Telling America’s Stories

“Academics don’t usually publish books that get national attention — you hope, but don’t dare expect it,” says Jack Emerson Davis, UF professor of environmental history and sustainability studies. “I hoped for book reviews in The New York Times.

The Gulf — The Making of an American Sea, Davis’ latest book, exceeded his expectations. Not only did it get reviewed in The New York Times, but it also made the cover of The New York Times Book Review, saying, “In Davis’s hands, the story reads like a watery version of the history of the American West. Both places saw Spanish incursions from the south, mutual incomprehension in the meeting of Europeans and aboriginals, waves of disease that devastated the natives and a relentless quest by the newcomers for the raw materials of empire. There were scoundrels and hucksters, booms and busts, senseless killing in sublime landscapes and a tragic belief in the inexhaustible bounty of nature.”

In addition, The Gulf won the Kirkus Prize, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, was a New York Times Notable Book, and made a number of other “best of” lists in national publications. (See our book review.)
The Gulf is Davis’ eighth book. Two of his books focus on race relations and civil rights. When Davis was working on his PhD at Brandeis University in the early 1990s, he vacillated between specializing in environmental history or race relations. Both fields interested him, but environmental history was in its nascent stage. “I decided strategically to put myself on the market as a race relations historian who could do environmental history,” he says.

As it turned out, Davis’ first job was at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. “I was the first environmental historian they hired,” says Davis. “And I ended up in Pinellas County, where I grew up.” Davis then taught at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he directed the Environmental Studies Program before coming to UF in 2003 — where he also was the first environmental historian the university hired.

Davis is a committed academic who chose to publish with a trade press because he believed The Gulf was an important book that should have a readership outside of the academy. “This book is about America and its relationship with its sea,” he says. “I was very conscious about bringing in historical figures from the Northeast, Midwest, even the British Isles, to show how Americans, and not just Gulf siders, are a part of the Gulf of Mexico history, how the Gulf of Mexico was, as nature was, a historical agent that shaped the lives of people who not just dwelled beside its waters but people from other parts of the country.”

When Davis first conceived of The Gulf, the Deepwater Horizon accident that dumped 130 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico had not yet happened. That Davis was writing a history of the Gulf around the same time that the largest oil spill in history was having a profoundly deleterious effect on his subject was coincidental, and it gave him a focus not to be about the spill, which he says, “seemed to rob the Gulf of Mexico of its true identity, and I wanted to restore it, to show people that the Gulf is more than an oil spill, more than a sun beach. It’s got a rich, natural history connected to Americans, and it’s not integrated into the larger American historical narrative. That’s a wrong I wanted to correct.”

Davis’ next book is Bird of Paradox — How the Bald Eagle Saved the Soul of America, a natural and cultural history of the bald eagle. Says Davis, “I want to flesh out the connection between nature and national identity.”

Independent and Intrepid

Olivia Allen ’19 always knew she would major in psychology, an area of study that fascinated her. During her sophomore year at UF, she was looking for classes to complement psychology when she discovered Skeleton Keys: Introduction to Forensic Anthropology, a class she loved and loved even more when Professor Steven Brandt visited and talked about a study-abroad opportunity at UF’s archeological dig site in Ethiopia. “His photos were beautiful,” says Allen. “The living conditions weren’t going to be that great, but the trip was going to be a life-changing experience. It spoke to me in a weird way.”

“The choices I make are my own. I’ve come to appreciate the value of my education even more, and I can see my end goal.”

Allen wasn’t sure that she could afford the trip — she is putting herself through college — but when she found out that it was “decently priced,” she signed up. “The only problem was that I’d never been out of the country before,” she says. “In fact, I haven’t even traveled to that many states.”

Nonetheless, at the beginning of Spring semester 2017, Allen got a passport, packed work clothes and sensible shoes, and joined nine other students for what indeed was a life-changing experience. “I was completely shocked by Ethiopia,” says Allen, “the sounds, the smells, the food. I couldn’t understand a word of Amharic. The language barrier was terrifying, but in an interesting way.” The students worked at the dig, laboriously sifting through dirt, cleaning any ancient stone tools or bits of bone they found, and carefully logging their daily activity and findings.

