UF students looking for a love poem this Valentine’s Day can find one by looking down at their feet as they pass Matherly Hall.
An inscription etched into the concrete in front of Matherly’s steps reads, “Cheryl, if love could be like trees, you would be a forest. ‘77.”
Students, faculty and staff have passed over the text almost every day since it was written more than 40 years ago. One of those people is Alisson Clark, a UF alumna and senior writer for UF’s Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing.
She said she first noticed it on Dec. 20 while walking to her office from lunch. The inscription piqued her interest and pushed her to investigate its origin, and she was surprised that it has been around for so long despite being next to a manhole cover, she said.
“I was first on campus in 1994 for my undergrad,” Clark said. “I never saw this in my four years.”
Clark wanted to discover who wrote the note and who Cheryl was, so she recruited Emily Cardinali, her office’s communication strategist and a fellow UF alumna, to join her investigation.
“I had class in Matherly every day when I was in undergrad, and I never noticed it until Alisson pointed it out to me,” Cardinali said.
Facilities services employee Jimmy Ross, who has worked at UF since 1978, confirmed the inscription had been there since his employment began, Clark said.
Cardinali and Clark then tried to find the right Cheryl from that time frame. They sought out UF’s archived yearbooks to try to find her, but the university did not publish yearbooks between 1974 and 1983, Clark said. She said they searched The Alligator’s records but found no mention of the engraving.
“Both of our good beginning leads turned into dead ends,” Clark said.
They found 79 people named Cheryl from that time in the UF Alumni Association directory, Clark said. They worked their way down the list of Cheryls — until Cheryl Schumacher, UF alumna from 1977 and current resident of Reno, Nevada, picked up their call.
“She did think it was possible it could be her,” Clark said. “But the person she had in mind as the creator never told her and is dead.”
Schumacher was a forestry major, which connected her with the forest theme in the inscription, Cardinali said.
Despite the connection, Clark said they cannot definitively prove the inscription was meant for Schumacher. It is possible the Cheryl referenced in the note did not attend UF, and five of the Cheryls on the directory were deceased at the time of the investigation, Clark said.
The investigators released their findings in “Cheryl ’77,” a podcast published on UF’s SoundCloud and promoted on its social media platforms.
The first episode received 457 plays within two days of its release, and its Facebook promotional post was liked 834 times during the same time frame. Cardinali said this podcast had students connect to their family members who may have seen the inscription while at UF.
“I’ve seen a lot of people tagging their grandmas in our Facebook post,” Cardinali said.
The podcast caused some students to look down at the inscription for the first time, including Elizabeth McBride, a 20-year-old UF health sciences sophomore.
“I’m always walking on my phone, so I never even noticed it,” McBride said. “It’s really sweet. I’ll have to start paying attention to stuff around campus.”
Although Clark couldn’t find out whose adoration inspired the note, she said she heard other UF love stories while interviewing people on the Cheryl list.
“We talked to people who met their spouses and lifetime friends at UF,” Clark said, “It was neat to see, 40 years after this happened, their time at UF is still essential to who they are.”