished and with it a strong retail and service economy developed.

By 1960, the population of southwest Florida’s five counties had reached 94,000. And, although residents had begun to move south in record numbers, many needed services and facilities were not available locally. Higher education had visited this area briefly in the 1940s. A private college, headed by Dr. H.E. Cunningham and his wife, Lelia, had opened as "Thomas A. Edison State College," in 1940. Thomas A. Edison State College held classes in a building downtown for a while and later moving to buildings at the Buckingham Air Base. The college closed in 1948, but the appetite of area residents for higher education had been whetted. The design for a community college put forth by the Community College Council was welcomed by southwest Floridians who found the nearest college more than 100 miles distant and accessible only by a two-lane, ill-maintained road. Four years after the Council published its report, a new junior college was established to serve Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties. On October 26, 1961, the Organizational Meeting of the Junior College Advisory Committee was held in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Lee County.

According to minutes of that historic meeting, in attendance were: Joyce Hindman and E.O. Friday, committee members from Charlotte County; Robert T. Benson and E.L. Turner, from Collier County; Irene Lundy, from Glades County; Jack R. Spratt, from Hendry County; and Norman Abrams, Travis Gresham, Jr. and Alan J. Robertson, of Lee County. Also in attendance were: Dr. James L. Wattenbarger, Director of the Division of Community Colleges, State Department of Education; William Reynolds, Superintendent of Collier County Schools; Robert N. Kreager, Superintendent of Lee County Schools; and press representatives from Fort Myers News Press, Tampa Tribune and WINK TV.

The main item on the agenda was to organize the committee. Mr. Robertson was elected chairman and Mr. Gresham was elected vice-chairman. Superintendent Kreager agreed to serve as secretary until the president of the college was selected, after which he or she would serve as secretary of the committee. The first order of business for the chairman was to appoint a screening committee to consider applications for the presidency of the new college. Mr. Robertson appointed the following people to serve with him on the screening committee: Travis Gresham, Joyce Hindman, Robert Kreager, Jack Spratt, and E.L. Turner. The committee decided on an annual salary of $11,000 to $12,000 to entice a president to the new college.

The First President: Dr. Charles E. Rollins

"The toughest part, without a doubt, was selecting the first president," said Chairman Alan Robertson. "We advertised, we screened and we interviewed and then called Dr. Jim Wattenbarger in Tallahassee for help. He provided several names, including that of Dr. Charles E. Rollins, who was Dean of York Junior College, a private two-year college in Pennsylvania. We invited Dr. Rollins to come down and the committee agreed that he was the man for us." On January 17, 1962, the Advisory Committee appointed Rollins as the first president of the college they had named Edison Junior College. The new president assumed his duties on March 1.

Lee County was chosen as the location for the college as it had half the population in the entire district and claimed a central and more accessible location. Dr. Rollins recalls that he reported to work in a borrowed office, with a borrowed desk and a borrowed secretary, all on loan from the Lee County School District. The first President’s Office was an unoccupied room in the Lee County Courthouse.

The school board had closed the Gwynne Institute as an elementary school the previous year, so the college was given that space to launch its operations. There was also space used at Dunbar High School. One of the first things to be done, according to President Rollins, was to get some senior administrative staff. "We were fortunate," he said, "to get David Robinson to be academic dean. Dr. Robinson had completed his doctoral studies in higher education administration at Florida State University and was on the staff at Manatee Junior College in Bradenton. Henry F. Gilmore was named Dean of the Dunbar Campus, serving the black community since public education was still segregated in Southwest Florida at that time. Virginia Sheppard Holloway was appointed business manager for the college, a position she held at Edison until her retirement in 1982. In recognition of her years of service, the District Board of Trustees at the time of her retirement named the lake adjacent to her former office "Lake Virginia."

The 1963 edition of the college yearbook, The Log, includes pictures of the college’s first group of 124 students and lists six administrators: Dr. Charles E. Rollins, President; Dr. David G. Robinson, Dean; Henry F. Gilmore, Dean, Dunbar Campus; Willie Kate Tyson, Librarian; Virginia S. Holloway, Business Manager; and Rubye Cooke, Registrar. The 1963-64 College Catalog lists 16 faculty members at the Gwynne Building and four at the Dunbar Campus. In addition, there were 16 lecturers or part-time instructors listed.

According to the catalog, student fees in that first year were $70 per semester for a full load of courses. Out-of-district students paid $20 more, and out-of-state students paid an extra $100. By comparison, fees are listed in the 2001-2002 College Catalog as: $48.31 per credit hour for Florida residents and $178.59 for non-residents.

Students in 1963 could choose from 81 courses and could work toward the two-year Associate in Arts degree in the areas of business, communications, humanities, mathematics, science, social sciences and physical education. President Rollins recalls that, as the temporary campus opened one of the first realizations was that there simply was not enough space to accommodate the needs of the students. "In order to provide laboratory spaces, we needed other spaces beyond that offered at the Gwynne Institute and the portable classrooms housing the Dunbar Campus," he said. 17 community locations were made available rent-free to the fledgling college for classes and labs, including the Edison Theater, the Fort Myers Teen Club, First Baptist Church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Fort Myers Tennis Club and the Crescent Building. The word about the opportunities at the new college spread quickly throughout the area, facilitated in part by a weekly quarter-hour television program on the area’s only television station, WINK-TV and a half-hour radio program that was taped and broadcast on Sundays.