“We worked from 9 to 4 every day during the week and sometimes on Saturdays,” Allen says. “Each day, we would wake up and hike to the site. I never hiked before. I never climbed a mountain. I never worked so hard in my entire life.” The first time she hiked to the site, Allen says she complained about it. “The kids here hike three miles to school every day,” she says. “I realized the things we complain about are ridiculous. The poverty in Ethiopia is difficult to experience.”

When the UF team was ready to return to the States, they left the dig in Wolaita Sodo and spent a week in the capital, Addis Ababa. “We had running water and clean sheets,” she says. “We realized that we took everything for granted. The people there live with less than basic necessities.”
Allen says that after Ethiopia, she feels she can do anything. A perfectionist who used to cry when she didn’t get a good grade in middle school, she says, “I was always so afraid of failure. Ethiopia changed that for me. I also used to think everything was set in stone, but then I traveled and realized I could be happy in other ways. There are many doors I never considered before opened to me.”

Allen is now a dual major in psychology and anthropology, with a career goal set on counseling psychology. She also now volunteers as a study-abroad peer adviser and as a member of She’s the First, an organization that promotes women’s education in developing countries, as well as being a member of Chi Omega. In addition, she has an academic dispensation to work 30 hours a week. “My parents didn’t go to college,” she says. “They love me, but I support myself. I don’t resent it. The choices I make are my own. I’ve come to appreciate the value of my education even more, and I can see my end goal.”

Lea Blackwell ’96

Breast surgical oncologist Lea Blackwell has been treating both women and men with breast cancer since 2008. Wanting to find a way to make their recovery more comfortable, she developed the Blackwell Bra.

What inspired you to invent the Blackwell Bra?

When I did my surgical training, we wrapped patients in an Ace Elastic Bandage. In my fellowship training, we had a surgical compression bra that we instructed the patients to wear for six weeks. When I started my surgical practice in Fort Myers, we used a surgical bra with a front Velcro closure. Every patient complained — it was uncomfortable but more uncomfortable without it. I started wondering if I could make my own bra.

Have you received a patent for your invention?

In May of 2011, patent attorneys advised me I had a patentable idea. In November of 2011, I applied for a patent for my “post-operative compression bra” and received my first patent in July, 2014. I now have three additional patents. I have two more items, a bra for women after heart and lung surgery that I’m calling the Thoracic Compression Bra and the Drain Apron, to help manage drain bulbs after surgery. I have the trademark on “Blackwell Bra” and one pending for “Dr. Blackwell.”

What makes the Blackwell Bra unique?

I was looking for a certain feel on the skin and ordered wick- away nylon and spandex compression fabric from Italy. The bra uses clasps instead of Velcro, which provide adjustability in the front and are easier for the patient to snap closed. It has mesh pockets to accommodate the drains. If patients don’t have drains, they can use the mesh pockets for ice packs. Because the patient is wearing the bra 24 hours a day, it can be hot, which is uncomfortable for the patient, so I added a mesh panel in the back of the bra to ventilate the bra. Additionally, all of the other post-surgical bras were designed with a wide band of fabric on the side, which aggravates the incision sites under the arms. The Blackwell Bra’s lower side fabric minimizes interference with the incisions. My accessory product, the Drain Apron, is helpful for patients who have drains, which are cumbersome. The Drain Apron is helpful to accommodate the drains when patients are taking showers. All of the bras are made in bright colors — I feel it’s positive and lifts their spirits. Women tell me that the bra is comfortable, and that they feel protected.

What challenges were there in making the bra?

It turns out that the bra is one of the more complex items to make in textiles. It’s not easy nding a manufacturer, and I prefer to make them in the U.S. Since 2013, I’ve worked with a seamstress who makes bras for my patients. I’ve given away more than a thousand bras since 2014. Working with the seamstress has helped me to modify the bra to improve the fit and feel. I have a bra designer working with me to facilitate manufacturing and hope to have them ready for sale by the end of 2018.

For more information, go to www.blackwellbra.com

Double Gator calls winning Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction an “unbelievable joy.”

Author James Grippando ’80, JD’82 says that winning the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction in 2017 for his novel Gone Again (reviewed in the Fall 2016 issue of Ytori) was the most exciting thing ever to happen to him in his career as an attorney and as a best-selling novelist.

“I am honored and humbled,” says Grippando, who lives in Coral Gables, Fla. “The coolest thing is you get a signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her old friends came to the ceremony [held at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa], and it’s pretty surreal to get this prize and congratulations from her friends.”

