UCF's 'Founding Father' Honored for a Life Well-Lived
Charles N. Millican never had any children, but the University of Central Florida’s founding president cherished his extended family of more than 200,000 students and graduates.
He encouraged the football team with shouts of “Go boys!” while puffing on his pipe, and he was proud that the first nurse he met when he went into hospice care was a UCF graduate.
“He had a way about him that made an impression on everyone he met. He recognized the importance of everyone, and he made you feel that way,” said Jeff Grasty, whose father served as a vice president under Millican and whose children came to know Millican and his wife, Frances, as grandparents.
“We should all be really proud to say that he was a part of our family, and we should plan on telling his story over and over again.”
Several hundred people gathered inside the Student Union on Monday to celebrate Millican’s fatherly love for UCF students and his dedication to what he helped transform into the nation’s second-largest university.
Millican, 94, died Dec. 1, at his Central Florida home. That day marked the 45th anniversary of his appointment as president of Florida Technological University, which would later become UCF. Millican had told friends earlier this year that he would like to spend Christmas with Frances, his wife of 64 years who died last December.
“He was a role model for us all, and the picture of a life well-lived,” said Roger Pynn, a UCF graduate and Distinguished Alumnus Award winner who is president of the Curley & Pynn public relations firm.
Pynn first met Millican when he was a student, and the two became close. Pynn said he was proud when Charles Millican asked a few months ago if he could introduce him as his “adopted son” at a doctor’s appointment.
Pynn also recalled a recent honor that Millican told him was one of the proudest moments of his life.
On Oct. 22, he stood before some of the university’s most distinguished graduates to accept the Champion’s Award from the Alumni Association at the annual Black and Gold gala. Although Millican had typed up his notes on an old electric typewriter, he delivered the 14-minute speech entirely from memory.
“As we drove home that evening, he told me it was his highest honor. He was so very proud of UCF graduates,” Pynn said.
That powerful speech was Millican’s last public presentation.
Millican was chosen by the Florida Legislature in 1965 to help plan and build what was then called Florida Technological University. He had a budget of $75,000, an office above a drugstore in downtown Orlando and marching orders to make it happen.
With Frances by his side, Millican worked magic, turning 1,227 acres of scrub and bushes in East Orlando into a university to train future aerospace engineers and computer programmers.
Because the university that finally opened to 1,948 students in 1968 offered 35 degree programs in five colleges — not just aerospace engineering and computer science as first envisioned — the name of the school was later changed to the University of Central Florida.
Today, more than 56,000 students attend 12 colleges at UCF.
Charles Gray, who spoke on behalf of the community, said that Millican always had the university on his mind. He called Millican a visionary who designed the campus’ innovative concentric circle design to accommodate growth and selected the powerful Pegasus as the university’s emblem.
“Charlie and Frances enabled our community to achieve a dream of greatness,” Gray said. “We are on the exciting journey of that never-ending quest for even greater achievement. Thank you, Charlie.”
Millican’s contributions have led to economic development, education and partnership, helping to establish the region as one of the nation’s largest economies. He was also an ever-present public servant who taught in the College of Business and kept an office at the UCF Foundation after leaving the president’s office in 1978.
“He never left his beloved university,” said UCF President John C. Hitt. “Few universities have enjoyed the lifelong passion that he invested in UCF.”
Born in Wilson, Ark., on Oct. 9, 1916, Millican was a Southern Baptist minister. His strong faith guided him throughout his life and supported him as he embarked on the journey to establish UCF.
The ceremony included the reading of some of his favorite bible passages and the singing of his most beloved hymns. The Millicans’ pastor, Rev. Shaun King from College Park Baptist Church, recalled how Charles Millican recently gave him one of his “crown jewels,” a bible he received from the Bellevue Baptist Church when he was ordained as a minister in 1938.
It was also announced at the celebration that a pair of stars in the Pegasus Constellation have been named after UCF’s first couple. Certificates commemorating the stars were at the front of the Pegasus Ballroom, one on each side of Millican’s casket.
The ceremony concluded with the UCF Jazz Chamber Group playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” while President’s Leadership Council students served as honorary pallbearers leading the casket out of the ballroom.
“I think Charlie and Frances would have loved everything about this moment,” said Rick Walsh, a UCF graduate, chair of the Board of Trustees and a friend of the Millicans for 40 years.
Millican’s legacy will live on on the special “Remembering Charlie” website, where viewers are invited to post comments in remembrance. Donations in memory of President Millican can be made to the UCF Women’s Club First Ladies’ Graduate Scholarship Fund.