The First Permanent Campus

Across the district, there was a spirited competition for the permanent campus. Interested communities and individuals were not only willing to offer land, but some were willing to make substantial contributions as well. According to Travis A. Gresham, Jr., who would later become Chairman of Edison’s District Board of Trustees, the Board had quite a task on its hands and had quite a battle to get the campus located at its ultimate site. The choices of location were narrowed to Lehigh Acres, South Fort Myers and Cape Coral. The final decision was to locate the campus on an 80-acre site, eight miles south of downtown Fort Myers, located strategically between U.S. 41 and McGregor Boulevard. The campus entrance was to be off Cypress Lake Drive. College Parkway did not yet exist. The coalition of donors of the campus property included: Alan Baum, Joseph Baum, J. Foster Pate Associates, Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Povia, Stephen Quackenbush, Jr., Mrs. Annie M. Herrington, Mr. and Mrs. Ervin Ibach, Elmer L. Tremont, Benjamin P. Kramlich, V.H. Osborn, Houston L. Pewett, George Hauk, Joseph Leto, Jacob Vogt, Berry Williams, John D. Shanklin, Town and River Estates, Peter D. Kleist, Carl M. Voyles and Frederick B. Lowrie.

At the time, the site of the campus seemed a bit remote and removed from the hustle and bustle of the business community. Edison was, however, the first junior college in Florida to be built according to a master plan. The scheme was designed by a Chicago firm, Perkins and Will, in cooperation with local architects, Bolton McBryde and William R. Frizzell. Construction on the new campus began with pile drivers pounding pre-stressed concrete supports into the land. According to "old-timers," who lived here at the time, a popular joke in the area was that the contractors were going to launch the "Good Ship Edison" in the midst of the swamp. But, as a result of good planning, the swamps were tamed and became a chain of scenic lakes stocked with bluegills and shellcrackers, also serving as retention ponds against the annual rainy seasons.

By the summer of 1965, the lakes reflected the images of two new campus buildings; Buildings B and C housed classrooms and laboratories, library, student center, bookstore and offices. The proximity of the adjoining buildings (currently Leonhardt Hall, H Building, and Robinson Hall, I Building) fostered close ties among faculty, staff and students, according to early college personnel. Also in 1965, the maintenance building was completed, along with a shower and locker facility to accommodate students in physical education and athletic programs.

An important milestone was achieved with the opening of the first permanent campus in 1965. As the students began classes at the new campus, racially segregated higher education ended in southwest Florida. The college moved its offices and courses from the Gwynne Institute, left the portable classrooms that had housed the Dunbar Campus, and prepared to educate its students in the new campus buildings with a unified faculty and staff.

A New President

In April 1965, the Fort Myers New Press reported that Dr. Charles Rollins was resigning from the young college to return to Pennsylvania to head Bucks County Community College. A national search led the committee back to the local campus and its selection of Dr. David Gunning Robinson, Edison Junior College Dean, as its second president. Dr. Robinson was inaugurated on September 14, 1965. Dr. Robinson would serve in that role for the next 26 years.

During Dr. Robinson’s first year, a long-range plan entitled, "The Spirit of ’76," was undertaken by college staff, faculty, students and community members in order to chart the course for the college in the next decade. This document, which would meet the planning criteria required for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, would serve as the road map for the institution. It would serve as a guide during the growth years of the college and would be reviewed and updated in 1976.

Collegial Beginnings

Dr. Harold Kane, who served as a faculty member and as Dean of Basic Sciences at Edison in the early years, wrote a history of the college in 1987, in commemoration of the college’s Silver Anniversary Celebration. In this publication, he described Edison’s beginning years as having a "sense of collegiality." The college, he recalled, was not only a center for work, but also a center of social life for faculty, staff, their families and students. He quotes Robert Ratliff, a retired instructor of social sciences who came to EJC in 1967. "The first two years," Mr. Ratliff said, "the annual Christmas Party was at Dr. Robinson’s house. The entire staff and faculty and their family members were invited. Nearly everyone came that day and evening, and they all knew each other."

Dr. Kane’s wife, Belle, recalled that Edison life in the 60s was "wonderful for us because it supplied the plays, music, art, books, discussions and friendships we needed. The women of those days, whether spouses, teachers or staff, formed an organization and named it the Women’s Club of Edison Junior College."

The Student Body

Students of the early 60s, arriving at Gwynne Institute were not entirely sure what to expect. Certainly, they had no idea that they would set precedents and mold traditions for the future Edison College. According to early accounts and the college yearbook, they planned the traditional social events, attended teas and proms, and organized clubs and athletic teams.

The first graduate comprised the entire graduating class of 1963. Donald Lee McDaniel of Fort Myers, a transfer student from Florida State University, was awarded his degree with a handshake in the office of President Rollins. A year later, 67 graduates marched in robes during the first formal commencement ceremonies. The "Edison blue" velvet stoles worn by the graduates were designed by President Rollins and were to continue as a tradition of the college. The words to the college Alma Mater were also written by Dr. Rollins and were sung to the tune of "Gaudeamus Igitur." The first president is also credited with the creation of the college’s first official logo, a lower-case letter "e" encased in a circle. This "Edison E," (sometimes lovingly called the "Pac Man E) was depicted on the college seal encircled by the name of the college. The official logo and seal would change three times over the next 40 years.

The 1963 yearbook identifies several clubs, organizations and activities, including: Student Government Association, the Committee of Twenty, Edison Junior Chorus, Women’s Collegiate Club, Circle K Club, and Curtain and Cue Club. In the first year, sports were limited to intramural activities, with teams in basketball and bowling. The highlight of the year, according to The Log, was a formal dance, "White Fantasy," with Jena Lowman crowned as Miss Edison Junior College. Miss EJC’s court included Miss Kathy Malt, Miss Janet Brungard and Miss Stephanie Hessler. Another big event of the first year was "Cupid’s Capers Valentine’s Dance," held on February 9, 1963. Five girls were chosen by the administration, faculty and staff to reign at the event, with the Sweetheart chosen by the students at the dance. Miss Luli Wehrung was crowned EJC Sweetheart by President Rollins, with Kathy Curran, Marilynn Gay, Glenda Barnes, and Martha Wingate serving as her court.

