It's been called the "Athens of Florida" and more recently the "Best Other Downtown in Central Florida" by the Orlando Sentinel in head-to-head competition with other towns in the region. To those of us at Stetson University, we know DeLand best as "home." Whether you've spent only a few months or a lifetime in DeLand, you can quickly fall in love with the place.
Such recognition reminds us that a town and a college make for a special combination. Having spent much of my life in academe, living in college towns, I love fostering collaboration that leads to public-private (win-win) partnerships and contributing to a downtown community that lights up with activity.
I love the intellectual life, the rich arts-and-culture environment, the vibrancy of Stetson's Division I athletics program, and the economic growth that a "Golden Age" -- or a golden town-gown collaboration -- spins into being. I am not alone.
DeLand's particular charm lies in the downtown shops along the Boulevard. Its appeal is on display in its festivals (one combines beer and quilting!) and its many parades (Mardi Gras on Mainstreet's dog parade draws thousands each year). And then there are the restaurants, including Cress, listed as the Top Restaurant in Zagat's 2013 Orlando City Guide, whose chef/owner is a Stetson mathematics professor. From the historic Athens Theatre to Stetson's Hatter Football in a newly renovated Spec Martin Stadium, our college town promises something for everyone.
The City of DeLand is the county seat of Volusia County, with Stetson University contributing an estimated $250 million annually to the area economy. Approximately 2,800 students, with more than a third of our incoming class coming from out of state, make DeLand their temporary -- if not permanent -- home. Nearly 40,000 Stetson alumni across the world can sing DeLand's praises. Hatter and DeLand pride is contagious, running far and wide.
Stetson and DeLand, in true symbiotic fashion not atypical of the time, even shared a namesake for a while -- Henry DeLand founded the City of DeLand in 1876, and DeLand Academy (Stetson's predecessor) in 1883, making Stetson the oldest private university in the state.
When prospective students and employees visit campus, we always brag about DeLand's central location and small-town feel along with our proximity to Daytona's beaches, Disney and the big-city amenities of Orlando. These are the perks of being centrally isolated and uniquely connected.
Most of all, we talk about what they will know everyday -- our college and our town. And the difference they can make in each community that really creates one strong community: our college town.
Our college town is more than a four-year way station, it is a destination in its own right. Both launch pad and landing area, DeLand marks the spot we at Stetson fondly call home.
Fitting for a town that is also known as the Skydive Training Capital of the World, by the way.
Go Hatters! Go DeLand!
A version of this post appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on January 27, 2014.