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Valuing Education

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By Karen Guin

Alumnus Victor Petris recently chose to honor his experience as a student and the value he places on education with a very generous bequest to the college.

Victor Petris was not a typical undergraduate when he enrolled at Florida Technological University, now the University of Central Florida, in 1977.

Previously, he had served in the U.S. Marines Corps, achieving the rank of sergeant and working in the Pentagon, the White House and Camp David. He also had been to Vietnam, where he sustained injuries in combat during the Battle of Hue City. After recovering at hospitals in Japan and Philadelphia, he took on "probably the toughest thing I did while I was in the Marine Corps" -- the role of notifying parents of the loss of their son in battle. Petris completed his four years as a Marine on a decidedly more upbeat note. During his last week of service, he escorted Miss America to President Nixon's inaugural balls.

After leaving the Marine Corps, Petris enrolled part-time in a community college near his hometown of Woodbury, New Jersey. He also worked as an agent with the U.S. Department of Justice. After four years, he completed his associate's degree and started looking for a place to complete a bachelor's degree.

"I had a friend in Orlando who I'd visited a couple of times," Petris shared. "He suggested I try FTU, so I applied and was accepted, and I came down." He remembers FTU as being very compact in the late 1970s, with small classrooms and small numbers of students. Yet the campus left a big impression. "I had some of the greatest professors at that time," Petris said, recalling one in particular who arranged an especially meaningful internship for him. "I have great remembrances of the way I was treated. I was treated very well."

Petris studied legal studies and criminal justice at FTU and completed his bachelor's degree in 1978. He remained in Central Florida, living and working in Winter Park. And over the years, he watched with pride as FTU became UCF and eventually the second largest university in the country.

"I believe heavily in education," Petris said. "We need to educate our children and we need to educate them properly. UCF, in my view, is doing just that."

To honor his experience at FTU and the value he places on education, Petris recently named the UCF College of Health and Public Affairs Scholarship Fund as the sole beneficiary of his estate. The college houses the university's legal studies and criminal justice programs.

"Mr. Petris' commitment to helping COHPA students fulfill their educational and career goals is truly amazing," said Mike Frumkin, dean of the college. "His bequest will allow us to support many students who might not otherwise complete their education -- allowing them to fulfill their dreams and make untold contributions to their communities."

This year, Petris will celebrate his 30th year as a legal investigator with the Winter Park-based law firm Troutman, Williams, Irvin, Green, Helms, Polich and Hemphill. The position clearly suits him and takes full advantage of his keen sense of detail. "At this law firm, legal assistants handle a multitude of issues until it needs litigation," he explained. "You have to make sure all facets of the case are covered." This includes compiling information such as photos and witness interviews and working closely with clients.

Petris has another accomplishment to celebrate as well. Through diet changes, daily exercise and a tremendous dose of discipline, he has lost 125 lbs. in the past year. As a result, he no longer has diabetes and high blood pressure.

In between working -- and working out -- Petris manages to find time to read four to five newspapers a day. He also reads about a book a week and usually has several others going at the same time. He said his passion for reading and learning began in grade school during weekly visits to the Bookmobile, a traveling library. "It was a Godsend," he said. "I think it carried me. It taught me a lot of things and gave me a broader spectrum to pull from when needed."

It's not a surprising thought, coming from a man who considers education to be one of life's greatest values.

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