The Buccaneers

The athletic teams evolved from intramural sports in the first year to an intercollegiate basketball team beginning in the 1963-64 year, under the leadership of Edison’s first athletic director, Tom Garcia. The athletic teams adopted the Buccaneer as the college mascot with adopted colors of blue and white. Over the years, the college would field teams in baseball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, wrestling, softball and volleyball. Edison teams would claim many successes, including the Southern Conference Championship for men’s basketball, under long-time Edison coach, Hugh Thimlar, who served as Edison’s coach for 25 years. The basketball team would also produce three All Americans and one NBA professional player. Men’s golf won the 1982 state championship and placed among the top 10 in the National Junior College Athletic Association Golf Championships. The men’s golf program produced 15 All Americans, among which are Master’s and U.S. Open Champion, Fuzzy Zoeller, and PGA tour player, Ivan Smith. Three former Edison women golfers, Terry Jo Myers, Linda Brown and Kathy McMullin, would later join the LPGA tour. Athletic programs continued at Edison until 1997 when intercollegiate athletics were discontinued at the college.

Becoming a Change Agent for the Community

According to Dr. David G. Robinson, Edison’s second president, the college came into being at a time of evolution in higher education. "The 60s were a time of great upheaval in the country," he said, "and that climate had a big impact on the development of the college. Our students and prospective students were faced with the Vietnam War and all the social consequences that followed in the post-war period. In the early years, segregation and integration were still powerful influences on the college and our students. Enrollments at community colleges during this time were, of course, skyrocketing as veterans came home from the war and returned to college under the G.I. Bill."

Dr. Robinson recalls that one of the biggest challenges the Edison Junior College administration faced in the early years of the college was that of attracting and keeping faculty members. "It was one of the greatest challenges," he said, "but also was one of the greatest contributions the college made to the community. We were bringing enormously talented people here to teach in the arts, humanities and sciences, and we were finding that the community didn’t have the interest groups and amenities that these educated people wanted. I challenged them to create those opportunities as an outreach from the college. I told them it was up to the college faculty and staff members to become change agents for the community and they did." Theater groups, art leagues, lecture series and musical performances were started through the college and, eventually, the Gallery of Fine Art and the public radio station.

Chapter II

1972 – 1982: Change in Name Reflects Change in Mission

An Evolving System of Governance

Edison Junior College was organized under the umbrella of the Lee County Board of Public Instruction, with the local elected school board as the governing body. The administration of the college was under the coordination of the Lee County Superintendent of Schools, Ray L. Williams. Dr. Robinson recalls the monthly meetings of the school board when college policies and business were discussed.

As the junior college system matured, the State of Florida signaled that the colleges were not merely advanced high schools or lower division universities and established the state’s Division of Junior Colleges. In 1968, the Lee County Board of Public Instruction relinquished its role in governance of EJC, making way for the formation of the first District Board of Trustees. The members of this board were to be appointed by the Governor, approved by the Governor’s Cabinet, and confirmed by the Florida Senate. The first members appointed to the EJC District Board of Trustees were: George A. "Jock" Sutherland, Collier County; Emolee S. Barrett, Collier County; Wilburn O. Leonhardt, Lee County; Marie Noeth, Charlotte County; John D. Shanklin, Lee County; Eli D. Richard, Charlotte County; and Travis A. Gresham, Lee County. Mr. Gresham was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees, a position he would hold continuously through 1981.

Junior College Become Community College

In 1972, Edison Junior College formally became Edison Community College, reflecting a trend throughout the nation to signify an expansion of services by the college to the whole community. With the name change, the more familiar ECC became the popular way students and community members referred to the college.

The Florida community college system now totaled 28 colleges serving 66 counties. In the beginning, Glades and Hendry counties had been part of the Edison Junior College District. As the realization of the vast geographical distances became apparent, these two counties withdrew from the Edison district. Sparse populations and long commuting distances over dangerous highways kept enrollments from these areas low. Students from these two counties went to other college districts until 1984, when Glades and Hendry counties were once again designated part of the Edison Community College District.

Campus Facilities

By 1972, the original campus of Edison Community College had expanded to five buildings: Robinson Hall (1965), Leonhardt Hall (1965), Maintenance shops, shower/locker building (1965), Learning Resources Hall (1967) and Gresham Health and Physical Education Building and Tom Garcia Field (1971). The Applied Sciences Building and the Kulakowski Observatory would be added in 1975 and the Humanities Building, the Gallery of Fine Art and the Art Annex building would be completed in 1979.

In 1974, enrollment of students from Collier and Charlotte counties led the District Board of Trustees to establish college centers in each of those two locations. The Charlotte Center opened upstairs over the Laundromat at Sunny Dell Plaza in Port Charlotte. The Collier Center was located in Gulfgate Shopping Center on the Tamiami Trail in Naples. Each of these attendance centers allowed students to take classes close to their homes or work and led to increased enrollments from each of these two counties. With the opening of these centers, students could now register for courses, purchase books, receive assistance with counseling, admissions and financial aid without the hour’s travel formerly required to reach the main campus at Fort Myers. Expanded course offerings and classroom facilities in the centers enabled students to earn Associate in Arts Degrees in their home counties without the necessity of commuting.

