Rollins’ China Connection

AlumniRecordApril1984The April 1984 issue of The Alumni Record. Top:  President Thaddeus Seymour and Dr. Harry Gao ’31 in Wuhan, China. Bottom left:  George Gao, Rollins’ first exchange student from the People’s Republic of China. Bottom right:  Dr. Charles Edmondson (right) at Wuhan University with Dr. and Mrs. Harry Gao. The Chinese calligraphy reads, “Long live the friendship between Rollins and China!”

As a comprehensive liberal arts college, Rollins strives to educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership, and this mission can be traced back to Hamilton Holt (1872-1951), the eighth president of the college. A journalist by training, Holt was an ardent internationalist in the early 20th century. He was very active in the world peace movement, serving as the president of the National Peace Congress and helping to found the League to Enforce Peace. He was also a strong supporter of Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations proposal, touring the country to promote American membership in the organization.1

When Holt was named the college’s president in 1925, he sought to revolutionize the curriculum, rebuild the faculty, increase enrollment, and develop a new master plan for the lakeside campus. Although he had no experience in higher education leadership, Holt successfully transformed Rollins from a small and struggling institution into a national leader in pragmatic liberal arts education. As an internationalist, Holt endeavored to diversify the academic community, and it is during his tenure that Rollins began to see a sizeable increase in international students from not only Europe, but also Latin America and Asia.

InternationalStudents1930President Holt with foreign students in 1930. Harry Gao was the first on the third row from the left, Wu-fei Liu stood to Holt’s right, Yasuo Matsumoto of Japan sat second from the left. Other students came from Austria, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Hungary, Iraq, Norway, Russia, Turkey, and Uruguay.

Archival records indicate the first Chinese student who studied at Rollins, Ling Nyi Vee, enrolled in 1928-29; however, little is known about this student. Another Chinese student, Harry Gao (高尚荫, ’31, ’81H), was a native of Suzhou, China and came to Rollins as a foreign exchange student in 1930. He was also a member of the Cosmopolitan Club, which facilitated cultural exchanges and fostered friendships between American and international students.2 After earning his PhD from Yale and returning to China, Harry eventually rose to become the vice president of Wuhan University, a professor of virology, and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.3 Other Chinese students during the Holt era include Paul Ma (1937-39), Sze Tsung King (1941-43), Nien Feng Liu (1947-48), and Johnson Tai (1948-49), but most notable among them were the Liu sisters. Wu-fei Liu (1930-31) and Wu-gou Liu (1935-36) came from a very influential family in southern China, whose father Yazi Liu (柳亚子, 1887-1958) was a famed poet and political activist to whom Mao Zedong presented one of his most celebrated poems, written in the classic style.4 More significantly, it was through the sisters’ connection that Wu-chi Liu (柳无忌, 1907-2002) became the first Chinese and Asian faculty member to teach at Rollins.







                                                                                                                          Wu-fei Liu and Wu-chi Liu

WuchiLiu01221936Wu-chi Liu with his wife Helen Gao (sister of Harry Gao) and daughter Shirley Liu, on January 22, 1936, the second anniversary of their wedding while in China.

Born in Shanghai, Wu-chi attended Tsinghua University before receiving a doctorate in English literature from Yale in 1931. He then returned to China and taught at Nankai University, Southwestern Associated University, and the National Central University. Through his sisters’ relationship and his Yale link, President Holt offered him a two-year visiting professorship (1946-48) that helped Wu-chi escape the chaos of the looming Chinese Civil War.5 It was around this time that Wu-chi realized that to be a successful academic in the U.S., his research focus should be on Chinese instead of English literature. With the title of Professor of Oriental Culture, Dr. Liu taught Chinese literature, philosophy, and drama at Rollins, later becoming the founding chair of East Asian Languages and Literature Studies at Indiana University. An accomplished scholar, Liu published more than two dozen books over his career, including titles such as A Short History of Confucian Philosophy, An Introduction to Chinese Literature, and Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. While at Rollins, Liu also presented “A Page of Chinese Poetry” in the 1948 issue of the Animated Magazine.

AnimatedMagazine1948Speakers gathering for the 1948 issue of ‘Animated Magazine’ at Rollins. Wu-chi Liu was fourth from the left, and Soo Yong Huang was third from the right. Other notables include John R. Mott, Nobel Peace Prize Winner; Thomas J. Dodd, Prosecutor of the Nazi Nuremberg Trials; Alberto L. Camargo, Director General of the Pan American Union & former Columbia President; General Jonathan M. Wainwright; Claude Pepper, U.S. Senator from Florida; and “Buz Sawyer” Creator Roy Crane.

A cherished legacy of Rollins College and an illuminating chapter in the cultural history of Central Florida, the Animated Magazine was not a print publication, but rather, an annual program during Founders Week in February, where invited contributors appeared in person and read from their writings in front of a large audience. Over a four-decade span, it brought numerous distinguished visitors to Winter Park and offered unique educational opportunities to many Rollins students and citizens of the local community.6 Besides Wu-chi Liu, Soo Yong Huang (1903-1984) was another Chinese contributor to the Rollins Animated Magazine. Born in Hawaii as Ah Hee Yong, Soo Yong attended the University of Hawaii and received her master’s degree in education from Columbia University. She adopted her stage name Soo Yong when she was featured in Painted Veil next to Greta Garbo in 1934.7 She also appeared in Hollywood movies such as China Seas (1935), Klondike Annie (1936), Mad Holiday (1936) and The Good Earth (1937).8 However, since it was impossible for Asian actresses to play leading roles then, Soo Yong performed in a series of monologues about Chinese life that sparkled with humor, which she presented multiple times in the Animated Magazine (1944-46 & 1948-49).

ladypreciousstreampage4-1Lady Precious Stream, produced at Rollins by Soo Yong in 1946, with Madge Martin,                                  Jack Kelly, Ilo Lorenz, and Jenelle Gregg (left to right).

