Film details USF’s first 50 years

In celebration of USF’s 50th anniversary, WUSF public broadcasting has produced Green and Gold: A Half Century of USF, a documentary that focuses on the history of USF.

From its inception in 1956 as a small, five-building school with an attendance of 2,000 to the world-class University USF has become, boasting four campuses and more than 180,000 graduates around the world. The program will make its premier broadcast on WUSF tonight at 8.

“We did it really as a tribute to the special nature of the 50th anniversary of the University of South Florida,” said Diane Egner, content director for WUSF. “We wanted to take a look at its history and how it’s come up from a sandy, grassy field into the next top research university in the nation. We wanted a chance to tell that story.”

The video begins with an introduction describing Florida’s rapid growth following World War II. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Florida’s population soared. This growth, combined with the newly instituted G.I. Bill, put a strain on Florida’s three universities: the University of Florida, Florida State University and Florida A&M University. By the mid-1950s the three schools, all situated in the northern part of the state, were filled to capacity.

Sam Gibbons, a former U.S. paratrooper in WW II and a member of the Florida Legislature from 1953 to 1962, returned to Florida after the war and began to lobby for more state schools.

“My children were getting ready to enter school, and they were facing something called ‘double sessions,'” Gibbons said in the video. “That is, half of the students would go to school in the morning and half in the afternoon. I remember my oldest son’s class met in the boiler room, and it was so hot he was allowed to take off his shirt. The school system was in bad shape because of the baby boom and because of Florida’s population growth.”

His concern about the overcrowding in Florida schools would eventually cause Gibbons to write a bill asking for a state university to be built in Hillsborough County. After passing through Congress, the bill was signed by Gov. LeRoy Collins, and the University of South Florida was born. John Allen, former vice president of the University of Florida, was chosen to be the first president of USF, which was the first independent state university in America to be conceived, designed and constructed in the 20th century.

While the story of USF’s humble beginning is compelling, WUSF general manager JoAnn Urofsky feels that, more importantly, the video displays the University’s determination to overcome future obstacles.

“It is a great honor for our staff to be part of such a significant milestone in the history of the University of South Florida,” Urofsky said. “This program shows how far the University has come through the years, but more importantly how prepared we are to tackle the challenges in front of us.”

After its initial broadcast, Green and Gold: A Half Century of USF will re-air Monday at noon, Tuesday at 2 p.m. and April 20 at 4 p.m. on WUSF. A DVD release of the program will be available for purchase throughout west-central Florida in May.