Divisions of the College Established

During the 1970s the curriculum of the college continued to expand and courses of study began to organize into divisions. Teaching faculty members were grouped into the Division of Humanities, Division of Social Sciences, Division of Basic Sciences, Division of Applied Sciences, and the Division of Continuing Education. A growing segment of the college during the 1970s was the addition of technical programs, especially in the area of health sciences. As early as 1968, the Lee Memorial Hospital Auxiliary gave $50,000 to establish a nursing program at EJC. This same group would later provide the money and equipment to establish the first nursing laboratory at the college and would continue their support of the nursing program over the next three decades. Subsequently, Naples Community Hospital would also endow a nursing laboratory at the Collier Center.

In response to continued demand for a well-trained health technologies workforce, the college worked in partnership with hospitals in the tri-county area over the next 20 years to establish courses of study leading to Associate in Science degrees in several health technologies in addition to nursing, including Respiratory Care, Cardiovascular Technology, Radiologic Technology, Emergency Medical Services Technology and Physical Therapy Assistant.

By the end of its second decade, Edison Community College would find itself offering two degrees, the Associate in Arts degree and the Associate in Science degree. The A.A. degree was traditionally regarded as the transfer degree with the majority of the students going on to the State University System for their upper division studies toward a baccalaureate degree. The A.S. degree was considered to be a terminal degree leading to immediate employment in business and industry. The college also offered one-year certificate programs for training in specific technical areas. ECC’s non-credit Continuing Education programs continued to expand, meeting where the people were in the community. Classes designed to fill the needs and requests of area residents were held in locations throughout the three-county area for the greatest convenience to the students.

Early Distance Learning

Edison Community College was destined to become a pioneer in the field that would later be known as "distance learning." As early as 1974, ECC was offering the ultimate in educational delivery systems by providing service directly into the student’s home. ECC introduced five televised courses, each offering three hours of college credit for successful completion. Mail-in applications and mail delivery of books and materials made possible course enrollment for shut-ins, senior citizens and parents of young children for whom regular class attendance was inconvenient. A mobile unit brought counselors to off-campus locations, delivering on-site academic, personal and career guidance to constituents throughout the ECC district. Counselor outreach programs provided weekly visits to all high schools in the district, assisting high school counselors and students with college-related questions.

Dynamic Community Leaders

Since its inception, the governing board of Edison Community College had been led by Travis A. Gresham, Jr. His tenure as Chairman would extend from 1968 through 1981. During the college’s second decade, three more dynamic community volunteers would step forward to help lead ECC through a period of unprecedented growth and expansion. Jody T. Hendry of Lee County, Holland T. Salley of Collier County, and Vernon Peeples of Charlotte County would each play significant roles in the growth of the college, each serving multiple terms on the District Board of Trustees. Equally important, each would play a part in the revitalization of a critical element in the vitality of the college, the Edison Community College Endowment Corporation.

For 18 years Jody Hendry made Edison Community College one of her top priorities, serving on the District Board of Trustees from 1974 to 1988 and serving on the Edison Community College Endowment Corporation Board of Directors from 1975 to 1992. The EJC Endowment Corporation had first been organized in 1967, but had gained little momentum in the early years of the college. In 1976, the year of the Bicentennial, Mrs. Hendry and Nanette Smith, then Coordinator of Community Relations, took on a challenge to revive the nearly defunct fundraising arm of the college, which at the time had a total of $34.25 in assets.

"It was the Bicentennial," Mrs. Hendry recalls, "and it occurred to me that this period in our nation’s history demanded something special. Dr. David Robinson and Nannette Smith were enthusiastic regarding my desire to reenact the foundation. We started the Bicentennial Book Scholarships at $1,000, which would provide books for students for one year. Needless to say, it was a huge success. What work, what fun, what results!"

Jody Hendry would serve as President of the Edison Community College Endowment Corporation Board of Directors for the next 15 years. At the time she stepped down from the leadership of the Board in 1992, the total assets of the Endowment Corporation had expanded from the original $34.25 to an astounding $7 million.

Holland T. Salley, of Naples, was appointed to the Edison Community College District Board of Trustees in 1971 and served as a Board Member representing Collier County for the next 19 years. Mr. Salley, an unwavering supporter of the College and a proponent of a permanent Collier Campus, also joined the Endowment Corporation Board of Directors in 1975 and still continues in that role in 2002. Mr. Salley worked tirelessly to raise funding for nursing and other health technology programs and was instrumental in raising funding for the establishment of a permanent campus in Collier County.

"Having our own campus of the college in Naples was important to the college and important to Collier County," Mr. Salley recalls. "When people would ask me why they should support the college when they didn’t even have kids, I would say to them: Do you ever plan to be in the hospital? Do you ever think you might need EMS or the Police Department? Don’t you think we need to train workers to help the business community grow? That always got them and the community really got behind Edison in establishing this campus."

Vernon Peeples, of Punta Gorda, served two different terms on the District Board of Trustees from 1979 to 1983 and 1997 to 1999. His wife, Edna Jane Peeples, also served as a member of the District Board of Trustees, from 1983 to 1986. Most importantly, Rep. Peeples, as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, worked diligently to secure the funding from the Legislature to build the permanent campus of Edison Community College in Charlotte County.

Chapter III

1982 – 1992: Two-Plus-Two

USF Becomes a Good Neighbor

By 1980, the five counties of Southwest Florida were experiencing the nation’s greatest growth. During the decade of the 1970s, Lee and Charlotte counties had boasted the highest growth rates in the country. Population in the college district was projected to top the 500,000 mark in the mid-1980s. The district’s infrastructure was straining to accommodate the new residents and their needs.

