By Katie Garwood | firstname.lastname@example.org
Few college presidents can say they’ve witnessed the growth of their school from its crucial formative years through to present day.
It’s likely even fewer can say they’ve attended every graduation ceremony in school history.
In President William Abare’s 45 years at Flagler College, he’s done just that. But in June, his time at Flagler–where he’s spent more than half his life–will come to an end as he retires.
“There’s so much of my life that’s been invested in Flagler College that it’s very difficult for me to see the end of that,” Abare said. “Particularly as president, it’s a position I have enjoyed enormously, it’s a great honor, it’s a great privilege to serve as president of the college.”
Although he’s only spent 15 of his 45 years as president, in that time, he’s overseen monumental changes and developments for the college he’s been with since before its initial accreditation.
Abare arrived in St. Augustine 1971 as dean of admissions to an unaccredited college with 223 students, 215 of which were women, and two buildings–Ponce Hall and Markland House. But that wasn’t unexpected for Abare. The challenge of a building up a fledgling school was “appealing” to him.
“It was a formidable challenge and it certainly tested my administrative abilities, my management skills and my ability to recruit students,” he said.
William Proctor, who initially hired Abare as dean of admissions, said the college couldn’t have gotten off the ground without him.
“The more I got into it, the more I realized Bill had a competitive, tenacious way of going about things,” Proctor said. “He had a lung deflate up in New England one time and he didn’t come back, he just went in and got it pumped up and kept recruiting.”
Throughout the decades Abare spent at Flagler, the college’s initial accreditation in 1973 is a memory that stands out to him.
It was the make-or-break moment for the fledgling institution. If it was accredited, Flagler would become a “real” institution. If not, the college would cease to exist.
“We really were flying in on a wing and a prayer,” Proctor said.
Roughly all 400 students, faculty and staff were gathered in the dining hall, listening to a phone hooked up to a speaker, waiting for Abare and William Proctor–who was president at the time–to deliver news from the accreditation board in Houston. Proctor came over the speakers and said, “we did it.” Abare recalled the whole dining hall “burst out cheering, everybody was so excited, it was such a great thing.”
From there, the college would continue to grow, and Abare would continue to move his way up the ranks. He became executive vice president in 1989 and a few years later took on the role of dean of academic affairs before being tapped for the presidency. In 2001, Proctor stepped down as president, and Abare took over.
During his tenure, especially as president, Abare witnessed the campus grow astronomically from the two buildings he arrived to in 1971. As president, he oversaw the construction of a number of campus buildings including Cedar Hall, the Ringhaver Student Center, Hanke Hall and Pollard Hall, as well as the acquisition and renovation of the FEC buildings. Under his administration, the college’s athletic field and locker room complex was completed and Flagler moved its athletic membership from NAIA to NCAA Division II.
During his presidency, Abare increased enrollment and the college’s endowment. The college added eight majors, five minors, and the first master’s program in deaf education.
For his efforts in historic preservation of the Ponce de Leon Hotel and other historic structures on campus, Abare received the Evelyn Fortune Bartlett Award from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.
Proctor said Abare’s strong character is something that’s persisted since he met him in the 70s.
“He’s bright, he is an extremely kind person,” he said. “But if I had one single word, I think it would be loyalty. It’s just his nature, his character, it’s just built into him.”
Even with his numerous accomplishments for the college, Abare said there’s still things he wishes he had done. He said he would have liked to have seen the science program developed more, possibly adding programs in allied health, expand on-campus living, possibly adding a two-year requirement for students to live on campus and further develop the athletics program, including an intramural sports complex.
“I just frankly ran out of time,” Abare said, adding that these things are “absolutely” possible for the college.
But for the future of the institution, Abare doesn’t see extreme changes coming.
“In many ways, I see Flagler staying the course,” he said. “I don’t think students come to Flagler to take online classes. I don’t think students come to Flagler to have 1,200 students in a class and sit in some large auditorium and take bubble-in tests … I think students come here because of the experience. I think they want this more personal experience.”
Abare’s successor, Joseph Joyner, former superintendent for St. Johns County Schools will take over in fall 2017. Abare will take on a role in an advisory capacity and aid the transition between the two leaders. Abare said it’s crucial for a new president to get a feel for the school’s culture, to get to know as many people on campus as possible and most importantly: listen.
As for Abare, retired life will be an adjustment from what he’s used to. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. and working 70 to 80 hours a week isn’t exactly the norm for a retiree. Abare said he will miss his job, but looks forward to entering a new chapter in his life where he can spend more time with his family, travel, play more golf and start to make a dent in the stack of novels in his office he’s never had the time to read.
“There’s so much of my life that’s been invested in Flagler College that it’s very difficult for me to see the end of that,” he said. “So I’m sort of looking forward to [retirement] but I’m also going to miss a lot of what I do now.”