Our History Is Only The Beginning
SJR State Celebrates 60 Years
ST. AUGUSTINE CAMPUS
St. Johns River State College may not be the oldest college in the oldest city, but faculty members agree it definitely has its share of history. For many St. Johns County residents, the dream of a college education began 50 years ago with a commute to Palatka when the College first opened its doors to 191 students.
The late Ed McDonald (1967 alumni and former faculty member) remembered that before SJR State was established, there weren't many options for Northeast Florida residents. “That was before FCCJ and UNF,” he said. And although the College provided daily bus transportation for St. Johns and Clay County students, McDonald carpooled with several other students on the two-laned State Road 207. "The roads were slammed with cars going to Palatka in the ’60s,” McDonald said. “People from all over were taking advantage of the education the College could provide.”
Known then as St. Johns River Junior College, the institution opened in Putnam County in 1958 along with five other community colleges throughout the state. The cost to register full time for the first fall semester was $52.50. One year later, the College moved from its temporary site at the First Baptist Church of Palatka to its permanent location on the west side of Palatka, nestled on a wooded lot at the end of a dirt road. Six years later, according to a 1964 Florida Times-Union article, enrollment would increase to 1,665, with 736 of those students commuting from Duval County. The College’s enrollment would jump to 2,330 the next fall.
Despite the commute, a shortage of parking spaces and portable buildings to accommodate the College’s rapid growth, McDonald remembers dedicated students and a high morale. “I remember there were bright people everywhere,” McDonald said. “People were very into getting their degrees. The general consensus was that you had to go to college, get a degree and make something of yourself.”
McDonald returned to the College in 1987 to teach mathematics full time, one year after the College opened its second branch at the former Fullerwood Elementary School, located off of San Marco Avenue.
St. Augustine senior faculty member Nona Mitchell Asconi remembers those early years. Asconi began teaching part time in St. Augustine before the second branch was established. “Back then we used to hold classes wherever we could find room for them. I didn’t even have an office back then,” Asconi said.
Asconi remembers faculty and students adjusting to the Fullerwood location. "It was funny,” Asconi said. “We were teaching adults in a building literally built for kids." However, the small environment had its benefits, too, she said. “Fullerwood was so small, you knew everybody. We all had a lot of laughs there.” With 2008 marking her 30th year of teaching at SJR State, the humanities professor says it's always a pleasant discovery when she learns she’s teaching the children of her former students.
The College relocated to its permanent location on State Road 16 in 1996 under the leadership of former President Robert L. McLendon Jr., Ph.D. McLendon, the senior president in the Florida community college system, appointed St. Augustine native Bill Reedy as the founding provost for the St. Augustine location. “I loved my job, and I loved the young people,” Reedy said. “I still miss it.”
Reedy, who served SJR State for 27 years, said that part of the College’s success is its student-orientated atmosphere, dedicated instructors who invest their careers in one college and the community’s response to that commitment. “It was wonderful for the people of St. Augustine to have a campus right here,” Reedy said. “The city has really bonded with the College.”
Reedy proudly said his two children are graduates of SJR State. “They received a wonderful educational foundation from the College.”
Former Provost Glen Moore, Ph.D., said the College’s first 50 years has provided many thousands of students the opportunity to gain the education and credentials to achieve their career goals. “From a few borrowed classrooms in various places to a beautiful full-service campus, the St. Augustine Campus of St. Johns River Community College has become a major resource for higher education in this community,” Moore said.
Over the past six decades, SJR State has grown into one of Florida's fastest growing colleges where students can prepare to transfer to state universities or earn associate and bachelor's degrees. In addition to the historical impact the College has made on the community, its economic impact has been substantial as well. Today the College employs approximately 340 full-time and part-time faculty.
PHOTO CAPTION: From left, former SJR State leadership and faculty members: St. Augustine Provost Bill Reedy, employee Cathy Reed, mathematics instructor Ed McDonald, Provost Glen Moore, Ph.D., and faculty member Nona Mitchell Asconi.
This story was previously published in 2008 as part of the College's 50th Anniversary.
Director of Public Relations and Publications