On a national tour raising funds for the United China Relief, Soo Yong ran into Chun Ku Huang, a businessman from Tianjin and a Nankai University graduate who had a passion for Peking opera. The couple married in 1941, settled in Winter Park, and opened the Jade Lantern on Park Avenue, a seasonal, luxurious novelty store north of Central Park selling items such as Chinese arts and crafts, jewelry, linens, and furniture. Because of her artistic talent, Soo Yong was invited to help Rollins produce Lady Precious Stream (王宝钏). During March 26-30, 1946, the widely-acclaimed Broadway play by Chinese playwright Hsiung Shih-I (熊式一) premiered at the Annie Russell Theatre. Soo Yong not only directed and staged the play but also designed the costumes and served as the honorable reader. In 1961, after two decades in Central Florida, the Huangs decided to return to her native state of Hawaii. For their contributions to the academic community, President Hugh McKean awarded the Rollins Decoration of Honor to both C. K. and Soo Yong Huang, the first people of Chinese heritage to receive such recognitions from the college.9 When she passed away in 1984, she willed Rollins the C. K. and Soo Yong Huang Memorial Fund, which has since been used to support the learning of Chinese culture at Rollins.

SooYongHuangHuang, Soo Yong: 1961 Rollins Decoration of Honor Recipient.

 Arguably the most prominent Chinese scholar who ever spoke at Rollins was Hu Shih (胡适, 1891-1962), a Chinese philosopher, essayist, key contributor to Chinese liberalism, and an influential leader in the New Culture Movement. However, he came to Rollins not as an academic, but as the Chinese Ambassador to the United States. As part of the Rollins Institute on International Relations, co-sponsored by the World Alliance for International Friendship through the Churches and the Church Peace Union, Hu delivered a speech entitled “The Far East and the Future Peace of the World.” Before a packed audience of 900 in the Knowles Memorial Chapel on March 5, 1940, he forcefully denounced the Japanese military aggression in China and outlined a new vision for international peace and order.10 Besides Hu, another notable Chinese diplomat also spoke at Rollins. In 1955, V. K. Wellington Koo (顾维钧, 1887-1985) was featured in Rollins’ Animated Magazine along with Florida Governor LeRoy Collins and other noted figures.11 A Shanghai St. Johns University graduate, Koo received his PhD in international law from Columbia in 1912. He first served as the English secretary to Yuanshi Kai (袁世凯), first president of the Republic of China, then attended the Paris Peace Conference and was a participant in the founding of the League of Nations and the United Nations. Over the years, distinguished speakers such as Hu, Koo, and many others not only provided unique perspectives on important issues of the time to the academic community, but also greatly enhanced the cultural landscape of Central Florida and turned Rollins into a cosmopolitan college in the South.

Sandspur1940ResizedThe Feb. 28, 1940, issue of ‘Rollins Sandspur’ announces the opening of the Rollins Institute on International Relations, for which President Holt served as co-chair.

Among the more tangible objects related to China at Rollins are three stones in the Walk of Fame that represent the Middle Kingdom. Created by President Holt in the late 1920s, the Walk of Fame is an oak-shaded walkway located around Mills Lawn that features stones engraved with the names of famous men and women gathered from places of their associations. In 1923, General William F. Martin of the U.S. Army took a piece of granite from the Great Wall of China near Nankou Pass in Peking, and later presented it to the college when Rollins began to collect stones from around the world.12 The Confucius stone was found by Wu-chi Liu and his wife Helen Gao inside the house where the great Chinese educator allegedly taught his 3,000 disciples 2,500 years ago. It was dedicated on February 6, 1933, by President Holt, along with Dr. Chih Meng, Associate Director of the China Institute in America, and a 72nd-generation descendant of Mencius, the Chinese philosopher who founded neo-Confucianism in the third century B.C.E.13 The third stone also has a Liu family connection, as it came from Sun Yet-sen’s tomb and was sent to Rollins by Wu-fei Liu in 1935.

GreatWallWOFStone“Great Wall of China: Erected by Shi-Hwang Di, First Emperor of the Tsin Dynasty.”

ConfuciusWOFStone“Confucius, Chi-Fu, Shan Tung,” with Chinese characters “Ultimate Sage” (至圣 Qufu, Shandong).

SunYat-SenWOFStone“From the Tomb of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Nanking, China.”

