For a Half Century, Jimmy and Betty Lou Joanos Have Supported FSU, On the Field and Off
There’s something about Florida State fans. They do know how to get worked up for their beloved Seminoles. They’ll be there, do that and most definitely buy the T-shirt — especially if it says something rotten about the Gators. They’ll bring the house down when the flaming spear is thrust into the midfield logo. They’ll tomahawk chop until they get tendonitis. They’ll subscribe to Warchant and parse Jimbo Fisher’s every utterance.
But only a chosen few can reach the pinnacle and become “Superfans.” Here are two stories of people who have most definitely earned the title — Tallahassee’s Jimmy and Betty Lou Joanos and a group of guys who have joined together and call themselves Old School.
Garnet and Golden
In the stadium, on the couch or at the computer, Seminole fans are passionate about Florida State University sports.
’Noles show their pride in scores of ways, but two FSU “Super ’Noles” are supreme sports fans who have also demonstrated their love for FSU for many years in an impressive number of other capacities.
Through more than a half-century of association with FSU, Betty Lou and Jimmy Joanos have cheered the school on through momentous years of sports history and personally amassed an admirable number of achievements for the school, both individually and together.
Graduating in 1956 and 1957, they were students during the “growing pains” years when Florida State was emerging from a small college into a large university. “We got something from Florida State when we were here, and we’ve had the opportunity to repay some of the favor,” Jimmy said.
Among their honors, they are the only husband and wife who have each served as head of the national alumni association. They were co-grand marshals of the 1991 Homecoming parade.
They were recently listed among “100 Distinguished Graduates” by the FSU Alumni Association on the occasion of the 2009 centennial celebration of the university.
“We often call Jimmy and Betty Lou FSU’s ‘First Couple,’” said FSU Alumni Affairs Director Scott Atwell. “They are prototype alumni, who care for the university on every level.”
Said Jim Melton, retired Alumni Affairs director, “I can think of no family that has a more direct connection to the university. Say the Joanos name, and Florida State are the next words heard every time.”
They show their FSU pride in many ways. Betty Lou has a stylish wardrobe, all in the school colors of garnet and gold. And we’re not talking game-day T-shirts and shorts. Think glamorous gold cocktail dress or a smartly tailored garnet pantsuit — she has a huge selection of clothes in a gorgeous array of garnet and gold styles and shades.
She explains that she started this practice back in the early days when FSU-wear was non-existent. To show support, Betty Lou and friends sewed and painted shirts with logos and slogans.
Later, even after Seminole fashions came on the market, “I just continued my promotion by wearing our school colors,” she said. Now, “There is little time for sewing, so I shop garnet and gold wherever we go — from flea markets to consignment stores to mail order to large and small stores. Jimmy makes a lot of my FSU jewelry.”
They are walking encyclopedias of stories about the history of the school. Jimmy has written dozens of articles about FSU sports. Because of his extensive research and analysis, he has been called the ultimate FSU sports historian. His columns can be accessed in the Wakulla Times or online at nolefan.org (click on “Garnet and Old” articles). He crowned his most recent series of articles with a comprehensive piece titled “FSU Football History in a Nutshell.” It’s a must-read for any Seminole fan who wants to know what happened — and when — in FSU football.
They try to attend every bowl game FSU plays in, and are Golden Chiefs — the top tier of FSU supporters — holding perennial season tickets for football, baseball and basketball. Their sports interest spreads throughout Florida State athletics. Whether it’s girls’ volleyball and basketball, golf or tennis — they want to be spectators in the stands joining in the Seminole war chant.
This is how deep their devotion goes: Betty Lou and Jimmy have a gold car that sports the FSU logo and Sociology Professor Pat Martin once wrote, “I think Betty Lou’s and Jimmy’s commitment to FSU is so strong that they chose a house on Seminole Drive as a sign of loyalty and commitment to Florida State.”
Their supreme homage to Florida State is their game-day condo near Doak Campbell Stadium. Acquired because of its proximity to FSU’s football and baseball fields, it is a Seminole fan’s paradise — filled to the brim with a priceless collection of FSU sports memorabilia of every type and description. Every big game, big moment and milestone is represented as all the walls are lined and all the floor space is filled with Seminole sports mementos.
Jimmy grew up in Tallahassee and saw his first football game when he was about 14. Hooked, he started collecting memorabilia and has never stopped. His collection is so extensive it is believed to be unrivaled by private owners. The condo is a museum of treasures. Upstairs and down, even in bathrooms and in the kitchen — the entire condo is a shrine to Florida State University.
He has every Booster car tag since they began being issued in 1954. A shadowbox holds Deion Sanders figurines. Another holds bobble-head figures representing all FSU sports. There are posters, pins, photos, balls, football jerseys, bedspreads, refrigerator magnets, belt buckles, dishes, helmets, decals, piggy banks — even toilet seat covers.
There are many signed footballs, as well as signed baseball bats from J.D. Drew and Buster Posey and mitts from Deion Sanders and Dick Howser. Jimmy won’t say exactly how he got them, but notes from a Bobby Bowden game plan for the 1998 Florida-Florida State game (Final score: Florida State 23, Florida 12) somehow came into their hands. They have a signed souvenir copy of Charley Ward’s Heisman trophy.