Gone Again tackles the issue of the death penalty and innocence, and in this novel, race. Attorney Jack Swyteck, the protagonist of 14 of Grippando’s 26 novels and a Gator himself, must defend Dylan Reeves, a man on death row wrongfully convicted of murdering teenager Sashi Burgette, whose body was never found.

“Having a character like Jack Swyteck in 14 novels and winning an award based on a Swyteck novel was an unbelievable joy for me,” says Grippando. “I would defy anyone to guess where I stand on capital punishment based on my novels, but people always ask. My view has evolved. In 2015, I was shocked to discover 58 convictions in homicide cases had been overturned and the average length of time a wrongly convicted person served was 141⁄2 years in prison.”

Grippando says he honed his writing skills in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences honors program, led by English professor Sid Homan.

“We wrote a paper a week, and Sid would read them aloud to us,” recalls Grippando. “There’s nothing more painful than hearing and watching someone trip over your own bad sentence. I still edit my own work that way — reading it aloud. It stuck with me.”

Most of Grippando’s novels are set in Florida, and he frequently draws on his experiences from his college days, whether it’s tubing down the Ichetucknee River or observing student protests at Tigert Hall.

His latest novel, A Death in Live Oak, is set at the University of Florida where Jamal Cousin, the president of the preeminent black fraternity, is found hogtied and lynched, hanging above the Suwannee River. This act — inspired by a lynching in Live Oak in the 1940s — sparks a firestorm across the state and the nation, putting Jack in the Atticus Finch-like position of defending an unpopular client in a racially-charged environment.

“Since I’m writing a thriller, the stakes need to be as high as they can be,” says Grippando. “I knew it had to be set at the flagship university in whatever state I based it in. In this case, it was the University of Florida. I’m proud to say that I went to that flagship university.”

The idea for Live Oak percolated in Grippando’s mind for years, but it migrated to the forefront when his son, Ryan, was applying to colleges. Grippando was disturbed by the amount of racially-motivated hate crimes happening on college campuses throughout the country.

“Any writer will tell you the old adage, ‘Write what you know.’ It also means, ‘Write what you worry about,’” he says. “Jack Swyteck, as a character, had never addressed the issue of racism in America. I like to take on timely subject matters. I don’t preach. I present the topic as realistically as possible. I’m happy to say that many people think it’s the best book I’ve written.”

See book review. To learn more about Jack Swyteck and Grippando, visit www. jamesgrippando.com.

Books

The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, Jack E. Davis

gulf

2018, Liveright

The Gulf of Mexico is both unusual and important, geologically, ecologically, economically, and historically. UF history professor Jack Davis weaves all those together in this brilliant and unprecedented story of the Gulf. He brings in commentary from luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway and Rachel Carson, and most importantly the artist Winslow Homer, whose painting “Shell Heap” provides a compelling through- line and visual metaphor for the book. Davis organizes the book by characteristics of the Gulf, matching each with a historical character. The cast includes ethnologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, and sherman Leonard Destin. Through artfully told stories balanced with scienti c and historical detail, Davis proves that the Gulf of Mexico is indeed an American sea. (See profile. Late addition: The Gulf won a Pulitzer!)

 

Rosie Girl, Julie Shepard ’90

book cover of Rosie Girl

2017, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

UF alumna Julie Shepard’s portrait of a teenage girl forgoes typical coming-of-age poignancy for a compelling dark comedy
of a young woman whose ventures into vices and questionable alliances form the shape of her search for her birth mother. Written with biting wit in the first-person perspective of Shepard’s anti-heroine Rosie, who is surrounded by characters in shades of grey, the novel alternates between brisk dialogue, humorous musings by Rosie, and immersive passages of sense memory and introspection. Rosie Girl offers a progressive reveal of each character’s secrets and, ultimately, a resonant portrayal of human longing and fallibility.

