Alumnus and Trustee, Rick Groux, provides significant philanthropic support for Ponce restoration efforts
Dec 1, 2022
by Anna Boone
Most students only get the chance to live in Ponce Hall for one or two years during their time at Flagler, but Trustee and donor Rick Groux was lucky enough to spend the entirety of his college experience living there.
“I would go to other schools and see where my friends were living, but none of them had the character of the Ponce or the uniqueness of our building,” Groux said about the National Historic Landmark, which was opened as a hotel by Henry Flagler in 1888.
In the fall of 1975, Groux came to St. Augustine from Virginia to start his freshman year at Flagler. He didn’t know then that his continued involvement with the College would allow him to see this campus grow into what it is today. That semester, he was focused on embracing the quirks of college living.
“There was one pay phone in the east wing, so every now and then if you had to make a phone call you had to run out in the hall in your skimmies and throw a quarter in to call home,” Groux said.
His freshman dorm was a corner room on the second floor of the Ponce and as an upperclassman residential advisor, Groux enjoyed a first-floor room facing the courtyard. He said it was a cherished opportunity to be able to walk out of his room into the courtyard at any time into “such a beautiful setting.”
Between sleeping, eating in the dining hall, and making visits to the President’s Wing with peers from SGA, Groux spent a great deal of his time in the Ponce during his time at Flagler. And of course, “there were some shenanigans going on but that’s a part of good collegiate living.”
Groux, who has served as partner and attorney with and managing partner of Groux Investments, points to this nostalgic connection as a central influence in his decision to act as a donor for the ongoing and most ambitious restoration and renovation efforts the Ponce de Leon Hall has seen to date.
“After spending four years there as a student, you grow a relationship with the building in some ways,” Groux said.
His affinity for Flagler, built partially on his experiences in the Ponce, is what has continued to draw him back to St. Augustine. One summer during his law studies at George Mason University, Groux returned to clerk for a local law firm with the intention of eventually moving back to this area to practice law.
Although Groux ended up staying in Northern Virginia after graduating from law school, he would regularly attend Flagler alumni networking events for the mid-Atlantic region and was eventually appointed to the Alumni Board. In 2009, Groux was first elected to the Board of Trustees, and in the fall of 2019, he was the first alumnus to be appointed as Chairman which he served until June 2022.
Groux has provided philanthropic support for a variety of capital projects at the College, including the Ringhaver Student Center, Pollard Hall, the Alumni House, the new Lacrosse Facility, and of course, the current Ponce restoration and renovations.
“Our highest priority as the Board of Trustees is the preservation of the Ponce in a way that recognizes its historical significance,” he said.
Since Groux has witnessed and been involved in decisions around past restoration and renovation efforts in the Ponce, he holds a valuable perspective on the stewardship of this National Historic Landmark.
“Over the years, I think Flagler’s done a great job of keeping things up to date, however, there comes a time when you need major renovations to reset the whole building,” he said.
“I think it’s a testament to the leadership of Flagler President John Delaney and the Board to make such a commitment to the future of Flagler, because the Ponce de Leon Hotel is really the centerpiece of the College,” Groux said.
During his travels and work across the country, the inherent value of the Ponce is something Groux has noticed is widely recognized.
“I’m always surprised how many people know about Flagler College, but it’s usually in the context of the Ponce de Leon Hotel,” he said. “There’s a recognition of the grandeur of the building and what Henry Flagler did years ago to construct it.”
Groux sees the Ponce as an “iconic” building that holds the rich history of the “finest craftsmen” who created it.
“We have the honor to be guardians of that legacy,” he said.
But he said the restoration and renovation efforts in the Ponce are just part of the bigger picture for Flagler’s path into the future.
He commended the mission behind the Five Star Plan to “enhance student living on campus” and noted academic advancements like Flagler’s new core curriculum have the power to be a “bedrock change in the life and education of students.”
The extensive interactions Groux has with alumni, and his close work with the College leave little room in his mind for doubt that Flagler is “a great success story.”
The College’s current commitment to forward-thinking improvements gives him confidence that this will be a place for students like him to grow, create their own success stories, and collect memories of this remarkable campus to cherish when they leave.
“The best of Flagler College is in front of us.”