Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, about 40 miles from Orlando, recently received a $6 million gift toward construction of the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center. The center will host the research arm of the Stetson Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, established earlier this year. The interdisciplinary facility will also provide a home for the Stetson rowing team.
The donor behind this gift is Sandra Martinuzzi, whose Melvin & Sandra Schifter Foundation has supported Stetson University in the past, with a modest $10,000 going there between 2012 and 2013 through her foundation. She's also underwritten a partnership between Stetson and Naples Botanical Gardens for student internships, which perhaps helps explain the environmental component of her $6 million gift.
But really, the story behind this gift is much deeper, and the real tale begins with the fact that Sandra Stetson Martinuzzi just so happens to be the great-grandaughter of the university's namesake— John B. Stetson.
Who was John Stetson?
Well, John Stetson continued in the footsteps of his father and became a hatter. He succumbed to poor health at a young age and decided he wanted to see the west with whatever time he had left. He founded the John B. Stetson Company as a manufacturer of headwear, and in the 1860s invented the Stetson Cowboy Hat, worn by the likes of Buffalo Bill Cody, Calamity Jane, and others. The company also made hats for law enforcement departments, such as the Texas Rangers.
John Stetson and his wife also spent the cold months in Florida on the suggestion of good friend, Henry A. DeLand, the founder of DeLand as well as then-named DeLand University. The Stetsons built a mansion in the area, which was visited by the likes of President Grover Cleveland and King Edward VII. Moreover, when Henry DeLand suffered financial setbacks, John Stetson stepped in and supported the university which was renamed the John B. Stetson University in 1889. Stetson University College of Law, meanwhile, founded in 1900, is Florida's first law school.
Apart from the interesting history here, I also mention all of this to show just how long the Stetson family has been involved with Stetson University and the greater DeLand region. This isn't the first time I've written about a namesake's family continuing to support their school years later, either. The forces here are especially deep and personal.
As Stetson University President Wendy Libby puts it, this recent gift "strengthens our connection with the family that assured our continuation in the late 1800s."