Cultural exchanges are always two-way communications. While China came to Rollins, some members of the Rollins community also made their way to China. A case in point was George H. Kerr (1911-1992). After leaving Rollins in 1932, Kerr first studied at the University of Hawaii and Japan, and then taught English for three years in Taipei, Taiwan. While in Asia, Kerr presented “The Rollins Plan for New Education” during the Pan-Pacific New Education Conference in Tokyo.14 When World War II broke out, Kerr became a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve, first working as an analyst and consultant on matters related to Taiwan for the U.S. Department of War, then becoming the Director of the Formosa Research Unit at the Naval School of Military Government and Administration.15 In 1945, Kerr, as an assistant navy attaché, escorted Chinese Governor-General Chen Yi to Taiwan to accept the Japanese surrender. After serving briefly as a U.S. vice consul in Taiwan, Kerr launched an academic career at the University of Washington, Stanford, and UC Berkeley, as well as the Hoover Institution, and published multiple history books on the islands of Taiwan and Okinawa.

During the Cold War era of the 1950-1970s, because of the ideological conflict between capitalism and communism going on at the time, only a few students of Chinese heritage enrolled at Rollins. Among them were Gilbert Chan and Gee Kin Wong (1958-59); Mariette K. Fung (1961-62); David C. Chan (1964-65); Diana L. Hardoon (1966-67); and Michael Fu (1972-74). Most were from Hong Kong, none from mainland China. However, after the United States and China restored diplomatic relations and through economic reform in the early 1980s, the Middle Kingdom began to reopen to the outside world, thus marking a new chapter in Rollins’ relationship with the Asian nation. Despite tremendous suffering experienced during the Cultural Revolution, Harry Gao rose to become a successful researcher and administrator in Central China. Upon renewing his connection with the college, President Thaddeus Seymour invited Gao for a golden homecoming after five decades of separation and awarded him an honorary degree in 1981. Two years later, when Wuhan University celebrated its 70th anniversary, President Seymour became the honorary guest of the university, thus making him the first Rollins president to visit the People’s Republic of China (PRC).16

tseymourinchinaDr. Thaddeus Seymour, President of Rollins College, and alumnus Harry (Shangyin) Gao at the 70th anniversary celebration of Wuhan University in Hubei Province.

Also in 1983, invited by Harry Gao, Dr. Charles Edmondson, Professor of History, became the first Rollins faculty member to spend his sabbatical in China. Although it took a whole year to secure the Chinese visa, Professor Edmondson had a very positive four-month experience getting to know ordinary people in Wuhan, which he later reflected on with humor while expressing high hopes for the country’s future.17 Shortly after, George (Chao) Gao, Harry Gao’s son, became Rollins’ first exchange scholar from the PRC, working as a visiting fellow in the chemistry department while teaching Chinese and taking some undergraduate classes.18

In the 1990s, with the rapid economic development and the country’s rise on the world stage, there was a growing interest within the campus community regarding anything related to China. The college saw a steady increase in enrollment among Asian students, and consequently, the Asian American Students Association as well as the Chinese Students Association were established. People also began to celebrate cultural holidays such as lunar new years and moon festivals. Rollins continued to host speeches and events related to the country’s history and contemporary development, including a Diversity Week program by Shen Tong (沈彤), a key student leader in the democracy movement at Tiananmen Square and one of Newsweek’s People of the Year in 1989.19 In 1993, President Rita Bornstein also welcomed a homecoming visit by Wu-fei Liu; four years later, on her way to return the statue of Ninomiya Kinjiro and sign the collaborative agreement with the Okinawa Prefecture, Bornstein also visited Beijing, Shanghai, and Guilin, the sister city of Orlando, Florida.20 It was during the Bornstein administration that several key faculty members with a research focus on China were strategically recruited, and as a result the Asian Studies minor was established in 2001 to provide students with a comprehensive, interdisciplinary study of the fastest-growing region in the world.

Sandspur10101990Shen Tong, author and a Peking University student, presented in the Bush Auditorium during Diversity Week in October 1990.

Liuwufei05281993On May 28, 1993, President Rita Bornstein (center) and Dorothy Shepherd Smith ’33 (left) welcomed Wu-fei Liu ’34 back to the Rollins campus.

Entering the new millennium under the leadership of President Lewis Duncan, Rollins greatly intensified its efforts of internationalizing its faculty and curriculum. In 2005, the Rollins China Center was established by a group of faculty members from a variety of disciplines who shared a common interest in furthering the understanding of Chinese culture, economy, politics, and history. With the support of the President’s Internationalization Initiative, two groups of Rollins faculty traveled to China in 2006 and 2009 to gain a better understanding of the country and its culture, with the goal of transferring this knowledge to their students and enhancing faculty scholarship. Consequently, Rollins has been recognized as a national leader in this regard by The Chronicle of Higher Education.21 Under the umbrella of the China Center, Rollins hosted a number of high-profile conferences and workshops, including the 51st annual conference of the American Association for Chinese Studies, the National Workshop on Chinese Centers of Excellence, and the Associated Colleges of the South China Research Conference.22 Moreover, the China Center has been a co-sponsor of the annual China Goes Global conference since its inauguration at Rollins in 2006. Other notable projects include the Crummer Business School’s partnership in faculty teaching and student internships with the East China University for Science and Technology, and Disney’s Learn & Earn Program with Chinese university students in the Hamilton Holt School. In addition, following Holt’s tradition, Rollins has invited a number of internationally known China scholars to Winter Park and has frequently facilitated scholarly exchanges on issues related to China. All these efforts have substantially increased Rollins’ global footprints and contributed to the institutional mission of educating students to become active global citizens.

camelsrockParticipants in the 2001 Journey to the Middle Kingdom field study course pose in front of the Camel Rock in Guiling, Guangxi Province, China, where President Bill Clinton gave his speech on environmental protection.

