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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
M: This is an interview with Mrs. David Cofrin. It is January 29, 1993. This is Carol
MacDonald, and this interview is for the oral history project for the Harn Museum of
Would you please state your name for the tape?
C: Mary Ann Harn Cofrin.
M: Where were you born?
C: Gainesville, Florida.
M: Tell me about your family life when you were growing up here in Gainesville. Did
you have brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles who stopped by? Tell me who was
in your life.
C: I am the middle of three girls. We were a very close-knit family. Gainesville was not
a very big city back in 1924, when I was born. My grandmother was still living, and
lived here. I had one uncle, my mother's brother. He was quite a bit younger. My
mother was the oldest in the family, and he was the youngest. We had a wonderful
family life. Gainesville was a very safe place to live, and we had lots of friends. We
went to high school at P. K. Yonge, which was a new school in 1935. It was a pretty
small school, but G.H.S. [Gainesville High School] and P. K. Yonge did a lot of
The University, of course, had only about 3,000 students at the time. They were all
male, which made it a great place for girls to grow up. We had a lot of dances and
parties [and] things like that to go to. In my younger days my folks used to take us
swimming a lot, and we used to go out to Devil's Millhopper for picnics. We played a
lot of games and stuff.
M: Tell me more about what Gainesville was like when you were growing up.
C: Well, you just about knew everybody. When you walked down the street, there was
never a time that you did not see somebody you knew. More people walked places,
although just about everybody had a car. It was not that long ago. [laughter]
Actually, my mother's day might be even more interesting to people than mine.
When she was growing up in Gainesville, she was a Gracy, and of course most
people know about the Gracy House because that is an old Gainesville home. Her
father had the second car in Gainesville, and she used to tell the story that when
she was old enough to drive he would take the headlights out of the car so they
would always be home by dark. [laughter]
But Gainesville was even smaller in those days. Everything was on the east side of
town. The University began at what is now 13th Street. There were homes around
the University, mostly [of] professors and people who worked at the University. Just
about everybody else lived over on the east side of town by the Boulevard and the
Duck Pond. Gainesville has just moved continuously west.
Of course, the University was so small that all of the boys would hitchhike. There
was no bus service, so the boys would stand on the corner, and everybody would
pick them up. We would carry them from one end of the town to the other.
Whenever you were going by, if there was a fellow standing out on the corner
thumbing a ride, you picked him up and gave him a ride in.
I cannot think of anything else really exciting to tell about Gainesville at that
particular time. It was a fun place to grow up.
M: So where did you live?
C: We lived over on what was known as Florida Avenue [now the 1000 to 1200 blocks
of NE 3rd Street]. Do you know where the Boulevard and the Duck Pond are? If
you follow that road north, it makes a curve. Actually, we were two doors down from
the house of the president of the University, the [John J.] Tigert house. Some
people know now that [local heart physician] Mark Barrow lives there. We lived two
houses down from that. But most of our friends lived in that area, and we could walk
back and forth, or ride our bikes back and forth to visit our friends to play together.
M: At that time, did your father express any interest in the arts?
C: No, not really. My father was a very outgoing person. He always loved flowers. He
always did a lot of gardening and that kind of thing. He was interested in theater; he
loved to go to the theater. As far as actual artwork is concerned, no, he really did
not. But he loved beautiful things. I guess there was not much artwork around,
except maybe in books and stuff like that.
M: What were his hobbies, and did he get you interested in them?
C: His main hobby was gardening; he liked to garden. And he and my mother played
bridge a lot. They had a lot of close friends that they played cards with.
He did take up with hooking rugs. That was a hobby he had for a while, which was
sort of unusual for a man. [laughter]
He was a very unusual man. He was an only child. His father died when he was
nine, I think, so he was raised by his mother. She was a schoolteacher. I guess
she really had quite a struggle raising him. In fact, recently, in the past ten years, I
found some letters that his mother had written to her husband's sister, her sister-in-
law. She talks about the struggles that she had, particularly after her husband died.
But she does talk about my father a lot, about what he was like when he was
growing up and what her aspirations were for him. He played the piano, so he was
interested in that kind of thing. She was determined that he would go to college,
and he did. She put him into college here at the University of Florida. She was
teaching school in Hawthorne at that time. Somehow she got tuberculosis and died
when he was in college, so she was pretty young. But they had lived in Texas.
