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Eckerd at 50: then, now and tomorrow

The college is beginning a yearlong celebration.

By Michael Maharrey, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008

[Cherie Diez | Times (2000)]
College Landings was one of two failed real estate ventures.

[File photo]
At Florida Presbyterian College (renamed Eckerd College in 1972) are, from left, Dr. David Delo, president of the University of Tampa; Dr. William H. Kadel, Florida Presbyterian College president; Dr. Sidney French, a dean at the University of South Florida; and Dr. Michael M. Bennett, president of St. Petersburg Junior College.


Eckerd College President Don Eastman acknowledges the importance of the past but prefers looking ahead.

So when Eckerd College kicks off a yearlong 50th anniversary celebration Thursday with an opening convocation at the McArthur Gymnasium at 7:30 p.m., he will be doing a little of both.

"We have come a long way and we feel good about where we are," he said. But looking ahead, he wants the school to do better.

About 40 percent of Eckerd's students study science, Eastman said, and making upgrades to science facilities is a priority. The school is hoping to raise the money to do it, he said.

"We want to continue to improve our financial situation."

From time to time money has been a sore spot at the St. Petersburg liberal arts institution.

It went through a tumultuous period in 2000 when the school's $34-million endowment was reduced significantly without the board of trustees' knowledge.

In addition, Eckerd spent nearly $21-million on two failed real estate ventures.

Then-President Peter Armacost retired and chief financial officer J. Webster Hull resigned amid the controversy.

Trouble and recovery

Eckerd College has recovered under the leadership of Eastman, who was named president in 2001. The school sold College Harbor and College Landings, the troubled real estate ventures, for a combined $17.5-million.

The school also launched a capital campaign that to date has raised $44-million, and completed a new $14.5-million library in 2005. The endowment currently is valued at about $30-million.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Eckerd College's accrediting body, placed the school on "warning" status in 2005, citing the college's failure to comply with three requirements relating to financial stability and campus facilities.

Eastman said at the time that the warning had more to do with the association's need for more detailed information than actual financial problems. The warning status was removed the following year.

"We want to continue to improve our financial situation," Eastman said.

"It will have been a waste if all we do is look back," he added. "We want to remember what it was like to start a college like this and consider that in light of where we are now, and learn from it."

Values at forefront

Eckerd is a private school with an enrollment of about 1,800 students. It began as Florida Presbyterian College.

The school received its charter from the Florida Legislature in September 1958, and classes began two years later with 155 students and 22 faculty in a few buildings at Bayboro Harbor, near downtown.

Eastman said it is important to remember Eckerd's Presbyterian values.

"It's fundamental to the Presbyterian experience that you can't have a thoughtful Christian commitment without education," he said.

He said Eckerd students reflect the school's spiritual roots.

"You don't see a lot of religious practice in the buildings," he said. "The students are more committed to an abstract spirituality manifested in service."

Eckerd spokeswoman Alizza Punzalan-Hall said Eckerd students have logged 62,000 hours of community service both in the Tampa Bay area and abroad.

In 1962, the college moved to its current location on the shores of Boca Ciega Bay, land donated by the city of St. Petersburg, and it changed its name to Eckerd College in 1972 to honor drugstore chain founder and civic leader Jack M. Eckerd, who gave $10-million to the school.

Thursdays kickoff event will feature a keynote address by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a distinguished visiting professor of humanities since 1993, as well as remarks by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Eastman and Eckerd alumni.

Tickets are no longer available for the free event. Punzalan-Hall said she expects between 1,800 and 2,000 people to attend.

Michael Maharrey can be reached at 893-8779 or

Time line

A college takes shape

1958: At the urging of Presbyterian Church leaders, the Florida Legislature grants a charter for Florida Presbyterian College. Classes begin two years later in a few buildings at Bayboro Harbor near downtown St. Petersburg. There are 155 students and 22 faculty members.

1963: The college moves into its new home on 267 waterfront acres donated by the city of St. Petersburg south of 54th Avenue S and west of U.S. 19.

1971: Florida drugstore chain founder Jack Eckerd commits $10-million to the struggling school. A year later, Florida Presbyterian becomes Eckerd College.

1977: With the school still struggling financially and enrollment on the decline, a new president, Peter H. Armacost, arrives from Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kan. He begins pushing a plan to develop college-owned land just west of the campus.

1994-96: College Landings and College Harbor, the college's two real estate ventures, enter bankruptcy.

June 2000: The college announces that nearly two-thirds of its endowment had been spent without the knowledge of college trustees. Armacost announces his retirement, and chief financial officer J. Webster Hull resigns.

September 2000: The chairman of the Eckerd College board of trustees says $16.5-million in cash and pledges has been raised in the school's effort to step back from the brink of financial disaster.

March 2001: Eckerd announces that Donald R. Eastman III, a University of Georgia vice president with a reputation as a planner and fundraiser, will be its new president.

December 2002: Eckerd breaks ground on its new $13.5-million library.

August 2003: Eckerd is awarded a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the sixth in Florida and one of about 270 nationwide.

May 19, 2004: Jack Eckerd dies at age 91.

October 2006: Eckerd's trustees award Eastman a new five-year contract that includes $260,000 in annual pay.

Source: Times archives. Compiled by Angie Drobnic Holan

On the Web

For more information on Eckerd College's 50th anniversary, visit

[Last modified February 21, 2008, 21:58:40]

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