MANATEE — Great pots of mums and daisies welcomed guests to New College of Florida, where a relaxed crowd gathered on the lush campus Friday to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary.
Guests included key figures from the college’s past, elected officials and a roster of distinguished visitors, in addition to students, faculty, staff and alumni.
Among those in attendance at the Founders Day ceremony was Frank Brogan, chancellor of the State University System of Florida.
He described the college as “one of the jewels in the crown of the State University System.”
Brogan praised New College’s ranking among some of the best public colleges and universities in the nation.
Other guests included Ava Parker, chair of the Florida Board of Governors; state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice; and Sarasota Mayor Kelly Kirschner, who noted that its creation has helped the area to prosper.
The crowd of 500 faced an elegant pink marble former mansion, now College Hall, that was once owned by Charles Ringling, a member of the Ringling Circus family.
Attending the ceremony was Mary Ruiz, president and chief executive officer of Bradenton’s Manatee Glens, a nonprofit provider of mental health and addiction services.
Ruiz, a 1978 graduate, is the founding president of the New College Alumnae/Alumni Association, and a former member of the college board of trustees.
“When you attend New College, and it finally reaches a milestone, there’s a wonderful sense of legacy and an excitement about the future,” she said. “There were many times in the college’s history when we weren’t sure it could make it to 50.”
Another guest who recalled its bumpy early years was Robert Van Skike Jr., 80, of Sarasota. The retired attorney, who grew up in Bradenton, was among those who had started meeting in the late 1950s to try to attract a college to the area.
In 1960, Van Skike helped to prepare and file incorporation papers for the college, but he wasn’t sure it would survive.
“It was touch-and-go at times,” he said.
Today, New College counts only 825 students, but it carries plenty of academic clout.
It has been ranked among the top five public liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report for five consecutive years. Its student-faculty ratio is 10:1, and average class size is 19.
In 2010-11, it boasted seven Fulbright Scholars and a wealth of other prizes for its highly acclaimed students.
Founded as a private college and modeled after England’s New College, Oxford, its charter class enrolled in 1964 and graduated in 1967.
It joined the State University System in 1975 as part of the University of South Florida, but won its independence in 2001, and was designated the “Honors College for the State of Florida.”
The college held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its new Public Archaeology Laboratory after the formal speeches.
“It’s a nice way to wrap all the things we think about New College in one package,” said second-year student Reese Crispen, 19, of Melbourne Beach. “We feel New College doesn’t really get celebrated that much, and to have all these important people here feels nice.”