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UNF From the Ground Up



The Library is fortunate to hold the John E. Mathews, Jr. Collection, which has particular relevance for the University of North Florida. The conception of the University is largely due to the perseverance and vision of Mr. Mathews. His UNF involvement dates back to 1963 when he introduced the first of three bills to authorize a four-year higher education institution in Duval County. This bill was killed in a legislative committee that same year.


In April 1965, after calling the Jacksonville area "the most educationally starved community of its size in the nation," he reintroduced a higher education bill authorizing a feasibility study for a Duval County "senior" college. This bill passed and the study, with a positive recommendation for a Duval institution, was published by the Board of Regents in May 1967. Mr. Mathews then immediately filed a $2,600,000 appropriations bill to construct the university and a second bill for planning money. Governor Kirk vetoed the planning bill four times but in 1968 allowed a $225,850 planning bill to pass. UNF opened on October 2, 1972.


(For more detailed information on Mathews' pivotal role in establishing the University, see Chapter 1, pages 4-12, From Scratch Pads and Dreams: a Ten Year History of the University of North Florida, by UNF professor Dr. Daniel Schafer.)

UNF Honorary Degree

The University of North Florida honored Mr. Mathews at the May 7, 1983 graduation ceremony with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Excerpts from a May 6 Florida Times-Union editorial, "Jack Mathews' contribution reflected in UNF graduates":

...The more than 400 graduates who will receive that precious degree, acquired at such effort and sacrifice, are beholden to him. His vision, his stature, his legislative ability and his dogged determination were the ingredients that gave the university birth. Behind the creation of that institution standing in a big chunk of piney woodland, was Jack Mathews, the legislative dynamo.


He was not to be deterred by opposition in Jacksonville or in Tallahassee. There was plenty of that. But he, himself, was driven by the vision of making education accessible and available to students such as the graduates who will receive degrees tomorrow.

Due to illness, Mr. Mathews was not present at the ceremony. He was represented by his wife, Gwendolyn, who accepted the award from Dr. Curtis McCray, UNF President.

John E. Mathews, Jr. Computer Science Building

In addition, as a lasting tribute, the University's new Computer Science Building, begun in 1987, was named in his honor. He attended the March 14, 1987 Groundbreaking Ceremony, accompanied by his wife and children. The building's dedication ceremony was held on November 7, 1988.


Mr. Mathews died on January 7, 1988 in Gainesville, Florida.

For information on other UNF buildings, return to "UNF From the Ground Up".

For additional University Archival information, please contact us by phone at

(904) 620-1533 or e-mail