A parking lot across from the Santa Fe College Gymnasium will soon be home to a new institute for skilled trades commemorating Ralph Wilson Cellon Jr., who has dedicated both time and money to the college.
Administrators, elected officials and students gathered at the designated plot Monday to honor the upcoming building’s namesake in a ceremonial groundbreaking.
SFC President Paul Broadie II began the event by introducing the college’s plan for the construction.
“This facility will be a 22,860-plus square foot facility that will double our ability to train students in welding, double our ability to train students in HVAC and add a new program that our business community has been calling for a while in advanced manufacturing,” he said.
Several state legislators attended the event, including Sen. Keith Perry, Rep. Bobby Payne and Rep. Chuck Clemons.
Perry said he recognizes the necessity of skilled trade workers despite their lack of public exposure.
“It’s important that we not only recognize and make sure we keep educating these people,” Perry said. “But also as we continue to grow in the skilled trades, it’s hard to find people to do the things that are necessary.”
Payne acknowledged the work SFC has put into training students in the skilled trades. Payne said trade jobs will financially support Florida long-term.
“The future of Florida, as far as job growth and advancement, starts here at Santa Fe,” Payne said. “We’re looking forward to those things that will continue to come for advanced technology, for new jobs, for apprentice programs, all those things that we see that will be a part of this great new building.”
Clemons shared Cellon’s background at the event.
“Uncle Ralph,” as Cellon is affectionately called, has been involved in both local politics and livestock. He was once a county commissioner for Alachua County and previously served as the president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Clemons said.
“Ralph Wilson Cellon Jr. has been and continues to be the workhorse of Santa Fe College,” he said.
Mike Murtha, Clemons’ legislative aide, was invited to the lectern to officially dedicate the building to Cellon. He spoke of Cellon’s many titles and accomplishments.
Cellon was a “cowboy from his very first breath” and went on to become high school valedictorian and the state delegate to the National Student Council. He graduated from UF as an animal science major and was a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.
Cellon was an officer in the Air Force and “served his most grateful nation as a brave and courageous fighter pilot in Korea,” Mertha said.
Over the years, Cellon has been heavily involved in agricultural organizations, Mertha said. He has also been involved in local politics, with roles such as mayor, city commissioner, county commissioner and commission chair under his belt.
Mertha went on to acknowledge the contributions Cellon has made for SFC. He invested both time and money into the college, Mertha said.
“His personal financial contribution, as well as the billions of dollars of revenue he has helped secure from public and private sources, has expanded a single borrowed building to a multi-campus outside discipline institution,” he said.
Mertha finished his speech by officially dedicating the building to Cellon.
“It is good and proper that we commemorate and give great pause and recognize the many good works on such a high caliber statesman and humanitarian and extend our gratitude for his continued dedication, his family, his community, his state and his nation,” he said. “So it is written, so it shall be done.”
Emery Gainey, chair of the SFC District Board of Trustees, believes the construction of the new facility will bring new opportunities for those who work and study at SFC.
“This building would provide our students and faculty with the state of art resources and an environment that fosters intellectual curiosity and innovation,” he said. “I simply cannot wait to see what the future holds for the students who attend Santa Fe.”
SFC Interim Provost Mercedes Quiroga said the advantages the facility will bring will aid in furthering SFC’s goals.
“We believe in a well-rounded educational experience and are committed to guiding our students along their academic journey from HVAC and welding and our construction program to the health sciences, information technology, public safety, emerging technology,” she said. “The opportunities are endless.”
To finish up the event, Broadie introduced Angela Mackenzie, a welding student at SFC. The welding program has been a “transformative experience” for her, teaching her essential skills like teamwork and dedication, she said.
“As we begin construction, I see it as a testament to our belief in the importance of skilled trades, innovation and the opportunities they create,” she said. “This will be a place where future students find inspiration and forge the skills that will shape their entire careers.”
As the event concluded, Cellon himself shared a few words.
“I want to ask you all to look around and see if there are others who you might ask to make a contribution to this effort,” he said. “We got a good thing going on here and I’m so happy to be a part of it.”
Construction for the Ralph W. Cellon Jr. Institute for Skilled Trades and Advanced Manufacturing will begin in 2024 with a goal of completion by 2025.
Contact Bailey Diem at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @BaileyDiem.
Bailey Diem is a first-year journalism major at UF and is the Santa Fe Reporter for The Alligator for Fall 2023. When not reporting, Bailey can be found playing guitar or getting lost in a book.