UF/IFAS has lost one of its most devoted philanthropists as well as one its true pioneers, Vermelle “Vam” York. She passed away peacefully on Wednesday.
She was the widow of UF/IFAS founder Dr. E.T. York. Over the course of their 64-year marriage, the couple established The York Distinguished Lecturer Series, the E. Travis and Vermelle C. York Term Professorship in International Agriculture, the E.T. York, Jr. Medal of Excellence, presented annually to the outstanding CALS junior, as well as the Vam Cardwell York Scholarship, benefiting graduate students in CALS. Their personal support of UF/IFAS is a testament to their commitment to the land-grant system and higher education as a whole, as well as the broader Gainesville community.
She was a stately and elegant presence who served as a reminder of the foundations of UF/IFAS. At the 2014 Dinner of Distinction, she was recognized with the UF/IFAS Champion Award, our organization’s highest honor to supporters, and she shared part of our origin story that night.
In a video tribute, Vam charmed the audience by recounting how UF recruited her husband, who at the time led what was known as the federal Extension Service. Then-UF President J. Wayne Reitz asked to have lunch with E.T. at an airport stopover the day after Thanksgiving. The Yorks insisted that Reitz come to their home for a quiet conversation undistracted by the crush of holiday travelers.
Ever observant of decorum, Vam almost apologetically informed her husband that because it was Thanksgiving weekend, she could not cook a fresh lunch because she had a fridge full of leftovers but that she’d be happy to serve what she had.
It turned out to be a meal that sealed the deal. Vam recalled that Reitz took a special liking to her pumpkin chiffon pie, and E.T. agreed to come to Florida.
Vam excelled not only in her supporting roles, but also as a successful businesswoman, real estate developer and leader in the UF Agricultural Women’s Club. Following Dr. York’s death, she continued to honor the couple’s vision with financial support and with her attendance at functions such as the York lecture and the groundbreaking for the Roland T. Stern Learning Center at Austin Cary Forest, a project for which she was a loyal advocate.
The Yorks’ arrival at UF set the stage for UF/IFAS. E.T.’s vision was to unite the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the Florida Cooperative Extension Service and the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station under a single administrative umbrella in 1964. The result has been a powerful integration of the research, teaching and Extension branches of the UF land-grant mission. For the past 57 years, UF/IFAS has positively impacted the state and world, and Vam’s support never wavered.
The UF/IFAS family is ever grateful for the support of Vam York and honors the immeasurable impact her commitment has had on our people and mission.