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SPJC celebrates degree of growth

The oldest two-year college in the state turned 70 this year and a celebration Sunday will take the community back to the era of flappers, the Charleston and ragtime, when St. Petersburg Junior College opened its doors.

The party will feature a display of vintage cars, actors dressed in 1920s attire and bands playing music from the era. An instructor will teach partygoers to dance the Charleston. For children, games, clowns and door prizes will be offered.

"The college and our nation have come so far since then," said Patty Jones, SPJC's director of institutional advancement. "There's a lot to remember and a lot to celebrate."

Ulysie "Pete" Phillips, 56, has worked at different SPJC campuses for 39 years. He started out in the cafeteria and now works in shipping and receiving.

"I've seen it come and go," Phillips said. "Some good and some bad."

Phillips was at SPJC when the school became integrated and the first African-American students attended classes. Integration did not result in an uproar or tension, Phillips said. Gibbs Junior College, an all-black school, became part of SPJC in 1965. In 1993, SPJC renamed its main campus the St. Petersburg/Gibbs campus, where the party will be held Sunday. Today, the college has an enrollment of 60,000 full-time and part-time students.

Phillips also was at SPJC when administrators decided to expand countywide. He says he hauled the first desks and chairs into the Tarpon Springs campus.

SPJC started out in the science wing of St. Petersburg High School, but relocated after one semester to a two-story building at Fifth Street and Second Avenue N, school administrators said. Eventually, the college moved to the Fifth Avenue site. Five other campuses followed, in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Pinellas Park, Tarpon Springs and, most recently, Seminole.

Organizers expect faculty, staff, alumni, students and residents from all over the county to attend the celebration.

"We're trying to make this a festive birthday," Jones said. "We are the community college . . . We wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the community."