Living Our Legacy

October 26, 2021

By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA

As we launch a campaign for the future of Rollins, we do so with that same spark of philanthropy and vision that started it all.

On April 28, 1885, New England Congregationalists led by visionary Lucy Cross founded our state’s first college, bringing the light of education to the frontier of Florida. Ever since, Rollins has been on the forefront of progress, and at the center of that progress has always been a foundation of philanthropy.

“Rollins would not be where we are today without the generous contributions of so many people who had a heart for this great institution,” says Rollins President Grant Cornwell. “Our history is filled with story after story of visionaries who helped us forge new eras of growth and progress.”

Alonzo Rollins and Lucy Cross
Rollins was founded as Florida’s first college because of visionaries and philanthropists like Alonzo W. Rollins (left) and Lucy Cross (right).Photo by Courtesy Rollins College Archives.

Taking Root

It all started with a $50,000 gift from Chicago textile magnate Alonzo W. Rollins to establish a college in Winter Park, Florida, a tiny resort town where he made annual pilgrimages.

From there, the College went about laying the groundwork for the future, receiving transformative gifts from venerable names that remain prominent across campus and the local community. Names like Frederick Lyman, Frances Knowles, and Charles Hosmer Morse, who were instrumental to early building campaigns and financing the endowment fund. Winter Park co-founder Loring Chase bequeathed money for a men’s dormitory.

Carrying the torch in subsequent years, a new generation of donors has included Francis Knowles Warren (Knowles Memorial Chapel and Warren Administrative Building), George and Harriet Cornell (Cornell Fine Arts Center, Cornell Hall, and Cornell Campus Center), Archibald and Edyth Bush (Bush Science Center and the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation), and many others.

Rollins’ first century was marked by countless gifts—big and small— that created both the structural and programmatic foundation for the College. From establishing scholarships and endowing permanent department chairs to erecting athletic venues and constructing residence halls, the ethos of Rollins College began to take shape.

Astronomy class at Rollins in 1890
From exploring the universe to employing female faculty like science professor Eva Root (pictured here on campus in 1890), Rollins has been forging a path of progress from the very beginning.Photo by Courtesy Rollins College Archives.

Gaining Momentum

In recent history, Rollins has made great strides in creating an educational model rooted in academic rigor, relational learning, and hands-on experiences. This progress, combined with ongoing enhancements to the physical campus that allow us to meet the evolving needs of the 21st century, has been made possible by the generosity of alumni, family, and friends.

For decades, the Alfond family has left an indelible mark at Rollins, with a legacy that includes, among other key pillars, an eponymous baseball stadium and sports center, endowed athletic and academic scholarships, a vast collection of contemporary art that’s drawing national recognition, and $12.5 million toward construction of The Alfond Inn.

An avid supporter of the music program, Virginia Nelson, whose daughters attended Rollins, donated $10 million upon her death in 1992. Former trustee Thomas P. Johnson gave $3 million to create the Distinguished Visiting Scholars Program and establish a student resource center. Three-time board chair Charles Edward Rice donated $1 million toward the bookstore.

Today, thanks to the support of donations that cover a wide spectrum of amounts and causes, students are flourishing on a revitalized campus that features modern landmarks like Kathleen W. Rollins Hall, the new hub for applied learning and mentorship, and Lakeside Neighborhood, a state-of-the-art residential community.

Our graduates are heading out into the world armed with a competitive advantage thanks to new scholarships that elevate opportunities for student-faculty collaboration, real-world experience, and purposeful mentorship.

Thanks to donors like you, there is greater demand for a Rollins education than at any other point in our history, and the College, our academic and athletic programs, and our people continue to be recognized among the best in the nation.

Rollins students looking at the night sky through telescopes as part of their astronomy coursework.
More than a century after Eva Root and her pupils turned their sights to the sky, Rollins students now do the same. They look up at that same sky but with the knowledge that comes with progress are able to ask different questions of the stars.Photo by Scott Cook.

Creating a Brighter Tomorrow

More than 135 years after that first spark, our vision for a more brilliant future has never been clearer. Through an unprecedented $275 million campaign, we will create a brighter tomorrow—for our students and for the society they will lead—and you can be a shining light on this new path. To truly succeed, this historic endeavor requires collective commitment from every corner of campus and every member of our community.

“By giving to the campaign,” says President Cornwell, “everyone has the opportunity to help shape the next version of Rollins, one that ensures our leadership in the marketplace for years to come. Through your contributions, we will be better poised to meet the challenges ahead and continue delivering on our mission to create the next generation of global citizens and responsible leaders.”

Rollins College students walking around the beautiful campus.

Now is Our Time to Shine

Join the historic effort to invest in the people, programs, and places that prepare Rollins students to lead purpose-driven lives and prosper in productive careers.

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