With its 50th anniversary approaching, Flagler College (flagler.edu) is focused on developing into one of the premier private colleges in the Southeast. This significant milestone is also an opportunity to recognize visionary leaders who have helped transform the young institution, which is consistently ranked among the best in U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review.

Flagler College has made remarkable progress over the past decade including:

Creating vibrant new programs in Coastal Environmental Science, Criminology, Hospitality and Tourism Management, and Finance.

Launching its first Master’s Degree with a program in Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which will fill a national need for more teachers in this necessary field.

Ranking sixth among Regional Colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report (2016) with one of the highest peer assessment scores in the region. The college was also ranked seventh in the Best Value Schools categories.

Being named a top college in The Princeton Review’s college guidebook, “The Best 380 Colleges.” Only about 15 percent of America’s 2,500 four-year colleges are included in the 2016 edition and Flagler has been listed in this publication since 2003.

Winning the NCAA Presidents’ Award for Academic Excellence in 2015. Flagler was one of only 27 NCAA Division II institutions nationwide recognized with the award for achieving an Academic Success Rate of 90 percent.

Embarking on a $23-million residence complex, student commons, and parking facility that will help the college achieve the goal of becoming more residential.

Henry Flagler

Henry M. Flagler

Dedicated to a mission that called for making a high quality private college education available to everyone, Flagler’s leaders turned what was once an opulent luxury hotel in the heart of St. Augustine, Florida, into a thriving 2,500-student college. Established in 1968 as a women’s college, Flagler became a coeducational institution in 1971 and graduated its first class in the spring of 1972.

The college’s heritage is closely linked with the history of Florida through the life of Henry Morrison Flagler, oil magnate, railroad pioneer, and land developer. Mr. Flagler co-founded the Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller and initiated Florida’s giant tourism industry through his railroad and his chain of luxury hotels. He is regarded as the single most pivotal figure in Florida’s development. His record of philanthropy and public spiritedness remains unmatched in the state’s history. Flagler College was established as a memorial to Henry M. Flagler.

Six individuals were involved in establishing the college, guiding it though its formative years, and developing it into a well-respected institution of higher education. The six individuals include four trustees and two presidents who provided steady leadership and shaped the direction of the institution for four decades. Dr. William L. Proctor and Dr. William T. Abare, Jr., have worked together at Flagler College for 45 years, a remarkable record of achievement and friendship.

Lawrence Lewis, Jr.

Lawrence Lewis, Jr.

First and foremost among those to be recognized as founders of the college was Mr. Lawrence Lewis, Jr. In 1962, Mr. Lewis became the assistant to Mr. William R. Kenan, Jr., and after Mr. Kenan’s death in 1965, he became President of the Flagler System. Under Mr. Lewis’s management, the company’s major properties were modernized and enlarged while others were liquidated. The Hotel Ponce de León, however, was regarded as a special situation. It was Mr. Lewis’s decision that the famous old hotel would become a memorial to Henry M. Flagler, and Mr. Lewis is largely responsible for the hotel becoming the centerpiece of the Flagler College campus.

In 1967, Mr. Lewis announced to St. Augustine’s community leaders that the famed hotel had been sold to a group of educators headed by Dr. F. Roy Carlson, President of Mount Ida Junior College, to house a new private, liberal arts college for women. The college was to be named Flagler College, and the new institution officially opened its doors on September 24, 1968.

Flagler College Garte

Flagler College entrance gate
with a statue of Henry M. Flagler

The college would not have survived and gained its initial accreditation without the generous support and leadership of its founder, Lawrence Lewis, Jr. He provided the funds necessary for a new and struggling institution to get started. Without his support, the college would have closed soon after it opened.

The first three years of the college’s history were tumultuous, and in 1970, it appeared that the college was on the verge of closure. Mr. Lewis stepped in to save the institution, established a new Board of Trustees, and announced that the Flagler System would forgive the $1-million mortgage on the former Hotel Ponce de León buildings. Mr. Lewis was elected Chairman of the new Board, a position he would hold for the next 20 years.

William L. Proctor

A search for a new president was initiated immediately following the reorganization of the college in 1971, and 350 applications were submitted for the position. It was noteworthy at the time that there were more applications for the position of president of the young college than there were for places in the freshman class.

Selected for the position of president was Dr. William L. Proctor, who at the time was the Dean of Men and Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs at Florida Technological University (now the University of Central Florida in Orlando). Dr. Proctor had earned his Ph.D. at Florida State University, where he had also served as Assistant Football Coach and Assistant Dean of Men.

Flagler College

Built by Henry Flagler in 1888 as the
Hotel Ponce de León, this landmark
building is now the center of Flagler College

At the time Dr. Proctor was appointed President of Flagler, the college had an enrollment of 161 students, was not accredited, had an operating indebtedness of $1 million, and had no endowment. Moreover, the campus and its centerpiece, the historic Hotel Ponce de León, was in general disrepair. The progress of the institution over the next few decades was nothing less than remarkable.

