Samuel Proctor has not earned his reputation as the foremost expert on UF history by memorizing facts from tattered old documents and newspaper clippings. He has experienced it first-hand, in the making, over the past 66 years.
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, he came to UF as a freshman in 1937 and lived with his uncle, then a chemistry senior, in a boarding house off campus. As an undergraduate, Proctor wrote for the Alligator. After receiving a BA in history in 1941, he went on to earn an MA in 1942 by writing a 560-page thesis on Florida Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward.
In 1943, Proctor was drafted into the Army during World War II and served at Camp Blanding, near Starke, giving illiterate recruits a basic education in reading and arithmetic. When he got out of the service in 1946, he planned to study international law. Proctor chose Ohio State and was living at home in Jacksonville, planning to start his studies in the fall, when William Carleton, chairman of the freshman social sciences program, called him about teaching at UF. "I asked him if he was crazy because I knew absolutely nothing about teaching and was going to start working on a law degree."
In the fall of 1945, about 600 students were enrolled at UF, but by 1946, enrollment swelled to 8,000 as World War II veterans began taking advantage of the GI bill. "In desperation they were turning to people like me," Proctor says. "Bill said if I didn't do anything more than stand up in front of the room and call the roll, they needed me."
Hoping to earn money for graduate school, Proctor came to UF and taught that summer. "The students were excellent and, in fact, I think they were in many ways the best students we ever had at UF. They were older, since they had lost three or four years to the service, and many times they knew more than the professors because they had traveled to far away places."
Carleton persuaded Proctor to remain at UF. President J. Hillis Miller named him university historian and archivist and commissioned him to write a book on UF history, in honor of the university's 100th anniversary in 1953. Proctor submitted the book as a dissertation, which he successfully defended in 1958. "We didn't have archives. Nobody even knew the names of the presidents. I became the historian and the archivist, collecting this information from everywhere."
In 1967, Proctor established the Oral History Program in the Department of History, with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of the economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life of Florida and the South. The collection, so far, contains 3,900 interviews and more than 350,000 pages of transcribed material, making it the largest oral history archive in the South and one of the major collections nationwide.
Proctor retired in June 1996 but continues to serve as the official UF historian and as director emeritus of the Proctor Oral History Program, which has been named in his honor.
UF Professor Emeritus of History Michael Gannon has written and lectured extensively about World Word II naval history and Florida colonial history. But, in the early 1970s, Gannon helped make history at UF. As a catholic priest at the time, and a professor in the history and religion departments, Gannon was thrust into the role of mediator.
During the spring semesters of 1970, 1971 and 1972, several riots and protests erupted about the Vietnam War and the treatment of African-American students on campus. Gannon mediated during the three occasions to help maintain peace. "In 1972 students were aroused by the mining of Hai Phong Harbor in Vietnam. I don't think anyone realized how out of control student anguish would become," Gannon says. The students blocked the intersection of 13th Street and University Avenue for several hours, and that night, Florida Highway Patrol officers were called to break up the crowd. "Many students ran inside the Krystal restaurant on University Avenue, and one of the patrolmen had a gas grenade in his hand and had pulled back the pin, ready to throw it inside. I grabbed his arm and told him many students would be hurt or die jumping through the glass windows if he threw it. I was then clubbed over the head by another officer and taken into custody." A member of the General Counsel's office saw what had happened and told the officers to release Gannon because he was on the university's side, trying to help the situation.
During these incidents, many students knew Gannon as Father Gannon. He was a priest at St. Augustine's Church on University Avenue for 12 years. For nine of those years he was also a full-time faculty member in both the history and religion departments. "It was a lot of work, but I immensely enjoyed both jobs."
Before becoming a priest, Gannon was a sports announcer at WIS radio in Columbia, South Carolina. "I was the voice of the Gamecocks, broadcasting the football games. It was fun, but I wasn't making any special contribution to the human condition, so I decided to devote myself to a higher calling than radio." He spent four years (1955-59) studying theology at the Université de Louvain in Belgium and became a priest in 1959. He received his PhD in history from UF in 1962 and worked at the Spanish Florida Research Center in St. Augustine, Florida for several years before joining the faculty in 1967.
Gannon decided to leave the priesthood in 1976, the same year he became an assistant dean in the college. He assisted in merging University College and the College of Arts and Sciences into the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1978. Gannon returned to full-time teaching in 1988 and officially retired in 1998. Through phased-retirement, he has taught a course each year for the past five years and regards himself primarily as a classroom teacher, estimating he has taught more than 16,000 students during his 36 years at UF. This spring Gannon is teaching his final course about the colonial history of Florida. "I'll miss teaching, but it's time to hang up my hat and let a younger faculty member have my office." He plans to continue working on several book projects.
--Allyson A. Beutke