 

A Death in Live Oak, James Grippando ’80, JD’82

book cover of Death in Live Oak

2018, HarperCollins

In this decidedly Floridian addition to the Jack Swyteck series, James Grippando ’80, JD’82 sends his defense-attorney hero on a timely journey through racial tensions in central Florida, tying a historical nonfiction prologue about the 1944 lynching of 15-year-old Willie James Howard to his deftly labyrinthine legal fiction novel. Packed with dry wit and flippant descriptions of Florida life and culture, Grippando effectively broaches uncomfortable themes with legal prowess and the immense personality of his hero. (See profile )

 

Dante, Columbus and the Prophetic Tradition: Spiritual Imperialism in the Italian Imagination, Mary Alexandra Watt

book cover for Dante, Columbus and the Prophetic Tradition

2017, Routledge

Mary Watt, UF professor of Italian studies and associate dean of UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, brings
together discussions of Christian apocalyptic dogma, Dante’s religious imagination, and imperialist ethos to explore the complicated character and dubious claims of Christopher Columbus. Drawing upon Columbus’ and his contemporaries’ various writings, Watt shows how perceptions of reality in Columbus’ era were inextricably tied to prevailing religious and pre-scientific ideology, and Columbus’ ambition an extension thereof. She also delves into historico-literary analysis of Dante’s formative role in contemporary conceptions of heaven and hell. She concludes by examining the incorporation of the Columbus character into his own epic, written by Tommaso Stigliani to affirm Italian imperialism.

 

An African American and Latinx History of the United States, Paul Ortiz

book cover

2018, G.P. Beacon Press

Paul Ortiz, UF history professor and director of UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (see article), gives a sweeping and people-first overview of the United States from the abolitionist era to the election of Barack Obama, contextualized in the voices and activities of African American and Latinx leaders. Each page is packed with quotes from primary materials, creating a 189-page volume of dialogue that Ortiz uses not only for his driving argument that American exceptionalism is a myth, but also to demonstrate that history itself is socially constructed. In the vein of Howard Zinn, Ortiz offers a history of America’s civil rights that emphasizes minority voices and provides a roadmap for further progress.

 

Dodgers, Bill Beverly MFA’91

book cover for Dodgers

2016, Broadway Books

While there really is no such thing as an American diaspora, the citizenry cannot deny what this great American experiment has birthed — a nation of independents and dependents, haves and have-nots, meritocracy and democracy. In Bill Beverly’s breakout novel, Dodgers, an L.A. born and bred character named East, whose day job is standing guard for a crack house, cannot look beyond the killing of an innocent girl from Jackson, Miss. So, when he’s called to be part of a crew to kill a judge in Wisconsin, East goes east without question — wearing a fan jersey of the L.A Dodgers, a team that abandoned New York for L.A, 60 years ago. On one level, Beverly has constructed a compelling and gritty crime novel. But on another, Dodgers hits hard, making the reader question intentionality, destiny, and American reality — mercenary Iowa gun runners in the heartland, a fair- minded Ohio mayor who’s made his money on paintball wars, and East, the 16-year-old who discovers himself in the fault line of America, between tyranny and trust, race and reason.

 

Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel, Rachel Khong MFA’11

book cover for Goodbye, Vitamin

2017, Henry Holt and Co.

In brief vignettes of sparse and lucid prose, Rachel Khong tells the story of a family whose holiday season is marred by worsening dementia in its patriarch. Daughter Ruth, in whose voice the novel poignantly dips into relatable musings on American life while unveiling its protagonist’s fierce heartbreak over the loss of her engagement, attempts to make sense of the situation. Khong’s immersive and lightly humorous style does not detract from the Big Questions of identity and fate facing her characters.

 

China in the Mix: Cinema, Sound, and Popular Culture in the Age of Globalization, Ying Xiao

book cover for China in the Mix

2017, University Press of Mississippi

As the title suggests, Ying Xiao, UF assistant professor of Chinese film and media, explores the dualities among visuals and sound, China and Hollywood, and globalism and the state in her historical critique of post-socialist Chinese film. Noting that most film studies focus on visual content, Xiao unpacks the auditory content, including a multitude of voices and languages, various styles of music, and dialogue, and contextualizes it in China’s sociocultural milieu from the 1980s to present. In examining China’s paradigms, politics, and sense of personhood as well, Xiao expands her work into what she calls “an interdisciplinary cultural studies project.”

 

Each issue of Ytori will cover creative works by faculty and alumni. Please submit suggestions to gigimarino@ufl.edu.

Forget what you learned in history class and imagine, for a moment, that the founding of the United States does not begin with Jamestown Colony or the Pilgrims.

Our nation’s first permanent settlers are not the British pioneers who built a fort on the James River in 1607 but, rather, a melting pot of Spanish, German, French, English, and African homesteaders who stake their claim more than 40 years earlier — on Sept. 8, 1565 — on Florida’s turbulent Atlantic coast. Their leader, an intrepid Spanish admiral and fervent Catholic, names the new colony after a North African saint, befriends the local indigenous people, and celebrates the rst mass in the Americas. To top things off, the grateful admiral orders that a Thanksgiving meal of salted pork and garbanzo beans be prepared for everyone, colonists and natives alike — all more than half a century before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock.