Education was no exception. Public schools, through state funding and local taxes, were multiplying in every corner of the district. Edison Community College student population had grown from its original 124 students to more than 5,000. Many of Edison’s graduates, place-bound in Southwest Florida by work and family commitments, became actively involved in lobbying for locally accessible upper-division and graduate level opportunities. As a result of this demand, the University of South Florida at Tampa began to offer limited courses at the Gwynne Institute Building in downtown Fort Myers. It was soon apparent to everyone that the public wanted more.

Spearheaded by area business and professional leaders, led by W. Thomas Howard, a groundswell of support began to grow for a branch campus of USF to be located in Fort Myers. This energetic group made the Florida Legislature the target of their intensive campaign and their successful efforts resulted in a groundbreaking for the new campus in 1980. ECC and USF administrators met over a two-year period, designing a series of cooperative agreements that would outline relationships between the two institutions for the future. From architectural design and building placement to staffing and scheduling, the two colleges made an effort to coordinate their endeavors to achieve the most efficient and cost-effective methods of providing service to the students.

The results of this close cooperation became apparent when the Fort Myers Branch of USF opened in 1982. The new campus was located adjacent to Edison and included four classroom and office buildings, accessible to ECC by a landscaped pedestrian mall. In addition to the opportunities for upper-division studies provided to Edison students by the establishment of the USF branch, a significant windfall came in the expansion of the library and learning resources materials. Edison and USF would operate an impressive joint-use library on the ECC campus from 1982 to 1997, with expanded collections as well as enhanced access to collections throughout the country through computer-aided interlibrary loans.

In recognition of his untiring dedication to efforts to secure the upper-division branch in Southwest Florida, the University of South Florida named one of the buildings at the Fort Myers Campus for W. Thomas Howard. That building, which is located on what is now Edison’s West Campus, still carries his name in 2002.

The University of South Florida Fort Myers Branch continued to serve students and work with Edison in an exemplary two-plus-two program until the inception of Florida Gulf Coast University, which absorbed its faculty, staff and students in 1995. As the new FGCU campus was being developed, the Florida Legislature deeded the four buildings of the USF campus to Edison, adding about 90,000 square feet of classrooms, laboratories and offices to Edison’s Lee Campus.

Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall

In 1984, the Florida Legislature appropriated $6 million for a joint effort of Edison Community College and the University of South Florida to build a performing arts hall on the adjoining campuses. In recognition of the efforts of Sen. Franklin B. Mann, the legislature passed legislation naming the hall for Barbara B. Mann, longtime supporter of the arts in Southwest Florida and the mother of Sen. Mann. While the funding to build the facility was appropriated jointly to the two colleges, USF elected not to take an active role in the operation of the performing arts hall, leaving that responsibility and liability to Edison Community College. The 1,776-seat Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall opened to great fanfare in 1986.

Edison ran the performing arts hall as a department of the Humanities Division until 1991. At that time, the District Board of Trustees contracted out the management of the hall to Professional Facilities Management (PFM). Under the professional guidance of PFM, the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall has flourished, offering a wide array of touring Broadway shows, classical and popular programming and providing a venue for College and community events. The Mann Hall attracts more than 320,000 patrons annually.

The Foundation for the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall

In 1990, as the college was deliberating the best course for the operation of the Performing Arts Hall, a group of community leaders stepped forward to coordinate fundraising efforts on behalf of the Hall. As this movement became more organized and coalesced into a unit, the Edison Community College District Board of Trustees adopted this group as a direct-support organization of the college, specifically for the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. The group organized as a 501(c) (3) organization and began to build the endowment that was already designated for the Hall. Under the direction of Mary Lee Mann, who served as President of the Board, the Hall Foundation raised significant funds for direct support of the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. In 1995, the Foundation for the Performing Arts Hall merged with the Edison Community College Endowment Corporation to form the Edison Community College Foundation, Inc., thereby centralizing the development efforts of the college under one umbrella group.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the Foundation for the Performing Arts Hall and the ECC Foundation, Edison has made significant improvements to the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. The addition of the George E. Judd Pavilion, the J. Howard Wood Foyers, and the Franklin B. Mann Sponsors’ Lounge, greatly expanded the lobby of the Hall, facilitating not only the comfort of patrons at intermission, but also adding a wonderful new venue for private receptions, college and civic events. Subsequent renovations added a covered porte cochere, enhanced access for disabled patrons, students and performers, and upgraded sound, lighting and technical equipment. In 2001, Florida Monthly Magazine recognized the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall as the state’s "Best Performing Arts Hall."

The Average Edison Student

In 1962, the typical Edison student was male, a recent high school graduate in the 18-22 age range. If he was in his twenties, he was most likely a veteran of military service. The typical student was attending college full time, enrolled in the Associate in Arts program and planning to pursue a baccalaureate degree at a state university.

By the middle of the third decade in the life of the college, the average Edison student would reflect a nationwide trend in community college enrollment. The typical student in the mid-eighties was female, 29 years of age, attending college part time while working to support herself and possibly other family members. She was most likely attending college to sharpen her career skills or to purse a new career direction. She typically took at least some of her courses in the evening, contributing to a mushrooming demand for nighttime and weekend classes at local community colleges throughout the nation. Because the typical community college student had spent at least a few years out of school since high school graduation, he or she was likely to need at least some college preparatory work and might be enrolled in one or more learning assistance classes to brush up on math concepts and study skills.

