Fred Hawkins (left), Dr. Cornelius, and Jamie Bateman

Fred Hawkins (left), Dr. Catherine P. Cornelius, and Jamie Bateman

AVON PARK, Fla. – June 17, 2024 – During the South Florida State College (SFSC) Foundation Gatsby’s Getaway Legacy Showcase and Fundraiser on Thursday, June 13, at the Hotel Jacaranda in Avon Park, Fla., Dr. Catherine P. Cornelius was inducted into the 2024 Legacy Society for her service to the Foundation, the College, and the community. Jamie Bateman, SFSC vice president for institutional advancement and external affairs, made the presentation.

This is the sixth year that such an honor has been bestowed. Drs. Vinod and Tarlika Thakkar were inducted into the Legacy Society in 2023, Dr. Ben Hill Griffin III was posthumously inducted into the Legacy Society in 2022, Bill and Lisa Jarrett in 2021, Joan Hartt in 2020, and Joe Jr. and Gloria Davis in 2019. Over 110 people attended the Gatsby Getaway Legacy Showcase, and the event brought in over $13,000 in revenue.

“A legacy is something that is passed on,” Bateman said. “It depicts a person’s character, reputation, and the life they lead. It becomes a positive example for others. This perfectly describes Dr. Cornelius and the many ways she has left her mark on SFSC and our community. It was through her esteemed leadership during her years as president of South Florida State College, her support of the SFSC Foundation, service as an emeritus board member for the Foundation Board, and her continuing support through the many committees, events, and other social functions that ultimately benefit SFSC. Dr. C is always present, always supportive, and always willing to share her thoughts. Her legacy has impacted the lives of so many and will continue to do so for years to come. We are grateful for her support, leadership and, most importantly, friendship, for all the years of service she has given to our College and our community.”

In 1984, South Florida Junior College experienced not only a change of name, but a changing of the guard and philosophy. It became known as South Florida Community College, and a new president set the College’s standard of service for the next 18 years. That president was Dr. Catherine P. Cornelius. “Dr. C,” as she is affectionately known in the community, retired as president of the College in summer 2002.

“More than anything, I want to emphasize the ‘community’ in community college,” Dr. Cornelius said, upon accepting the presidency. “The College belongs to every citizen in SFSC’s tri-county service district, as well as the students and staff. I want to make sure all of the facilities are used to the maximum. I want people to know that this is their community college.”

By the end of her first year at SFCC, Dr. Cornelius made good on her word, and the DeSoto Campus and Lake Placid Center were opened to provide easy access to an education for students living in those communities, and the opening of the Hardee Campus followed closely behind. All campus facilities became available for public use, including the swimming pool, library, gymnasium, and auditorium. (The auditorium later became the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts.) According to Dr. Cornelius’ directive, that year also saw the development of the SFSC Cultural Series, a seasonal program of professional performances that is available to all members of the community to this day.

SFCC witnessed a 170% increase in student enrollment during the first 10 years of Dr. Cornelius’ tenure. In 1999, SFCC became one of the first community colleges in Florida to offer bachelor’s degree programs through partnerships with six public and private universities.

Under Dr. Cornelius’ watch, the Highlands Campus increased its physical presence with the construction of the Learning Resources Center (library), Computer Science and Human Resources Building, the Catherine P. Cornelius Student Services Classroom Complex (Building B), a building for the Nursing program, the Public Service Academy, the Crews Center, the University Center, the Florida Citrus Center, and renovation of the Joseph E. Johnston Student Center and Kelly’s Korner cafeteria (now Kelly’s Bistro by the Bay), and expansion of the Board Room.

Dr. Cornelius has been an advocate of the SFSC Foundation, Inc. and its mission from the start. In 1987, the Foundation had approximately $70,000 in total assets. Since then, the SFSC Foundation has flourished and provides students, faculty, employees, and the College innumerable benefits. It now boasts nearly $22 million in total assets, serves as custodian of over 100 endowed student scholarships and five fully funded teaching chairs. The Foundation owns two historic properties – the Hotel Jacaranda in Avon Park and the Lake Placid Center. Dr. Cornelius was responsible for the Foundation’s 1988 acquisition of the Hotel Jacaranda, which also serves as a College dormitory and training ground for the Professional Culinary Arts and Hospitality program. Dr. Cornelius was instrumental in the restoration of the Hotel, performing much of the work herself and overseeing its continual conservation.

“Gracious, thoughtful, and a charitable donor, especially in places and ways that few people know about,” Bateman said. “Citizens from across Florida and beyond have benefited from Dr. C’s leadership, guidance, and friendship. And for that, Dr. C, we owe you a debt of gratitude.”

Photo: Dr. Catherine P. Cornelius (center) is inducted into the SFSC Foundation Legacy Society; with Fred Hawkins (left), SFSC president, and Jamie Bateman, SFSC vice president institutional advancement and external affairs.