In recent years Rollins has seen a significant increase in course offerings related to Asia and China from faculty members in anthropology, economics, education, history, international business, philosophy, and political science. Some of them have begun to routinely lead student trips through field study courses such as “Journey to the Middle Kingdom” and “Engaging Changing China.” With Mandarin being regularly taught in the Modern Languages and Literatures Department, a new Asian Studies major and Chinese Studies minor have also been launched. In addition to the existing exchange program with Hong Kong Baptist University, the college has also established a semester abroad program at Shanghai Jiaotong University and Shanghai University of Finance and Economics so that students can gain in-depth firsthand experience while studying language and cultures in China. Inspired by Rollins’ commitment to Chinese Studies, George Kao (高克毅, 1912-2008)—a Chinese-American author, translator, journalist, and Winter Park resident—decided to create the George and Maeching Kao Endowment. The memorial funding, a testimony to Kao’s lifelong dedication of promoting mutual understanding between the American and Chinese peoples, has since been providing annual awards and grants for student scholarship and language learning in Chinese studies.

The U.S.-China relationship is arguably one of the most important in the 21st century. Although China is more than 8,000 miles away from Florida, our world is interconnected now more than ever. Built on the college’s rich heritage in liberal arts education, Rollins faculty, staff, and administrators are committed to promoting global citizenship, responsible leadership, and cross-cultural diversity through a global curriculum and cultural experiences. Looking forward, guided by the principles of excellence, innovation and community, and through various engagements in teaching, research, and outreach, Rollins’ strategic connection with the Middle Kingdom will continually be strengthened. This belief is best summarized by Harry Gao on the cover of the Alumni Record: “Long Live the Friendship between Rollins and China!”

~by Wenxian Zhang, Head of Archives and Special Collections

A version of this article was published in the December 2015 issue of The Independent.


1 Jack Lane, Rollins College: A Pictorial History (Winter Park: Rollins College, 1980), 52.

2 Tomokan Yearbook (Winter Park: Rollins College, 1931), 149.

3 Harry Gao, “A Letter across the Pacific,” Rollins Alumni Record, Apr. 1984, 4.

4 “Liu Ya-tzu,” in Howard Boorman, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Republican China vol. II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), 421-23.

5 45G Visiting Faculty Files, Archives and Special Collections, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

6 Wenxian Zhang, “Animated Magazine,” It’s About Time: Reflections from Central Florida 2:1 (Apr. 2004): 20-21.

7 Gayle and Steve Rajtar, “Called the Silver Screen,” Winter Park Magazine, Aug. 2010, 83-85.

8 “Soo Yong,” Internet Movie Database, accessed Oct. 9, 2015,

9 43 College Awards & Recognitions, Archives and Special Collections, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

10 “China’s Ambassador to Speak at Chapel,” Winter Park Topics, Feb. 17, 1940, 7; “Chinese Envoy Speaks on New Order for World: Hu Shih Outlines Steps for Establishment of Peace, Security at Institute,” Rollins Sandspur, Mar. 6, 1940, 1, 4.

11 Tomokan Yearbook (Winter Park: Rollins College, 1955).

12 Wenxian Zhang, David Smith, and Patricia Strout, Walk of Fame: A Rollins Legacy (Winter Park, Rollins College, 2004), 102.

13 Ibid, 28; “Paul Chih Meng, 90, Headed China Institute,” New York Times, Feb. 7, 1990.

14 “Kerr, Rollins Alumnus, Speaks in Japan,” Rollins Sandspur, Oct. 2, 1935, 10.

15 “Register of the George H. Kerr Papers,” Hoover Institution, University of California Online Archive.

16 “Seymour in the Orient: President Seymour Travels to Wuhan as Guest of Harry Gao ’31,” Rollins Alumni Record, Apr. 1984, 4.

17 Charles Edmondson, “Perspectives on China,” Rollins Alumni Record, Apr. 1984, 2-4.

18 “And China Comes to Rollins,” Rollins Alumni Record, Apr. 1984, 6.

19 Catherine Jones, “Almost a Revolution: Chinese Student Leader Highlighted during Diversity Week,” Rollins Sandspur, Oct. 10, 1990; “People of the Year – China: Communism is not the Only Way,” Newsweek, Dec. 25, 1989, 36.

20 Rita Bornstein Presidential Records, Archives and Special Collections, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

21 Karin Fischer, “Professors Get Their Own Study-Abroad Programs,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 55:10 (Oct. 2008): 2.

22 The China Center at Rollins College: 2008-2010 Activities Report.

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75 Years of Symbiosis: Mead Botanical Garden and Rollins College

The Rollins College Archives is pleased to share this post by guest blogger and Archives volunteer, Anna Ton. Anna holds a B.S. in Health Science from the University of Miami and an MLS in Library and Information Services from the University of Maryland, College Park. Thank you, Anna!


MeadGardenVisitFloridaFlickrMead Botanical Garden (Photo:  Visit Florida via Creative Commons,

Mead Botanical Garden celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year! With a mission to “enrich the community through the discovery, enjoyment and celebration of nature and the cultural arts,” it is no surprise that Mead Garden and Rollins College have remained close community partners for over seven decades. Indeed, with its picturesque natural landscape and signature architecture, Rollins was named Most Beautiful Campus according to this year’s Princeton Review.