The average student in the 1980s was still likely to be in pursuit of an Associate in Arts Degree, although the number of students enrolled in Associate in Science programs was rapidly increasing as new programs were added in order to meet local workforce needs. Because of the proximity of the USF campus, the largest majority of students would attend there to finish their baccalaureate degrees, with the next two largest groups going to the University of Florida and Florida State University.

A New Center in Charlotte, A Permanent Campus in Collier

As the third decade of the College was rounding to a close, Edison would find itself with two significant opportunities for facility expansion. In 1990, the Charlotte Campus, long bursting at the seams in its interim location at Sunny Dell Plaza, moved to much-improved leased facilities in Punta Gorda. In the same year, the Charlotte County Commission donated 80 acres on a long-term lease to the College for the construction of a permanent campus in Charlotte County.

In 1990, construction began on a new permanent Collier County campus on a 50-acre site in Naples. The site, which had been donated by the Lely Corporation, was located off State Road 951 in east Naples.

The opening in 1991 of the Collier Campus signaled a new era for Edison Community College, as it truly became a multi-campus institution. The campus was originally called "Collier County Campus at Lely," but was later shortened to simply the Collier Campus. In 2002 the Collier Campus serves approximately 3,000 students and is composed of one and two-story buildings, including learning resources, bookstore, cafeteria, classrooms, auditorium, student lounge, gymnasium and physical education facilities, biology, chemistry and physics laboratories, specialized laboratories for computer science, EMS, nursing and learning assistance. It is a full-service campus with courses of study leading to Associate in Arts, Associate in Science or certificate programs, as well as non-credit continuing education classes.

Retirement of Dr. David G. Robinson

In 1991, Dr. David G. Robinson, Edison’s second president, retired after 26 years in that office. In a college publication distributed at the time of his retirement, the faculty, staff and students recognized Dr. Robinson for his incredible vision and leadership. "Those of us who have worked closely with Dr. Robinson during all or part of the past 30 years express our thanks for his dedication, his integrity, his professionalism, his inspiration, his guidance and, most of all, for his friendship. His legacy has provided a firm foundation for the future of Edison Community College." After an intensive nationwide search, the District Board of Trustees named Dr. Kenneth P. Walker as the third president of Edison Community College. Dr. Walker, who came to Edison from Oklahoma City Community College, assumed the presidency on July 1, 1991. Dr. Walker was inaugurated as the President of Edison Community College on April 3, 1992.

Chapter IV

1992 – 2002: The Vision Continues

The Walker Years

Vision, Webster says, is "something seen in a dream, an unusual discernment or foresight." Vision, the ability to look into the future and anticipate what would be needed to carry ECC into the next century would be a vital ingredient in the new president’s plans for Edison Community College. One of the first tasks undertaken by Dr. Kenneth P. Walker, upon assuming the presidency of Edison, was to form "Share the Vision Councils" throughout the college district to engage people in the planning process that would carry the college through the next decade and into the new millennium.

At the Fall Convocation in 1991, Dr. Walker told the faculty and staff that he wanted to get to work immediately to develop a vision statement and set specific goals to help ECC achieve its mission. "Part of that planning process that we are all going to be involved in," he said, "is answering the question, ‘Where does ECC want to be at the turn of the century?’ Once that question is decided, then the council will develop a master action plan." The plan, Dr. Walker told the group, would not be a long written document that would sit on a shelf with no relevance to the operation of the college. "This plan will be a living document which has input from all segments of the college and undergoes constant evaluation."


At the time of Dr. Walker’s inauguration as ECC’s third president, Edison was standing on the threshold. The mid-sized community college served about 9,000 students from a single campus in Fort Myers and temporary centers in Naples and Punta Gorda. As enrollment continued to escalate by about 10% each year, the college was beginning to feel the inevitable pull of the future and the critical need for long range planning.

Under Dr. Walker’s leadership and inspiration, more than 1,000 people, from throughout the five-county district, participated in "Share the Vision Councils," set up by the college to provide input for the development of a long-range vision for Edison. Meetings were held at locations across the five counties as well as internally with college faculty, staff and students. From this intensive community assessment, the college adopted a ten-year master action plan called "2002 Edison." This blueprint for the future was to provide the propelling force for creative change and bold new endeavors in service to students, partnerships with business and industry, and cultural enhancement for the community.

"We drew upon the rich resources of the community and our students to help us develop our vision for the future," Dr. Walker said. "What we got was a long-range plan for helping students succeed."

Priorities Set by 2002 Edison

2002 Edison priorities were designed to prepare the college for entering the next century and were fourfold in nature.

  • Improve the quality of learning and student success. Do whatever is necessary to help students achieve their goals.
  • Improve institutional effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Improve educational accessibility throughout the district. Offer classes to students where they want them, when they want them, and in the most convenient mode possible.
  • Develop and maintain community partnerships. Position the college to be the primary collaborator in workforce development.
Edison’s Third Full-service Campus

One of the main priorities set forth by the public in Charlotte County was the need for a permanent campus to serve the needs of a rapidly growing population. In 1990, the Charlotte County government had donated an 80-acre site for the campus and urged the District Board of Trustees to move forward with the development of a campus on the site. In 1991, the Board passed a resolution to build a campus in Charlotte County. This effort was helped along enormously when the Florida Legislature appropriated $1.3 million in 1992 to be used for planning and site preparation for the new campus. Thanks to the persistence of Rep. Vernon Peeples of Punta Gorda, the Legislature subsequently appropriated $14 million in construction funding. The Charlotte County government eventually expanded the original gift of 80 acres to a 204-acre site on Airport Road, adjacent to I-75 in Punta Gorda. The beautiful new Charlotte County Campus opened in 1997.

