In Memory: George Herbst

Former vice president helped shape Rollins’ growth strategy, strengthen the ‘town-gown’ relationship.

(Photo by Judy Watson Tracy) (Photo by Judy Watson Tracy)

George Herbst, vice president emeritus for business & finance—the man behind one of the largest construction booms in Rollins’ history—died May 15 of complications from cancer. He was 78.

During Herbst’s tenure from 1996 to 2008, the College built, expanded, or renovated more than 30 facilities, including the president’s residence at the Barker House, the Alfond Sports Center, the Cornell Campus Center, Sutton Place Apartments, the Rinker Building, and multiple properties along Fairbanks and Comstock avenues.

“The appearance of George Herbst in a crisply pressed white shirt, neatly knotted silk tie, and construction hard hat was a familiar sight on campus, but not all of his responsibilities were so visible,” Lorrie Kyle ’70 wrote in the spring 2009 issue of Rollins magazine. “Among his other duties were oversight of the College’s budget and investments, human resources and risk management, campus security and environmental safety, and information technology infrastructure and services.”

A master of compromise and consensus building, Herbst was a well-respected figure in Winter Park, serving on numerous city boards and task forces and chairing the Chamber of Commerce. Many of his projects produced shared results for the city and the College, such as the SunTrust Plaza and parking garage, Lake Island Park Softball Complex, and Park Avenue’s Fairbanks-to-Holt Avenue streetscape.

In 2005, Herbst was named Winter Park Citizen of the Year.

“George was a wonderful colleague who helped me achieve the goals I had for the College,” said Rita Bornstein ’04H, 13th president of Rollins from 1990 to 2004. “He was my collaborator. He made stuff happen.”

Allan Keen ’70 ’71MBA, chairman of the board of trustees, worked closely with Herbst to develop Rollins’ real estate strategy. Rumor was that Herbst never met a piece of property he didn’t like—and his office constantly fielded offers from people wanting to sell land or buildings.

“He’d kind of come up with an idea, and I’d help him execute it,” Keen said. “He was the right guy at the right time, and we were blessed to have him. He set the stage, and we’ve been building on it ever since.”

According to the Rollins Oral History Project, Herbst had a BA in political science from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame. He served as an administrator in K-12 schools before spending seven years as vice president for finance and administration at Cranbrook Educational Community in Michigan. For the next four years, he assumed a similar role at the University of Dallas before coming to Rollins. The final years of his career were spent at Stetson and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical universities.

As Kyle recalls, Herbst’s interests went well beyond finance or business. He was also a connoisseur of contemporary art, and the home he built in Winter Park—Lugano Vista, inspired by the modern Bauhaus movement—was itself an artistic masterpiece.

Passionate about architecture, Herbst was a driving force behind Rollins maintaining its Spanish Mediterranean character, which traces its roots to the College’s eighth president, Hamilton Holt. In 2004, the American Institute of Architects’ Orlando chapter presented Herbst with its Award of Merit, given to a non-architect for contributions to design, planning, and appreciation of architecture’s cultural significance. His work overseeing restoration of Rollins’ oldest building, Pinehurst Cottage, also won awards from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and the Friends of Casa Feliz.

Along the shores of Lake Virginia, Herbst Overlook is named in his honor.

A public memorial ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. on June 14 in Knowles Chapel.

“Neil Diamond and Jimmy Buffet will be playing,” Bornstein said, “because that was his favorite music.”