WORDS: Amy Bell
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
As the husband of State College of Florida (SCF) President Dr. Carol Probstfeld, Bill Murphy is often referred to as the “First Gentleman” around the SCF campus. Although he chuckles at the mention of it, it’s a title that Bill takes seriously. Like his wife, he is fully committed enhancing education in Manatee County – and it shows through his tireless work with the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton and the SCF Foundation.
Former International Man of Mystery
Dr. Carol Probstfeld first joined SCF in 2003 as vice president of business and administrative services, and she was named SCF President in January 2013. At the time, Bill says many people did not even realize Dr. Probstfeld was married.
“For years, nobody knew who I was,” he laughs. That’s because Bill was working in the chemical warfare and explosives detection industry, which required him to travel to 27 countries across the globe. “My deployments took me away from home for long periods of time, so most people did not know my wife even had a husband.”
Born and raised in New York, Bill was a sergeant with the New York Port Authority Police Department for more than ten years in the 70s and 80s. At the age of 50, he went back to school to earn an MBA. “I had to do that because I needed new education to reinvent myself after I retired from the police department,” he recalls, adding that this experience sparked his passion for education.
After a 43-year career in law enforcement, Bill retired a couple of years ago. These days, everyone around SCF recognizes him. He attends all the SCF basketball games, volleyball games, musical theatrical presentations, and fundraisers. “I accompany my wife to every event she attends,” he says. “I spend a lot of my evenings with her at public appearances. It takes a lot of time being the First Gentleman!”
Commitment to Education
Now that he is retired, Bill is heavily involved in the SCF Foundation as well as the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton.
The SCF Foundation raises funds to help deserving students improve their lives with a State College of Florida education. Established in 1957, SCF Manatee-Sarasota is the region’s first and largest public college. Since 1959, more than 50,000 students have graduated from SCF. The college offers associate and bachelor’s degrees as well as workforce certificates and professional enrichment courses.
“Throughout my career, I’ve seen enough death and destruction and third world countries,” Bill explains. “So now my focus is on SCF as well as Kiwanis. I’m a firm believer in the mission of these organizations.”
According to Bill, the SCF Foundation gives away about $1.9 million a year in scholarships. “About a month ago, we raised $150,000 of scholarship money for police and firefighters,” he adds. “That’s huge. Fortunately, we live in a very philanthropic community.”
He says it’s incredibly important to catch the students who slip through the cracks of the public-school system, and that’s exactly what the SCF Foundation does. He recalls one SCF student in particular – a military sniper who could not pass remedial math. “Through scholarship, we were able to get him up to speed in math,” he says. “He ended up graduating top of his class and received a full ride scholarship to the computer engineering program at University of Florida.”
Bill points out that the average student at SCF is 26 years old. “So, we’re really dealing with adult learners who have fallen through the cracks. They realize they’ve got to get on with their life, but they can’t live on minimum wage,” Bill emphasizes. “That’s the greatest thing we can do as a nation is get people back into the workforce. Catching those people and getting them the funds, they need for school is critically important.”
Kiwanis: An Unseen Force in Manatee
In addition to his involvement with the SCF Foundation,Bill is also on the board of the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton. Since it was founded in 1922, the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton has built a strong reputation for helping the children of Manatee County.
“Kiwanis is a tremendous force in this community,” Bill emphasizes. “When you look at the history, there are probably 200 different projects in this community completed by Kiwanis that nobody knows about.” He points out that State Road 70 was completed because of Kiwanis, and the Bradenton Area Convention Center was started with $500,000 of seed money from the organization. “The Boys & Girls Club was founded by Kiwanis in this town, and the United Way was founded by Kiwanis in 1942. The 69th Street YMCA and the Lakewood Ranch YMCA also were founded by Kiwanis.”
Over the past three years, Bill has been instrumental to a popular Kiwanis program called Christmas in August. During this annual event, the Kiwanis Club gives homeless children in Manatee District Schools a backpack filled with schools supplies as well as other services, including medical, dental, vision, and haircuts. Bill served as the chairman of Christmas in August in 2019. “This was our tenth year of doing Christmas in August, and we’ve now decided to pass the mantle to another organization,” he explains.
Bill says the mission of Kiwanis is to invent new programs for children, and that’s exactly what they plan to do. “It’s time for us to invent the next thing,” he remarks. “We’re coming up on our 100th anniversary in the next two years, and there’s great debate right now as to what that new thing is.”
For instance, Kiwanis International has been instrumental in eradicating children’s polio throughout the world. “That’s a lofty goal, but that’s what we’re looking for – the next great adventure and what we can do for this community. A program that will really make a difference.”
The American Dream
The primary focus of Bill’s volunteer work is education, which he believes is the foundation of the American Dream. “There are so many kids who only graduate because the school system wants to get rid of them,” he says. “It’s really heartbreaking to see high school graduates who can’t read. By the time they get to the college level, these kids really need the American Dream and somebody to usher them along. That’s why I’m so involved with the SCF Foundation, and of course Kiwanis. Because we offer the American Dream. With scholarship money, we can teach these adults to read and become part of that American Dream.”
When asked why he gives back so generously, Bill says it’s a combination of altruism and a desire to better our community. “This is a great place to live, and we want to keep it that way,” he says. “But just think what this community could be if we had a properly educated workforce. There are big companies who are dying to leave the tax states and move to Florida. But they need a properly educated workforce who can read, write, and do math. If every kid in Manatee County could read, write, and do math, there would be no unemployment here, and we would see economic development here in our community.” Last but not least, Bill says he volunteers because it’s the right thing to do. “After 43 years of working in law enforcement, it’s nice to give back to my community.” Spoken like a true First Gentleman.