Of course, beauty is not the only connection between these pioneering Winter Park institutions, as is evident by the planned joint celebration in October to commemorate the Garden’s anniversary and honor Rollins’ President Emeritus, Thaddeus Seymour. Read on to find out more about their ongoing history as partners in beautification, community building, and learning!


TheodoreMead&Flower                     Theodore Mead holding an allamanda (Photo:  Rollins College Archives)

Theodore L. Mead was a horticulturalist known for his work in growing and hybridizing plants such as the orchid—a challenging feat at the time. He settled in Oviedo, Florida, in 1886, working on his garden experiments and orange grove. Although his friendship with Edwin Grover, the “Professor of Books,” is Mead’s best-known connection with Rollins, his relationship with the College began as early as 1896 (before meeting Grover) when he was Special Lecturer in botany.1, 2

As a Scoutmaster in 1922, Mead met John Connery, a Boy Scout and future Rollins Tar. Connery soon became his “young disciple” both in the garden and in life. They spent years working together, and later following Mead’s death from a stroke in 1936, Connery came into possession of Mead’s bulb and plant collection.Their bond remained unbreakable even after Mead was gone. As a testament to this bond, Grover and Connery would soon set out to build a memorial garden to house Mead’s beloved plants and keep his legacy alive.

Page39This orchid photo was donated by Mead to the Rollins College Archives

The anticipated garden was not Mead’s only legacy. He cemented his connection to Rollins when he willed the contents of his scientific library, his personal papers, and letters to the College. Mead’s self-recorded contributions to various scientific fields serve as inspiration for generations of scientists to come! His dedication to learning and community was further underscored when he donated his carefully sectioned literary library to two public libraries and his multitude of beloved plants to a local park.4   (The park owners graciously waived their rights to the collection, and plans for the Garden proceeded.)


After proposing the idea of a memorial garden, Grover and Connery quickly settled on a swamp and its adjacent land in sunny Winter Park for the site. Whether it was a result of good luck or intensive research done by Connery, the land included many natural landscape features that perfectly suited a garden, including a brook, lake, and rookery. Much of it was also unused city and county land. They quickly appealed to various property owners to donate their land—and (amazingly) succeeded!5

breakinggroundmead                    Groundbreaking Ceremony at Mead Botanical Garden.                                      Fifth from the left is Edwin Grover, and John Connery is third from the right.          (Photo:  Rollins College Archives)

Clearing the swamp and preparing the land began in 1937, and the official groundbreaking ceremony marked the start of planting on January 9, 1938. Among the supporters of Mead Botanical Garden was Rollins’ President, Hamilton Holt, as well as many city, county, and state officials. They hoped the garden would become a “source of study” and represent Winter Park as a “place of culture and art.”6

MeadinHisGarden_OviedoMead in his garden in Oviedo (Photo:  Rollins College Archives)

The Garden officially opened on January 14, 1940. Like the groundbreaking ceremony, opening day was just as well attended, with many speeches made. After all his hard work in honoring his late mentor, Connery reflected in his short speech, “This is a great occasion for all of us.”7 The mayor of Orlando reiterated this feeling, stating, “[This Garden] is a memorial to Dr. Theodore Mead . . . and a tribute to the loyalty and tenacity of [John] and Mrs. Connery.” President Holt also acknowledged Grover and Connery, “who carried out Dr. Grover’s ideas” with special care.


In February of 1950, Mead Garden hosted “Fashions in the Garden,” where Grover gave a tour of the gardens, followed by Rollins students modelling in a pageant-style fashion show and ending with a “Fashion Show tea” for both the models and the crowd.8 In the following years, this became an annual event showcasing clothing and styles from local Winter Park businesses.

FashionsintheGardenThe women who participated in “Fashions in the Garden” included Rollins students                                           (from The Rollins Sandspur, 2/18/1950)


GroverEdwin88thBirthdayatMillsMemorialLibrary1958-06-04Edwin Grover’s 88th birthday party at Rollins College (Photo:  Rollins College Archives)

The year 1963 marked Grover’s 93rd birthday. That year he told the Winter Park Star that his wish was to see a renewed interest in Mead Garden. He spoke of his many physical and financial contributions to Mead Garden (even up until his 80th year of life), and how he wanted to see more continued support for the Garden in future years.9 Grover’s commitment to Mead’s memory and the community was a testament to both men’s enduring legacy in Winter Park.


 In the following years, the City of Winter Park took ownership of Mead Garden and in 1967, a plan was drawn to further develop the Garden. From the outside, it would “retain its natural woods-like appearance,” but inside it would benefit from a variety of new plants, landscaping, and greenhouses. By 1971, it was clear that the plan had been put on hold indefinitely due to lack of funding and some protests against moving away from the Garden’s more “natural state.” At the time, minor construction work was still being done to improve small areas.10

zarnaseejunglelilypoolUndated photo of the Zarnasee Jungle, lily pool, and island in Mead Garden           (Photo:  Rollins College Archives)

However, the Garden’s condition had declined by 1977, with its Director stating that he heard complaints about it “all the time.” By that point, only one person maintained all 55 acres that comprised the Garden. And while the Winter Park Mayor “denied that the [Garden was] neglected,” he also admitted that there were not enough funds to hire more personnel for the monumental tasks required for upkeep. The Garden also reportedly fell victim to thieves and vandals at this time. The one bright spot in this era of Mead Garden’s history was that in the summertime, Rollins and other local students and interns helped to spruce up the grounds.11