At the same time, answering a need identified by Share the Vision Council participants in Glades and Hendry counties, attendance centers were opened to better serve the students in the two most remote sections of the college district. For the first time in the history of the college, students residing in Glades and Hendry counties would be able to complete registration, do testing, take classes and finish their final exams close to home. As distance learning opportunities expanded with televised and Internet courses, compressed video, and on-line and telephone registration, services to these students would be greatly expanded. By the 1999-2000 academic year, nearly 4,000 students would pursue some form of distance learning opportunity.

Growth of the Edison Community College Endowment

The fourth decade in the life of the college was one of phenomenal growth in the endowment of the Edison Community College Foundation, Inc., the direct support organization of the college. In 1991, the endowed assets of the Foundation amounted to about $6 million. In 2002, the endowment, which provides perpetual support for student scholarships, instructional programs and institutional needs, is over $20 million, and averages $1.5 million in direct support to the college annually.

The Foundation accepts gifts in support of the activities directly related to the mission of Edison State College, and fundraising is targeted to goals set by the District Board of Trustees each year. The not-for-profit corporation is guided by a Board of Directors, comprised of business and community leaders, and has as its mission the advancement of teaching and instructional services, student scholarships, and support of the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall.

Efficiency + Effectiveness + Accountability = Student Success

Paramount to achieving the goals of 2002 Edison was a strong leadership and educational philosophy. As District President, Dr. Walker set high standards not only for the administrative team, but also for the faculty and staff. He invited a collegial relationship among administration, faculty and staff and conferred the status of "Professor" on all faculty members. Following up on a commitment to excellence, he put in motion a plan to ensure that every faculty and staff member had a personal computer on his or her desk. In student services, he encouraged programs that provided leadership opportunities for students and involved these student leaders in decisions that affected their education and their campus.

Meeting the challenges of 2002 Edison demanded careful attention to efficiency, effectiveness and accountability in all endeavors of the college. Careful assessments of all aspects of the college, from coursework to classroom space to staffing and resource management included the question of whether it could be done "more efficiently and effectively." Moreover, this extensive re-evaluation of all college programs and activities led to a new sense of accountability on the part of everyone involved – faculty and staff members, students, administration and the governing board.

Development of the annual college budget was also tied to the goals and objectives of 2002 Edison. Each year, budget planning began with an assessment of progress made toward meeting the objectives, and proposals for new programs and activities were evaluated according to their impact on achieving the goals of the 2002 Edison plan.

Re-Accreditation: The Ultimate Accountability

In 2000 and 2001, Edison Community College was involved in a two-year Self-Study and Reaffirmation of Accreditation process with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC). This re-accreditation process, which is mandated by SACSCOC every ten years, included an extensive self-study, involving all segments of the college population, and an on-site visit by an evaluation team, composed of representatives of other SACSCOC member colleges. Edison received an outstanding report from the SACSCOC Visiting Team, with few recommendations for change and three commendations for exemplary practices and services to students. Edison received notification of its Reaffirmation of Accreditation in December 2001.

According to Dr. James Slusher, Executive Vice President and Campus President of the Lee County Campus, the success of the college can be easily articulated. "Our educational philosophy at Edison State College can be summed up in three words: student centered learning. The goal shared by every administrator, professor and staff member is to do whatever is necessary to help our students succeed."

Keeping the Focus on Students

A significant benefit of the intensified sense of accountability was the obvious advantages realized by Edison students. A heightened "customer service" attitude led to many improvements in student services, including a greater responsiveness to what students said they wanted and needed. Among the changes were improved access for students, including telephone and online registration and scheduling of classes, child care services, peer tutoring, mentoring programs and other activities aimed at student success.

Project HOPE, an early intervention program for at-risk youth, is an example of a student success program. Through Project HOPE, the brainchild of Edison’s president, Dr. Kenneth P. Walker, at-risk or troubled youth are identified in middle school and promised a two-year scholarship to Edison, if they stay out of trouble and remain in school until they graduate from high school. In the interim, they participate in tutoring and mentoring programs and summer and after school activities and get a "jump-start" on college. During their years at Edison, they are part of a scholars’ club that encourages them to stay in school and provides the support they need to succeed. Since the program began in 1993, more than 700 students have achieved success through Project HOPE.

Building for the Future

During the 1990s, Edison would experience tremendous growth, in student population, campus facilities and expanded programs. During this time period, the college added more than 20 new programs of study, as well as a host of new professional development and continuing education offerings. Recognizing the area’s critical need for a technically trained labor force, all of the newly developed programs were workforce related. Additionally, more than 12,000 people now sought out Edison annually for business and professional training through the Center for Professional Development. Also reflecting this dedication to being a major participant in providing a well-trained labor force, Edison renamed the Business and Technology Division of the college to Workforce Development, centering both credit and non-credit professional training programs under this very efficient and effective umbrella.

In physical facilities, Edison would mushroom in all areas of the college district. By 2001, the college would have 837,576 square feet of owned college buildings. The Lee County Campus had grown to 140 acres, with 23 buildings and 565,203 square feet of space. The Collier Campus, on 50 acres, would have 10 buildings and 110,568 square feet of space. The Charlotte Campus, on a 204-acre site, would have 12 buildings and 151,823 square feet of space. In 2001, the outstanding beauty of the campuses led Florida Student Magazine to designate Edison as "Best Campus in Florida."

Three New Buildings Reflect More Than Bricks and Mortar

The three newest buildings on the Lee County Campus, all built toward the end of the fourth decade of Edison Community College, were each significant for its reflection of the next generation for the college. The Kenneth P. Walker Health Sciences Hall, completed in 2000, allowed for the expansion of all health technology programs and provided space for the development of new programs identified by the health care industry. The District Board of Trustees named the building the "Kenneth P. Walker Health Sciences Hall" in honor of the District President’s commitment to health care training programs.

