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Florida Celebrates 30 Years: 1984-2014

February 14, 2014

Northwood’s University’s most diverse residential campus looks forward to a bright future as it embraces its rich history

By Dr. Tom Duncan, Northwood University Florida President

Dr. Tom Duncan

Although the Northwood Idea was alive and well when the university’s Florida campus first opened for classes in March, 1984, the institution’s dense swamp land wasn’t the tropical oasis that it is now.  As Dr. Cheryl Pridgeon remembers, “I recall several of my Northwood Florida first years, and they begin with my drive into campus for my first interview.  Back then the front part of the property was not cleared, and there was no beautiful palm tree, flag-lined, nicely landscaped drive into the campus,” states Pridgeon. “Instead, the drive curved through dense woods.  For a moment back then, I began to think I was on the set of the movie Deliverance and wondered if there was even a school here,” laughed the Philosophy and Humanities professor.

While the campus has retained its native beauty — complete with iguanas, raccoons, turtles, wild ducks, and the occasional alligator — Professor Mike Tuttle, who was the second faculty member hired, shares that the Florida campus’s amenities have come a long way. “The first faculty offices were in a portable trailer that also housed the bookstore and other offices. Another portable housed the development office.”  Tuttle added, “One would have to time one’s phone calls in between air conditioning ‘on’ cycles so that the conversation could be heard.”

Dr. David E. Fry, Northwood University’s former president who now serves as President Emeritus, remembers the people and events that surrounded the creation of the Florida campus:  “About 1980, co-founders Dr. R. Gary Stauffer and Arthur E. Turner envisioned that a Northwood expansion from its Michigan and Texas campuses to Florida would contribute a wonderful combination of a dense international environment and strong support in the community for private enterprise,” recalled Fry.  “Dr. Turner had been working with several people who could be the founding donors. Money for the land was secured, and the founders immediately focused on the potential of business executive education in the newly built Dalby Commons.”

The first classes at Northwood Florida were held at its Dalby Commons.

It was the prospect of sharing the ideals of free-enterprise, capitalism, and entrepreneurship with students from across the globe that inspired Northwood University leaders to revise their original plan to use the Florida property as a business conference center.  Pressing forward, they steadfastly worked toward making the Florida campus a full-service, residential campus on the 100 acre property.  Fry states, “When I became president in 1982, it seemed right to ‘shoot for the stars’ and to build a West Palm Beach campus with the idea that the best and brightest from around the world would call it home.  We managed to get that started and the response was terrific.”

What drew those first students to Northwood Florida when it still was a jungle outpost, and before the completion of its first permanent buildings and pristine landscaping? “They believed in the Northwood Idea,” said Pridgeon.  “They, as trailblazing students, and the donors who also believed in the Northwood Idea and wanted to build a campus for these students, have left their legacy in every building, organization, and tradition they established and nurtured.  Our present-day students benefit from their contributions, and more exciting, they now join the creation process to develop better buildings, organizations, and traditions for those students who will follow,” she reflected.

Now, in 2014 with one-third of its undergraduate students coming from other countries, Northwood Florida continues to fill a special niche in the ONE Northwood system of campuses and programs, with its focus on international business and related programs.

Dr. Tom Duncan, current President of Northwood Florida, believes in the campus’s unique contributions to ONE Northwood:  “Business in the 21st Century truly is global in scope.  Our students at Northwood Florida get to sit in classes with students from all over the world, and learn how the values of free-enterprise and entrepreneurship can ‘work’ in countries with different practices and cultures.”

Duncan added, “What an advantage our students have to learn about international business within a context of international practices and cultures.  I believe our students will stand out in the marketplace because of their experiences on the campus,” he added.

Professors Mike Tuttle and Cheryl Pridgeon enjoy a commencement ceremony in the early 1990's.

Thirty years after its first college-level classes were offered, Northwood University Florida can look back with gratitude for all the donors and friends that have made the campus what it is today.  As President Duncan states, “The Florida campus is poised for significant growth in programs and enrollments over the next few years.  The dream that our early leaders had for Florida as a special focus of international education and global programming is being fulfilled, and may well expand greatly in the years just ahead.”

“I am thankful for the vision of our founders to see that a Northwood University campus in South Florida could be a launching pad for significant educational programming, and a special attraction to international student,” Duncan added.  “We are excited about our future.  More than anything, we see ourselves fulfilling the Northwood Idea by exposing hundreds of students each year to Northwood values and to free enterprise.”

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