Transformations

Personal stories of growth at Eckerd College

A Wilderness Transformed: Eckerd's campus then and now
Wilmer LaBrant ('64)

It was a foggy night as we headed south on the deserted two lane US 19 in 1957. Our destination was the Isaac Walton Fish Camp. It was located on a winding, tree shrouded, one-lane road, nestled along the banks of Frenchman's Creek -- literally a piece of old Florida real estate. Lots of large oak trees, scrub palmettos, I'm sure a few snakes and, I can guarantee you, a lot of mosquitoes were denizens there. The old Sunshine Skyway had been open only a few years, and developers were just beginning to dredge and fill what is now Tierra Verde. An area known as Cat's Point, a shallow sand bar in the soon-to-be-dredge-filled Boca Ciega Bay, was to be transformed into a condo canyon, now known as the Pinellas Bayway.

Due to the cold war with Russia, on most nights the navigation lights of the Strategic Air Command B-47 Bombers could be seen as they were kept in nearly perpetual motion flying in and out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. I was on my way to work on one of the three shrimp boats that were moored at the fish camp. On the nights when we were lucky enough to have filled our bait wells with shrimp before daybreak, we would find our way to the Skyway channel, look for the beacon of the single light bulb that hung on the fish camp docks, and head due north down the channel. No other lights except the lights of the toll booth were visible as we headed down the channel. There was nothing. Such was the area soon to be developed as the permanent campus for Florida Presbyterian College.

What is this little story of shrimping about? Well, the boats were moored directly at the current site of Knox House, the house I lived in as a junior and senior when I moved onto campus.

As a fifteen-year-old first mate on a shrimp boat at that time, I had no more idea of attending college than flying to the moon - which at that time had been thought about only in science fiction.

As I drive through the beautiful campus today, I have vastly different impressions of the Eckerd campus then and now. How things have changed! I see all the beautiful modern buildings, the wonderful Waterfront Facility, and the immaculate landscaping on the campus where I was given the opportunity to pursue a college education. I was blessed to enter with the class of 155 Founding Freshman, to participate in the groundbreaking of the first building, and to graduate with the first Florida Presbyterian College class. I, like many of my classmates, have unique and fond memories of the beginnings. Perhaps my remembrances have offered a little different historical perspective.