Past Presidents of Florida Southern College

Claude A. Saunders (1883-1886)

b. 5-31-1853
d. 1-21-1943
Rev. Saunders was Principal of the South Florida Institute, later known as the Wesleyan Institute, established in 1883 by the Jacksonville District of the Florida Methodist Episcopal Church, South in Orlando. Florida Southern College traces its history in unbroken lineage from this beginning.
He was born in Manatee County, Florida, attended Emory College, and graduated in 1876 as class valedictorian. He became an elder in the Florida Conference in 1882, serving appointments that included Presiding Elder of the Gainesville District until his retirement in 1924. At the end of his term as Principal he was named trustee and asked to draft a curriculum for the newly proposed college division. He was instrumental in persuading the Florida Conference to assume ownership of the College and move it to Leesburg in 1886.

Claude A. Saunders

 


Joshua Hollingsworth

Joshua Hollingsworth (1886-1888)

b. 6-13-1858
d. 8-11-1889
Joshua Hollingsworth became the first President, following the beginning of the college program, on June 1,1886. He was born in Polk County at Galloway near the present city of Lakeland. Lake Hollingsworth, the Lakeland location of the College, got its name from John Henry Hollingsworth, a pioneer resident of the city and relative of Joshua.
Following schooling in Florida, Joshua began work at Emory College in Oxford, Georgia, September 28, 1880, ending his first year at the head of his class. He was said to have been an excellent "declaimer" (debator). After several teaching assignments to help with college costs, he graduated in 1885.
He completed a one-year teaching contract in Bolton, Missouri, where he was distressed that there were so few Methodists, before being named President of Florida Conference College and High School in Leesburg. Unfortunately, at the end of two years, poor health brought his return to Oxford, Georgia and an early death at age 31.

 

W. W. Seals (1888-1889)

d. 1907
President Seals served the College with devotion and zeal. He was committed to accomplishing something of the original mission of the institution by appealing to those Methodist students who were going out of state for their college preparation. His most significant problem was the lack of funds to increase the academic standing of the school.
During the one year that he was President, the trustees fixed annual salaries at $1,200 for the President, $675 for the first assistant, $500 for the second assistant, $400 for the third assistant and $600 for the music teacher. The President's report to the session of the Annual Conference in Bartow, January 9, 1889, showed an indebtedness of $1,606.45.

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W. W. Seals

 


Theophilus Wilson Moore

Theophilus Wilson Moore (1889-1891)

b. 5-3-1832
d. 12-30-1908
Dr. Moore was born in Tirza, North Carolina, a great grandson of Colonel Stephen Moore of the Army of the Revolution. Dr. Moore graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1852, married Mary Ann Smith and went to California as a missionary all in the same year. At the outbreak of the Civil War he became a chaplain in the Carolina Regiment. Following the War he moved to Florida and joined the Methodist Conference, serving, among other appointments, as Presiding Elder of the Jacksonville District.
In 1882 he was sent to Monticello as pastor, where he was asked to be a trustee of Emory College, being also honored with the D.D. degree. This encouraged his interest in higher education, and he was among the first to urge the formation of the College in Leesburg. He served on the Florida Conference Board of Education, and as a trustee of the Conference College both before and after his two-year assignment as President.
He was multi-talented. While in Jacksonville he developed a 100-acre citrus grove, publishing a book on citrus culture widely used for thirty years. In 1892 he patented a flying machine. He also obtained a patent for a rotary steam engine. While in Sanford, he persuaded the town council to cool Main Street by running water through tiling one foot beneath the surface. Farmers later adopted his method for irrigation purposes.

 

Henry Edward Partridge (1891-1892)

b. 4-5-1850
d. 12-22-1936
Rev. Partridge was born near Lake Micosukee, in Jefferson County, Florida, the son of a minister. Receiving assistance from Florida Methodist ministers, he attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He graduated in June 1871, returning a few years later for the Master of Arts Degree. He was licensed to preach October 6, 1870 and admitted on trial in the Florida Conference at Madison on January 3, 1872, receiving Elders orders in January 1874. He served many Conference appointments, having also been Chairman of the Board of a private school in Ocala He was superannuated in June 1926.
At the time of his appointment as President of Conference College, he was pastor of the Methodist Church at Leesburg. It was a good choice. He had a natural inclination to scholarly things, already having achieved recognition as an outstanding student and having provided distinguished leadership in the Conference. He was forty-one at the time of his appointment as President.

