Dr. William Stallard, Founding President, Passes Away in Mississippi
Dr. Stallard guided the college from November 1965 through his retirement in January 1984, when it was known as South Florida Junior College. During his 18-year tenure, the college enrollment grew from 200 students its first semester to more than 3,000, relocated from temporary quarters in downtown Avon Park to the current SFCC Highlands Campus, began offering select classes in Wauchula, Arcadia, and Lake Placid, and expanded its curriculum to include well over 100 courses.
Born on Sept. 15, 1921, in Grove Hill, Ala., Dr. Stallard graduated from Clarke County High School in 1938. From 1942 to 1945, he served as a navigator with the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the U.S. Air Force) in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, achieving the rank of second lieutenant. In 1946, he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and in 1947 worked for Eastern Airlines in Miami. He received a bachelor of science degree in zoology (1949) and a master of science degree in botany (1951) from the University of Miami. He earned his doctor of philosophy degree in biochemistry (1962) from the University of Texas. He was a science teacher, assistant principal, and principal of several Alabama and Florida public high schools. He was head of the science department and dean of Orlando Junior College and the first dean of specialized education for Manatee Junior College in Bradenton.
In 1965, four members of the Highlands-Hardee Junior College Advisory Committee – Rex Bond, George Douglass, Dr. Elver M. Hodges, and Hue Nunnalee – comprised the presidential selection committee that chose Dr. Stallard to become president of the newly formed SFJC. Once his appointment was approved by the State Cabinet, on Nov. 18, 1965, the task before him was enormous. He quickly hired administrators, staff, and instructors and secured temporary classroom and administrative space in three downtown Avon Park buildings. His hand was in everything – from remodeling business space into classrooms, to raising funds for the college’s operations, to selecting the college’s official colors and developing its seal. He actively promoted the new college by speaking to any group that invited him – from churches to women’s groups to Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.
In August 1966, SFJC opened its doors to approximately 200 students. During this formative period, Dr. Stallard’s right-hand man was Wilford Beumel, who followed him from Manatee Junior College to become SFJC’s first dean of academic affairs. “He told me I would be on the ground floor of starting a historic community college, and that this area would be a good place to raise a family,” Beumel recalled.
In the midst of pressing demands, Dr. Stallard kept his focus on bringing quality education to SFJC’s service district. “He wanted to be sure that our junior college gave quality education from the start,” Beumel said. “He didn’t want us to be perceived like some junior colleges at the time, which were more like high schools. He wanted us to have college-level textbooks and good faculty members. He always asked the faculty to hold our students to the highest standards.”
Don Applequist, executive director, SFCC Foundation, Inc., was hired by Dr. Stallard in 1970 to teach biology. “He was a very strong academician,” Appelquist said. “He cared tremendously about quality teaching, and he hired people who shared that philosophy and the let them do what they did best. Because of him, a standard was set at SFJC for academic excellence right from the start.”
“While this is the smallest [community college] district, we are making every effort to make it one of the best,” Dr. Stallard said while speaking to local groups during SFJC’s early years. It was also his philosophy that community colleges like SFJC should provide a solid, basic education that would prepare students for bachelor’s degree programs or employment. In 1968, Dr. Stallard’s high standards paid off, and SFJC became the first community college to be fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in less than three years. Later, as the college grew, Dr. Stallard worked hand-in-hand with local public school districts to implement innovative programs like dual enrollment, which made it possible for high school students to simultaneously receive college and high school credit by taking college classes. He reveled in – some say invented – the nickname that stuck with SFJC over the years: Harvard on the Highway. He was proud of the fact that no SFJC graduate was denied admission to a four-year institution under his tenure. He also encouraged professional advancement among his staff through the founding of the SFJC chapter of the Florida Association of Junior Colleges in 1966.
As SFJC’s enrollment and educational reputation grew in its early years, so did the need for a permanent campus. In 1968, Dr. Stallard presided over the groundbreaking for the $5 million, nine-building Highlands Campus. Those original buildings housed classes in science, fine arts, cosmetology, business, drafting, and auto and agricultural mechanics, as well as a library, administrative offices, and a modern-style pavilion overlooking Lake Glenada. “He had a good rapport with the Florida Legislature,” Beumel said. “He managed to get additional funding for the college.” By the time Dr. Stallard retired, the campus had grown to include vocational buildings, a bookstore, a student center, an auto body laboratory, the SFCC Auditorium, and the SFCC Gymnasium.
Dr. Stallard shared some of his personal passions with SFJC staff and students. Because of his interest in growing orchids, an orchid house was built on the Highlands Campus that, at the time, was “one of the best in the state,” according to Beumel. He also raised birds at his home on Lake Lelia. He had an incubator installed in the science laboratories, Appelquist said, and frequently brought eggs from his flock to be artificially incubated. Because of his interest in climatology, a weather station was installed on Lake Glenada, south of Building F. “It had anemometers, barometers, and weather-recording instrumentation,” Appelquist said.
Dr. Stallard’s vision and commitment to the college was praised by Dr. Norman L. Stephens Jr., SFCC president. “Dr. Stallard was faced with the challenge of creating a new college, starting from an idea, a workable state plan, and strong community support. For 18 years, he led and nurtured the young and growing institution, creating a special place of learning where many would find their way. We owe him a great debt of gratitude for his vision and his skill. Just for a moment, try to imagine this heartland of Florida without South Florida Community College, and you will realize the significant contributions of this educational leader.”
“I’ve worked with seven college presidents in my life, and I would say he was my favorite. I learned so much from him,” Beumel said. “He was as common as an old shoe, but he could get on the level of any person he was talking to, whether they had a limited education or a high one. He was very diplomatic. He faced opposition from time to time, but he was always a gentleman about the way he handled it.”