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First Class Stories

Jan 4, 2019
by Kara Pound, ‘06

Flagler’s charter class looks back on 50 years

Students sitting outside for class, VW van in background.

When Dr. Beverly Copeland Carmichael came to St. Augustine in 1968, she was a small town girl from Athens, Ala., looking to expand her horizon. As one of the original members of the graduating class of Flagler College, Carmichael said her biggest draw to the school was its proximity to the surf and the sand. 

“I asked if there was a beach nearby,” Carmichael remembers of meeting Dr. Ed Carlson while she was visiting her sister at Mount Ida College. “He said, ‘Yes, St. Augustine is on a beach.’ I said, ‘That’s where I want to go.’” 

Carlson was a founder and vice president of Flagler, and Carmichael one of the very first students to step foot on the grounds of the former Hotel Ponce de Leon – graduating with the charter class of 35 students in 1972. Flagler was founded in 1968 as a women’s college, but would go co-educational in 1972. 

“I was one of 12 girls asked to come to the school early to help set up the first Student Government Association,” said Carmichael, who recently retired as Flagler’s vice president for Institutional Advancement. “Our first official vote was that we should become co-ed. We started as an all-girls school and it didn’t take us long to figure out that there wasn’t a lot going on in St. Augustine.” 

Sally Cowin Glei shared a similar story. She came to Flagler on a riding scholarship and was roommates with Carmichael. Glei also chose St. Augustine for the warm weather and nostalgia of visiting her grandparents in Florida as a young child. Unfortunately, Glei found out that there wasn’t an equestrian program when she arrived and had to send her thoroughbred horse back home to New Jersey. 

“It was exciting to be in such a small school,” Glei said of Flagler’s early days. “I came from a small town and small high school, so I liked the fact that you got to know everybody. Everybody knew everybody. We spent so much time together. It was close-knit.” 

The women’s accommodations, spacious former hotel rooms filled with antiques, were a welcome home away from home. And because the school was entirely female at the time, Glei and her peers looked to other colleges and universities for dating opportunities. In fact, she’s been married to her husband of 46 years whom she met as a student at Flagler (he attended school in South Florida). 

“We visited St. Augustine last winter and toured the school,” Glei said. “It’s grown quite a bit, but the rotunda and dining area all looked familiar. I’m proud to see the school is doing so well. You go through life and take different paths. I couldn’t be happier that I went to Flagler, met my husband and had three beautiful children.” 

Kathryn Trillas, another member of the 1972 graduating class at Flagler, was born in New York City and grew up in Texas. She came to the Oldest City to study art and takes pleasure in remembering her unique college experience. 

“I knew during the first year that it was not a proper college you might say,” she said of Flagler’s fledgling years. “All of the girl’s rooms were on the second floor of the main building and everybody was open and welcoming. If there’s a party, come. We even had Lynyrd Skynyrd come down from Jacksonville and play a few of our parties.” 

Aside from the social life, the women took academic life seriously, too. Trillas says that the students and teachers became a tight-knit group, oftentimes eating lunch together. 

“While I’m now retired, I owe Flagler for my professional success,” said Cathy Forson Rhoten, a St. Augustine native and another of the first students at the school. “I went on to get my master’s in deaf education and a second master’s in educational administration. I worked with deaf children for more than 40 years. I know that the school now offers a master’s component in deaf education and that makes me very proud.” 

Rhoten said that some of her favorite Flagler memories include the school going co-ed, meeting Dr. Proctor and Dr. Abare, and their work saving the school and going to Ketterlinus Gymnasium on Orange Street to play on the basketball team. 

“Another thing that always makes me smile is that when someone would have a date, that date would enter the main building downstairs and a call was placed upstairs to where we all lived,” she remembered. “The dates could look upstairs and see many girls hanging over the railings to check him out.”

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