Henry Edward Partridge

 


Wightman Fletcher Melton

Wightman Fletcher Melton (1892-1895)

b. 9-26-1867
Dr. Melton was born at Ripley, Tennessee. He was a graduate of Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, receiving his B.A. Degree from Blount College in Blountsville, Alabama. In 1894, he received his first Ph. D. degree from the State Normal College in Troy, Alabama, and the second one in 1906 from Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Melton was elected President of the Conference College at Leesburg at age 24. He was later quoted as saying that "I spent much of my time in Leesburg trying to look old." During his three years as President he expanded the curriculum, hired well qualified teachers, stressed true scholarship and encouraged the students to accept application of the intellect as a life long habit.
After his departure from Leesburg, he served as an administrator in two other colleges, taught English and literature at several others, including Emory University from 1908-1934. He published various literary works, and even served a six-year term as Mayor of Oxford, Georgia. He returned to the Southern Campus for a commencement address in the early Lakeland years.

 

James Theodore Nolen (1895-1897)

b. 4-22-1863
d. 11-27-1897
Dr. Nolen was born in Franklin, North Carolina. He did undergraduate work at Emory and Henry College at Emory, Virginia, where he graduated with honors also winning medals for academic excellence. After two years as a school teacher, he attended Vanderbilt University, completing the Bachelor of Divinity Degree in1891. In1892 he married Rose Charlotte Thomas of Spring City, Tennessee.
Prior to becoming President of the Conference College in Leesburg, he served as principal of a high school and faculty member at another college. He was President at Leesburg during difficult years. He reported student enrollment in 1896 at 85 with 7 faculty members. The college plant consisted of three buildings. It was said of him at his death in 1897, "he succeeded ... as a leader of men." He was always "optimistic in the best sense, ... he went over the Conference inspiring confidence and winning friends to the institution. ... He had secured for the college a commanding position as an educational foundation." He joined the Florida Methodist Conference in 1896. Following President Nolen's death, Professor E. F. Herman, teacher of Latin, Greek and German, served as President Pro Tem through December of 1897.

James Theodore Nolen

 


Thomas Gelzer Lang

Thomas Gelzer Lang (1897-1902)

b. 1857
Rev. Lang was born in Valdosta, Georgia. He attended Emory College and graduated in June 1882 with the Bachelor of Arts Degree, taking first place honors. He married in May 1889 and joined the Conference a few months later. Before serving the Conference as a pastor, he had been principal of the Savannah District High School. He superannuated in 1922 and retired to Milledgeville, Georgia, following a noteworthy career as minister and educator.
During his Presidency at Leesburg, records show that the Bible department taught a variety of courses including, Soteriology, Dispensational Truths, the Holy Spirit, Doctrine of Angels, Christology, Canon of Scripture, Hermeneutics, Eschatology and Messianic Prophecies. In May, 1899 President Lang reported to the Conference, "It has been our sad duty to advise the propriety of the recall of a student home. This was done only after efforts for his betterment extended through several months … (for) the integrity of the institution and wholesome discipline."

 

Shade Wilson Walker (1902-1907)

b. 7-18-1870
d. 3-17-1958
Dr. Walker was born in Fayetteville, Tennessee, educated at Hopewell Academy, Fayetteville Presbyterian College and the University of Nashville, later called Peabody. He did special studies at Harvard University, where he studied with the famous philosopher and psychologist, William James.
At age 23, Dr. Walker was a practicing attorney in Arcadia, Florida. During a local Methodist revival meeting, he was converted and answered the call to preach. He joined the Florida Conference in 1893, and his first assignment was in St. Augustine. Following a transfer appointment to Santa Ana, California, he became president of a small school in Wrightsville, Georgia. At this time Conference College was being moved to Sutherland, now Palm Harbor, and renamed The Florida Seminary. Shade Walker was chosen President.
As the new President at age 32, Dr. Walker was an energetic young man with "commanding endowments of personality and impressive executive ability." Even personal tragedy, the loss of his first wife in a boating accident off the coast at Sutherland in 1902, did not weaken his ability to make an exceptional contribution. He gathered much broader support, which was made effective in, redecoration of the beautiful 159 room hotel as a girl's dormitory and the main building, the construction of a large new brick administration building, effective changes in the curriculum and increases in student body and faculty. The trustees granted him a first ever five-year contract in 1905 and the D.D. Degree in 1906 in recognition of his unique accomplishments. This same year the College's name was changed to Southern College. Regrettably, by the Spring of 1907, Dr. Walker needed a rest and submitted his resignation. He did agree to accept appointment to the Board of Trustees and served for many years. His contribution to the Florida Conference in successive years was equally as brilliant.