Sounds a bit far-fetched. Except it’s not: It’s the actual, evidence-based history of the founding of San Agustín (St. Augustine), Fla., as painstakingly researched by experts from the University of Florida and other leading institutions. And this research is at the heart of an engrossing new documentary, The Secrets of Spanish Florida, which first aired on PBS in December 2017. Dedicated to the memory of renowned Florida historian, UF’s Michael Gannon (1927– 2017), the two-hour film tells the story of America’s past “that never made it into textbooks” and is sparking new discussion about the cultural, racial, and religious diversity that has been at the heart of the American experience for nearly 500 years.

Our nation’s history “is multicultural from day one,” says University of Central Florida historian Rosalyn Howard, pointing to early St. Augustine. “If we took that as a beginning, I think we would have a very different picture of the United States.”

The Secrets of Spanish Florida gets down and dirty with history as it follows archeologists, marine scientists, and historians on a quest to uncover this forgotten side of America’s origins. As the camera pans in on the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, just north of St. Augustine, we see professor Kathleen Deagan and a team of UF archeologists unearthing artifacts that have lain buried for more than four hundred years: musket balls, uniform buttons, and orange- and-blue glass beads. To the uninitiated, these mundane objects may not seem like treasures, but to Deagan, one of the nation’s leading Spanish colonial archeologists, their long-awaited discovery is the researcher’s equivalent of a “smoking gun”: tantalizing evidence of where Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519–74) likely first settled with his colonists when they came ashore in 1565.

“It’s the first place in the United States that Europeans came and stayed,” says Deagan, underlining the site’s significance.

And there is evidence of the children who came with these first settlers. Researchers found a figa amulet, an object in the shape of a clenched fist, which Spanish mothers hung around their babies’ necks to ward off the evil eye. “We just couldn’t help imagining this was associated with Martín de Argüelles, the first European child born in what is now the United States,” says Deagan.

Records from 16th-century Saint Augustine reveal another astonishing fact: About a quarter of marriages then were between Spaniards and native Americans. In fact, for 234 years, people of different races, ethnicities, and religions lived side by side in relative peace in this city.

Elsewhere in St. Augustine, UF researchers have discovered the science behind the enduring power of the Castillo de San Marcos, the vast seaward-looking fortress built to ward off British raiders like Sir Francis Drake. How was it able to withstand enemy bombardments of more than fifty days when other forts blew to bits? Its walls were made of coquina, a soft limestone of broken shells, which absorbed the cannonballs’ impact rather than shattered. Ghatu Subhash, the UF researcher in material sciences who solved this mystery, dispels any illusions viewers might have of the original builders’ brilliance in choosing this new technology:
“They just got lucky,” Subhash says with a smile.

In addition to showcasing the forensic and analytical work of these and other UF experts such as historians Jack Davis, Eugene Lyon, Jane Landers, and James Cusick, The Secrets of Spanish Florida features vivid reenactments of little-known events in Spanish Florida history. We see African slaves from British-owned plantations escape on a “reverse” Underground Railroad that takes them south to Spanish Florida, where they are given freedom in exchange for allegiance to the Spanish Crown and the Catholic faith. We applaud as former slave Francisco Menéndez leads his people to found the first free black colony in the United States in 1738, nearly 125 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. And there is the poignant scene of the entire population of St. Augustine — more than 3,000 people — abandoning their city to set sail for Havana, Cuba, a year after Spain cedes La Florida to the British in 1763.

Most of these events have been written out of the official historical narrative of our country.

Not surprisingly, The Secrets of Spanish Florida has generated considerable buzz. The documentary reached more than 3.7 million viewers when it aired on Dec. 26, 2017 and has generated more than 60,000 digital streams on the PBS website. Viewer comments attest to the program’s power to move and to challenge our notions of how our nation began: “It’s humbling to realize the extent to which the victors’ [England’s] version of history has kept the full story from us and interfered with our ability to learn from that past,” writes a fan from Massachusetts. Elsewhere, commenters spar about events left out of the film and possible errors or misinterpretations of facts.

