50 Years: A Look Back, A Step Ahead

UCF’s history from 1973 – 1983

By Andrew Sagona

Contributing Writer

Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2013


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President Richard Nixon, left, stands with Florida Technological University president Charles Millican at FTU’s commencement ceremony on June 8, 1973.

As the second decade of Florida Technological University’s existence began, the school had already seen many milestones and its enrollment had increased sevenfold.

FTU and its leadership continued to look ahead and tried to continue helping the university grow as it entered its second decade.

That second decade began with a hurried start that ended up giving FTU national attention. On June 5, 1973, FTU president Charles Millican received a call from the White House saying that then-President Richard Nixon had accepted Millican’s invitation to speak at FTU’s commencement.

Millican extended said offer two years prior but was turned down then. However, with three days notice, Millican now had to prepare the university for the arrival of the Commander in Chief.

“That call [from the White House] started 74 of the busiest hours in the young school’s life,” Kenneth Sheinkopf wrote in his book, Accent on the Individual: The First Twelve Years of Florida Technological University.

Yet, through a major collaborative effort between the White House, Secret Service and staff at the university, Sheinkopf wrote, the event came together and proceeded without a hitch.

The collaboration worked so well that those not behind the scenes didn’t know that things were actually that hectic.

“It wasn’t as much that it was rushed,” Roger Pynn, an alumnus who graduated that day, said. “But the interesting thing is that they did such a good job that we all had to sit and wait until the president arrived,” because the university planned too well for the president’s arrival, Pynn said.

FTU would reclaim the national spotlight in February 1977 after one of its nontraditional students would capture the heart of America.

The reason for FTU being in the spotlight was 58-year-old Rita Reutter, who was studying for her master’s degree in guidance counseling. Reutter, who was known for her sense of humor, Orlando Sentinel reporter Jon Busdeker wrote, decided to shake things up and run for homecoming queen.

“I want to say it was kind of a little joke, but it ended up being just kind of fun and then it was real supportive and then the whole university got behind it and it ended up being just a phenomenal event,” Bill Ford, an alumnus of the class of 1979, said.

Armed with a catchy campaign slogan: “You can have a cutie-pie anytime. Let’s have something different,” Reutter got a big push from the student body and became FTU’s homecoming queen, Busdeker wrote.

Upon winning, Reutter became a national celebrity. She made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, made a great impression on Carson and made him laugh a great deal, Busdeker wrote.

After her appearance on The Tonight Show, Reutter received additional attention with an article in People magazine, segments on national newscasts and an appearance on the game show To Tell The Truth, Busdeker wrote.

Reutter didn’t end up earning her master’s degree, leaving FTU shortly before attaining the required hours, Busdeker wrote. Reutter moved away from Orlando in 1980 and moved around the country until settling in St. Louis in 2004; she died there last year at the age of 93.

Later in 1977, FTU president Charles Millican announced that he would be resigning from the position. Shortly before Millican’s official resignation on Jan. 31, 1978, FTU hired Trevor Colbourn to be the university’s second president. Colbourn is the namesake of the campus building, Colbourn Hall.

In the months before he officially took office, Colbourn was hard at work developing a plan to change the name of the school.

The single option that Colbourn proposed as an alternative name was the University of Central Florida.

While university officials were on board, the student and alumni reaction to the potential name change was mixed. However, after polling students and alumni, the name change was ultimately accepted.

Colbourn then made a proposal to the Florida Legislature to change the name. It was approved, and then-Gov. Reubin Askew signed it into law on Dec. 6, 1978, according to UCF’s 50th anniversary timeline.

Colbourn was inaugurated as UCF president one month later. During his inauguration speech, to the excitement of those in attendance, Colbourn expressed his desire to start a football team at the school.

Nine months later, the team was fully funded and ready to play Division III football for the 1979 season.

The first game for UCF was played at St. Leo University, near Tampa. Despite a thunderstorm, the team’s first head coach Don Jonas said he urged game officials to wait out the storm and let the teams play because of the game’s importance.

“The reality was, No. 1: The players that were there and the players that traveled to St. Leo were the beginning of a reality [for UCF’s football program],” Jonas said.

Once the game started, it was completely in UCF’s control. The game ended with a 21-0 UCF victory. Jonas continued coaching UCF throughout the 1981 season.

As all of these momentous events were occurring, UCF continued to grow. At the beginning of the decade, there were 7,814 students enrolled at UCF; by the end of the decade, that number doubled to 15,648, UCF spokesman Grant Heston said.

In addition, UCF expanded from 21 buildings in 1973 to 38 buildings in 1983, including four that were located off of the main campus, Heston said.

When the school first opened its doors back on Oct. 7, 1968, a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel wrote an editorial about the school’s opening. The editorial made a prediction about the school’s future.

“An impressive site now at its birth, Florida Tech will within 10 short years make an impact on our area such as nothing else ever has and perhaps nothing in the future ever will rival. Even Walt Disney World."

Pynn believes that the prediction came true.

“But it would be really easy to argue that if [UCF] hadn’t been here, this region would be drastically different and significantly less important," Pynn said. "Because … no great community in this country’s ever grown without a great university.”


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