CRESTVIEW — Past met the present Friday at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Rural Diversity Healthcare Center, when the Crestview Chamber of Commerce welcomed the pharmacy school with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. That afternoon, the school’s 21 students met women who worked in the same building when it was a sewing factory.
The Alatex building — on the corner of Woodruff Avenue and Wilson street — opened in 1937 as a sewing factory, Baker Block Museum historian Ann Spann said. Briefly, the structure housed city hall, Spann said. "There was a lot of growth in the community after it opened. People would make the commute from surrounding cities just to work there."
“I worked here for 30 years,” said June Busbee, who began sewing men’s undergarments at the factory in 1956, during a time of much different social attitudes. “Back then, we all had to wear dresses; we couldn’t wear slacks” she said.
Like factory workers before them, many students, like Brittani Ricks, 24, moved here for opportunity. "(Crestview) is quite a bit smaller than Jacksonville, but the people here are friendly," Ricks said, contrasting Crestview with her hometown. She added that she enjoys FAMU, too. "It's working well here. It's a really nice facility. Our online professors have been teaching us a lot."
Busbee and several of her former co-workers toured the facility following the ribbon-cutting ceremony. They visited study rooms, computer labs and interactive classrooms, where students can communicate with virtual professors teaching them from other FAMU campuses.
Several chamber members and Mayor David Cadle, City Clerk Betsy Roy and police Chief Tony Taylor were among attendees. Taylor and his wife, Lilia, greeted students before the tour.
“It really warms my heart to see these people are interested in what is going on here,” said Margarth Larose-Pierre, the school’s associate dean of academic affairs. "I wanted the people that worked in this building in the (19)30s and ’40s to see what the building looks like now."
County Commissioner Wayne Harris, chamber executive director, said he estimates the school will bring millions to the local economy within the next five years.
In addition, Harris asked students to take care of the facility on behalf of those who once worked there.
"This place means a lot to these ladies, so they ask that you show it the same love and respect they did,” he said.