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Growing Up Reitz
Margo Reitz Cooke remembers a semester her junior year when a professor pulled her aside and informed her a lot was riding on her performance in the course. “He said, ‘Ms. Reitz, either you are going to have to do better in this class, or I am going to have to look for another job’,” says Margo.
Her younger sister Marjorie Reitz Turnbull, however, lived under the illusion she was an anonymous student—until she decided to skip the second hour of a seminar course one afternoon to attend an event at her sorority house. “Someone told me later that when the class reconvened after break and I was not there, the professor said ‘Well, I guess since Ms. Reitz is not here we can cancel the second hour’,” she says. “I didn’t even realize he knew who I was until that point.”
But while some professors might have been a little nervous having the children of the university’s top administrator in their classrooms, the Reitz sisters say their father would have never pulled any strings for his daughters. He held them to the same high standards of excellence he expected of all students. “I told someone recently that admission to UF was so competitive nowadays that I doubt I could get in again and they said ‘Yes you could with your dad,’ and I said ‘You didn’t know my dad’,” says Marjorie. Her sister agreed with a hearty chuckle, “Oh no, no, no! Daddy was not like that!”
J. Wayne Reitz became the fifth president of the university in March 1955 and was the first UF faculty member promoted to the post. He presided during a period of unprecedented growth at the university and saw 300 campus buildings constructed and the student population double from 9,000 to 18,000. He stepped down in 1967 and when the new student union opened in May of that year, UF students demanded it be named in his honor. The Reitz Union remains the center of campus activity at the university.
After graduating from UF, Margo earned a master’s degree from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia and has served as director of education in three churches. The wife of a retired Presbyterian minister, she has a passion for education, whether she is teaching Sunday school, directing her church choir or teaching GED preparation classes in her community of Anderson, South Carolina.
Marjorie spent a year studying in Geneva at the Graduate Institute of International Studies after receiving her bachelor’s degree from UF. She then worked two years at the United Nations in New York, before moving to Tallahassee in 1971 where she spent 12 years in public office as a Leon County Commissioner and member of the Florida House of Representatives. She retired in November after eleven years as director of the foundation at Tallahassee Community College.
Though it has been a long time since the Reitz girls called Gainesville home, they say the campus will always have a warm place in their hearts. Both held their wedding receptions at the President’s Mansion, the last home they all lived in together as a family.
“I have a lot of good memories about the University of Florida,” says Marjorie. “I am very proud to be a graduate. When I go there and visit and see the things that are going on these days it is just astonishing. The students have it together in a way that I did not when I was in college—they know what they are going to do and they have huge goals. It is just so darn impressive.”