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Phyllis Gibbs reflects on 40 years at Flagler

Sep 3, 2008
by Andrea Huls, '07

The books shelves have little room for more photographs; the walls are filled with posters, frames and more pictures. Phyllis Gibbs’ office is overflowing with memories of the friendships and accomplishments she’s found during her 40 years teaching at Flagler College.

Flagler opened in 1968, and just 170 female students were enrolled during that first year. When Gibbs first started working at Flagler in 1969, she and some other professors lived on campus.

“When I reflect back and view those first classes, merely a handful of students, and how successful all of them have become, I am still in awe,” said Gibbs, who has stayed in touch with most of her students throughout her career. “I would hear knocks on my door, and when opening would find that one of the girls wanted to borrow a book or needed some help … we became a very close-knit family.”

Before moving to St. Augustine, Gibbs earned her MFA in Modern Drama from the University of Eastern Illinois. At Flagler, her passion for theatre led her to develop a Theatre Arts program with Tom Rahner. They started producing a play each semester.

“I remember having our first plays in the dining room or the Rotunda,” she said. “We had great support from the community, too.”

Gibbs has dedicated her life to expanding and improving Flagler’s theatre department. The workload has increased with time, and she juggles with multiple activities: She is not only professor and chair, but a friend and even a second mother to many of her students.

“I don’t know another person who could run this department the way she does,” said senior Kelley Smith, 21. “I’m marveled at how she does it.”

Gibbs often receives letters, cards, e-mails and phone calls from her previous students, saying hello or telling her about a new baby or job. She continues to collect memories and create strong bonds with as many students as she can.

“The college has grown exponentially,” Gibbs said. “It’s a true gem in a very congested world … I feel privileged to work here. People ask me when I plan to retire, and I say, ‘Retire? What about all the young people I would never meet?’ ”

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