But such heated reactions are to be expected when we are asked to reconsider our long-cherished stories of national identity, including that holy of holies, the origins of Turkey Day. A few years ago, UF historian Michael Gannon drew fire when he called Pedro Menéndez’s Sept. 8, 1565, feast “the true first Thanksgiving.” In the beginning of The Secrets of Spanish Florida, he explains what happened next:

“There was a guy who called me from WBZ, in Boston. He said, ‘While I’m talking, do you realize there is an emergency meeting of selectmen at Plymouth to contend with this new information that there were Spaniards in Florida before there were Englishmen in Massachusetts?’ And then he said, ‘Well, you know how you’ve become known up here in New England?’ I said no. He said, ‘The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving.’”

A restauranteur with a Texas-sized love for Russian gives back to Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

The son of a physician, John Welsh ’75 began his UF career in the pre-med track and worked in an immunology lab. The elder Dr. Welsh was happy. The director of the immunology department was happy. Welsh himself, however, was not. “I hated it,” he says. Three years later, the young Welsh went to his father and said, “Dad, this is just not my thing,” a sentiment he also communicated to the immunology director. “John, you’re a hard worker, you have a positive outlook, always charging, business-oriented,” the director told Welsh. “Maybe medicine isn’t for you. You should be in business.’”

John ’75 and Sydney Welsh are no strangers to 12-hour days and 7-day weeks

Welsh was relieved he did not have to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he had spent three years taking science classes. It seemed a bit late in the game to change his major. An advisor looked over his coursework and told him the only thing he was missing was a foreign language. He says. “It was the beginning of the cold war, and I thought Russian might be fun.” Heck, why not?

Welsh credits Professor E.C. Barksdale with helping him get the necessary hours to graduate. He also started working with a UF ornithologist, who needed help translating papers from a Russian colleague, and discovered that all those science classes paid o after all. Armed with a major in Russian and a minor in physical sciences, he headed to Manhattan hoping to get a job at the United Nations. He learned you need a PhD to translate at the UN and instead worked at a hotel laundry with Polish immigrants, who could understand his Russian.

He soon left NYC and went west, ending up in Dallas in 1976. He took a job at the Railhead Restaurant and, within six months, informed the owners that he would like to go into management. Railhead was purchased by Victoria Station, which gave Railhead’s owners an opportunity to pursue their own concept restaurant: Cheddar’s Casual Cafe. As an operational founder, Welsh joined Aubrey Good and Doug Rogers to open the first Cheddar’s in Arlington, Texas. Today, there are 171 Cheddar’s in the U.S. Welsh is a franchisee with two stores and started another concept restaurant: Fish Daddy’s

When he opened his first franchise in 2000, his wife, Sydney, stepped in to “help out” for 30 days. Eighteen years later, she’s still helping out. They are first to tell you that being restaurant owners takes resilience, grit, and determination.

At the first location, they worked 12-hour days for nine months straight. When they finally got one day off, half way to a Houston respite, the back office’s shelving collapsed, rendering all of the computers useless. Making a bee line back to the restaurant, Syd said, “Nice day off, honey!”

When they opened their second Cheddar’s in Lufkin, Texas, they had a constant turnover in staff. “Your No. 2 store is usually make it or break it for small companies,” says Welsh. John visited weekly, and Sydney drove five hours back and forth twice a week for four years until the management and staffing were stable. They began remodeling a building to start their first Fish Daddy’s. Careless painters left rags in cans next to a wooden column — four months of hard work and hundreds of thousands of dollars went up in flame. John and Sydney couldn’t start reconstruction on it for a year. In the long run, all three restaurants prevailed.

The Welshes required their three adult children to work in management for a year in one of their restaurants. “We wanted them to understand where the money comes from,” says Welsh. The couple believes in both self-reliance and giving people a chance. This last year, they endowed a scholarship to Languages, Literatures, and Cultures for one student a year — “an individual like me,” says Welsh, “someone in Liberal Arts and Sciences who doesn’t know exactly what they want to do yet.” He credits the college with giving him a flexible concept of life, and not just because of “the immunologist who saw a businessman in me,” Welsh says. “Working through college, combined with having a broad landscape in the humanities, helped form my personality. Your personality gets shaped those four years.”

