UM’s rich history provides looking glass for future

Hurricane football players, Sebastian the Ibis and President Donna E. Shalala were not the only ones who have contributed to the University of Miami’s rich history.

“Miami and UM were built around big ideas, so naturally … history would be drawn down here,” said Peter Perez, a UM alumnus who graduated in 2012.

This idea started in 1926 when a group of Miami citizens decided to build an institution that would offer unique opportunities and help a young community grow.

The group, which included Bowman Foster Ashe, UM’s first president; J.C. Penney, an American businessman; and George Merrick, founder of Coral Gables, formed what later became the Board of Trustees and set the foundation and expectations for the university.

During World War II, UM was a major training location for United States and Royal Air Force cadets.

The Navy V-5 and V-12 programs were offered by UM during World War II, which trained approximately 10,000 students and civilians. The Sigma Chi chapter at UM was composed mainly of Navy personnel.

In 1954, the UM Band of the Hour and Hurricanettes visited Guatemala to participate in the country’s Independence Day celebration.

The band members performed three times in Guatemala City’s Olympic Stadium for more than 800,000 people.

The South Campus of UM, the former Richmond Naval Air Station at Coral Reef Drive SW 152nd Street and SW 127th Avenue, opened in fall 1946. The location provided housing, dining and recreational facilities and classrooms for about 1,100 students, mainly freshmen.

In the 1960s the Central Intelligence Agency leased several of the buildings at UM’s South Campus saying Zenith Technological Services would use them.

This front company was actually the headquarters for major United States covert operations and intelligence gathering for the war on Cuba, according to the Cuban Information Archives at Richmond Naval Air Station.

The station was code-named JMWAVE and became the center for Operation Mongoose – a U.S. operation to overthrow the communist government of Cuba.

When asked about the CIA operations, Perez said he was not surprised. He said UM was always a bridge between Latin America and the United States.

The university also made national headlines in 2004 when it hosted the first presidential debate between then-President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

More than 63 million Americans watched the debate and more than 3,000 credentialed news media were on campus that week, according to the University of Miami website.

“The future of UM looks bright,” said junior Elan Aleman, who works with the Cuban Heritage Collection at the Richter Library. “The dynamic leadership here at UM, along with our pride and commitment to a culture of excellence, will continue to be a catalyst for success.”