Shade Wilson Walker

 


John Presley Hilburn

John Presley Hilburn (1907-1912)

b. 6-26-1858
d. 8-7-1937
Dr. Hilburn was born in Gainesville, Arkansas, son of a minister. He attended public school and graduated from Crowley College, entering the ministry himself in December 1880. His first appointment was in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He transferred to the Florida Conference and served as Presiding Elder for the Tampa, Bartow, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Orlando districts.
He was a trustee of the College for many years, including the time it was at Leesburg. He secured options on buildings and lots when it moved to Sutherland He served as Chairman of the Board in 1901. He was also the Conference appointed financial agent, helping raise funds for the College.
Dr. Hilburn was known in the Conference as "an eloquent speaker, a man intellectually honest and spiritually devout." He followed through with the energetic new program begun by Dr. Walker, which included the construction of the new four-storied brick dormitory for men in 1909 and a large cement block gymnasium in 1910. The value of the College in December 1907 was reported at $185,000 with an endowment of $3,000. There were 215 students, 17 faculty members and 3,500 books in the library. Interest also began to build in intercollegiate sports. At President Hilburn's retirement, he was persuaded to continue as financial agent (development officer).

 

Walter Leonard Clifton (1912-1914)

Dr. Clifton was a graduate of the University of Mississippi and the University of Nashville, later obtaining the Doctor of Philosophy Degree from Columbia University. Before coming to Southern College in Sutherland, he had served as president of Carrollton College and Grenada College.
Dr. Clifton was described as "an unusually equipped educator of the best Christian type … cultured, gentlemanly and laudably ambitious man." He was said to have remarkable intellectual powers. As most presidents who had preceded him, he also taught classes. His assignments included subjects in "mental and moral philosophy."
These turned out to be difficult financial years for the College. So much so that much of the College land had to be sold to cover indebtedness, in spite of some liberal donations by the trustees. At Dr. Clifton's departure the problem continued to require special attention.

Walter Leonard Clifton

 


Rhenus Hoffard Alderman

Rhenus Hoffard Alderman (1914-1925)

b. 12-9-1881
d. 5-11-1933
Dr. Alderman was born in Lithia, Florida and attended the Florida Conference School at Leesburg. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Emory College in Oxford, Georgia, and was made principal of the Harrilson, Georgia High School for one year. He was then appointed to the faculty of Southern College at Sutherland as science professor, and the second year he was named vice-president. In 1907, at the age of 26, he took the position of President of Russell College in West Virginia for two years and then was president of Morris Harvey College in West Virginia for five years. He had also done extensive graduate studies at Columbia College and Denver University during these years. Following his eleven years as President of Southern College, he became President of Logan College in Kentucky.
When Dr. Alderman took over as President the debt exceeded $20,000. There were 136 students and 20 faculty members. With good planning, help from the Conference and effective administration, the debt decreased and student enrollment increased. The WWI years brought a challenge, including the first military training program on campus, the Student Army Training Corps directed by the U.S. Army. Then it was the disastrous fire in 1921, and a second fire and destructive storm at Clearwater Beach, that convinced the trustees to move inland and accept the offer from Lakeland to locate on Lake Hollingsworth. Dr. Alderman successfully presided over both moves and the establishment of the College in the two well-equipped new buildings at the new location.

