Last Saturday, a group of UCF Kappa Sigma alumni brothers reunited nearly 40 years after graduating to remember the man who may have saved their lives.
The brothers are among 300,000 students and alumni who currently call themselves Knights. But before the university’s name was changed from Florida Technological University, and before the school’s mascot was established, one Knight — dubbed by students as “Sir Knight” — was making an impact by shielding students from the draft during the Vietnam War.
The late Ed Knight Jr. died Aug. 16 at the age of 93, after retiring from a 20-year career as UCF’s director of records and registration. However, the university’s mascot, which was elected by students in his honor, is proof of Knight’s lasting legacy.
“The school was growing from its infancy, and when it came time to choose a mascot, we decided we’d get behind the name ‘Knights;’ the whole fraternity did,” said John Voelpel, a Kappa Sigma alumnus who was impacted by Knight, faculty adviser of the fraternity at the time. “The student body ended up voting for ‘the Knights,’ and not everyone knew why, but it was because of Ed Knight and what he did for us.”
At the time, men in the United States had three options: volunteer to serve a tour in Vietnam, get drafted or maintain a student deferment.
Voelpel, who attended the university from 1969 to 1973 for business administration, said classes at the time were limited and capacity was tight, but “Sir Knight” was an instrumental force in ensuring that male students were placed in the classes they needed to maintain their deferment.
“We weren’t draft dodgers, we weren’t burning our cards, we weren’t running off to Canada, but we would have preferred not to go,” Voelpel said. “He was a very large influence in a very vulnerable time in our lives.”
Knight’s friends and loved ones, including people he hadn’t seen for years, gathered at Baldwin-Fairchild Funeral Home in Altamonte Springs on Saturday to celebrate his life. There, Voelpel and other fraternity brothers shared Knight’s impact.
“I have to tell you, personally, I would have been in Southeast Asia — I’m clumsy, I would have tripped on a tripwire or something and died the first day I was there — I would have never met my wife, never had my children, wouldn’t be standing with these gentlemen today, if it wasn’t for Ed,” he told the crowd.
After not seeing him for 10 years, Gracia Muller Miller also attended the service and spoke on Knight’s impact. Miller, who attended UCF in 1972 as a music student and worked as an assistant in the registrar’s office, shared how Knight became a father figure for her amid racial tensions.
“It was a very lonely time when I first started going to school there, and a lot of times I would hang out in the office just because that’s where I felt safe, and Mr. Knight was the one who set that climate,” Miller said. “The racial movement was part of my growing up, and Mr. Knight was different — he was a Bulldog, but he was not a hater. There were other people around me that I knew didn’t necessarily like me, but the climate at the registrar’s office didn’t allow them to act out against me.”
The man behind the mascot: Ed Knight Jr.'s legacy. Video by Daniela Marin
At 6 feet tall, Knight was a former University of Georgia basketball player with a U.S. Air Force career of more than 20 years. He quickly became known on campus as a gentle giant and father figure, all while raising a family of his own.
“My dad, he liked the youth, he liked the young people and he saw potential in everyone,” said Brigitt Berry, Knight’s youngest daughter. “That’s who he was, he was the encourager. He liked helping people set goals in life and helping them realize them.”
Despite his commitment to the community, Berry said that didn’t stop her dad from being “the best father in the whole wide world.”
“My parents were always there for me,” she said. “He always came home and spent time with us. He didn’t bring work home with him, he’d come home and play with us. And he absolutely adored my mom, so with those two traits, how could he not have been the best role model?”
And Miller, who went on to become a guidance counselor for Seminole County Public Schools for 20 years, said Knight inspired her to become a positive influence herself.
“I believe that because of Mr. Knight, I was also able to make some impact at UCF. I didn’t think of dreaming bigger, but Mr. Knight taught me to dream bigger,” Miller said. “He was a man who gave himself to others every day.”
The man to register the first student at UCF is now gone, but his legacy to the university and the lives he touched is lasting.
“I think he’d be very proud of where the school stands today, and he’d be proud of where all of the kids that he helped get through college stand today,” Voelpel said.
Knight is survived by his children Deborah Knight, Ed Knight III and Brigitt Berry, son-in-law Kip Berry, and two grandchildren.
Daniela Marin is the Entertainment Editor for the Central Florida Future. Email her at DanielaM@centralfloridafuture.com