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Florida Memorial University celebrates 134 years


Old stories, history, awards and legacies filled the day


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Florida Memorial University Acting President Mary A. O'Banner

MIAMI GARDENS, FL. – The historic bell pealed in the crisp morning air, the sound of drums drifted across the campus and a sea of orange-and-blue set the scene for the Florida Memorial University (FMU) Founders’ Day.  A processional of hundreds draped in academic regalia, history and pageantry moved across campus toward the chapel with a purpose that seemed to colorfully illustrate the theme: “Moving Forward . . . The Legacy Continues.”

South Florida’s only historically black university recently celebrated 134 years since its founding in 1879. It was also the 45th anniversary of the university’s move to Miami. Bishop Billy Baskin, class of 1971 and pastor of New Way Fellowship Praise & Worship Center, delivered a message of history and hope.

”The Founders’ Day Convocation is the most important activity held on the campus,” said Acting President Mary A. O’Banner, after she addressed an overflow crowd at the university’s Susie C. Holley Religious Center.  “I believe that our founders would be proud to know that we are continuing the legacy on the 134th anniversary of this institution.”

The convocation featured several alumni who attended the school just after it was relocated from St. Augustine, including a local minister and a current student whose FMU legacy dates back for at least four generations.

Priscilla Dobbs, class of 1972, is a retired elementary school teacher who worked for 34 years with the Dade County Public Schools.  Dobbs, who now works with the School of Education at FMU, was on program to speak about the university’s history.

“I remember when the university moved here from St. Augustine,” Dobbs said. “It was a very good year because the average family income was $ 7,850, the cost of gas was 34 cents and a movie ticket was $1.50. The big movies were ‘The Graduate‘ and ‘Guess Who's Coming Dinner.’ ”

Dobbs, who grew up in Miami, said: “I decided that I would attend Florida Memorial because of the way they embraced our community and made the community feel a part of it . . .  a number of local students decided to attend.”

She deftly entertained the audience with her tales of yesterday. She said she wanted to tell the history her way: “You don’t let anyone tell your history,” she said. “You tell your own history.”

Shaconna Derico, a fourth-generation,  junior broadcast major from Pompano Beach, told the appreciative audience that more than 20 members of her family have attended – and graduated from the university that will soon become her alma mater, as well. Additionally, a cousin is on his way to join the Fall Freshman class.

“Every year, I’ve been learning more and more about this part of our family history,” she said after the program. “There’s a long list of about 20 people who are FMU alumni. I believe there are a few marriages that have come out of here. . . There are a lot of pastors on this list, as well.”

She remembered the first time she set foot on the Florida Memorial campus and how that solidified one portion of her life’s journey : “ I came to the Baptist Youth Camp when I was in middle school. That’s when I met a lot of other family members, toured the campus and just thought ‘This must be a great place.’ I just felt like I was at home. I fell in love with it.”

“When you see the blessings come down like this through generations,” Derico said, “it’s real.”

The convocation closed with a moving candlelight tribute to the five founders and with awards presentations to three community leaders who have been strong supporters of educating youth in the Miami area. The following honors were given:

The Humanitarian Award

This award, which recognizes individuals who have given outstanding service to their community, was presented to The Rev. Canon Richard L. Marquess-Barry, Rector and Pastor/Retired, of the historic St. Agnes Episcopal Church.  When his congregation asked what they could do upon his retirement, he asked them to help him raise $50,000 for scholarships. He has contributed $12,500 to Florida Memorial, along with $12,500 each to his alma mater, St. Augustine College; Bethune Cookman University (Daytona Beach, Fla.) and Edward Waters College (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Sarah Blocker Meritorious Service Award

Barbara Wright, president of the Senior Women’s Auxiliary of the Progressive M&E Baptist State Convention of Florida, was the recipient of the highest honor the university can bestow upon a woman, the Sarah Blocker Meritorious Service Award. Wright, of Tampa, was noted for scholarship funds provided by the Convention totaling more than $300,000. 

The Nathan B. Collier Meritorious Service Award

The Nathan B. Collier Meritorious Service Award, the highest award the university bestows upon a man, went to William “Bill McCormick, class of 1987. McCormick, president and chief executive office of Medivance, was recognized for his continuous financial gifts for scholarships.

In the end, alumni told stories of yesterday, awards were presented and the FMU history was recounted. . . As the recessional began, one young man in an orange-and-blue bow tie was overheard saying, almost to himself:  “The legacy continues.” 

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Florida Memorial University's Founders' Day Service


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