Recognizing a Tampa Icon
USF “Founding Father” John Germany will receive the President’s Fellow Medallion at Saturday’s commencement.
TAMPA, Fla. (Dec. 13, 2012) - Tampa icon John Germany’s name graces the downtown library and the native Floridian, World War II veteran and former circuit court judge has long been known as one of the city’s most venerable figures.
He is also considered one of the University of South Florida’s “Founding Fathers,” having joined with fellow icons Sam Gibbons and LeRoy Collins to create a university against incredible odds.
On Saturday, Germany – the last surviving member of the trio who founded USF in 1956 – will be presented with the President’s Fellow Medallion in recognition of his special place in USF history and his incalculable contributions to the region’s educational, civic and cultural life.
“Sam Gibbons had a vision and I was lucky enough for him to share that vision with me and that was to make a great urban university. Not a good one – but a great one,” Germany said in an interview this week.
The story of how Germany came to play such a leading role in USF’s creation starts on the dusty, dirt roads of Hillsborough County, back in the day when he and an emerging political figure – later to become the venerable U.S. Rep. Gibbons - traveled about in an old Studebaker to see what was going on.
Their conversations eventually turned to the need to establish a state university that could serve the growing Tampa Bay region and provide an opportunity for higher education for students who couldn’t afford to go away to school in Gainesville or Tallahassee.
Germany, a native of Plant City, was a graduate of the University of Florida and had served as a Army tank commander in World War II. He went on to attend and graduate from Harvard Law and started a legal practice in Tampa. He later would serve as a judge in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit.
Gibbons pushed through the legislation creating USF in 1956. Collins, working with his legislative aide Germany, signed the bill.
“We put together 1,000 acres for USF to start with,” Germany now remembers. “Most of it was sand spurs and scrub oaks. We have now created out of those sand spurs and scrub oaks, gold.”
Funding the upstart university, though, was an entirely different matter. And that’s where Germany’s mastery of the legislative process came in.
It was Germany – holed up in the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee in the waning days of the legislative session – who helped Collins figure out a way to fund USF’s start without incurring the wrath of powerful politicians who wanted to see the state’s existing universities retain their budgetary standing.
“The stars were aligned just right,” Germany recalled just this summer in a televised interview with Gibbons, who died in October at the age of 92.
“It was one thing after another that eventually became the University of South Florida.”
Now, Germany says nothing pleases him more than when people come up to him and tell him that they never would have been able to get an education had USF not been placed in Tampa, where they were able to live at home and work while attending college.
Germany went on to be an instrumental figure in the founding of the Hillsborough County Library System and numerous other civic ventures. In 1999, Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa dedicated the downtown library "The John F. Germany Library" to honor the work he has done for libraries and other activities in the community. Germany has also been recognized by Stetson University, which granted him an honorary Doctor of Jurisprudence degree.
Just this summer, he and Gibbons had one last public conversation together at a Hillsborough County Friends of the Library event.
Now at 89, Germany is a partner in Holland & Knight, one of the nation’s largest law firms, where his practices covers litigation, media law, maritime law, public utility regulation, international law, corporate law and agriculture-related legal issues.
Established in 1988, the President’s Fellow Medallion is awarded at the President’s discretion to highly distinguished meritorious individuals.Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.