Other treasures include: A huge poster signed by supermodel Gabrielle Reese and the women’s volleyball team; a tribute poster for defensive coach Mickey Andrews on his retirement; the nostalgic sign from Bobby Bowden’s last bowl game in Jacksonville at the Gator Bowl, reading “Thanks Bobby;” the poignant photo that clearly shows Lane Fenner making that touchdown against Florida that was ruled invalid; a prized photo of the inaugural 1947 FSU football squad; a triumphant Chief Osceola atop Renegade; a feathered spear, pointing visitors upstairs; and a copy of a funny cartoon Bobby Bowden drew.
And yes, there is an oversized copy of the famous Burt Reynolds’ Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold.
When asked if there is an inventory, Jimmy responds, “I just collect for the memories, not the value. I can’t keep up with all this. It’s just for fun.”
Committed to FSU Excellence
Their list of FSU honors is extensive. Betty Lou retired several years ago as Florida State’s associate director of Alumni Affairs. She currently serves as national president of the FSU Emeritus Board, which coordinates activities for alumni who graduated 50 or more years ago. Now retired as a judge (he served on the 1st District Court of Appeals of Florida), Jimmy was a member of the four-person committee that established the FSU College of Law and selected its first three deans.
Outstanding alums, both have been chosen for membership in the Circle of Gold, the FSU Alumni Association’s highest honor. In 1993, the Panhellenic Association named their outstanding sorority president award the Betty Lou Joanos Award. In 2005, the alumni association presented Jimmy with the Bernard Sliger Award, its highest award for service to the university.
One of the Alumni Center’s conference rooms was named in Betty Lou’s honor when she retired from FSU. Family and friends established a memorial garden for her late parents, Julia and James Whittle of Gadsden County, adjacent to the Longmire Alumni Building.
Betty Lou’s position in alumni affairs has taken them to meet with Seminole Clubs worldwide. The clubs are organized groups of alumni, friends and fans who get together to celebrate and support the school’s athletic and academic missions. “There is even a Seminole Club at the Vatican. We have grads everywhere,” said Betty Lou.
Seminole Booster Director Charlie Barnes emphasizes the couple’s importance by saying, “I’ve traveled with them everywhere, and nobody represents Florida State with more fun and flair.”
When they decided in their 40s to become runners, they didn’t do things halfway. Wearing FSU togs, they ran in 13 marathons — including Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin and the original Greek marathon (twice, as a tribute to Jimmy’s heritage). They don’t run in marathons anymore, but they’re still moving and shaking things up for FSU.
Jimmy grew up in Tallahassee and Betty Lou came from nearby Quincy. They met as undergraduates at Florida State. He was a “big man on campus,” holding offices as president of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK), president of Sigma Chi, Gold Key and vice president of the student body. Betty Lou was a Pi Beta Phi sorority member, circus star, Garnet Key member and class officer.
Their first date was Homecoming weekend, which progressed to a fraternity pinning and an engagement. He was president of Sigma Chi and she became the Sweetheart of Sigma Chi, inspiring their Greek brothers and sisters to recognize their engagement by throwing them into the Westcott fountain — along with 500 pounds of ice added for the January dunking when Jimmy’s fraternity brothers decided the water wasn’t cold enough.
They were married the week before her graduation.
In the days when attending the commencement ceremony was compulsory, Betty Lou received special permission to forego the graduation ceremony because Jimmy had military orders to report for duty in the Air Force. They lived in Boston and New Haven, Conn., staying on after his military service so Jimmy could graduate from Yale Law School. They returned to Tallahassee in 1962, and Betty Lou went on to gain a master’s degree in home economic education from Florida A&M University in 1976 and a doctorate in educational leadership from Florida State in 1985.
Retired Marine Corps General Mike Sheridan and his wife, Nancy, have been their friends since college days and they remember Betty Lou and Jimmy in leadership roles then and through the following decades. “Even as students, they were active in leadership roles for the university,” said Gen. Sheridan. “They’ve never stopped.”
Betty Lou served as a development officer at the FSU Foundation for the College of Communication and Education, before taking her post with the Alumni Association.
They are now grandparents. Of course, all three of the Joanos children graduated from FSU. The family could field its own baseball team, as four of Jimmy’s siblings also are Florida State grads.
A tribute from Jimmy’s Sigma Chi fraternity perhaps sums it all up: “The real story is not what Jimmy and Betty Lou have accomplished, it is how they have done it. They did it by supporting one another and were physically there during various activities and during times of honor to be the first to congratulate their spouse for another job well done. They are proud of one another and what they have been able to accomplish together.”
Scott Atwell echoes that sentiment, saying, “On a personal level, I have a great love for the history of FSU and very much enjoy their generosity in sharing the wealth of institutional knowledge they have for FSU. They are just plain fun to be around.”
Betty Lou Joanos
- College of Human Sciences Vision Award
- Ross Oglesby Award
- FSU Alumni Association Circle of Gold (inducted 1996)
- FSU Emeritus Society Award of Excellence.