 

Ludd Myrl Spivey (1925-1957)

b. 12-5-1886
d. 12-27-1962
Dr. Spivey was born in Eclectic, Alabama, soon after which his family moved West, where he attended high school in Oklahoma City. College work was done at Epworth College and Vanderbilt University. In 1912 he was ordained a Methodist minister and married Clara Louise Helmkampf of Jackson, Missouri. By 1920 he had received two degrees from the University of Chicago, where he gained a great admiration for the teachings of the American philosopher and educator, John Dewey. He was soon to be appointed to a teaching position and then as Dean at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama. Dr. Spivey came to Southern College in Lakeland in 1925.
The modern buildings and equipment on the new Lakeland site meant a sizeable indebtedness. Since Dr. Spivey's first years coincided with the post-Florida-boom years as well as the nationwide depression years, some concern could be expected. As late as 1933, the trustees voted to close Southern, but not Dr. Spivey! He took up the task with such engaging enthusiasm and tireless energy, that the entire enterprise seemed destined to prosper from that time forward. By 1938 he had successfully persuaded a nationally known architect to build a series of campus structures, frankly admitting that no money was in hand at the moment. By 1941 Frank Lloyd Wright had not only completed Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, the first of ten campus structures, but another one was on the drawing board.
During Dr. Spivey's remarkable 32-year tenure, the campus buildings increased from two to more than forty. The student body increased from less than 300 to over 1400. The operating budget went from approximately $114,000 to over $1 million. Official accreditation came. Graduate and community oriented programs were added. Florida Southern College, the official new name since 1935, had truly reached her majority status, from which even greater achievements could now be realized.

Ludd Myrl Spivey

 


Charles Tinsley Thrift, Jr.

Charles Tinsley Thrift, Jr. (1957-1976)

b. 4-11-1911
d. 5-25-1984
Dr. Thrift was born in Kenridge, Virginia and raised in North Carolina. He received the B.A., the M.A. and the B.D. Degrees from Duke University, and by age 25 completed the Ph.D. Degree at the University of Chicago. He joined the religion faculty at Florida Southern in 1940, and was named vice-president in 1946. At the unexpected announcement of Dr. Spivey's retirement in 1957, Dr. Thrift was named acting President. When Dr. Thrift was named President, December 16, 1957, he had been with the College 18 years.
During his 19-year presidency, the College received a multi-million dollar gift in 1966 from the Buckner Estate, the Jenkins Field House was built, the new Roux Library was constructed, the Ludd M. Spivey Humanities and Fine Arts Center and the Student Union Building were added to the campus. Inter-varsity sports gained national prominence and the international studies program was expanded. It was during these years that the College was called upon to negotiate the social and spiritual challenges of the campus "protest years," which included redefining "student freedom" and "academic freedom" for the campus family. At the time of Dr. Thrift's retirement on June 1, 1976, he had served the College for 36 years.

 

Robert Aldine Davis (1976-1994)

b. 6-15-1928
d. 10-5-1997
Dr. Davis was born in Broxton, Georgia, completing the B.B.A with honors at the University of Georgia, the M. Div. Degree at Emory University and the S.T.M. Degree at Yale University on a Danforth Scholarship. Before coming to Florida Southern, he was Director of Wesley Foundation at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Georgia Institute of Technology, on the executive staff of the Methodist Division of Higher Education in Nashville and President of Brevard College at Brevard, North Carolina.
Dr. Davis was inaugurated on November 12, 1976. During his presidency the College endowment made an important advance, including major contributions to new scholarships and the first endowed chairs: the Jessie Ball duPont Chair in the Natural Sciences, the Nelson C. White Chair in the Life Sciences, the John and Ruth Tyndall Chair in Citrus, the William F. Chatlos Professorship of Business Administration and initiation of the Bishop Edward J. Pendergrass Chair in Religion. Three new buildings were added to the campus debt free at the end of construction: the Chatlos Journalism Building, the Charles Jenkins Residence Hall and the J. Carlisle Rodgers Building. Debt-free construction has also included the Centennial Tower. In 1981 Florida Southern men's teams dominated the NCAA major sports championships by winning first place in baseball, basketball and golf. In 1982 the golf team was the first to repeat the national championship in consecutive years.
President Davis' off-campus leadership included: President of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, President of Florida Independent College Foundation, member of the University Senate of the Methodist Church, Director of the North American Council of the International Association of University Presidents, member of the Florida Council of 100, member of the Second District of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission of the State of Florida and member of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Robert Aldine Davis

Southern College pennant