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The Land Before UCF’s Time

In the early 1960s, the land where UCF and adjacent businesses now sit was a dense, wooded area owned by numerous Orlando families. One of those was the Davis family, who became one of the first donors to UCF — and remain so today. 

When Jody Davis was just a young teenager, he remembers Alafaya Trail as a clay road that would wash out anytime a major storm came through east Orlando. Oviedo, Florida, had just one blinking traffic light, and much of the land near what is now UCF’s main campus belonged to his parents, Mary Jo and Bill Davis. One of Jody’s first jobs was there — he would saddle up horses at their ranch and charge visitors $2 an hour for horseback rides.

This was in the early 1960s and just a few short years later, east Orlando would drastically change. In 1963, UCF was founded with the help of 89 individuals, including Mary Jo and Bill, who collectively donated $1 million to acquire 1,227 acres to build the university. The Davises helped ensure that land would be contiguous.

“Here’s a town that’s becoming important in the world and it didn’t have a public university. My parents took the chance to get involved in that,” says Jody, adding that his mother loved real estate and conceptualizing ideas for different patches of property.

Mary Jo and Bill owned 500 acres right across the street from where the new university would be located. That area now holds Siemens, The Quadrangle Business Park and numerous companies. When they learned that owners of land across Alafaya Trail — right in the heart of what is now the main campus — didn’t want to sell, the Davises swapped about 90 acres of their land to acquire it.

They immediately donated it to the creation of the university because they believed in the potential a major public university had to transform Orlando.

The Davises’ involvement in the birth of UCF didn’t stop there. Mary Jo and Bill had been in the drugstore business since 1946, and in the 1960s they had a store on the corner of Orange Avenue and Church Street in downtown Orlando. When Charles Millican was named UCF’s first president, the Davises quickly befriended him and offered him an area of the drugstore to work.

“In the corner on the second story, my dad had his desk,” Jody says, “and there was Charlie Millican, sitting there making calls and starting the university.”

After the university opened its doors, Mary Jo and Bill remained regular donors.

While both Mary Jo and Bill have since died, Jody, who is the father of College of Business graduate Katherine Davis Allen ’01MBA, and his siblings have continued their family’s legacy of giving to UCF.

Allen, who is a successful business-woman, credits earning a graduate degree at UCF to helping her advance in her field, and she knows the value of investing in other students.

“UCF had some incredible teachers who were able to bridge real life with book learning that contributed to my growth as a person and professional,” Allen says. “I continue to contribute to UCF because it contributed to who I am, and I am proud of what [UCF] is achieving.”

In 2016, the Davises established several endowed funds, including one that supports campus activities in the William E. and Mary Jo Davis Recreation Area at Lake Claire. Jody is a regular donor of that endowment to honor his parents. The Davises have also given to several business and medicine scholarship funds.

“If you don’t have an education and ability to communicate with one another, your chances of making it in the world are slim,” says Jody, who’s committed to continuing the philanthropy that his parents started. “You know you’re helping give people a chance.”