The Child Care Center on the Lee Campus, mirroring one built with the construction of the Charlotte Campus, was significant in that it met an undeniable need identified by students on student surveys. Students asked the college to place priorities on items that would help them succeed. With the typical community college student now a 29-year old female, in many cases, a single parent, childcare was a top priority with students.

The Madeleine R. Taeni Student Services Hall is scheduled to open in Fall 2002 on the Lee Campus. In addition to providing all student services, food service and bookstore in one centralized location, this 67,000 square foot building will also provide meeting space for community and civic groups, including facilities for teleconferencing, with high-quality on-campus catering facilities. The District Board of Trustees voted to name the building in honor of Mrs. Madeleine R. Taeni, an active donor to the college who had endowed millions in support of college programs and student scholarships.

Collaborative Partnerships

One of the most significant developments in the community college during the 1990s and 2000s was the move to establish collaborative partnerships. Throughout his career, Dr. Walker has evidenced his commitment to business and economic growth. From the beginning of his presidency at Edison, he worked to position the college to play a leadership role in workforce development. Under his leadership, the college has taken an innovative approach to corporate/community college partnerships, including recruitment of new industry and training of the requisite labor force.

The Edison Career Center developed a comprehensive student internship program that allows students to add meaningful career experience to their curriculum, while providing local business and industry with a valuable employee recruitment resource. In 2002, Edison has student internship programs with more than 100 companies.

Dr. Walker was instrumental in the formation of the Alliance of Educational Leaders, an important congregation of school superintendents and college and university presidents from across the college district. This group works as a unified force to address mutual concerns, ranging from lobbying for funding to workforce development and articulation issues.

Edison University Center

Perhaps the greatest example of collaborative partnerships for the benefit of students is the Edison University Center, created in 1999 in response to needs identified by Edison students. The Edison University Center serves as an educational facilitator, enabling people to take classes and earn degrees from public and private colleges and universities, utilizing community college facilities. The benefits to students are accessibility, flexibility and affordability. In 2002, five universities are offering degree opportunities on the community college campus.

Community College Baccalaureate Degrees

The ability of Edison Community College students to complete their baccalaureate degree is quickly becoming a reality in 2002. Following up on surveys of Edison students that showed that 80% of students said they would prefer to finish their baccalaureate degree at Edison if the opportunity were there, Edison began the process to offer upper-division degrees. The Florida Legislature enacted legislation in the 2001 Session that greatly expanded the authority of the state’s 28 community colleges to offer upper division degrees to their students. Edison filed an application with the State Department of Education in 2002 for specific authority to offer a limited number of baccalaureate degrees designed to meet local workforce needs. Also in 2001, the District Board of Trustees approved the use of the name "Edison State College," in order to reflect the more universal scope of the college beyond the typical community college limitations. While the official name of the institution remained Edison Community College, the shortened version would be used in all common references, including recruiting and marketing.

Dr. Walker’s commitment to providing students with a choice in their upper division studies led him to accept the challenge as the founding president of the Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA). The mission of the CCBA is "to promote the development and acceptance of the community college baccalaureate degree as a means of addressing the national problems of student access, demand, and cost." The CCBA is international in scope and, in 2002, had 63 member institutions, representing the U.S., Canada and two Caribbean Islands.

Making a Difference

Since 1961, Edison State College has been a good neighbor in Southwest Florida. With 679 full-time and part-time employees and 23,000 credit and non-credit students taking classes each year, the business of Edison State College makes a significant impact on the local economy. Figuring the annual expenditures of the college within the five-county college district, as well as expenditures by college employees and students, the regional economic impact is calculated to be approximately $100 million annually. Edison State College students are most likely to enter the local workforce following the completion of their college studies.

The Vision Continues In 2002, Edison State College once again finds itself on the threshold. The bold initiatives set by 2002 Edison have been accomplished. The college has broken new ground and made significant strides in a quest for excellence. Edison has grown from one to three campuses and added attendance centers in Glades and Hendry counties. The students have embraced distance learning, and new delivery systems have been established. The college has implemented a state-of-the-art computer software network that greatly improves all electronic systems, including business affairs and on-line student registration and financial aid. Edison students now know that they have options in the ways they can receive their college education. The college has strengthened old alliances with business and industry and forged new, more innovative approaches for even greater collaborative efforts for workforce development.

Edison entered the new millennium as a pioneer in the concept of allowing students to complete baccalaureate degrees in the manner they wish to achieve them, including pursuing all four years at the community college. Through upper division transfer, articulation, site-based programming, and inventive partnerships with colleges and universities, Edison is making a Bachelor’s degree accessible for all students.

As the college enters the fifth decade of its life, its vision includes a commitment to remain the driving force in workforce expansion and economic development, with a job for every graduate and a graduate for every job. Through market-driven professional development programs and customized employee training, Edison continues to strive to meet the specific needs of Southwest Florida.

A Decade of Promise

Even as Edison State College and the communities of the five-counties celebrate the 40th Anniversary, planning for the next decade and beyond is already underway. Development of a new master action plan has started and will address new challenges and opportunities. Edison State College has a rich tradition of innovation, growth and change. At the heart of this innovation is the commitment of faculty and staff to provide the best possible service to students. Edison’s vision for the future is built on this strong belief and continues to be based on student achievement and community service.

For the past 40 years, Edison State College students have been and continue to be the leaders in the fields of business and industry, government, health care and education. Edison State College – where opportunity begins and the vision continues.