Celebrating 140 Years: 1973-1982, Decade Of Duncan and Basketball

Pope Duncan, Stetson president from 1977 to 1987, gives a speech. In all, he spent more than five decades on campus.

According to scholarly published commentary, the 1970s were an uncertain time. Despite United States being powerful and wealthy, many Americans were uneasy, as they struggled with unemployment, inflation and a series of energy crises. 

On the Stetson campus, of course, not all was idyllic, either. Yet, there was significant advancement, first under President John E. Johns (1969-1976) and then Pope Duncan (1977-1987). 

Johns, a businessman and former Stetson staffer, increased the endowment and operating funds, and during his tenure Edmunds Center was constructed and major improvements were made to the College of Law in Gulfport. He then resigned to become president of his alma mater, Furman University.

Duncan had devoted himself to Stetson for more than five decades, first as a professor of religion (1946-1948 and 1949-1953), then as president and chancellor. As president, Duncan celebrated the university’s centennial and oversaw its selection for the first private university chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in Florida. Also, he initiated a 10-year $50 million fundraising campaign, which was completed in six years. (In 2002, he retired as chancellor.)

Catherine S. Sims, national president of the honorary, speaks in the Elizabeth Hall Chapel at the installation of Stetson’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1982.

In 1982, Duncan’s efforts in attracting Phi Beta Kappa were a very big deal. Stetson became the first private college in Florida to host a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honor society. Phi Beta Kappa has celebrated excellence in the liberal arts and sciences since 1776, and fewer than 10% of institutions nationally have been awarded chapters.

That arrival on campus was preceded by the 1974 opening of the Edmunds Center, which today remains Stetson’s largest multiuse facility for both team sports (basketball and volleyball) and university events. It’s also the largest indoor sporting venue in west Volusia County. At the beginning, men’s basketball was the main attraction. During the 1974-1975 season, the team compiled a record of 22-4.

Built in 1974, the Edmunds Center remains Stetson’s largest multiuse facility.

Officially the J. Ollie Edmunds Center, the facility seats approximately 5,000 fans. Through the years, notable entertainers such as Jay Leno, Steve Martin, Harry Chapin and Hank Williams Jr. also have performed there. And in basketball, NBA greats Larry Bird and Charles Barkley played on the Edmunds’ court.

During this decade, not to be neglected is the 1974 construction of the Stetson Cove Apartments, now university-owned and operated as an on-campus residential complex. Today, Stetson Cove offers 11 one-bedroom and 32 two-bedroom furnished apartments, each offering all the conveniences and amenities one would expect from on-campus housing. 

Learn more about Stetson’s 140-year anniversary and join in on the celebration throughout the fall.

-Michael Candelaria and Stetson University Archives