They would have lived anywhere. There is one letter that makes me cry every time I
read it, because she talks about how tough times are. The school principal had told
them that there was not even enough money to pay them. They were getting room
and board, and my father was going to school, but that was it. She tells about how
she would like to go out and buy Christmas presents and do all those kinds of
things, but she said there just was not any money. She must have been a very
strong woman. That is the lady I am named after; that is the grandmother I am
named after. I would have liked to have known her.
My father stayed on in Gainesville and finished school. He majored in agriculture
because some relative had left him two orange groves. That is why his major was
agriculture. He finished college and decided then that he would like to go to law
school. Instead of doing that--maybe he needed to make some money; I do not
know exactly--he and my mother's cousin bought out whoever owned the College
Inn, and they ran the College Inn. He got the University a post office. There was no
University post office. He got the University a post office, and he had the College
Inn, where all the students went; [this was] probably 1919. Well, he was so busy
running the College Inn that he never did go back to law school. He met and
married my mother, who was a local girl. They got married, and moved.
He did sell the College Inn, and he got a job with the State Plant Board. They lived
in Key West for about a year, and then they came back to Gainesville. They stayed
here from then on.
M: How long did they live here before they started having a family?
C: Oh, they started having a family right quick after they were married. [laughter] My
oldest sister Margaret was born in May of 1923, and they were married in December
of 1921. Then I came along seventeen months later. But Mother came home so
that Margaret was born here. By the time I was born they were back in Gainesville,
and they stayed here. I have a younger sister who is just two years and two months
younger than I am. So we were all born right here.
M: Where did your father work when he came back from Key West?
C: They came back, and I believe the first thing he did was that he had a drug store. I
do not even know how many years he did that for. Part of that time was during the
Depression, because I know things were very tough. Then he got a job with the City
of Gainesville as a city tax collector and assessor. I remember my mother told me--
since I have been grown, anyway--what a godsend that was because it was a salary
job, and they knew what they would have to live on. But living expenses were so
low in those days. I never felt deprived in any way, shape, or form. I always felt like
we had plenty.
M: From the tax assessor job, he went on to be president of the Chamber of
C: Well, it was not president. President is not a paid or salary job. President is
somebody that belongs to the chamber board of directors, I think. He was the
manager, and the manager is a paid job. It was a very busy job. I remember he
had a lot of night meetings and stuff like that. The idea is to promote your city and
attract industry and so on. He enjoyed that. My father was the kind of person that
loved everybody and remembered everybody's name. He knew everybody he ever
saw and was friendly to all people. My mother was a little different. She liked
people, I do not mean that. But he was the one who always remembered who
everybody was. He would walk down the street, and he would say, "Gladys, there is
so and so." [laughter]
M: Did your mother have interests of her own?
C: Well, they both were avid readers. Mother was a typical southern homemaker. She
did not like to sew, but she loved to cook. She just was really wrapped up in her
family. As we got older she became very interested in gardening. They both
became more interested in gardening as we left home. They had a huge camellia
garden. In his retirement my father was one of the organizers of the men's garden
club. They had a big camellia society in Gainesville. In his retirement he became a
judge in the camellia society and then worked as president of the American Camellia
Society, just for the fun of it. He enjoyed that a lot. He did that until that got to be
too big of a job. But they had about 500 or more camellia plants, and they grafted
them and did a lot of things with that.
M: [That sounds like] a very creative endeavor. Did your father ever mention having a
museum in Gainesville?
C: No. I have to give my husband credit for that. [laughter]
M: How was the decision made to donate funds for the creation of the museum?
C: I give all the credit to my husband, David Cofrin. He said to me one time, "What do
you think about having an art museum in Gainesville and naming it for your father?"
It was just sort of out of the sky. [laughter] I said, "I think that would be a
marvelous idea." So he really was the one behind it, and he got the rest of the
M: How did he go about announcing it to the family? Did you have a family meeting, or
did you all get together for dinner and discuss it?
C: No. Whether he wrote to the other members of the family or called them [I do not
know]. We did not have any actual meeting, so I am not really exactly sure how that
M: What do you think of the museum now?
C: We just think it is absolutely marvelous. It is more than I ever dreamed it would be.
Of course, there was more than one plan for the museum. I think Mr. [Budd] Bishop
[director, Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art] has just done a superb job. I just walk
through here, and I am in awe every time I come. I guess you really do not know
what to expect when you think about what it is going to be like. It is just more than I
ever thought it would be. Everybody is very pleased with it.