One Big, Happy Gator Family

Joan Levin ’63, English and Chemistry
Ronnie Levin, Pre-dental

Ronnie and I met in chemistry class — he was a pre-dent student, and I was majoring in chemistry at the time. One day during our sophomore year, I received a letter from the College of Medicine. They were doing some kind of research for the Space Program, and they asked me to volunteer to have an EEG. I had no idea why I had received this request and called Ronnie to tell him about it. He also had received the same letter. So, we made our appointments together. When we arrived, we asked the technician why the two of us were asked to volunteer for EEGs. We were told that the year before, a survey was given to our freshman chemistry class. They contacted the members of that particular class because it was one of the largest lecture classes on campus, and they wanted a significant sample for their research. It turned out that Ronnie and I had the exact same answers on the questionnaire, and they were interested to know if our brain waves also would be comparable. After the test, we were told that the results were so similar that we could have been the same person! That’s when I figured out that we were meant to be.

My fondest academic memory is passing quant class [quantitative chemical analysis], and my fondest social memories are the parties and the bands that performed at the TEP house, Ronnie’s fraternity. My most frightening memories happened during my internship at Coral Gables High School — exactly during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I graduated in May, 1963. Our wedding was June of 1963 at the Diplomat Country Club in Hollywood, Fla. Ronnie left UF after his junior year and went to the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery and graduated in 1966.

We have three married children, two of whom attended the University of Florida, Dina Levin Fetner ’91, who also attended dental school at UF, and Risa Levin Herman ’88. All three of our children married Gators. We have five grandchildren at the University of Florida — Noah Levin ’18, Jenna Levin ’20, Jake Fetner ’20, Matthew Herman ’20, and Rachel Herman, who is in her second year of veterinary school. We are one big happy Gator family!

  • History professor Jack Davis won the Pulitzer Prize in History for his book The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea (see profile of Davis).
  • The University of Florida is one of only five institutions to receive the 2018 Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization, celebrating initiatives such as the UF International Center’s Learning without Borders. Political science professor Leonardo Villalón is dean of the UF International Center.
  • Psychology professor Dorothy Espelage was elected to the National Academy of Education.
  • Professors of philosophy Jaime Ahlberg and Jennifer Rothschild have each received grant funding from the Center for Ethics and Education — $30,000 and $40,000 respectively.
  • Biology major Aaron Sandoval ’20 has been awarded a Goldwater Fellowship for the 2018–19 year. Math major Andrew Sack ’19 received an honorable mention.
  • Braman Professor of Holocaust Studies Norman Goda was awarded a faculty fellowship from the Deutsche Akademischer Austauschdienst to partially fund research for his book on the Klaus Barbie trial.
  • Statistics professor Malay Ghosh received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Indian Statistical Association.
  • UF’s LitiGators, the Mock Trial team, for the first time qualified to take two teams to Nationals.
  • Tom Bianchi was named a Fellow of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

A Primer from Professor Victoria Pagan

In English, we slap an “s” on nearly any noun and boom, there’s more than one. But what about those pesky nouns derived from Latin or Greek? “Alumni,” I’m looking at you. One alumnus is second declension masculine, so his plural is “alumni.” One alumna is first declension feminine, and her plural is “alumnae.” If, however, we are referring to the entirety of the Gator Nation, then we use the masculine plural, “alumni.” This is used so commonly, that people tend to think that any Latin — or Greek — noun must form its plural by changing the suffix to “-i.”

Not so. That suffix is reserved for the second declension masculines. English uses a fair number of second declension neuter nouns. Everyone knows that science provides us with data, which almost always comes to us in the plural, since one piece of evidence, a datum, is unreliable. But did you know that you vote on a referendum because it’s only one item on the ballot? If your local politicians are especially busy, they might propose several referenda, because they have lots of items on their agenda, the many things that need to be done.
Nouns of Greek origin follow a different pattern altogether. For example, a doctoral candidate manages to write one thesis, but we professors grade all the theses. And while many superheroes have only one nemesis, a group of super-villains would be a gathering of nemeses.

If you think you are confused, try being an octopus. Not only must he keep track of four pairs of shoes, he’s also got to contend with three different plurals. Properly speaking, his friends are octopodes, a Greek plural. But because the octopus looks like an Latin noun, many alumni assume that octopi is the correct plural. To avoid the confusion, a good American will do what is simple and expedient, and just add an “s.” So don’t be offended if you see a bunch of octopuses at the zoo. They are just trying to get along.

For more information about Latin and Greek languages and etymologies, visit your UF Classics Department, or check us out online.