Regional accreditation was critical to the new college, and it was earned in December of 1973. Funding was essential, and Mr. Lewis and his sister, Mary Lily Flagler “Molly” Lewis Wiley, contributed generously from their private funds and from the family Flagler Foundation, establishing the Flagler College Endowment Fund in 1978. The growth of the student body was of paramount importance, and during the 1970s, the Admissions Office was directed by William T. Abare, Jr., Dr. Proctor’s first senior appointment to the administrative staff.

At the time of Dr. Proctor’s retirement in 2001 to assume a position on the Florida State Board of Education, student enrollment was at 2,046; applications exceeded admissions by a ratio of 3:1; the institution was debt-free and had an endowment approaching $30 million. From its original three buildings, the campus had been expanded to include an auditorium, gymnasium, men’s residence hall, library, tennis center, and athletic complex. More than $20 million had been invested in the restoration and preservation of the college’s historic facilities.

William Abare, Flagler College

William T. Abare, Jr.

A close associate, trusted advisor, and treasured friend to Dr. Proctor during his presidency was current Flagler President William T. Abare, Jr. Ed.D. Dr. Abare was involved in almost every area of college administration. In his 30 years at Flagler before assuming the presidency, he served as Director of Admissions, Director of Admissions and College Relations, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Planning, Assistant to the President, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Executive Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs. Dr. Abare was appointed as President of Flagler College in 2001.

Flagler College Rotunda

The Rotunda of Ponce de León Hall
at Flagler College

The Abare years have been no less extraordinary than the Proctor era. Enrollment increased to 2,500 students on the main campus; the college’s endowment, including its operating reserve funds, has grown to nearly $80 million; and the campus has expanded dramatically. This includes the addition of the three historic Florida East Coast Railway Buildings, the Ringhaver Student Center, the Cedar Street Dormitory, the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum, the Molly Wiley Art Building, Offices of Admissions and Financial Aid in Hanke Hall, and the new academic building Pollard Hall.

Flagler College Rotunda

The Rotunda of Ponce de León Hall
at Flagler College

President Abare has served as Chairman of the Council of Presidents of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF), and he completed two terms as a member of the board of trustees of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. He has been honored as the recipient of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges James T. Rogers Distinguished Leadership Award, and in 2014 received the Evelyn Fortune Bartlett Award from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is given to an individual whose life exemplifies the guardianship of Florida’s historic properties through philosophy and actions. Under his leadership, Flagler has spent millions renovating, restoring, and preserving the Ponce, as well as other historic college properties. More than $60 million has been spent by the college on preservation or adaptation of its 19 historic properties.

John D. Bailey, Sr., Flagler College

John D. Bailey, Sr.

John D. Bailey, Sr., served as a member of the Board of Trustees from January 19, 1971, until his retirement from the Board on May 26, 2010. Mr. Bailey served as Chairman of the Board from April 1988 to April 1992. A graduate of the University of Georgia, Mr. Bailey was the founding executive of The Bailey Group Insurance and Financial Services. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of Barnett Bank, Flagler Health Care System, the City of St. Augustine Historic Preservation Board, Marineland of Florida, and the YMCA. He also served as Mayor of St. Augustine from 1965 to 1967 and as a member of the St. Augustine City Commission from 1963 to 1967. Mr. Bailey has been granted the Order of La Florida, the City of St. Augustine’s highest honor. He is also the recipient of the Salvation Army’s Gus Craig Award for community service and of the Champion of Higher Independent Education in Florida (CHIEF) Award, presented by the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.

Howell Melton, Flagler College

Howell Melton

Judge Howell Melton was elected to the Board of Trustees April 6, 1971, and served until his retirement on May 25, 2011. Judge Melton served as Chairman of the Board from 1998 to 2000. He is a graduate of the University of Florida, where he also earned his J.D. degree. Judge Melton served as a St. Johns County Circuit Court Judge and a U.S. District Court Judge.

The courtyard of Ponce de León Hall, Flagler College

The courtyard of
Ponce de León Hall

The respected lawyer devoted more than six decades to private and public sectors as a state and federal judge. He began his legal career in St. Augustine in 1948. He became a judge for the Seventh Judicial Circuit of the State of Florida. During this period, he served as Chairman of the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges and remained on the state court bench until he was nominated by President Jimmy Carter in early 1977 to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in April 1977, beginning his full-time federal service later that month. Judge Melton assumed active senior status on the court in February 1991, where he maintained a workload of handling a more limited number of cases for two more decades before his retirement in 2014. He passed away in 2015.

Frank D. Upchurch, Jr., Flagler College

Frank D. Upchurch, Jr.

The Ponce de León Hall dining hall, Flagler College

The Ponce de León
dining hall

The Honorable Frank D. Upchurch, Jr., was appointed to the Board of Trustees in April of 1971 and served until his retirement in May of 2010. Judge Upchurch served as Chairman of the Board from April 1992 to June 1998. Judge Upchurch was a partner in the firm of Upchurch, Bailey & Upchurch, P.A. and served as District Judge, State of Florida, Fifth District Court of Appeals. Judge Upchurch is a graduate of Washington and Lee University and of the University of the Pacific; he earned his juris doctor degree from the University of Florida. Among his many civic activities, he served as past president of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, as Lt. Governor and past president of St. Augustine Kiwanis Club, as a former commissioner for the City of St. Augustine, and as a member of the St. Augustine Port and Waterway Authority.•