Following this darker period in the Garden’s history, Rollins actively contributed to efforts that helped to restore the Garden to its original glory. The late ‘80s and early ‘90s marked community events where students and other members of the community got down and dirty to clean up and beautify the Garden. It may have been a huge undertaking, but Rollins students were committed to serving the community for the greater good!12, 13, 14

MeadGardenandRollinsClippings_Page_1Poster advertising a beautification event in 1987 (from the Rollins College Archives)

 This partnership continued in 1992 and 1993, when Winter Park officials asked the students to map out a “Braille trail for sight impaired visitors,” as well as, “identif[y] 16 sites for educational stations” on the trail. Officials were so impressed with the students’ work that they were asked to contribute to more city projects! This included planting test sites with drought-resistant plants to instruct homeowners about how to keep their yards pretty with minimal water usage. Another project called for designing a plan for a paved path between Winter Park’s Showalter Field and Orlando Fashion Square Mall.16


BotanyClass2015Prof. Eric Engstrom giving his students directions for their biology exam in Mead Garden                                                          (Photo by Scott Cook)

In the present day, Rollins alumni, students, faculty, and staff have not forgotten that the Garden is ripe with opportunities for study and creativity. In October of last year, a general education art class visited the garden for “a source of inspiration and imagination.”15 Furthermore, earlier this year, a biology class had their practical exam at Mead Garden, allowing students to study the plants and animals there firsthand.16 It would certainly not be a surprise to run into someone from Rollins while strolling through the Garden!

 Past, Present, and Future

Mead Botanical Garden and Rollins College have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for nearly eight decades. Although there were some hard times, Theodore Mead’s legacy, which Edwin Grover and John Connery sought to immortalize in the Garden, is still going strong in Winter Park. And the Garden’s connection with Rollins has blossomed over the years as the two institutions have partnered to provide opportunities to the community for learning and culture. It is our hope that this relationship will be nurtured for many more years to come. In the blink of an eye, the Garden will turn 100 years old, and Rollins will be there to celebrate with the rest of the Winter Park community!

The final words of Mead’s autobiography perfectly encapsulate Grover and Connery’s vision for Rollins’ enduring relationship with Mead Garden, “Loving labor is never quite lost . . . but I feel that warm friends . . . are ever ready to carry on.”17

~ by Anna Ton, Archival Volunteer

Special Thanks to D. Moore & R. WaltonI couldn’t have done this without you guys! You’re amazing!

1 Eduard Gfeller, “Paul Butler talks about Mead and Grover,” Video,, April 26, 2014.

2 “Mead, Theodore Luqueer” (Catalogue Card, Rollins College Archives).

3 Edwin Osgood Grover, “The Making of a Botanical Garden,” Parks & Recreation (1948): 451-457.

4 “The Last Will and Testament of Theodore L. Mead” (Print, Rollins College Archives, 1933).

5 “75 years of Mead Botanical Garden,” date accessed September 3, 2015,

6 “Ground Broken for Mead Park,” The Sunday Sentinel-Star, January 9, 1938.

7 Elaine Klepper, “Hundreds Stroll Thru Mead Gardens on Opening Day,” Orlando Morning Sentinel, January 15, 1940.

8 Skook Bailey, “Rollins Beauties Model at Gardens,” The Rollins Sandspur, February 17, 1950.

9 Nick White, “Mead Garden Founder is 93,” Winter Park Star, June 5, 1963.

10 Don Mead, “Mead Gardens Expand Plans Gather Dust,” Winter Park Sentinel, May 16, 1971.

11 Sherry Andrews, “Mead Gardens,” the little sentinel, May 11, 1977.

12 “Clean and Seed for the Love of Mead” (Poster, Rollins College Archives, 1987).

13 Bill Morse, “Mead Gardens needs you!” The Rollins Sandspur, February 28, 1990.

14 Karen Pankowski, “Mead Garden trail will give senses a workout,” The Orlando Sentinel, February 28, 1993.

15 “Rollins Art Classroom Extends to Mead Garden,” October 2014, Mead Botanical Garden,

16 Meredith V. Wellmeier, “Photos: An Exam on the Flora of Florida,” Rollins360, March 11, 2015,

17 Theodore L. Mead, Naturalist, Entomologist and Plantsman: An Autobiography (1935), 14.

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Where to Find the Freshest Memories

Jana Matthews, Ph.D and her RCC class look through Rollins Archive photos in search of early unidentified pictures for ghost story inspiration. Photo:Scott CookStudents examining records in the Archives (photo by Scott Cook)

Last week, The New York Times featured an article about the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and their efforts to preserve and share their memories with others (“Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivors Pass Their Stories to a New Generation”). I was surprised to read that some survivors have entrusted their memories of this event to “denshosha”:  younger people who are designated to speak on their behalf and tell their stories.

Hiromi Hasai, who was 14 years old at the time of the bombing, is one such survivor.  According to the Times, he would like denshosha to also relate the stories of witnesses who are no longer alive, but whose accounts of the bombing, collected soon after the war, are preserved in the archives of Hiroshima’s Peace Museum. “There are all kinds of records, but how many people actually seek them out?” Mr. Hasai says, adding, “The freshest memories are stuck in an archive.”