- Mores Torch Award (given by the FSU Faculty Senate for contributions to excellence at FSU)
- Outstanding Alumnus Award, Gold Key
- Alumnus of the Year, ODK
- Distinguished Public Administration Alumnus
- Co-Chair, FSU Ten Days of Gold Celebration (1996)
- Bernard Sliger Award (2005)
- Permanent chair, FSU class of 1956
Back in the early aughts, Adam Corey and a few of his die-hard Seminole pals used to enjoy elaborate tailgate parties during home games near Doak Campbell Stadium that covered six parking spots and featured generators, full bars, food and bands.
Although Corey worked in Tallahassee as a fundraiser for Florida State University (he’s now a lobbyist with the Gunster law firm), many of the other revelers came from out of town, including Lance Barton, a successful Tampa entrepreneur who, at the time, was the youngest FSU alum to pledge $1 million to his alma mater. During his college days in the late ’80s, Barton played Seminole football and was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.
One day, as Corey explains it, Barton told him, “Adam, I’m going to spend the rest of my natural life going to football games, so I may as well have a house in Tallahassee that we can use for football game weekends … . I saw this movie ‘Old School.’ I’d like to have our own Old School.”
In case you don’t know, “Old School” was a 2003 comedy starring Will Farrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn as a trio of guys on the far side of 35 who got the chance to relive the college experience when they acquired a campus frat house.
Corey was tasked with finding the Seminole version of this hangout, and ultimately settled on a 1920s-vintage brick apartment house on West Pensacola Street with an impeccable pedigree — it had most recently been rented by a fraternity. With drink machines on the front lawn, a crumbling deck, overgrown weeds and a kudzu-covered facade it was, in a word, a dump. But, it was the top of the real estate market at the time, so the dump ended up costing $425,000. By the time Tallahassee’s version of Old School was operating, four “godfathers” had invested in the project.
Renovations began and while they were underway in November 2006, the group had its first “rush party.”
“That first party there were 60, 70 people that just showed up, mainly from Tampa,” said Corey. Interest grew from there and “your fraternity away from home” is now a party house with a full roster of about 100 members.
This is in no way your college boy’s sticky-floored, beat-up-furniture frat house. On its webs ite (fsuoldschool.org) they declare Old School “everything you wish you had in college, but better.”
The four partners each have the use of a fully appointed suite and common living room, dining room and kitchen facilities. But the exterior — which took up about half of the $1 million in renovations done to the facility, according to Corey — makes it a showplace.
While the Pensacola Street frontage is tidy and low-key, like a mullet hairdo, there’s definitely a party in the back. The lot runs downhill to West Lafayette Street and the backyard includes an infinity pool, hot tub, cabanas, multiple levels of decking and extensive landscaping. The facility is fairly low key most of the year, but on home-game football weekends, upwards of 300 to 400 people will be milling about the decks, enjoying an open bar, chef-prepared food and live bands. Golf carts and Jeeps are available to deliver fans to the stadium for kickoff.
Each member — who must be green-lighted by one of the godfathers — pays $1,200 annually for membership. Somewhat pricey, but each member is allowed to invite four guests per game, which averages out to a not-so-unreasonable $40 per person, per game. The youngest member is in his mid-20s and the oldest is in his 70s (there are also “two or three” women), but the typical Old Schooler is around 40 and married with children, so the game-day events are designed to be family friendly.
Old School also owns a building next door that includes a huge game room and an outdoor basketball court that are attractive to youngsters. The group was originally intending to develop game-day condos, but the anemic economy has put that project on the back burner, Corey said.
Creating an old-boy frat house has had at least a couple unintended consequences. For one, it created a sense of anticipation and fun during some of the Seminoles’ lean years, according to Corey. “Instead of the game being the only fun part of coming to Tallahassee, it’s the social interaction and friendships that seem as powerful as being part of that Seminole family,” he said.
The group has also allowed some of FSU’s most well-to-do grads — many are multi-million-dollar donors to the university and the Boosters — to concentrate their philanthropic efforts.
In September, during the Oklahoma game weekend, the group sponsored its first Old School Open at SouthWood Golf Club. When it came time to select a charity to support with the golf tournament’s proceeds, the choice was obvious: the Kidz 1st Fund, created by Head Coach Jimbo Fisher and his wife, Candi, to fund education, family support and research for Fanconi’s Anemia. Last year, it was revealed that the couple’s six-year-old son, Ethan, had been struck by this rare genetic disease and both are using their high profile to raise funds in the quest for a cure.
Old School hosted a $500-a-couple wine dinner on the night before the tournament, which featured a live auction of fabulous vacations and sports memorabilia. Corey said the group was hoping to raise $50,000 for Kidz 1st, but the check presented to Candi Fisher at the end of the tourney was double that amount.
While he was working for FSU, Corey said he traveled to most of the football team’s away games and never saw an organization like Old School.
“People always bring guests that are from other schools and everybody always says, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing. We need to do this at our own place.’ It’s something you appreciate hearing,” he said. “Who knows? At some point, we would love to open up some more of these and share the friendships that have been created.”