ST. PETERSBURG — In 1927, Florida's first two-year junior college opened in a couple of rooms at St. Petersburg High School.
Today, St. Petersburg College campuses are sprinkled throughout Pinellas County, and students can complete everything from certificate programs to advanced degrees.
The story of the college's novel approach to secondary education, and its current leader, president Carl M. Kuttler, is told in an exhibition called "St. Petersburg College: Legacy of Leadership."
It runs through March 29 at the St. Petersburg Museum of History on the Pier approach.
Displays and artifacts in three rooms highlight the 81-year-old college's milestones, notable alumni, and the now-defunct Gibbs Junior College, which was set up to serve black students. One room is devoted to Kuttler, who, for more than 30 years, has served as president.
It begins with a time line of college landmarks and historical events. Notable years include:
•1929: The stock market crashes; the first SPJC class graduates.
•1941: Japan bombs Pearl Harbor; SPJC moves to its first permanent building on Fifth Avenue N.
•1956: Elvis becomes an international sensation; Gibbs Junior College opens to serve St. Petersburg's black college students.
The once private college became public in 1948 and, in 1965, it merged with Gibbs Junior College.
By the time the 1990s arrived, St. Petersburg Junior College had occupied a dozen sites across Pinellas. But perhaps its biggest accomplishment was in 2001, when the "J" came off the name. St. Petersburg College was reborn as a four-year college.
Today, SPC continues to offer two-year degrees, certification programs, baccalaureates and — through its University Partnership Program — additional baccalaureate and advanced degrees from other colleges and universities.
Along the way, the college has educated some prominent people, including Sylvia Earle, the first female aquanaut; Bob Carroll Jr., writer for TV's I Love Lucy; and Jim Sirmons, who went on to become executive vice president of CBS. Their snapshots and stories are featured along with other prominent alumni in this exhibit.
A portrait of Kuttler is mounted in a room devoted to his accomplishments. Artifacts, such as the muck-covered shoe of a child, presented to him after a relief mission, tell of his leadership skills and humanitarian qualities.
Viewers will learn that Kuttler, the college's fifth president and the son of a pastry chef from Germany, was born in 1940. His first car was a 1959 Volkswagen Beetle, paid for from his lawn-mowing business as a teen.
It must have made him popular, as he was elected student class president at St. Petersburg Junior College that year.
Kuttler would go on to earn a law degree, marry, have three children, and create many innovative approaches for Pinellas County's largest postsecondary educational institution, establishing an art museum, charter high school and a multitude of technologically advanced campuses along the way.