This statement strikes a particular chord with me.  As an Archival Specialist, one of the first lessons I learned from our Archivist is that our role is to preserve and provide access to the archival records, then let them speak for themselves. And I have found that they do:  a photo, a letter, or a news story from long ago–to an archivist, these are “primary sources”:  items from eyewitnesses or participants in history, offering a firsthand account of events. But such a technical term fails to convey the powerful impact these records can have on those who encounter them in the Archives.

A photo of a relative, seen for the first time; a letter in a family member’s handwriting; or a story published long ago in our student newspaper, The Sandspur, can be profoundly moving to our visitors. The term “archive” may sound a bit dull and lifeless, but actually, it’s a place alive with voices and memories, where an event or a person from the past often seems to spring vividly back to life for a moment.

ReminiscencesFiles_002The “Rollins Reminiscences” files (left)

Some of our earliest students and faculty have left behind written reminiscences or letters describing their days at Rollins. I have shared some of these memories in our blog posts over the years, such as those of William Webster Lloyd, who taught class on the very first day the College opened. He later recorded his reaction to his first sight of the new, unfinished campus:  “The non-existence of the college buildings shown on the prospectus of Winter Park was a chilling shock.”

I also sympathized with the story of Henry “Hank” Mowbray, class of 1897, who waged a tough campaign to have the College colors changed to blue and gold, in the hope of winning the heart of his classmate, Marie. More than 50 years later, he wrote, “It still brings tears to my eyes, and today I hope to your eyes, that after all this labor of mine, for her, the ungrateful Miss Marie transferred her affections from me to my rival, Ernest Missildine. How bitter life is!”

We are lucky to have some of these early voices preserved on reel-to-reel audiorecordings, and that we have a machine in working order to listen to them. It was exciting to play one of these last year and clearly hear the voice of Ida May Missildine (one of the two members of the first graduating class of 1890) reminiscing about her student days, when Rollins had just been founded. And I find it moving to hear the voice of Pres. Hamilton Holt delivering his last speech at Rollins, as he left the presidency after 24 years.

There are many more Rollins memories saved in this format that we have yet to hear.  (Today such interviews are saved in our Oral History Archive, which is much more accessible.)

ReeltoReelTapesSome of the reel-to-reel recordings in the Archives

The work of an archivist, is, of course, a human undertaking and therefore imperfect. Not everything makes it into the record; some stories will be lost. Sometimes sources contradict one another. But this human aspect of the Archives is also the source of its emotional power:  whether amusing, inspiring, or heartbreaking, each photograph, document, or recording has its own story to tell. Give them your attention, and they will speak to you.

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

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Arriving in the Literary World: Letters from Rex Beach

Beachc1894-95Cropped2Reduced             Rex Beach ’97 ’27H, circa 1894-1895.  Rex Beach Hall is named in his honor.

The Archives is happy to have recently received several letters written by our alumnus, Rex Beach, at the start of his writing career. After leaving Rollins in 1896, he studied law briefly in Chicago before joining the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska. His experiences there led to his career as a prolific writer of adventure stories. As The New York Times described it, “He found gold in the Yukon, but practically all of it was literary” (The New York Times, 12/8/1949).

Our letters are all addressed to John D. “Jack” Leedy, a miner Mr. Beach had known in Alaska. By the time they were written, Beach had experienced his first taste of success, and both its highs and lows are reflected in these letters to the man he called “the only real pardner I ever had or ever expect to have” (Letter to John D. Leedy, September 6, 1907).

LeedyJohnfromGoogleBooksResized2        John D. Leedy (Photo: Harrison, E. S.  Nome and Seward Peninsula.  Seattle, WA: Рипол Классик, n.d.  Via Google Books)

In the first letter, written from Chicago in January 1906 (but dated 1905), Beach catches his friend up on recent events in his life, saying, “Let me see, Well, I guess I have ‘arrived’ in the literary world, from what the papers and magazines say about me.” Not only had “scurrilous stories” appeared, but “critics have begun to rail at my style and call me a cheap skate, newspapers have printed dreams regarding the size of my bank roll, and all of my friends have begun to borrow money, by which unfailing signs I am growing to see that I have done something, or what is just as good, made them think I have done something.”

RexBeachResized                  Rex Beach in an undated photo (from the Rollins College Archives)

He often wrote of financial matters to his friend, and in this letter he reports that as a result of “taking a bundle of mss. under my arm and floating to New York to sting the publishers,” he had come out “about Ten Thou to the good” (equivalent to over $261,000 in today’s currency).  This he called “the best cleanup any dark horse ever made in Gotham.”

A further mark of his success came in an invitation to “the great dinner given to Mark Twain” to celebrate his 70th birthday, “the biggest affair of the kind ever pulled off and all the literary guys were right there at the ring side with their chins on the canvas.”  The dinner, held at New York’s famous restaurant, Delmonico’s, was the subject of a special souvenir edition of Harper’s Weekly.  Mr. Beach was one of the speakers that evening, and though he was “a bit leary [sic]” and “felt that I was fighting out of my class,” “I stuck till the bell and got the decision. . . They say I was the only one to make old Mark laugh, and gave me second place. He took first money with the greatest speech I ever heard. . .”

