Personal stories of growth at Eckerd College

Don Mathis remembers Eckerd College
Submitted by Bryan Lee ('98)

A little background:

My grandfather, Don Mathis, was the Minister of Music at First Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Pete from 1956 until 1968.

He recently had these recollections of Eckerd's founding as Florida Presbyterian College*:

The Eckerd College brochure arrived today. THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES! Actually, I think I had a rather profound part in that process. Both Synods - the Northern and Southern churches at the time - were hell bent on establishing a college in Florida. Both had a president selected and hired, and the formation of a structure. It would have been a terribly wasteful and dumb project - but the Civil War was still not civil. It happened that, because of my contacts at Swarthmore Presbyterian and my position in the "southern" church in St. Pete, that I knew the persons for both churches who headed up the higher education programs. After many attempts I got them together for a talk that led to the intelligent compromise that got the ball rolling for a united Presbyterian College. Bill Kadel was selected as the final president, and the northern church guy - forget his name, was a biologist as I remember - was selected as the VP. He later dropped out.

Then I was involved in the site selection. A committee was formed to go around the state and determine the location - primarily pumping up interest to donate a site, seed money, etc. We had a big bash at one of the downtown hotels and my adult choir was chosen to make a major presentation. Among other music, I choose David York's wonderful piece "Once to Every Man and Nation"… “comes the moment to decide!" David was head of the theory dept at WCC, and one of my best friends - lives here now, and we get together often. It really was a big success - and the decision was enforced when we got the city to donate the "swamp land" down near the bridge. Later on, outside objectors cried loudly that city property should not be given to sectarian interests - and Florida Presbyterian College paid a small price for the land.

Then, as luck would have it, [a great many] of the founding faculty became involved members of First Presbyterian Church. Several sang in my choir, about four from the science department alone. "Iggie", Dr. I. G. Foster, head of the science department,. became chairman of the music committee. He was a great guy, fun, and a lot of help. There were 3 or 4 from the science faculty in the adult choir. One such - forget his name, but he went on to teach every class in the department at one time or other - let me store the nearly new organ out of the old church in his garage. He and I went about dividing one of the "chests" of an organ stop so that it could be in the cage on each side of the back balcony. Then he and I and one or two others virtually installed that organ in the back cages, and the console up there to act as an antiphonal organ to the new organ up front - or a stand alone instrument for choirs that often sang from that location.

When Al Glasure, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, retired, he became VP for development at the college. Young Billy Wireman, the coach for the college, became the new president when Bill Kadel left to become president of a Presbyterian seminary in Pittsburgh. Bill Kadel and his wife and two sons became close friends. He donated the set of Whitechapel hand bells that started our hand bell program. Dick Kadel (one of the sons) became my assistant at one of the community boychoirs, and later became one of my successors at the church. Bill's daughter married a young musician in the area - and became the Minister of Music there for long years. Billy Wireman became president of my Singing Sons Community Boy Choir.

Several young people from our church became members of the first class of the college in 1960 - Roger Porter, my "near son", for one, who is now on the Board of Directors of the school. His mother, Peggy, was one of my dearest friends.

I am particularly proud to have had my grandson Bryan Lee (class of '98) graduate from there in computer science.

*Historical note: In 1967, the church moved, in a large parade, from its original building on 4th Avenue and 3rd Street North, to the new building on Beach Drive and 7th Avenue.

Hope this little history is interesting. It certainly was a big and meaningful part of my life there.

Don Mathis