Photo courtesy of Alan Luby / for South Florida Times

Dr. Dennis Gallon, outgoing president of Palm Beach State College, didn’t see it coming. But on June 19, at his retirement gala, the school’s board of trustees informed him and the audience that the newest campus of Palm Beach State College would be named after him. It’s an honor that left him searching for words as he took to the podium before several hundred people who had gathered to wish him farewell after 18 years at the helm.  They also named him “President Emeritus,” a title that has not been bestowed upon any of the school’s previous presidents.

“I’m not sure how I can respond to all the accolades and remarks made here tonight,” he said as he stood before a sold-out crowd of family, friends and colleagues at the Harriet Himmel Theatre in downtown West Palm Beach. “It has been just remarkable. “President Emeritus was the epic recognition! And now a campus!” he quipped.

     Speakers one by one touted his major achievement and successes during the 18 years he led the school. Under Gallon, the college now offers 4-year bachelor’s degrees, and a total of 75,044 students have graduated since he took office. Over 2300 students have received scholarships. He has overseen the creation of the newest campus in Loxahatchee Groves, which will now be called the Dennis P. Gallon campus of Palm Beach State College. It is the school’s fifth campus.

     “I cannot begin to describe how this announcement has made me feel. My emotions are over the top,” Dr. Gallon told the gathering of 230 friends and community leaders at the gala.  The “Legacy of Leadership” event raised nearly $14,000 for the Deansy and Dennis Gallon Endowed Scholarship Fund named in honor of his parents.

     The College broke ground on the Loxahatchee Groves campus last fall and is working to complete the first building and open the campus to students by the fall of 2016. It is located on 75 acres on Southern Boulevard near B Road. “It is important that we honor the commitment made to Loxahatchee Groves and the surrounding communities,” Gallon said. “This campus will provide greater access to programs and services, allowing more people to complete their education and qualify for employment in our area.”

     Gallon seemed stunned upon the announcement and said he never gave much thought to his accomplishments at the school.  “I never took the time to reflect (on his successes). I just kept moving forward. This is a great profession. From the time I walked into the classroom in 1965, I knew this was the right career path for me. It has been great, and these last 18 years have just been wonderful,” he said.

U.S.  Congresswoman and former West Palm Beach mayor, Lois Frankel, brought greetings from President Barack Obama at the White House.  “His record of achievement is amazing,” said Frankel, who said she has mixed emotions about seeing Gallon leave. “I don’t even have a piece of grass named after me!” she joked.

     Dr. Ken Atwater, President of Hillsborough Community College, was on hand to salute his friend and colleague. “He has been a mentor for me here in Florida both personally and professionally,” said Atwater, as he shared a light-hearted moment with Gallon during the cocktail reception held prior to the program.

     Political stalwart Addie Greene taught at the college for 27 years. When she was a state legislator, Gallon, who was her boss, allowed her to teach at the college and serve on the Legislature simultaneously, when many said that wouldn’t be possible. Greene said she appreciated Gallon’s kindness in allowing her to do both jobs. “Nobody can duplicate what he has done here at Palm Beach State College,” said Greene. “He is my idol.” 

     Patrick Franklin, President and CEO or the Urban League of Palm Beach County, was also on hand to honor Gallon as he bid farewell. Franklin also hosted a reception in Gallon’s honor at the Urban League a week earlier, a gesture Franklin was glad to offer. “It was the right thing to do. He was a board member for us for many years. He’s been a huge supporter of many of our programs…the catalyst of many of them.”

     Proceeds from the gala will benefit the scholarship fund named for Gallon’s parents. He was one of eight children who grew up on a farm in Monticello, Florida. Many of his family members were in attendance, and in addition to thanking his trustees and staff, he also touted his family as his backbone. “They are my rock. They really do matter. They have not been too kind to me since this ‘retirement thing.’ We don’t do retirement very well!” Gallon insists he will enjoy his, however, unlike some of his family members, who retired and went back to work.

     Gallon said his parents have made him into the man he is today and the scholarship in their names is a fitting tribute. “There are no two people who have had more impact on who I am than my parents. I want to leave a legacy at Palm Beach State College on behalf of Deansy and Dennis Gallon. I love PBSC. Palm Beach State College will always have a place in my heart because it allowed us to make an education possible for those who want it.”