MarkTwains70thBirthday1905ResizedRex Beach, third from the right, at Mark Twain’s 70th birthday dinner, December 5, 1905 (Photo: “Mark Twain’s Seventieth Birthday.”  Harper’s Weekly 23 Dec. 1905: 1907. Via Google Books )

His first Broadway production came soon afterwards.  In a letter written from New York’s Hotel Algonquin in March 1907, he asks, “Do you remember riding up Broadway with me one night in a car, when I said to Nellie [Mrs. Leedy], ‘Gee!  I’d like to have a play on B’way, and see my electric sign gleaming’?  Well!  It came sooner than I dreamed.” The play was The Spoilers, adapted from his best-selling novel. Beach reported that “the papers were about half for and half against the piece,” and a search of The New York Times historical database reveals that the paper was not very complimentary. A review printed on March 12, 1907, describes the play as a gun-filled drama that proved to be full of “slow fingers at the trigger. . . Persons who stick their fingers in their ears as soon as they see a shooting iron on the stage need have no hesitancy about going to the New York [Theatre] to see ‘The Spoilers.’ As soon as a gun appears in one man’s hands another man takes it away from him.”  Though Beach noted the mixed reviews, he wrote Leedy that he believed the production would “make a lot of money yet, and meanwhile I’m getting at other things.”

TheTheatreApril1907CroppedA scene from The Spoilers (Photo: “The Current Plays.” The Theater Magazine  Apr. 1907: 93.  Via Google Books )

The “other things” included writing a new play for producer Charles Frohman and another novel due by September.  “My plans are many and fearful for the summer,” he wrote. In addition to his literary projects, there were “a few mining interests in Nevada” and “that lawsuit” involving his holdings in Alaska.  A profile of Beach in The New York Times that same month describes him as someone “who makes you feel that he will do great things,” (3/9/1907) and the letters definitely give the impression that he was determined not to overlook any opportunities.

In November 1908, he wrote that he would soon be moving into a new house, “the most beautiful, inside, that I have ever seen, for the first two stories have parquet floors, the wood work is immense and the walls are in tapestry and brocaded satin. There is a silver electric light fixture in the dining room which cost $1400 and other things to match.” The house cost Beach $50,000 (the equivalent of more than $1.3 million today).  Recalling his childhood in Florida,”when I used to wade through the sand burrs to our squatter’s shack on the ‘Garrison’ at Tampa, in time to feed the chickens and ‘slop’ the hogs,” he wrote of an old dream of heading North, where he planned to “live in big cities and spend money–lots of money, maybe two thousand dollars worth, and have a house made of stone.” He continued, “I used to dream and dream until the fleas recalled me to the fact that I was bare-footed and a long ways away from the ‘North.'”

“Well, dreams sometimes come true.  What I want to make it perfect, is to have you and the Mrs. visit me in my own place where I can take you around in the automobile and where there are good things to drink and big long cigars to smoke and big sleepy chairs to sit and tell stories in” (Letter to John D. Leedy, Nov. 24, 1908).

We don’t know whether the two friends ever had a chance to do this, though this passage does bring to mind another one of Beach’s commercial ventures:

BeachRexCigarBoxLabelResized                            Rex Beach cigar box label (from the Rollins College Archives)

Mr. Beach’s letters to John Leedy are held in the Rex Beach Collection in the College Archives.  The collection is available to researchers upon request.

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist




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Words from Rollins Veterans, 1945

RollofHonorwithHolt    Pres. Hamilton Holt (center) at the Rollins College Roll of Honor, erected in 1943, listing the names of all Rollins men and women serving in the Armed Forces                                           (please click on the images to enlarge them).

In October 1945, The Sandspur announced a writing contest: “Ever since veterans first began to come back to Rollins last year we have wondered time and time again, just how college life seemed after months or years of day-to-day living, living under combat conditions, where the most vital concern of each individual was to obey orders and somehow stay alive. Those of us who have not experienced this, no matter how much we read or hear on the subject, will never be able to fully grasp what this means, what it does to a man’s thinking, how it affects his views and his philosophy of life. Neither can we see college life and class room discussions from the same perspective. For this reason, we of the Sandspur believe that it would be of interest to everyone at Rollins to know how a veteran sees Rollins. . .”  Two or three of the best entries would be published in The Sandspur, and the one judged best would win a prize of five dollars.

Veterans were very much a part of campus life at this time.  One hundred twenty-two of the 534 students enrolled in 1945-1946 were ex-servicemen, making them almost 25 percent of the student population.

AlumniRecordMarch1946Cropped               Some of the 122 ex-servicemen studying at Rollins in 1945-1946,                                       as they appeared on the cover of the March 1946 issue of The Rollins Alumni Record.

The three selected entries, presented here as they originally appeared in The Sandspur, discuss many aspects of veterans’ College experiences.  The first addresses some of the differences between ex-servicemen and other students.

VeteransEssay1945-11-07                                                                   November 7, 1945

The second essay is a very personal story of a veteran’s experience of war and its aftermath.

VeteransEssay1945-11-14_01                                                       VeteransEssay1945-11-14_002                                                                 November 14, 1945

The third editorial offers a perspective on what veterans need from others as they resume their postwar lives and pursue their goals.

VeteransEssay1945-11-21                                                          November 21, 1945

The Rollins Roll of Honor is no longer on our campus, but we do have a Veterans Memorial (pictured below).  It was given to the College by Rollins veteran William F. Koch, Jr. ’49 and his wife, Mary Lou Sommer Koch ’48, in honor of all those at Rollins who have served.


~ by D. M. Moore, Archival Specialist






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